Institute of Medicine Slams Anti-Vaxxers, Again

By Chris Mooney | August 26, 2011 9:53 am

A new report is out from the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, on vaccine safety. In the voluminous report, the committee of course does not find that every vaccine is perfectly safe for all time–there are certainly some risks. But it once again rejects the claim that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine causes autism–the evidence, the committee said, was more than adequate to reject this causal assertion.

You can read the report for free here. The New York Times report, titled “Vaccine Cleared Again as Autism Culprit,” is here.

Please note: Anti-vaxxers will not change their minds based on this major scientific consensus report. They will argue back and challenge its conclusions.

So it goes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Motivated Reasoning, vaccination

Questioning the Candidates on Dominionism

By The Intersection | August 25, 2011 1:20 pm

By Jon Winsor

Questions about Dominionism and national politics are now moving out of the muckraking exposés and the religion pages and into elite journalism. Yesterday, NPR’s Fresh Air devoted most of its air time to journalist Rachel Tabachnick on the topic of Dominionism. Now, NY Times Chief Editor Bill Keller is going there as well:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York… Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ…

In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes… I don’t see why Perry and Bachmann should be exempt from similar questioning…

To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire.

Read More

An Earthquake Of Another Sort Rocks My House.

By The Intersection | August 25, 2011 10:42 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist, policy analyst and science communications strategist, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

I woke up this morning to an unexpected jolt, and I don’t mean another earthquake shake.  Nope, this was a little more invigorating. It seems PZ Myers didn’t like my post about Richard Dawkins and he has decided to turn me into a pinata.  I rather enjoyed his piece. He makes some interesting and entertaining points (some well-founded, some…not so much). I don’t mind taking some heat for my opinions. We all know it’s part of being a blogger, right?

I’ve always been amazed by the mob that he unleashes on unsuspecting religious fanatics.  They are quite effective at taking down their prey.  I wish I had been given more notice, I would have at least done my hair and makeup before the party.  I sincerely welcome all the new commenters to The Intersection.  I hope Chris doesn’t mind that I’m wrecking his house while he’s away.

If you don’t know Mr. Myers, he’s an atheist blogger who takes a zero tolerance stance against religion.  Personally, I think he’s an entertaining character, sort of like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity…Ed Schulz, even.  To me, what he does is entertainment, not science communication, but that’s another story.  It’s a story I’ll try to come back to later. Today, I have to do some science and I really don’t have time for a cage match with the Pharyngulites. But, don’t worry folks, I’m here and I’m listening. If you get unruly, though, I’ll have to put you in time out.

What?! It works for my 2 year old.

If we all step back and take a deep breath, we might be able to have a conversation. We might actually learn something from one another.  After all, we speak the same language.  Yelling is not a more effective way to make your point. After I do some work, perhaps I’ll have some time to share my thoughts and I’ll listen to yours, Mr. Myers and Pharyngulites. Even with our differences, I know we’re on the same team.

In the meantime, take a look at this video, and I think you’ll get my point:

Follow Jamie Vernon on Twitter, Google+ or read his occasional blog posts at “American SciCo.”


Rick Perry Doesn't Believe Much in Science, But He Sure Believes in His Social Science "Eggheads"

By The Intersection | August 24, 2011 4:46 pm

Egghead Minions

By Jon Winsor

Rick Perry leaves a lot to be desired on science policy. But paradoxically, his campaign makes rigorous use of the scientific method–more than any other campaign. According to reporter Sasha Issenberg, the Perry campaign has a team they call “the eggheads” who advise them on what campaign appearances they should schedule and when. Here’s Issenberg interviewed in the New York Times:

No candidate has ever presided over a political operation so skeptical about the effectiveness of basic campaign tools and so committed to using social-science methods to rigorously test them.

As the 2006 election season approached, the governor’s top strategist, Dave Carney, invited four political scientists into Perry’s war room and asked them to impose experimental controls on any aspect of the campaign budget that they could randomize and measure. Over the course of that year, the eggheads, as they were known within the campaign, ran experiments testing the effectiveness of all the things that political consultants do reflexively and we take for granted: candidate appearances, TV ads, robocalls, direct mail. These were basically the political world’s version of randomized drug trials, which had been used by academics but never from within a large-scale partisan campaign… Read More

Michael Mann Cleared Again

By The Intersection | August 24, 2011 1:17 pm

Michael MannBy Jon Winsor

Yet another organization, this time the National Science Foundation, has cleared climate scientist Michael Mann of wrongdoing (here is a pdf of the report closeout memorandum).

Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed.

The NSF also studied the university emails related to “climategate” and found “nothing contained in them evidenced research misconduct within the definition in the NSF Research Misconduct Regulation.”

Penn State’s earlier investigation concluded (pdf available here):

“An Investigatory Committee of faculty members with impeccable credentials” has unanimously “determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities.”

His work “clearly places Dr. Mann among the most respected scientists in his field…. Dr. Mann’s work, from the beginning of his career, has been recognized as outstanding.“

Hmmm. The conspiracy spreads. Now, it’s not only Mann and his university who are in cahoots, but also the National Science Foundation?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Politics and Science

Liberals Mislead On GOP Cuts To USGS In Wake Of Earthquake, Still Reason For Concern

By The Intersection | August 24, 2011 11:07 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist, policy analyst and science communications strategist, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

My tweet deck nearly exploded yesterday during and following the earthquake. The tweets were so fast and furious that I couldn’t read my main feed. In between the humorous tweets, there were serious moments of reflection. Some folks were reporting news, others were requesting information, but the tweets that caught my attention had policy implications. One tweet in particular was posted by Michael Linden.

I retweeted it.

According to the mission on their website, “the USGS serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.”

