In August last year, I announced that this project was being renamed from ‘Drilling for Truth’, the working title it started with. The new name I decided to try out was ‘CoSpiracy’, an obvious pun on the fact that many of the topics researched in this project are the subject of one or more conspiracy theories. As I said in the renaming announcement on the blog, the name was also intended to reference the cooperative approach I want to take to researching the claims documented here, in contrast to the scornful accusations like “anti-science” made by the self-styled “skeptics” who seem to pop up defending corporations and entire industries every time environmentalists and other activists criticize their practices.

After trying it on for size for a few months though, it’s become clear to me that this jocular name doesn’t fit the serious intent of the project. So, from today onwards, having checked that there are no significant existing websites using the name, I’m relieved to announce that this project will be retitled ‘CounterClaim’. This name drills right down to what distinguishes this project from the many others that cover similar topics, the particular claim/ counterclaim format that is used here to map out all sides of controversial issues, with reference to specific pieces of evidence.

Sometime in the next few days (all going well), or maybe weeks (if not so well), I will go back through the entire project, replacing ‘CoSpiracy’ with ‘CounterClaim’, and fixing any broken links etc. Watch this space.

Filed May 7th, 2016 under Uncategorized

Sorry to have to report this folks, but Quackwatch operator Stephen Barrett is a either a paid shill or a useful idiot. For example, on YouTube you can now watch the full version of a ‘Smoking Tooth’ video where a number of credible, scientifically-trained sources, demonstrate through scientific method, using a number of different experiments, that mercury dental amalgam fillings release mercury into the body in alarming quantities under normal conditions.

…and here is Barrett hand-waving away their points, using claims that are effectively debunked elsewhere in that same video, and endorsing a class of highly profitable products using classic PR language:

“The minor increase in exposure, which is considered trivial and without risk, is well worth the benefit of having strong, inexpensive, lasting dental restorations.

Compare that to this quote from Muriel Newman, former Member of Parliament for the corporatist ACT party:

“In fact, in a bizarre twist of fate, at a time when advocates of man-made global warming continue to push government policies to restrict energy use and the burning of fossil fuels in order to prevent ‘catastrophic’ warming, the world continues to cool….That is leading to increasing scepticism that the call to sacrifice living standards in order to “save the planet” is just political spin designed to persuade the public to accept green taxes.”

The underlying methodology is the same. Trivialize the problems, and exaggerate the benefits of continuing the practices that are profitable to the industries they are covering for. In Barrett’s case, the industries for whom mercury is a “co-product”  they can sell rather than a waste product they have to pay to dispose of safely, and the pharma companies who buy it, process it, and sell it to dentists. In Newman’s case, the oil industry and other greenhouse gas polluters.

He uses the same propaganda tactics as corporate front groups like Newman’s ‘NZ Centre for Political Research‘, covering up the logical fallacies in his arguments and evidence with scorn, mockery, and bullying. A classic example is calling people who disagree with him “anti-science”, a tactic pioneered in the 1980s by the tobacco industry, and used since in defence of everything from DDT to genetic engineering of non-human animals and food plants (”Genetically Modified Organisms” or “GMOs”).

Whether he is genuinely in the sway of corporatist propaganda, or accepting money to pretend he is, is neither here nor there. Barrett is a “skeptic” about the health harms of mercury amalgam (and water fluoridation and all sorts of others profitable toxics), in the same way that Ian Plimer is a “skeptic” about climate change.

Filed January 21st, 2016 under Uncategorized

I’ve been looking for a better name for the ‘Drilling for Truth’ project for a while now. Although “drilling for truth” is an accurate enough description of what this project is about, it’s very similar to the name of TruthDig, and such a common phrase in online journalism it’s become something of a cliche.

CoSpiracy is, of course, a pun on “conspiracy”. It implies (I hope) a Cooperative (and Constructive) approach to investigating conSpiracy theories, or more specifically, controversial topics which are often the subject of them. I’ve spent a good chunk of today going through all the pages in this project, updating them with the new name, and tidying up various other things (fixing broken links etc).

