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Surefire way to avoid all risks

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According to the World Health Organization, mobile (cell) phones “may cause cancer”. However, there’s no established link. Still, it could be a possibility. It could also not be.

Therefore a bunch of experts have decided to warn the public with the non-news. Maybe that’s the “ethical” thing to do.

But if that’s true, then we should warn the public about a far more certain risk. You see, it can be easily established that the one thing in common among people that die, is that they were alive in the first place.

Armed with this incredible revelation, the WHO experts will soon recommend us all not to be born at all.

Written by omnologos

2011/Jun/02 at 07:57:21

Posted in Science, Skepticism

Fear And Timidity No Friends Of Science

with 2 comments

(comment posted to Jonathan Wolff’s “The journals are full of great studies, but can we believe the statistics?“, The Guardian, May 4 2010)

There are two big issues with Mr Wolff’s article.

(1) The “fear of looking foolish” seems a particularly childish approach to Science.

Insofar as one is able to argue the reasons for a particular choice in an “unsettled” scientific field, there is of course no foolishness to speak of.

In fact, looking at this the other way around, the fact that one was “very right” once, means nothing about being right in the future. Otherwise, all we would have to do would be to listen to former Nobel Prize winners.

Sadly, after the trip to Stockholm very few of them are capable of achieving anything remotely important as their acclaimed feat.

(2) There is little hope for Science really, if the goal is to hold on until an orthodoxy develops, and then sheepishly hang on to that.

We can’t simply evolve into separate tribes showing no critical thinking of what happens in other fields. And orthodoxies are meant to crumble, otherwise it is not “Science”. By the time they become widespread enough for the likes of Wolff to take them as “Truth”, they will likely be ripe for destruction by the next generation of scientists.

Come to think, a certain guy called Galileo would have failed on the Wolff strategy left, right and centre. Luckily he wasn’t afraid, and didn’t look the other way.

Written by omnologos

2010/May/05 at 00:27:43

Scientific Journalism Is Moribund, Dead, Perhaps Alive

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(thanks to Bill Clement for inspiring the gist of this blog)

In hindsight, it should have been clear long ago. It wasn’t going to be pretty, nor it could have been. On one side, journalists with the vaguest notions of the scientific method, mostly convinced that science is what a scientist does (need to remember Piero Manzoni, anybody?).

On the other side, a number of determined bloggers “that have made themselves experts in general climate science (in the words of Roger Harrabin), “ordinary people [who] can say [to scientists] ‘look, you said this, you said that, the two don’t match, explain yourself’” (in the words of Richard North).

Of course, it was going to be carnage. The journalists would not and could not survive the confrontation by any stretch of imagination. And so they didn’t. As noted by Matt Ridley in The Spectator:

It was not Private Eye, or the BBC or the News of the World, but a retired electrical engineer in Northampton, David Holland, whose freedom-of-information requests caused the Climategate scientists to break the law, according to the Information Commissioner. By contrast, it has so far attracted little attention that the leaked emails of Climategate include messages from reporters obsequiously seeking ammunition against the sceptics. Other emails have shown reporters meekly changing headlines to suit green activists, or being threatened with ostracism for even reporting the existence of a sceptical angle

As far as the average skeptical blogger is concerned, scientific journalism in matters of climate should be considered dying if not dead, only a place where to find nice but wholly un-necessary confirmation of one’s doubts. Or should it?

The underlying problem is suggested by Roger Harrabin in the same radio debate mentioned above:

What’s been difficult for people reporting mainstream debate in the past has been that what we would call our trusted sources of science, people like the Royal Society and the various other corollary bodies in different countries, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set up to be the touchstone of probity on this issue, they have been the providers of news and the people who have been doubting these news have generally speaking not been academics, I am on the trawl for academics at the moment in British universities there are hardly any and there have been doubters from other quarters and it’s been very difficult for us to tell what are the credentials when all these establishment voices are lined up on one side, how can we put them against a blogger on the other side that might happen to be a blogger who has for the past 15 years spent 100 hundred hours on the Internet reading climate science and has a good knowledge but we don’t know how to test this

Note the choice of words…”our trusted sources of science“, “the providers of news“…these are the words of somebody with the mindset of being an information broker between “the scientists” and “the general public”. It is a way of seeing “scientific journalism” as some kind of translation service, from the high-brow vocabulary of the scientists to the simpleton’s expressions even the most empty-headed Joe Public might understand.

