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Maps and Figures

"Hitler or Coulter?" Quiz
Map1 - Teen Pregnancy
Map2 - Incarceration
Map3 - Homicide Rates
Map4 - Drop-out Rates
Map5 - Bankruptcy Rates
Map6 - Driving Distances
Map7 - Energy Use
Map8 - Gonorrhea!
Map9 - Tax Burden
Map10 - State GDP
Map11 - DHS funding
Map12 - Adult Illiteracy.
Map13 - Abortion Bans:
Map14 - ER Quality
Map15 - Hospital Quality
Map16 - Coal Burners
Map 17 - Infant Mortality
Map 18 - Toxic Waste
Map 19 - Obesity
Map 20 - Poverty
Map 21 - Occupational safety
Map 22 - Traffic deaths
Map 23 - Divorce
Figure 1 - Wages vs Right to work
Figure 2 - Unemployment vs Right to work
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Friday, March 09, 2007

The New Yorker covers AIDS denialists!
Gawker tells us a little bit about a new article in the New Yorker, sadly not online, by Michael Specter talking about HIV/AIDS denialists (and calling them that).

Anyone got a copy of this weeks New Yorker? I want it.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Denialist deck of cards
Chris at Brown Study Blog has compiled what he calls The Denialists' Deck of Cards: An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts. It includes an illustrated set of cards showing the most common rhetoric used to distract from the real issues at hand, such as these:

An example of him applying it to such an argument here.

This is an interesting take on the problem of Denialism as part of corporate advocacy. For those who don't follow the issue, Denialism, put simply, is the art of creating controversy where there should be none. It consists of five consistent tactics that allow one to argue without data, facts, or even logic. However, the arguments are still often very compelling, or at least emotionally appealing, even though they are fallacious, distracting and ultimately pointless.

We originally discussed this problem several months ago, and the five unifying elements of most denialists arguments were:

  1. Conspiracy: Alleging scientific/liberal/government conspiracies to suppress a secret truth, make profit, "promote atheism", etc. Many times conspiracies are alleged when there is no evidence of one, but these arguments have a great deal of emotional resonance amongst those who feel as though their system of beliefs is under attack from facts (creationists), are protecting an overvalued/racist idea (holocaust denial) or who are generally cranks/egomaniacs/paranoid personality disorder types (HIV/AIDS denialists or 9/11 conspiracy theorists) who enjoy feeling as though they possess information and knowledge that others don't.

  2. Selectivity: The selective use of data or information is a hallmark of denialist rhetoric. A critical aspect of scientific and rational reasoning is the need to incorporate all available information into a theory that describes the known framework of knowledge. If there is data or facts that contradict one's theory, the theory needs to be modified or amplified to include the new data. A famous example is the shift in physics from Newtonian mechanics to relativistic mechanics. Newton wasn't wrong, his observations were never incorrect, but as time went on new observations were made that suggested his physics did accurately describe motion at higher speeds. In comes Einstein. All the data at non-relativistic speeds was still correct, and is consistent with the new theory, but the theory had to be amplified to include the new information.

    Denialists frequently use selective evidence, discredited evidence (science never "purges" information from the record that is incorrect), or even worse they "quote mine" to identify data or statements that when used out of context or without thorough understanding of the field seem to support their arguments. No matter how many times you point out that the paper they cite was shown to be incorrect (HIV/AIDS denialists have their favorites), or that the literature has corrected or expanded information on the topic, they will not let go of their small bits of data that support their hypothesis.

    Particularly well funded denialists will often commission studies that present evidence that appears to support their position, but on closer inspection you see that they've designed a study to engineer a specific result, which leads us to our next category.