Another major change is that, as of today, I’m (re)licensing the CoSpiracy project under version 4.0 of the CreativeCommons-Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA 4.0). One of the major changes with version 4.0 of the licenses is that the licenses have been thoroughly internationalized, so the country-specific versions - like the version 3.0 NZ license I originally applied to (what was then) Drilling for Truth - have been discontinued. Although older versions of CC licenses continue to apply forever unless the copyright owner decides to change to a newer version, the version 4.0 licenses are a major upgrade, and with the renaming of the project, it feels like a good time to move to a new, internationalized license.

Plus, as the sole contributor so far, I don’t need anyone else to agree to a license change, something that gets complicated when a wiki project has a lot of contributors who all retain copyright to their own work. Wikipedia had to hold a massive election before they could decide whether to stay with its original license, the GNU FDL (Free Documentation License), or dual-license with the very similar, but more common, CC-BY-SA. Another project which relicensed from the GNU FDL is PowerBase.info, the UK version of SourceWatch.org, who I just noticed switched to a CC license in 2013. At this stage it’s hard to tell which one, as the license statement at the bottom of the page (CC-BY-SA) is a different license from the one indicated by the license graphic (CC-NC-SA), which in turn is a different license from where the link is pointing (CC-BY-NC). I will email them today, pointing this out, and encouraging them to use the same license as SourceWatch, and our own ‘Who Said It?’ pages, so we easily copy and build on each others’ research.

Filed August 20th, 2015 under Uncategorized

As David Graeber explains in his book ‘The Democracy Project‘, the word democracy is used to mean two very different things; a system of government where representatives gain a mandate to rule an area by being elected by popular vote, and a system where everyone directly participates in making decisions which affect their lives. Representative government, in practice is often less democracy than ‘technocracy’, the idea that an educated elite, with specialist knowledge of science and technology, can make better decisions for the benefit of the public than the public themselves. Technocracy is essentially the same as theocracy, just with science used as justification in place of religion.

This month, Water New Zealand issued a press release about water fluoridation, in which CEO John Pfahlert claimed that because “the science is settled” the government should make a law obliging councils to fluoridate all public water supplies. This is classic technocracy. Even accepting Pfahlert’s claims about the science at face value, what he ignores is that just as people can choose to eat unhealthy food, or smoke, or drive cars (all of which kill a *lot* of people unlike dental cavities), they can also legitimately choose not to fluoridate their drinking water.

At present, each city and district council makes this decision for the water supplies it manages, which allows the communities who drink that water a much greater influence over whether it should be fluoridated than they would if it was mandated by central government. Whether or not you agree with Water New Zealand isn’t just about whether you are pro, anti, or on the fence about the pros and cons of fluoridation. In some ways, it’s more about whether you support parliaments centralizing decision-making power, and reducing people’s ability to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

There are a number of things about the pro-fluoride campaign that make me profoundly uncomfortable. One is Ken Perrott, a retired fertilizer chemist whose prolific writing on fluoridation is about as neutral as retired petroleum geologist Ian Plimer’s writing on climate change. Another is the sock puppets, with names like “Cedric Katesby” and “Debz Whipple Chris Price“, who pop up wherever the subject of fluoridation is being discussed online to reiterate one of a handful of empty rhetorical claims, laced with heavy doses of scorn and mockery. The most common of their claims are:

  • fluoride is a naturally occurring element
  • there is no evidence of harm to humans from fluoride dissolved in water at concentrations under 2ppm (part per million)
  • the science is settled, and water fluoridation is normal
  • therefore, opposing fluoridation is a form of “science denialism” and anti-fluoridationists are “anti-science
  • questioning the science of fluoridation is akin to questioning the scientific consensus on climate change, or arguing that the Earth is flat
  • for these reasons, the public should pay not attention to activists groups who oppose fluoridation

