Archive for the ‘media woo’ Category
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2014
For far too long, the media landscape has increasingly gone down the rabbit hole when discussing science-oriented topics. Often, the notion that journalists and editors should provide balanced coverage and diverse viewpoints has been abused to the point where pseudo-scientists, cranks, and charlatans are given equal time and (implicitly, at least) equal validity on various news shows and in print. And this gives the general public a false impression of what is and isn’t science.
This demand by pseudo-scientists for “equal time” is a real problem. Creationists have been at it for decades in the U.S. public school system, thankfully with little to no success, and many other pseudo-scientists are starting to employ the same tactic. For example, many news stories in recent years on climate change often include at least one token “skeptic” of global warming. In addition, this kind of demand for “equal time” pops up in other venues: on at least two occasions, when participating in skeptical and science panels at Dragon*Con and Convergence, our panel was challenged on “why we didn’t include a believer?” In one case, creationists were demanding a seat on a science panel about evolution and why creationism was problematic, and in the other case, believers in ghosts were demanding a seat on a panel of skeptics who were there to specifically discuss the scientific and cultural reasons why people still believe in ghosts.
The implication by believers in pseudo-science is, I think, that scientists and skeptics have an “ivory tower” mentality and are just trying to talk down to people when, in fact, we are simply attempting to educate them in science and good critical thinking. And, unfortunately, for far too long the media landscape has given folks like these way too much air and print time to spew their nonsense… until now.
Recently the BBC announced that they will no longer tolerate pseudo-scientific abuse of the idea of providing diverse viewpoints:
BBC Trust says 200 senior managers trained not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious
BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views’
The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.
The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.
Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’
“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”
The Trust said that man-made climate change was one area where too much weight had been given to unqualified critics. …
Read the rest of the story here
This is welcome news indeed! It is my hope that this will be the beginning of a trend by more media outlets to do away with the facade of false “balance” on scientific matters and more good science will be presented as a result. Stay tuned and we’ll see.
**Hat tip to Tim Farley at Whatstheharm.net for the heads up on this story! :)
Posted in media woo | Tagged: abuse, balance, BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation, cable, climate change, cranks, creationism, creationist, deniers, diverse, diversity, equal time, global warming, internet, media, news, print, pseudoscience, radio, science, television, TV | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2013
This recent silliness by “Doctor” Oz came to my attention: apparently, during a recent show he took seriously the notion that women shouldn’t carry cell phones in their bras because it could give them breast cancer. My skeptical colleague Dr. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine summarizes Oz’s idiocy and fear-mongering here…
… The story aired on December 6 and was entitled Why You Should Keep Your Cell Phone Out of Your Bra. The entire segment, lasting ten minutes or so, is one blatant piece of fear mongering. Even by the usual low standards of a typical Dr. Oz segment, this one was bad. How bad? I’ll give you a taste. Let me start just by asking what you might expect in a segment claiming a link between an environmental exposure of some sort and a specific cancer? You’d expect some actual scientific evidence, wouldn’t you? Some epidemiology, perhaps, showing that women who hold their cell phones in their bras have a higher risk of breast cancer, perhaps with some relative risks that were at least statistically significant. You might expect some scientific evidence suggesting why the proposed mechanism is plausible. You might even expect that there would be convincing (or at least suggestive) evidence that women who put their cell phones in their bras, when they develop breast cancer, develop it more frequently on the side where they stick their cell phone. These would be reasonable things to expect that, even though they wouldn’t be convincing proof, would at least raise concerns.
There was none of that at all. Zero. Nada. Zip. In fact, I was shocked at how evidence-free this whole segment was. Usually Oz at least tries to slather a patina of scientific evidence on his pseudoscience. OK, maybe not usually, but he does at least sometimes try when he’s not doing a story on alternative medicine, “complementary and alternative medicine,” or “integrative medicine,” anyway. Not here. It’s as if Dr. Oz’s producers weren’t even trying for this one. …
If you want a good analysis that thrashes the hell out of Oz’s claims from a medical perspective, definitely read through all of Dr. Gorski’s blog post. Seeing as how I’m not a medical doctor, I won’t rehash his analysis here; but I am a physics professor, so what I can do is go through the basic physics of why it is implausible that cell phones are even physically capable of causing cancer. In fact, I’ve written numerous posts on this topic already…
This first post is probably the most thorough on the fundamental physics of how electromagnetic radiation/waves (also known as light) are generated and propagate; also included is a basic primer on the different kinds of EM waves, the EM spectrum, what role frequency and energy of light play in these issues, and the all important difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Here’s the upshot: cell phones emit non-ionizing (i.e. non-cancer causing) radiation.