  3. The False Expert: Used probably to greatest effect by cigarette companies (the true fathers of denialism), these are hacks that can be expected to publish position papers, analyses (or meta-analyses) that support your position for a mere few thousand dollars. I would include Heritage, Discovery Institute, Cato, CEI, The George C. Marshall institute, AEI, the Mercatus Center, and pretty much everyone linked by Exxon secrets as a likely hack. A perfect example of a such a hack is Steven Milloy of junkscience. A former lobbyist for many of the usual suspects, he is now in the employ of oil companies trying to deny global warming. Using all the tactics of denialism and obfuscation, he happily churns out mischaracterizations of all the science he can distort. Many of these organizations under a mantra of advancing "economic freedom" or "libertarian ideals" promote the absolute worst kinds of abuse of corporate power against American consumers.

    Chris's deck of cards really has these guys' number.

  4. Impossible expectations: Another industry lobbyist favorite, this is the "moving goalpost" argument or the argument that nothing should be done or a theory shouldn't be believed until a certain level of knowledge is attained. This level of knowledge or specific piece of information is always out of your grasp (or is downright impossible to attain) therefore inaction or disbelief of all the other available data is recommended by the clever denialist. The joke about creationists is that if you show them a transitional fossil, all they'll say is you've created two more gaps in the fossil record. Indeed, one wonders if the only proof they'd accept would be the fossilized remains of every animal that ever lived in one continuous stream, however, one experienced with denialists knows they'd just find some other reason to say there isn't enough proof. This is also a staple of the global warming denialists, no matter how far back the proxy-records of temperature go, they'll always say something like "that's just 0.01% of earth's history! that's like nothing at all!"

    It reminds me of these cards.

  5. Argument from metaphor/analogy/red herring: One cannot discuss denialism without mentioning their affinity for specific logical fallacies. One of the most common is the use of the confusing metaphor, like the assertion that evolution is like believing that a jumbo jet would assemble itself into a flying aircraft in a billion years if you just shook the parts together randomly.

    These arguments often have an emotional appeal, but they're usually based on a false characterization of the problem, or a totally irrelevant emotional argument ("If evolution is true then we're just animals and there will be no more morality", "Hitler believed in evolution and that's why there was a holocaust", "". These arguments are not relevant to the facts but are often very effective because they are difficult to argue with. Even very smart people can be flustered by a completely irrelevant red herrings, or appeals to emotionalism.

The relevant cards?

So, huzzah for Chris for publishing his denialism deck of cards for the disarming of industry-funded denialists. I hope it is a success (and based on his downloads from SSRN it already is well on its way).


Monday, February 05, 2007

Lies, lies and damn lies
From the WSJ, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised. They weakly attempt to "rebutt" the IPCC report. By rebuttal I mean that they make claims, without evidence, often in direct contradiction of the truth. Therefore the IPCC report is "rebutted" and also is itself a sign that climate science is "controversial" and "undecided".

The first lie:

Yet the real news in the fourth assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may be how far it is backpedaling on some key issues. Beware claims that the science of global warming is settled.

The document that caused such a stir was only a short policy report, a summary of the full scientific report due in May. Written mainly by policymakers (not scientists) who have a stake in the issue, the summary was long on dire predictions.

There were those who were prepared for this criticism, as it is so typical of the global warming denialists. The problem is that the policymakers (aka evil bureaucrats) are scientists. . They make it sound like the people coming up with the policy have no scientific credentials, or worse are agents of evil foreign governments, with this cheap turn of phrase when in fact this is not the case.

Onward to the next lie:

More pertinent is the underlying scientific report. And according to people who have seen that draft, it contains startling revisions of previous U.N. predictions. For example, the Center for Science and Public Policy has just released an illuminating analysis written by Lord Christopher Monckton, a one-time adviser to Margaret Thatcher who has become a voice of sanity on global warming.

Take rising sea levels. In its 2001 report, the U.N.'s best high-end estimate of the rise in sea levels by 2100 was three feet. Lord Monckton notes that the upcoming report's high-end best estimate is 17 inches, or half the previous prediction. Similarly, the new report shows that the 2001 assessment had overestimated the human influence on climate change since the Industrial Revolution by at least one-third.