Obviously, such a mindset leaves no space at all to a critical analysis of what the scientists say: because “how can we put them against a blogger [whose knowledge] we don’t know how to test“. Harrabin might be more right on this than he is ever likely to wish: after all, as commented by Bill:

The Press, too, have few within their ranks with a genuine science background. The result – regurgitation (syndication) of the few articles written

Mind you, journalists might not see that as an issue. It all depends on what “journalism” is meant to be. Here’s how award-winning science writer Ed Yong recommends scientists to approach interviews:

[The journalists’] job is not to grill you with hard questions – it’s to find The Story and get you to say something interesting. Your job, interestingly enough, is not to answer their questions to the letter, but to get your message across and to do so in an interesting way. Note the compatibility between these two goals.

The easiest way to mutually assured victory is to get your message across in a way that’s interesting enough that you practically hand them The Story on a plate. Journalism is a game but it’s not a zero-sum one. You and the journalist are not vicious gladiatorial opponents; you are engaging in a collaborative venture and treating it as such will help you get more out of it.

The (skeptical) bloggers write about their quest for Truth. The journalists write instead about…”The Story“. Has “The Story” got any relationship with Truth? Who knows, and does anybody care? (hey…some editors go all the way and get rid of reporters trying to find out what the Truth is…).

Just as “The Story” on climate was the overwhelming consensus in 2009, it is now the overwhelming amount of evidence indicating the IPCC documents have been biased in a miriad of ways towards reporting exactly what the paymasters/Governments wanted them to report.

Kudos to all journalists following the new “Story” but don’t expect their articles to become the new WUWT or EU Referendum. They can not: check the somehow inadvertently comical situation described by Ivan Oranski, executive editor of Reuters Health, on how to choose one’s sources. It looks like Mr Oranski has been around the block quite a few times, so to speak. He even recommends “to always read papers you’re reporting on, instead of relying solely on press releases” (no sh*t!). But not even once Mr Oranski dares thinking he could use himself, his ongoing knowledge of the topic, his ability to cross-reference findings throughout the mountains of scientific papers he has read.

The above suggests “scientific journalism” is still a long, long way from getting in the same league as, say, political journalistic analysis of internal or foreign affairs, where a healthy skepticism of politicians’ statements is nowadays a matter of course. One suspects, too many “scientific journalists” haven’t had their Cronkite moment as yet. But there is hope. Here’s an example of a scientific journalist actually using his brains, however briefly (Nicholas Wade, “Ancient Man in Greenland Has Genome Decoded“, The New York Times Feb 10, 2010):

Perhaps reflecting the so far somewhat limited reach of personal genomics, the researchers note that the ancient Greenlander was at risk for baldness, a surprising assessment given that all that remains of him is his hair

Ed Yong seems also more open than most to the new challenges of the present:

There is rampant churnalism, a dearth of fact-checking, misguided attempts at balance at the cost of accuracy. On the other hand, there is plenty of work from non-traditional sources that does espouse these values, including the writings of many freelance science writers and working scientists (and many of the so-called elements of journalism are elements of good scientific practice too).

If you play out this taxonomic game, you quickly see that many people who ostensibly work in science journalism produce work that is nothing of the sort. Likewise, amateurs who wouldn’t classify themselves as science journalists, actually ought to count.

Journalists are even waking up to the extraordinary amount of news they can produce from “inspirations” found in blogs and other forms of online social media. One interesting lead fresh out of the AAAS 2010 meeting: some scientists still don’t get it (will they ever), others understand they need new ways of thinking in order to explain themselves to the outside world.