This article about a hysterical politician in Maine points out the implications of allowing basic scientific literacy to be trumped by the kind of psuedoscience and fear-mongering propagated by “Doctor” Oz and his ilk.
Just a more up-to-date article outlining some more research from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark after it looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period. Conclusion: even while looking for supposed long-term negative effects, none were found.
Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo, Uncategorized | Tagged: bra, breast cancer, cancer, cell phones, David Gorski, DNA, doctor, Doctor Oz, Dr. David Gorski, Dr. Oz, electromagnetic fields, electromagnetic radiation, electromagnetic spectrum, electromagnetic waves, EMF, environment, health, ionizing radiation, light, medical, medicine, physics, power lines, public health, radiation, radiation sickness, safety, safety hysteria, science-based medicine, show, skeptic, skepticism, television, TV, wi-fi | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 8, 2013
I ran across two articles recently about the latest research regarding the Loch Ness Monster. And by “research” I really do mean serious scientific work: it seems that many supposed Nessie sightings over the years have been accompanied by audible rumbling and gas bubbling up to the surface of Loch Ness. There seems to be a plausible geological (note: “geological” does NOT equate to “big freaking monster”, just to clarify) explanation for these phenomena.
As a lesson in critical thinking (or a lack thereof) in the media, let us compare the coverage of this research from two different sources, the Scientific American blog and the Huffington Post. First, the SciAm blog…
Summer is traditionally Silly Season, when newspapers publish strange stories about aliens and monsters again and again to bridge holiday time – and so will July on “History of Geology” be dedicated to frivolous science stories…
In 2001 the Italian geologist Luigi Piccardi presented during the Earth Systems Processes meeting in Edinburgh a hypothesis explaining the supposed appearance of the sea/lake monster “Nessie” as a result of geologic forces.
According to Piccardi’s idea the historic description of the monster – appearing on the surface with great (earth)shakes and rumours – could be associated with bubbles emanating from the bottom of the Scottish lake of Loch Ness in response of seismic activity along the Great Glen fault system, passing below the lake. …
… Not only biological constrains, also the geology don’t seems to support the existence of an earthshaking monster in Loch Ness. Common earthquakes from the Loch Ness area range between magnitude 3 to 4, larger events were recorded only in 1816, 1888, 1890 and 1901. These earthquakes don’t coincide with the years of supposed increased activity of Nessie (like 1933). Even the largest Scottish earthquakes were anyway too weak to cause any observable effects on the surface of Loch Ness (curiously the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 generated waves on Loch Ness, but no Nessie sighting is reported for this year).
Piccardi himself sees the value of his hypothesis more in the possibility to make geologists aware of the geological origins of some myths, as to propose verifiable cryptozoology.
Well, that seems pretty good: a well thought-out article regarding an area of actual scientific research, even going so far as to note the limitations of Piccardi’s hypothesis.
Now, let’s see what the HuffPo has to say…
… The first claimed sighting of “Nessie” occurred in the sixth century, according to Scientific American. Legend has it that the creature appears along with earth tremors and bubbling from the bottom of Loch Ness, one of Britain’s largest freshwater lakes.
Formed as a result of a long-ago collision between the northern tip of Scotland and the rest of Britain, the loch sits over the 62-mile Great Glen fault line. Piccardi argues that this position may have fueled centuries of Loch Ness Monster rumors.
“Loch Ness is exactly on the fault zone,” Piccardi said in 2001, according to The Telegraph. “When there are small shocks, it can create a commotion on the water surface. Along the fault there can be gas emissions, which can create large bubbles on the surface. There are many surface effects which can be linked to the activity of the fault.”
But Piccardi’s theory is not without critics, especially among Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts like Gary Campbell, president of the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club in Inverness, Scotland.
“Most of the sightings involve foreign objects coming out of the water. There’s two most common — one’s a hump, and the other is a head and neck,” Campbell told ABC News. “At the end of the day, there’s still sightings that are inexplicable. There’s something physical in there.” …
Where to begin? First of all, the fact that the HuffPo elevates a pseudoscientific hack – in this case, the Gary Campbell who runs a fan club for the Loch Ness Monster – to the level of a serious critic of a pretty plausible area of scientific research speaks volumes. Apparently, to the HuffPo, “scientist” equates with “anyone who can make sh*t up”.