Monckton is the "voice of sanity"? More like denialist-in-chief. Stoat and Deltoid have been pretty dismissive of his criticisms, which are mostly pretty pathetic nonsense. Lot's of attacking the messenger, misrepresenting what the different models represent (acting like the scientists don't know some are conservative models while others are purposeful exaggerations), followed with doses of fatalism about China, and pointless nitpicking. Of course he doesn't actually present any data or actually bother to create his own model. He just pisses on the report like having a snappy little come-back to each point is somehow scientific rebuttal. Sorry pal, you need some data, or at least present realistic alternative interpretations of the data. You can't just hand-wave and say that's science. And the sea-level change that shows the report is revising down the effects of global warming? Not that, just a revision of how they make the measurements. Every time the scientists recalibrate everything the denialists start jumping up and down and saying they were right. It's like attacking a conversion to from feet to metric as a sign climate scientists are idiots.

Anyway, next lie:

U.N. scientists have relied heavily on computer models to predict future climate change, and these crystal balls are notoriously inaccurate. According to the models, for instance, global temperatures were supposed to have risen in recent years. Yet according to the U.S. National Climate Data Center, the world in 2006 was only 0.03 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in 2001 -- in the range of measurement error and thus not statistically significant.

This is the new "global warming ended in 1998" myth. Taking advantage of a short term blip in global temperature averages they're trying to suggest a trend doesn't exist. Nexus6 takes care of it. No big deal, typical denialist bullshit, in this case, selectivity.

Next lie:

More scientists are also studying the effect of solar activity on climate, and some believe it alone is responsible for recent warming.

Ummm, solar activity is included in climate models already and specifically has been discounted as the sole source of a global warming effect. And I love the incredibly vague "more" scientists. Has it gone from two to three? Has Monckton recruited a third? Or has he become a scientist rather than a peddler of doubt?

All this appears to be resulting in a more cautious scientific approach, which is largely good news. We're told that the upcoming report is also missing any reference to the infamous "hockey stick," a study by Michael Mann that purported to show 900 years of minor fluctuations in temperature, followed by a dramatic spike over the past century. The IPCC featured the graph in 2001, but it has since been widely rebutted.

Rebutted? Maybe, if denialists shouting really loud is a rebuttal. But the facts are that Mann's report has been categorically certified by real experts, again and again and most recently by a panel in 2006.

Pathetic denialism from the WSJ as always, next they'll deny the HIV/AIDS link.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

PETA vs Pro-Lifers
Amanda at Pandagon put up this amazing post entitled "Is PETA the same group as Operation Rescue?" Man did she get a lot of shit about it, but she's got some very good arguments that I agree with.

I'll leave the meat of the post up at her site, but here's her reasons in brief and see if you understand why I love this.

They think grossing you out is an argument.

They think women are just bodies to be manipulated for their ends instead of full human beings.

Both exploit tender young women as cheap labor for their cause.

Both prefer to advocate for "victims" that are silent and therefore can be projected onto.

Both have a strong, irrational loathing for science.

Neither seems to care that much about the real life well-being of the objects of their advocacy as they claim to care.

Now she justifies each of these points with some good arguments, but don't you think the real pattern here is that of denialism? (now a wiki!)

The most obvious is the anti-scientific attitudes or the insane claims that science can be done without using animals. This becomes apparent in the comments as the ARAs appear and start saying my job can be done without them. But the other arguments are pretty clearly denialist as well. Mostly they are appeals to emotion, and the use of false analogies. For instance when they compare farming to slavery, or comparing eating meat to being a Nazi in the Holocaust. I needed Amanda to help me figure out how big of denialists they are.

Anyway, read her post, and her blog. Pandagon is great.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Disruptive Denialism
It shouldn't be possible for one parent to change the course of an entire district's curriculum, simply because they have a religious objection to the presentation of facts. This is a bad precedent.