And of course there is one reliable anchor that hasn’t been much affected by all of this: the minute group of scientific journalists that have actually been scientists themselves, know how scientific publications work, and can read and critique a scientific article on their own, if need be. I am talking about people like journalism-award-winning academic David Whitehouse.

No prize to guess what Dr Whitehouse thinks of climate alarmism.

(many thanks to @TheGreenDemon and @ThisIsTrue for sharing some of the links above)

Simon Singh’s Unfortunate Mistake

with 4 comments

I do not think Simon Singh‘s loss in the libel case brought by the British Chiropractic Association can be reversed.

If Singh’s original sentence was the following (the article has been withdrawn)

[The BCA] is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments

then the implication that the BCA is knowingly promoting bogus treatment could hardly have been spelled out more clearly.

People may argue about the opportunity for the BCA to throw itself into what was obviously going to be a high-profile case.

But if they had left Singh’s words unchallenged, surely at the BCA itself they could have open the floodgates to legal actions by unhappy clients…and especially unhappy had they learned that the BCA did not believe in its treatments.

There is a general consensus that English libel laws are just unfair and can be used in lieu of censorship. But Singh wasn’t exactly born yesterday, and must have know those laws for a long time.

Written by omnologos

2009/May/22 at 07:46:19

Climate Change Activism’s Wreck of a Train

with 3 comments

Observationally, they have nothing to show to support their claims of upcoming climate disasters. Scientifically, they got it mixed up and regularly distort what Science is and is not showing. In practice, they are using persuasion tools developed to save pandas and the Hudson river, and those are the wrong ones because Anthropogenic Global Warming is not a species in peril now or a river polluted at the present, but a risk for the end of the century.

No wonder then, Climate Change activists have been fighting a mostly political battle for at least two decades. And the main objective appears time and again to force their solutions upon us, and to stifle all forms of dissent.

In desperation, what else have they got?

Written by omnologos

2008/Nov/27 at 22:55:13

Debating 2.0

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(comment to Brian Dunning‘s “A Non-Debate with a Young Earth Creationist” entry in the new skepticblog blog)

[…] He gave me his 17-page tract […] It was the worst of the tired old arguments so poorly framed that even most Young Earthers don’t try to make them any more: […] Obviously, in Bill’s experience, he knows the scientific answers to all the claims in his document. He’s heard them a hundred times and he’s smart enough to understand them. He simply believes differently. There would be no point in having a conversation with me; he would hear the same answers from me that he’s heard a hundred times before. I’ve heard his claims a hundred times […]

How about asking questions like this one: “what kind of evidence would make you change your mind on transitional fossils?”

Methinks old-style debates are good up to a point, because they inevitably become the talking equivalent of medieval jousting.

Belief-changing challenges may provide the additional information that is otherwise likely to be missed, by the audience and perhaps even by some of the debaters.

For example, the fact that some people argue on pure faith. And if that’s the case, it is easy to show what an oxymoron their position is: out there trying to convince others, even if there is absolutely nothing that will ever make them change their own certainties.

Written by omnologos

2008/Oct/30 at 20:28:02

Debunking Sarah Palin’s “Device in the Right Ear” Claim

with 3 comments

There’s quite a few websites claiming people have spotted some kind of device in Sarah Palin’s right ear, during the VP debate on Thursday night. A “willyloman” post “What Does Gov. Palin Have in Her Right Ear?” signed “Scott Creighton” seems to be among the most popular ones.

You can also check out the “Palin Appears To Be Wearing an Earpiece During The Debate” thread in the Abovetopsecret forum.

Myself, I cannot see evidence of anything in Palin’s right ear, during the debate.

But that is not as important as the answer to the following question: what evidence would I need to change my opinion? Well, I would need to spot that device clearly in at least one picture. So far, all I have been able to see is perfectly explainable with Palin’s hair, glasses and shape of the ear.