Next, pay attention to Campbell’s response: “At the end of the day, there’s still sightings that are inexplicable…” So that proves… what exactly? That there isn’t a full explanation? And how exactly does a lack of an explanation provide any validity to the explanation via invoking Nessie? This is a classic argument from ignorance, and one could just as easily invoke leprechauns or unicorns as an explanation using such shoddy logic.
Last, but not least, is the final few seconds of the video at the HuffPo link, wherein the host shows some TV anchors moaning about how they don’t want to accept the geological research of Piccardi because they like the idea of Nessie. The HuffPo host summed it up as follows:
“Sometimes you just don’t want scientific reasoning, and you just want to believe.”
Posted in cryptozoology, media woo | Tagged: bubbles, creature, cryptozoology, earthquake, fault, gas, geologic, geology, Great Glen, Huffington Post, illusion, Loch Ness, Loch Ness Monster, Monster, myth, Nessie, Piccardi, quake, ripples, Scientific American, Scotland, Scottish, sea lion, seismic, video, wake, water, waves | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2013
As I mentioned in my last post regarding this past Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, there has been a huge amount of rumor, misinformation, and innuendo floating all over the place, and we should do what we can to combat it.
Of course, one would hope that our media outlets, such as “The Most Trusted Name in News” CNN, would take such a task to heart, making certain to get their facts straight before they report the news. But, sadly, in the era of the 24-hour “news” cycle, it appears that getting it right takes a back seat to getting it first.
I can think of no other way to illustrate this point more clearly than to reference The Daily Show’s incredible smackdown of just how badly CNN botched some major news regarding the bombing:
Yup, that’s CNN… the most busted name in news.
Posted in humor, media woo | Tagged: 4-15, 4/15, accuracy, April 15, bomb, bombing, Boston, Boston Marathon, CNN, conspiracy, conspiracy theories, conspiracy theory, death, debunk, fact checking, facts, fearmongering, humor, information, Jon Stewart, killing, marathon, massacre, media, misinformation, news, Patriots Day, rumors, Snopes, Tax Day, terror, terrorism, terrorist, The Daily Show, The Most Busted Name in News, The Most Trusted Name in News | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 28, 2011
Just yesterday I learned that the National Vaccine Information Center, a deceptive title for one of the worst anti-vaccine propaganda groups out there, has a new ad playing in New York City’s Times Square. Worse yet, this ad is going to be playing on the megatron screen there during the New Year’s Eve celebration on Dec. 31st! Folks, this is bad, not just because of the content of the ad, which plays on the “pro-choice” mentality that parents are better equipped to make medical decisions than doctors and also directs viewers to the NVIC’s website, but because of the timing: due to the fact that millions (perhaps even billions) of people watch the Times Square festivities on television, this ad could easily get worldwide exposure.
The NVIC and other anti-vax groups would rather this kid get whooping cough or another deadly disease than take a life-saving vaccine.
We need to fight back, and we’ve already started. Elyse Anders has already written a post at Skepchick on this, and I’ve also blown the whistle via the JREF Swift blog. But more needs to be done, so here’s what you can do:
1. Direct people to reliable and trustworthy outlets for vaccine information – a quick and handy one is the Women Thinking Free Foundation’s Hug Me I’m Vaccinated FAQ.
2. Sign the new petition demanding that ABC Full Circle pull the NVIC Times Square ad.
3. Join our Twitter campaign: Tweet @DisneyChannelPR using #ABCsSickNYE. You can copy/paste one of these or write your own:
I resolve to end deadly anti-vaccine propaganda. @DisneyChannelPR Pull NVIC’s anti-vax Times Square ad http://wp.me/pbblq-6RR #ABCsSickNYE
Whooping cough is on the rise thanks to things like NVIC advertising on @DisneyChannelPR screens in NYC. #ABCsSickNYE http://bit.ly/rXLHOd
4. Go to the NVIC YouTube video link and “dislike” the video.
5. Share this information on Facebook and other social media outlets.
6. Contact Gerald Griffin at ABC Full Circle by emailing Gerald.T.Griffin@abc.com or calling 212.456.7389 to voice your displeasure with them playing the NVIC ad.
And this campaign needs to be mounted from the inside as well as the outside: it seems we in the skeptical and pro-science community need media connections within the companies which rent out space for these high-profile ads. We need to inform and educate these companies about the part they are playing in spreading this dangerous anti-vaccination misinformation, and we need to raise such a fuss that they’ll simply refuse the NVIC the next time they come wanting to rent the space.