The more I see them, the more the constant chanting of these mantra starts to look suspiciously like the sort of key messages cooked up by the Hollow Men and their PR strategists. What these claims distort or ignore is:

  • As clarified on the D4T page on fluoride, fluorine is an element, whereas fluorides are compounds containing fluorine. While some fluorides occur naturally, pro-fluoridationist have publicly admitted that the fluoride compounds used in water fluoridation schemes are industrial byproducts. An Official Information Act request I made through FYI.org.nz shows some chemicals used in fluoridation are made by fertilizer companies, and when independently tested, contained a number of dangerous elements which are bioaccumulative (they build up in the body over time and can’t be eliminated), and therefore dangerous at *any* level.
  • Focusing on a claimed lack of evidence of harm when fluoride levels in water are under 2ppm cleverly avoids discussing the well known, and serious human harm caused by levels higher than 2ppm.
  • The science on fluoridation is far from settled. Epidemiologist Ben Goldacre, in his ‘Bad Science’ column in the Guardian, said, “the reality is that anybody making any confident statement about fluoride – positive or negative – is speaking way beyond the evidence“. Highly esteemed science reviewers the Cochrane Collaboration recently put out a detailed review of the scientific literature on fluoride which stated that much of the research on fluoridation uses flawed methodology, or has an obvious bias, or both. What these highly respected scientists are saying, is that the evidence for benefits is far from clear, which makes any potential risk to public health hard to justify.
  • Once the “science is settled” claim is debunked, the “anti-science” trope and the parallels with climate change don’t stick, and the rest of the house of cards just falls to pieces.

Most importantly, all of these claims about “The Science TM” carefully avoid addressing the ethical objections I mentioned last time fluoridation came up in this blog. The ethical aspect was addressed by Perrot and Price, along with one David Fierstien, when they set up accounts on FYI specifically to troll an anti-fluoridationist who had made an (admittedly poorly worded) OIA request. What their argument boils down to is that because fluoridation chemicals are not “drugs”, making people drink them in their water to prevent dental disease is not a “medical” treatment, so medical ethics involving the need for informed consent from patients don’t apply. This is a clever argument too, because it appears to address this issue, but it’s painfully self-contradictory. Giving people a substance (”drug” or not) to prevent disease is, by definition, a medical treament. Medical ethics apply. On that basis alone, I agree with Water NZ that the government should make a law about water fluoridation - one that bans it.

Filed August 12th, 2015 under Uncategorized

Just a quick update. Today I reorganised the main page a bit, splitting the “Food and Health” category in two, adding categories for “Environment” and “Social Justice”, and putting the “Tools” section under its own subheading, to make it extra clear those items are different from the various topic pages. This was provoked by the overly busy look that resulted from my adding the first new pages since I got back online after my year long “net fast”, one on GM (Genetic Modification) and one on DDT (the controversial pesticide).

GM is a critically important topic for us to get our heads around. From an Aotearoa perspective, the late 1990s saw the beginning of the first wave of pro-GM lobbying by biotech industry lobby groups. This wave broke and rolled back in the face of a broad social consensus against the environmental release of transgenic organisms (usually known as Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs), but in the last few years, there has been a renewed push by the the biotechnology industry, and its critical that everyone knows enough about the scientific arguments for and against GM to make the right decision on whether to support them, or once again oppose them.

Pro-GM groups like like the Life Sciences Network, whose public spokesperson was Dr William Rolleston, were light on references, but heavy on rhetoric; one of their regular claims was that environmentalists who oppose GM were opposed to “progress”. According to an article by Quiggan and Lambert in Propsect Magazine, this “anti-science” trope dates back to the 1980s, when tobacco corporations were desperately trying to distract people from the emerging evidence that their products cause lung cancer by claiming that public interest activsts of all kinds are “anti-science”.