In this context, cutting their budget seems, at minimum, misguided. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Politics

Did you feel the earthquake?

By The Intersection | August 23, 2011 7:10 pm

This is a guest post from Darlene Cavalier, founder of Science Cheerleader and Science For Citizens, and a contributing editor at Discover Magazine.

Did you feel the earthquake? Here are three ways you can report earthquake-related information and contribute to a global map of critical earthquake data.
Did you feel it? Help researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey learn more about the recent earthquake that shook parts of the east coast. Did you feel it? Share information and contribute to a map of shaking intensities and damage.

The US Geological Survey’s Twitter Earthquake Detection Program gathers real-time, earthquake-related messages from Twitter and applies place, time, and keyword filtering to gather geo-located accounts of shaking

Stanford University’s Quake-Catcher Network links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the world’s largest and densest earthquake monitoring system.

For a basic primer on earthquakes, here’s more from Science Cheerleader, Christine.

For more citizen science projects you can do, visit Science For Citizens, a partner in the Changing Planet series produced by Discover magazine, NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation.


Richard Dawkins Takes The Crotchety Old Man Tactic To Communicate Science To Rick Perry. Will It Work?

By The Intersection | August 23, 2011 12:43 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist, policy analyst and science communications strategist, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

In response to Rick Perry’s latest comments on evolution, Richard Dawkins has chosen to revert back to the “browbeating approach” to science communication.  Dr. Dawkins has scaled the steps of the ivory tower and disdainfully shouts down at his subjects in his recent post on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog.  In the opening paragraph, he says,

“There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.”

In one short paragraph, Dr. Dawkins has violated nearly everything we have come to know about effective science communication.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand how Dr. Dawkins believes hurling insults, like “uneducated fools” and “ignoramus,” can advance his position. How far do you think readers of the opposite mind continued into this article? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Politics

The Republican War on Science Returns

By Chris Mooney | August 22, 2011 4:30 pm

My latest post at DeSmogBlog is about how, unfortunately, my six year old first book remains as relevant as ever. Just look at Jon Huntsman’s recent and dramatic stand against the anti-science tilt of his own party.

However, there are at least three important updates, or considerations to add to the argument of the original The Republican War on Science. Here are two of them:

2.      It’s Not Just About Science, It’s About Reality. Whatever you may have thought of Bush, I don’t think he approached the full construction of an alternate reality that we see in the Tea Party (although Bush went quite a way towards constructing an alternate reality around the Iraq war). And this leads to the second really important thing that is different now: Even as everybody revives the “war on science” meme, we now realize that the war isn’t really on science at all, but on reality. People who can say that the government banned incandescent light bulbs when it didn’t, who can claim that the U.S. can fail to raise the debt ceiling and it won’t be any problem, or who assert that the 2009 health care bill created government “death panels” are in denial about a lot more than science.

3.      We Need Psychology To Explain This. The major new development, to my mind, has been the application of psychological and neuroscientific approaches to try to understand how people can actually behave and think like this. In particular, more and more attention focuses on motivated reasoning, a subconscious and often automatic emotional process in which people rationalize pre-existing views that are important to their identities, including in the face of direct factual refutation. So we are beginning to be able to understand the Republican denial of science as part of a motivated process in which certain scientific claims are seen as so threatening to self-identity and group affiliations that they must be rejected in order to preserve a sense of self.

You can read the full piece here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

A Sideswipe on Ag Biotech

By Chris Mooney | August 22, 2011 3:56 am

Jonathan Adler, who writes much about science from a conservative perspective, doesn’t like anti-GMO yahoos on the left. Neither do I. Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, he writes:

It has been clear for decades that the means through which a crop strain is developed has no bearing on the health or environmental risks such a crop could pose. The scientific consensus here is broader and more stable than on climate change and other contentious environmental questions. The National Academy of Sciences, British Royal Society and EU have all concluded that modern biotech techniques are no more dangerous than traditional crop modification methods. Nevertheless, due to progressive environmental activism and fear campaigns, crops developed with modern biotechnology are subject to greater regulatory scrutiny. As Federoff notes, a reactive precautionary stance may have been justified years ago when biotechnology was new, but there is no scientific justification for such a position today. Yet progressive environmentalists continue to oppose modern agricultural biotechnology — and the supposed defenders of scientific integrity have little to say about it.

That last link, you’ll note, is to this blog.

Why is this a low blow? Because I don’t like anti-GMO advocacy or its scientific exaggerations, and I have spoken and written about this, and Adler knows it very well.

How does he know? I need only link to his own review of my book, 2005’s The Republican War on Science:

UPDATE: One of the best examples of the politicization of science by the “left” — and one of the few that Mooney acknowledges — is the treatment of agricultural biotechnology, and the decision to subject such products to more stringent regulatory review than those developed with other methods. This policy has no scientific basis, as the National Academy of Sciences has stated many times.

Yup, it’s right there in my book, where I ding Greenpeace for the whole “Frankenfoods” demagoguery.

Did Adler forget? Or does he merely sideswipe for no reason?

I don’t exactly write about GM foods or crops every day, but I’ve written about the topic, I’m aware of the state of the science is, etc. Of course.

Adler also has the politics of the issue wrong, incidentally. It’s precisely because the risks of ag biotech are overblown that the left is not mostly opposed to these foods, and consequently, resistance has largely failed to catch on United States. Europe may have more left extremes–and more issues with food in general. But over here, we liberals listen to our scientists and update our views accordingly–this is a core part of our political identities. Consequently, the issue really plays out much like nuclear power–some left activists are emotionally opposed, and hype the risks, but those who listen to the science and the scientists just can’t take that sort of a stance. And you don’t find mainstream liberals being either anti-nuclear, or anti-GM.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

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