And so my question to Creighton and all the others is: what evidence would you need, to change your opinion?


Creighton writes:

What was that running down into Sarah Palin’s right ear during the debate? […] This photo was never intended to stand alone as evidence, that is why I include the link to the CNN video itself… That is still below. From that video, and many others now, you can see something that looks like it is attached to the arm of her glasses on the right side. You can see it move with her head, and her glasses throughout the video. I have taken another shot of the straight on view of this object, but please, look at the photos, then watch the CNN video so you can see it isn’t just some fluke; it stays there and is attached to her glasses. […]

Even without zooming, you can clearly see something attached to her glasses and running into her right ear. At first I thought this might be a hearing aid of some sort, so I looked up other pictures of her to see if I could find one of her wearing a hearing aid. I couldn’t. […]

Let’s start with the consideration that the “hearing aid” claim sounds very disingenuous. If Palin really had been hard of hearing, we would have known that weeks ago for sure. Mr Creighton should have definitely tried to look more sincere, if only to help support his case for a “device in the right ear”.

Anyway…the only way to be sure is to check if the “device” can be seen in any picture.

Now, a paranoid mind will find lots of food for their thoughts, as there really aren’t too many photos of Sarah Palin clearly showing her right ear during the debate itself (there is the one with her youngest son, but it was taken after the end of the debate and the aforementioned paranoid mind will surely claim Palin’s removed the “device” just in time). Also, I am not going to argue with anybody believing that the “device” was invisible or very well hidden: that’s akin to claiming a giant white, invisible rabbit was jumping up and down in front of the camera for the whole debate (iow: it cannot be taken seriously).

In any case, the onus is on those claiming the “device” existed at all. So I have scoured around on YouTube, the Getty Images website and the web looking for any “right ear” shot. Results below.

Palin 01

Palin 01

Palin 02

Palin 02

Palin 03

Palin 03

Palin 04

Palin 04

Palin 05

Palin 05

Palin 06

Palin 06

Palin 07

Palin 07

Palin 08

Palin 08

Palin 09

Palin 09

Palin 10

Palin 10

Images are enlarged areas from sources described in each picture. Copyrights remain with the authors of course.

First of all, look at “Palin 05”: that one has been taken at the end of the debate, when Palin was holding her baby son, if I am not mistaken. I included it because it reveals Palin’s ear details in full, with all the “ridges” and “valleys”. Note in particular the rather peculiar “ridge” right underneath the “temple” (“sidepiece”) of her glasses.

Peculiarity in this case is not important. Every one of us has a “special” shape of the ear and I understand it’s the one thing people really have trouble with when disguising.

I believe that “ridge” is what people like Creighton are misinterpreting as a “device”.

UPDATE: a similar conclusion has been reported by “SkepticOverlord” in the Abovetopsecret forum.

UPDATE: an “enhanced image” showing no device can be seen at Plaidlemur. Just to avoid the usual conspiratorial comments, I actually chose not to enhance the pictures posted above.

In fact, I wonder if anybody could please tell me where in every other picture posted above, there is a “device” that is on top, or separate, or in any case definitely not the “ridge” mentioned above.

You may also want to note how in images Palin 08, 09 and 10, taken directly from the live TV pictures, Sarah Palin is showing her right ear to the cameras in ways that would be extremely dangerous were she wearing a “device” of any sort in her right ear.


The above is more than enough to convince myself there was nothing at all in Palin’s right ear, during the debate. At this stage, the discussion can move forward only in two circumstances: either somebody comes out with a very clear picture of the “device”, or believers tell me what more evidence they need, to change their opinion.

UPDATE: blogger Ginandtacos reasons it would have been almost impossible for Palin to be able to talk the way she did, without breaking in apparently incoherent ways.

UPDATE: the claim appears to have moved to “Palin was reading her notes“. I don’t think that deserves any further analysis.