The particular focus of the Quiggan and Lambert’s article is the claim that when the newly coined environmentalist movement, shocked by the revelations in Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”, pushed for a global ban of the use of the insecticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), this resulted in the avoidable deaths of millions of people from malaria. A number of big green groups considered persistent organic pollutants like DDT to be a serious health risk to humans and other species, and wanted the 2001 Stockhold Convention to ban them outright. But faced with evidence that living in houses sprayed with DDT was less wrong than dying of malaria, they accepted an exception which allowed countries to continue using DDT for disease control until better alternatives could be found.

The most recent evidence I could find today suggests that supplying malaria-affected countries with insecticidal misquito nets is both cheaper and more effective than DDT spraying, but as always, Drilling for Truth pages are a work in progress, and any evidence for claims or counterclaim is always warmly welcomed.

Filed June 24th, 2015 under Uncategorized

I don’t have the credentials to make a definitive scientific case for or against water fluoridation based on the highly contested body of evidence available. There are dentists on both sides of the divide. There are academic researchers on both sides. Public health officials vary from wildly enthusiastic about water fluoridation (eg New Zealand, parts of the US) to completely opposed (eg Sweden, in fact excepting the UK, most of Europe). What I do find convincing is the ethical argument, as laid out by numerous writers like Mark Diesendorf, Ph.D (see the original in .PDF form) which says that mass medication without consent is a violation of basic medical ethics. To quote the UK All Party Parliamentary Group Against Fluoridation:

“The right to refuse treatment is accepted as fundamental in a free society, and has been enshrined in human rights legislation, the Patient’s Charter and elsewhere. There is thus a moral imperative on a Government (whether or not it sees itself as legally bound) which can possibly be lifted only in cases of national emergency, and/or highly infectious and/or life-threatening epidemics.”

Here in Aotearoa, a series of multi-day hearings have been held by a number of local government bodies, including New Plymouth District Council and Hamilton City Council, to investigate the safety and efficacy of water fluoridation. In each case the result has been a decision to end the practice, despite the fact that public health officials and academics at the country’s main Dental School in Otago consider the science to be settled in favour of it. With local body elections looming, the Minister of Health is determined to play King Kanute, and turn back the anti-fluoridation tide. He is quoted by TVNZ news as saying:

“There are a number of referenda that are going to happen around the country over the run-up to the local body election period,” Mr Ryall said.

“One of the things I’ve done is I’ve asked the authorities to look at how they can better convey both the health benefits and the social benefits of fluoridation in such a way that people can appreciate those benefits and be aware of them.”

What really bothers me here in the patronising attitude towards the public. In the eyes of technocrats like Ryall we remain the “great unwashed”, incapable of understanding logical arguments or weighing the available evidence for ourselves. In other words, presented with both sides of the argument in a thorough public hearing, people are coming to the *wrong* conclusions. Public servants are now tasked with the PR job of massaging the way the information is presented until we start coming to the *right* conclusions again. If I’m correct in my suspicion that it is the ethical argument that is winning people over, I doubt they can succeed, but it’s truly sad to think about how many thousands of public health dollars are being wasted in the process of trying.

Drilling for Truth has the beginnings of a research page on Fluoride, although much more work needs to be done.

Filed July 7th, 2013 under Uncategorized

I have to admit to being against the use of 1080. However, I’d like to mention that I’m vegan, so not really an advocate of hunting, or the pest-meat industry. Also I’m studying Ecology at Massey, so while I wouldn’t claim to be a scientific expert, I’m certainly not unfamiliar with the issues, or unconcerned about the survival of native species.

Anyway, I can’t help but notice that the Graf Brothers, creators of the anti-1080 documentary Poisoning Paradise, seem to attract some pretty strident critics. When the NZ Department of Conservation produced a critique of the documentary, it produced a rash of comments on the Graf’s website, and I couldn’t help but ask, who are these people trolling the comment thread? Are they useful idiots who really do care about native bush and its ecosystems but cannot grasp that dropping a broad-spectrum poison into that bush is ecocide? Are they provocateurs working for the chemical industry and aiming to:

* start arguments using patronising languge (eg “your movie is constructed on inuendo, fear and cherry picked sentences from 20 year old reports?”)