Of course, none of this will work without you, because we are going up against an organization that has literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on anti-vaccine propaganda. So please take some time to get involved and take action now – it really is a matter of life or death.
Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: 12-31, 12/31, 42nd street, ABC, activism, ad, advertisement, anti-vaccination movement, anti-vaccine, anti-vax, autism, AVM, Body Count, celebration, Change.org, Dec 31, December 31st, Full Circle, Hug Me, Hug Me I'm Vaccinated, Jenny McCarthy, megatron, National Vaccine Information Center, New Year, New Year's Eve, New York, NVIC, petition, Skepchick, skeptical, skepticism, thimerisol, Times Square, vaccine, vaccines | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 11, 2011
Here’s a new one for the “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” files: a halfway serious ABC News report on a really bad video shot by someone who claims to have evidence of a lake monster in Canada called Ogopogo (basically, the Canadian equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster). Below is the video footage in question…
That’s it?!! That’s all there is to this supposedly astonishing story sweeping the world? Some ripples/waves in the water which are likely caused by debris?
Sometimes I weep for humanity; if this is the best that cryptozoologists can come up with (and it pretty much is the best they can come up with), then it is no wonder they are mocked. I think the following comment on the ABC News story sums it up best…
How come most quickly taken video’s are crystal clear but any UFO – Yeti – Nessie videos look like they were shot by a 2 yr. old with a Fisher Price camera???
‘Nuff said, folks.
Posted in cryptozoology, media woo | Tagged: ABC News, Bigfoot, British Columbia, Caddy, Canada, chubacabra, creature, cryptozoology, hunters, illusion, lake, lake monster, Lake Okanagan, Loch Ness, Monster, Nessie, Ogopogo, ripples, sea lion, video, wake, water, waves | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 31, 2011
Wow. I’m pretty stunned by this development. Many of you know that in the past I have been highly critical of the Huffington Post (a.k.a. the HuffPo) for their tacit acceptance and promotion of various kinds of medically-related nonsense, especially the fact they provide a big platform for anti-vaccination kooks.
However, in an interesting twist, one of their prominent writers – science correspondent Cara Santa Maria – has written a very solid and in-your-face pro-vaccine article. Not only that, but she also gives a big shout out to the WTFF’s Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated campaign! :D
Perhaps there’s hope yet for the HuffPo…
Yesterday I got a flu vaccine at work. The coughs and sneezes are beginning to sound like bad muzak around the office, so I figured it was time to give flu season the finger. I’ve actually never had a flu vaccine before. It just never occurred to me to do so. But now that I work in a corporate office environment, the handwashing signs over the bathroom sink and little pumps of antibacterial hand sanitizer glistening on individual desks are beginning to make sense to me. I don’t want these people making me sick. I don’t want to make them sick either. I like my coworkers a lot, but I wish we lived in a country that understood the value of a sturdy facemask. I live in Hollywood, a city so image-obsessed that the only time you see somebody wearing one of those is if they’ve just gotten their nose done.
But I digress. I noticed when I proudly bore the sticker proclaiming to the office masses today that I got my vaccination, a lot of people responded that they “don’t do that” or they “don’t believe in it.” That struck me as funny. It made me wonder why, if a free flu vaccination is offered to you only steps from your desk, you would opt not to partake. …
… The truth is, even though a new meta-analysis published in The Lancet only two days ago showed an overall efficacy for influenza vaccination hovering around 59% (in adults age 18-65, spread over the last 44 years), I’ll take 59% over 0% any day. And not getting a vaccine is 0% effective against the spread of influenza. By the way, if you are one of those people who opt out of prophylaxis, please do your part by washing your damn hands. And sneeze into your sleeve, not all over your disease-laden paws. Of course, I’m now a lot less worried about your germs making me sick. So, hug me! I’m vaccinated.
Posted in media woo, medical woo | Tagged: alternative medicine, anti-vaccination, anti-vax, antibiotics, Big Pharma, CAM, Cara Santa Maria, flu, health, Huffington Post, HuffPo, Hug Me, Hug Me I'm Vaccinated, influenza, liberal, medical community, medical intuitives, medicine, pharmaceuticals, politics, progressive, sCAM, science-based medicine, scientific community, swine flu, vaccines, Women Thinking Free Foundation, WTF, WTFF | Leave a Comment »