We wrap up our antivax mini-series by looking at another antivax claim: “All vaccines contain a number of toxic poisons and chemicals that are linked to serious neurological damage”. We talk about Robert Kennedy Jr, thimerosal, and the difference between methyl vs ethyl mercury.
Great thoughts on dealing with science denialism from this article in Newsweek about flat earthers. I’ve discussed similar ideas in my recent Bullshit Filter series dealing with antivaxers.
A better way to respond is to stop talking about proof, certainty, and logic, and start talking more about scientific “values.” In my book The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science From Denial, Fraud, And Pseudosience, I defend the idea that what is most distinctive about science is not its method but its “attitude”: the idea that scientists care about evidence and are willing to change their views based on new evidence. This is what truly separates scientists from their deniers and imitators.
The problem with conspiracy theorists is that they hold themselves up as skeptics, but they are actually quite gullible. There is a rampant double standard for evidence: no evidence is good enough to convince them of something they do NOT want to believe, yet only the flimsiest evidence is required to get them to accept something they DO want to believe. Contrast this to the “scientific attitude,” which is a mindset of flexibility toward changing one’s beliefs based on new evidence.
Instead of saying “show me your evidence” (which they were only too happy to do) or “here’s my evidence” (which they wouldn’t believe anyway,) I asked “what would it take to convince you that you were wrong?” They seemed unprepared for this question.
For years I’ve used a similar approach with Christians. “What would it take you to stop believing?” They often say “nothing could stop me”. No amount of evidence? “Nothing.” Which demonstrates that they don’t care about facts, evidence or logic. They believe because they want to believe. But I haven’t tried the same approach with other forms of science denialism yet.
“The whole world was seen as the divine activity welling up from the mysterious being of Brahman, which was the inner meaning of all existence. The Upanishads encouraged people to cultivate a sense of Brahman in all things. It was a process of revelation in the literal meaning of the word: it was an unveiling of the hidden ground of all being. Everything that happens became a manifestation of Brahman: true insight lay in the perception of the unity behind the different phenomena.”
‘A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam’ by Karen Armstrong
In other words – Brahman = the laws of physics, atoms, whatever you want to call the underlying fabric of the cosmos.
Interesting theory – that “spooky action at a distance”, aka quantum entanglement, creates spacetime.
“The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something that you actually don’t.”
– Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I was just scrolling through some old posts of mine and found this one from 2008 where I talk about the fastest supercomputer in the world at that time which was capable of 1.026 QIPS (quadrillion instructions per second aka 1 petaflop).
I predicted at the time that by 2012 we should have supercomputers running 16 QIPS / petaflops.
Well last year, 2014, China’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer was performing at 33.86 petaflops – double the 2012 prediction, which is right on track.
My 2008 post posited that the human brain was only capable of 10 petaflops – and it that’s true, it means that Tianhe-2 is running at 3x the speed of a human brain. It’s ability to use that processing power (eg its software) may not yet be as sophisticated as ours – but how long before they catch up?