*distract the discussion onto tangents (eg the country of origin of scientist, or red herrings like creationism)

* claim to the moral high ground (eg you’re not like those of us who are committed to the ecology and conservation of Aotearoa… you’re a hand puppet to the hunting and pest-meat lobby)

One clue to look for is the same (or similar) lines being repeated by different posters, as if they were scripted, eg “please detail (or at least outline) what the issues are that you think are of such importance”. Sometimes these semi-scripted key messages will turn up on multiple fora, news sites etc. Some of these techniques are discussed in Nicky Hagar’s book the Hollow Men. I’m still interested in hearing scientific arguments that support the use of 1080 in our native bush, but this trolling does little to convince me that the pro-1080 discourse emerges from genuine and informed concern for native species.

Filed March 30th, 2013 under Uncategorized

A while back, a fellow researcher introduced me to September Clues, and the accompanying CluesForum, the work of a loose network of media critics who assert that much of the audio-visual evidence of what happened at the World Trade Centre on September 11 was fake. having seen corporate media present lies and half-truths about almost every political campaign and protest activity I’ve ever been involved with (if they deign to cover it at all), I don’t struggle with the idea that some or all of the media product which represented 911 was misrepresented or even doctored. However, even for someone who is already highly suspicious of the official theory of 911, the claims the Clues crew make are hard to swallow. The September Clues video, although very thorough, is also extremely repetitive, dry, long, and very hard to watch beyond the first few minutes.

Recently, the same colleague convinced me to watch a chunk of another 911 conspiracy video called In Plane Sight. About half way through, the host plays what he claims is a news clip, one which is clearly fake. Go to 8:01 in this segment and have a look. Watch it again, without the sound, and take a good look at all the people, and what they are up to. Their body language, their focus of attention etc. Watch it again, with your hand over the portion of the screen that contains imagery of a smoking WTC tower. What do you see?

These people are tourists, and passers-by on an ordinary day. There is no sign that any of them have just witnessed an unprecedented terrorist attack, or anything out of the ordinary. Look at the lady on the right hand side, who buys some food, and wanders away. Look at the lady walking her dog, wandering away from the WTC. Look at the guy in the construction helmet, nonchalantly wandering away from the WTC. There is a guy rubbernecking with a pair of binoculars, but his body language looks more like than of a birdwatcher, than someone looking at a smoking skyscraper. The only thing in the video which gives that impression is the smoking tower in the background, and the screaming in the soundtrack, none of which, on closer examination, actually seems to be emanating from anyone in the video.

In fact, none of these people look hysterical, panicked, frightened, or even confused, and they are not jockeying to get a better view of the smoking tower in the background, or interacting with each other in any way that suggests that have just seen something shocking together. I could believe that the video is from just before the towers collapsed, almost an hour after the second tower was hit, and that people have by now calmed down, some of them deciding there’s nothing more to see. But how does this fit with the soundtrack of screaming, hysteria, and some woman ranting about how whatever she saw was “not American Airlines” (which is a weird thing for someone to fixate on under the circumstances, don’t you think?). It’s clear to me that the clip is a fake, and the smoke (at least) has been added after the footage was filmed.

What’s even more disturbing is that later, the host of In Plane Sight actively defends this obviously fake footage, running the last part through in slow-motion, and claiming that the food-buying lady is the one ranting about “American Airlines”. See 1:55 into part 5 of 6. Either this guy is very gullible, suffering from a major confirmation bias (”it must be real because it fits my pet theory”), or his crew have doctored this clip themselves. This clip has no watermark or other visible attribution, and the host never mentions its source (except “tv news”). I’m now convinced, from my own observations, that fake media is being passed off as real documentary evidence of the events of 911, at least in this case.