Frosty E. Hardiman is neither impressed nor surprised that "An Inconvenient Truth," the global-warming movie narrated by former vice president Al Gore, received an Oscar nomination this week for best documentary.

"Liberal left is all over Hollywood," he grumbled a few hours after the nomination was announced.

Hardiman, a parent of seven here in the southern suburbs of Seattle, has himself roiled the global-warming waters. It happened early this month when he learned that one of his daughters would be watching "An Inconvenient Truth" in her seventh-grade science class.


His angry e-mail (along with complaints from a few other parents) stopped the film from being shown to Hardiman's daughter.

The teacher in that science class, Kay Walls, says that after Hardiman's e-mail she was told by her principal that she would receive a disciplinary letter for not following school board rules that require her to seek written permission to present "controversial" materials in class.

This is pretty amazing. Science that is supported by every national academy of every country in the world (that has one) is "controversial" because a tiny cohort of idiots in the school district doesn't believe in it. And why doesn't they believe in it? Because of a bizarre interpretation of a book written 2000 years ago which represents the mere documentation of a multi-generational game of telephone. This book is deciding policy now two thousand years later. That's something else.

Anyway, the reassuring thing about this article is how the other parents' in the school district are not being intimidated, and without naming it, recognize the denialism.

What the school board had really intended to do, Larson and school board members insisted, was not to stop schools from teaching the science of global warming, but merely to follow long-standing school board rules that require students to be exposed to "other perspectives" when they view a film like "An Inconvenient Truth."


In public comments at the board meeting, several riled-up Federal Way residents argued that "An Inconvenient Truth" was, indeed, scientifically true and that saying otherwise is "deliberate obfuscation."

These residents derisively compared the search for "balance" in the global-warming issue to decades of phony claims by cigarette companies about the lack of "proof" that smoking is harmful to human health.

Before the board meeting started Tuesday night, several residents buttonholed Larson and asked him if there should be a "balanced" presentation of the Nazi Holocaust, because there are many who deny that it occurred.

"The Holocaust happened," Larson said. "We have evidence and photos. The difference between the Holocaust and the global warming is we don't have photos of what will happen 50 years from now."

Ding ding ding! Give that man a cookie! People are starting to figure it out. Denial of carcinogenicity of cigarettes, denial of the holocaust, denial of global warming, denial of evolution, they are all forms of denialism and fundamentally unscientific, illogical, and contemptible. It warms my heart to see a bunch of people seeing denialism for what it is, and the many faces it assumes as people, without evidence, facts or data, try to convince others into believing what is simply not true. Yes the school board in this case were a bunch of pansies, and I hope they get voted out for their cowardice and "balance" policy, which is the saddest part of the story.

His daughter's science teacher, meanwhile, said she is struggling to find authoritative articles to counter the information in the Gore documentary.

"The only thing I have found so far is an article in Newsweek called 'The Cooling World,' " Walls said.

It was written 37 years ago.

Oh, and that "cooling earth" crap that everybody cites as an example of why not to listen to scientists? Well, it was something the media made up it was never scientific consensus.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Denialism funded by Exxon
The Union of Concerned Scientists is exposing scientific malfeasance by Exxon in what appears to be a direct rip-off of tobacco company denialism only with global warming instead of cancer. As we discussed in our denialists post, Exxon Mobile has clearly been engaging in hiring false experts and creating false controversy and debate over settled scientific issues related to climate change. Their press release reads like the denialist playbook.

Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to "Manufacture Uncertainty" on Climate Change details how the oil company, like the tobacco industry in previous decades, has

* raised doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence
* funded an array of front organizations to create the appearance of a broad platform for a tight-knit group of vocal climate change contrarians who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings
* attempted to portray its opposition to action as a positive quest for "sound science" rather than business self-interest
* used its access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming

ExxonMobil-funded organizations consist of an overlapping collection of individuals serving as staff, board members, and scientific advisors that publish and re-publish the works of a small group of climate change contrarians. The George C. Marshall Institute, for instance, which has received $630,000 from ExxonMobil, recently touted a book edited by Patrick Michaels, a long-time climate change contrarian who is affiliated with at least 11 organizations funded by ExxonMobil. Similarly, ExxonMobil funds a number of lesser-known groups such as the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy and Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. Both groups promote the work of several climate change contrarians, including Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist who is affiliated with at least nine ExxonMobil-funded groups.

Baliunas is best known for a 2003 paper alleging the climate had not changed significantly in the past millennia that was rebutted by 13 scientists who stated she had misrepresented their work in her paper. This renunciation did not stop ExxonMobil-funded groups from continuing to promote the paper. Through methods such as these, ExxonMobil has been able to amplify and prop up work that has been discredited by reputable climate scientists.

"When one looks closely, ExxonMobil's underhanded strategy is as clear and indisputable as the scientific research it's meant to discredit," said Seth Shulman, an investigative journalist who wrote the UCS report. "The paper trail shows that, to serve its corporate interests, ExxonMobil has built a vast echo chamber of seemingly independent groups with the express purpose of spreading disinformation about global warming."

ExxonMobil has used the laudable goal of improving scientific understanding of global warming—under the guise of "sound science"—for the pernicious ends of delaying action to reduce heat-trapping emissions indefinitely. ExxonMobil also exerted unprecedented influence over U.S. policy on global warming, from successfully recommending the appointment of key personnel in the Bush administration to funding climate change deniers in Congress.

Sounds about right. Maybe our new Democratic congress could investigate?

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Denialism kills
The Sunday Times Online has an article on the financial backing of the denialist Andrew Wakefield, who led a successful campaign to decrease confidence in vaccination by falsely claiming there is a link between vaccination and autism.

These claims have since been thorough debunked as the removal of thimerosal (the adjuvant blamed for the problem) has had no effect on rates of autism, not that there ever was firm epidemiologic evidence between the two events. The conflicts of interest in this particular case, and the negative effects of the misinformation and fear of vaccination that was spread are astounding.

ANDREW WAKEFIELD, the former surgeon whose campaign linking the MMR vaccine with autism caused a collapse in immunisation rates, was paid more than £400,000 by lawyers trying to prove that the vaccine was unsafe.

The payments, unearthed by The Sunday Times, were part of £3.4m distributed from the legal aid fund to doctors and scientists who had been recruited to support a now failed lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers.


Wakefield's work for the lawyers began two years before he published his now notorious report in The Lancet medical journal in February 1998, proposing a link between the vaccine and autism.

This suggestion, followed by a campaign led by Wakefield, caused immunisation rates to slump from 92% to 78.9%, although they have since partly recovered. In March this year the first British child in 14 years died from measles.

Later The Lancet retracted Wakefield's claim and apologised after a Sunday Times investigation showed that his research had been backed with £55,000 from lawyers, and that the children in the study used as evidence against the vaccine were also claimants in the lawsuit.

At the time Wakefield denied any conflict of interest and said that the money went to his hospital, not to him personally. No disclosure was made, however, of the vastly greater sums that he was receiving directly from the lawyers.


Also among those named as being paid from the legal aid fund was a referee for one of Wakefield's papers, who was allowed £40,000. A private GP who runs a single vaccines clinic received £6,000, the LSC says.

So, the question I have is how much would they have to pay you to undermine the public health of your country? I think 400k seems pretty cheap, if you'll undermine your nation's public health (and really the US and Europe too were affected) with lies for under a million US, that's a pretty serious scumbag.

Orac has more about the serious payola from lawyers going to all sorts of doctors involved in the anti-vaccination scam. It's pretty sick, medical experts were paid off, reviewers on papers were paid off, and all of these people deserve jail and loss of their medical licenses.

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