Filed December 26th, 2012 under Uncategorized

“Denialism is choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Author Paul O’Shea remarks, ‘[It] is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event’.” 

 - Wikipedia

It began with people whose writings question the official histories of Auschwitz and other German concentration camps, who were called “Holocaust Deniers”. The term was extended more recently to those who disbelieve the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, who are now “Climate Change Deniers“, and those who question aspects of the Peak Oil consensus, who are now “Peak Oil Deniers“. As a left-libertarian and a permaculturist, none of these people are my natural political allies. It would take a lot of evidence to convince me that the entire history of the gas chambers in concentration camps were Soviet war propaganda, and that the Nuremberg Trials were a repeat of the “kangeroo courts” of Stalin’s purges. It would take some very powerful arguments to convince me that fossil fuels are not a finite resource which we need to move beyond, or that the visible evidence of climate change is not real.

I understand that in the case of Climate Change and Peak Oil the “denier” label is really aimed at industry-funded spindocters like Marc Morano and Christopher Monckton whose goal is to polarise the debate, and confuse the public. What bothers me though is that friends of mine risk being labeled “deniers” too, regardless of that fact that their sympathy for contrarian arguments stems from legitimate scepticism about the policies being offered by state and global corporate bureaucracies as “solutions” to these environmental problems.

What worries me even more is the ‘mission creep’, where people just keep finding new uses for the word ”denier”. Now that it’s associated in the public mind with unsavoury types like neo-nazis, anti-semites, and paid liars whose spin is putting the survival of millions of people at risk, this dangerously loaded prefix is being used as a weapon by the very state-corporate interests it was coined to criticise. Anyone who publicly expresses concerns about the safety or effectiveness of highly profitable vaccination programs is now a “vaccination denier“. Similarly, anyone who questions the theory that AIDS is caused exclusively by HIV is now an “AIDS denier“, despite the fact that many aspects of the medical theory on HIV/AIDS are questioned by scholars like Cell Biologist Dr Peter Duesberg, and Anthropologist Eric B. Ross. HIV/AIDS is the latest controversial topic to get the Drilling For Truth treatment. No longer satisfied with branding its critics “extremists”, and even “terrorists“, the state-corporate systems have decided environmentalists and natural health advocates we are all ‘progress deniers’, or perhaps ‘neoclassical economics deniers’.

As for “holocaust deniers”, such people are naturally my political opponents. That’s why, when I find myself agreeing with some well-argued points about academic freedom, and the double standards that allow some genocides to become dogma while others are denied, it surprises me that the article in which these points are made,  ’New Zealand’s “Cyber Crime Law: The Back Door to Censorship“, was written by Kerry Bolton, author of ‘The Holocaust Myth’.

Having to swallow my pride and admit that I agree with a political opponent about something also increases my respect for the courage and intellectual integrity shown by Professor Noam Chomsky, in his defence of the free speech rights of holocaust revisionist Dr Robert Faurisson. Like Chomsky, whatever I might think of the intellectual rigour of my opponents arguments, I see threats to academic freedom when governments create historical “fact” by legislation, and make the courts into a modern day Inquisition used to punish heretics. I agree with Bolton that it would be foolhardy for the New Zealand State to sacrifice our freedom of thought and expression to for an illusory “security” by joining the “Budapest Agreement” on policing “cybercrime” (a word eerily similar to “thoughtcrime”). Actually I’m suspicious of the whole demonization of the internet that is implied by tacking the prefix “cyber” onto negative words like “crime”, and “bullying”. Does that make me a “cybercrime denier”? Too bad. 

Filed September 21st, 2012 under Uncategorized

I wrote this as a response to the post ‘The World is Changing‘ on Muertos’ Blog.

A thought-provoking article, but I think it’s a major mistake to see the conspiracy underground as a unified entity. There are many divisions, and the idea of two distinct camps of conspiracy “believers” and “skeptics” is a false dichotomy. Certainly, there are theorists who gather all available conspiracies under a meta-conspiracy of NWO.  vs. fundamentalist “debunkers” who gather anyone who questions any aspect of their perception of “normal” under a meta-conspiracy of “lunatic fringe”; but curiously, one finds climate change “skeptics” who fit both these profiles.

Then, there are those who get obsessed with proving a single conspiracy theory (eg JFK or chemtrails), while taking a mainstream attitude to all the others. Or those those who fervantly believe in one cluster of conspiracies, while lambasting the proponents of others as tin-foil hat wearers.  In Aotearoa, some of the most vocal “debunkers” are objectivist libertarians, who are die-hard Austrian Schoolers, and climate ’skeptics’, who claim environmentalism is a communist plot.

Your association of conspiracy theory, religion, and utopian politics also seems to suffer from some confirmation bias. In my experience, there have always been some people entering conspiracy discussion from a mythic worldview (often, but not always a fundamentalist christian one), for whom the evil of the conspirators is more important than the falsifiability of any claims, or the evidence for and against them. Similarly there are others who believe critical thinking includes questioning the status quo (eg the official story of 9/11), and for whom establishing which claims can be falsified, and what evidence is available is of critical importance.

I find that “debunkers” or “skeptics” can be similarly divided. There are those  willing to suspend judgement, pull back on the flaming, and have a vigorous debate about the facts of each case. Then there are those, like Penn Jillette, who foam at the mouth at the mere mention that there might be anything untoward about water fluoridation, mercury amalgam, or building 7 falling into its own footprint because of a few office fires, and think conspiracy theorists should be lynched as a blight on humanity.

For example, a landmark court case, Wilks vs. the American Medical Association, found that the AMA had been systematically undermining the practice of chiropractic, despite mounting evidence of its efficacy, and a  complete lack of evidence for claims that its riskier than drugs or surgery. Many medical doctors now refer their patients to chiropractors for conditions where there is peer-reviewed evidence of its benefits. Yet some medical “skeptics” continue to smear chiropractors as “quacks”; the same with herbalists, despite the mounting peer-reviewed evidence for the safety and benefits of many (not all, but many) herbal treatments.

The ThriveDebunked blog gives a great example of a failure to understand scientific method common among “debunkers”:

“If you can show me a working example of a “free energy” device whose operation is clearly and publicly verified by reputable scientific sources—a “free energy” device whose operation and functioning are unmistakable, explainable by science and capable of being reproduced—I will concede that “free energy” exists.”

If the device can be observed to run off “free energy”, after having run any conceivable experiment to test alternative explanations of its energy source, it doesn’t matter if the person writing up the report is a ‘reputable scientific source’. This is an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy. Certainly being published in a peer-reviewed journal would give the report more credibility, because it means more experienced eyes have failed to find bugs in the experimental method, and perhaps reproduced the results. But a high number of papers published in scientific journals later turn out to be wrong on important points. Being published in a reputable source, or endorsed by a big name scientist, is not what makes a claim scientific.

As for being “explainable by science”, it’s not uncommon for verifiable observations to clash with the theories fashionable in among scientists at a given time. The accumulation of such observations has regularly lead to the scientific revolutions described by Kuhn in his book on paradigm shift. For example, the observable findings of quantum mechanics have yet to be squared with the observable findings that allowed Einstein to unseat aspects of Newtonian mechanics with general relativity. To summarize, fitting nicely with the academic establishment and it’s current Holy Writ is also NOT what makes claims scientific. Scientific knowledge is generated by constantly tweaking or even rewriting theory to fit observation. John Michael Greer writes some interesting points on these and other flaws of “scientism” in the Ecotechnic Future.

I always try to keep in mind the words of one of the founders of western philosophy (if he actually existed), Socrates, who Plato claimed said something like ‘I am the wiser man, because I know, that I know nothing’.

Filed March 2nd, 2012 under Uncategorized
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