The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘parents’

What If We Extended Anti-Vaccine Arguments to Other Technologies?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 9, 2014

I saw a great meme going around Facebook the other day and thought I should share it here.  Often anti-vaccination activists make loaded claims about how vaccines are “toxic” and whatnot; of course they are playing fast and loose with the facts, and they are trying to use loaded language in an attempt to scare people from vaccinating their children.  When confronted with such nonsense, I often tell on-the-fence parents “You wouldn’t put your child into a car without securing them in a car seat, would you?”  It’s a pretty effective message for playing the odds and protecting your kids by vaccinating them.

Of course, here’s another way to counter anti-vax propaganda: apply their same ludicrous arguments to all kinds of other technologies, and see how quickly it all descends down the rabbit hole of stupidity.  Here you go (make sure you read the entire graphic; my personal favorite is the one about the fire-ax)…

anti-vaxxers-are-dumb

 

Image source

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Anti-Science and Science Denial: It Isn’t Just for the Political Right?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2014

I have used up many electrons on this blog discussing the problem of anti-science and science denial regarding creationist and climate science denier movements.  I have also discussed many times about how those movements seek to destroy the credibility of science in order to prop up either their religious or political worldviews, which usually tend to be quite right-wing in nature.

However, lest we cease to be critical thinkers about the problem of anti-science and science denial, let us not over simplify the issue in to being a problem of only the political right.  Case in point: many of the worst of the anti-vaccination movement (AVM) are strongly left-leaning in their politics.  This is emphasized rather hilariously in this recent Daily Show segment:

An Outbreak of Liberal Idiocy

vaccines

 No, this chart isn’t the idiocy.  The idiotic part is that anyone would seriously deny that vaccinations are the reason why these deadly diseases went away.

In the segment, the Daily Show interviewer discusses the topic of vaccines with someone who can only be described as an ideological science-denier… who is on the political left.  I really like how Orac at Respectful Insolence breaks this down:

In the piece, in particular Bee makes fun of a crunchy lifestyle blogger, Sarah Pope, who, after establishing her liberal-crunchy bona fides (after Bee’s amusing prompts, of course), rattles off pretty much every antivaccine trope and bit of misinformation and pseudoscience in the antivaccine canon, claiming herd immunity is myth, that vaccines cause autism, that they don’t work, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Yesterday, Pope wrote about the interview thusly:

” “The Epidemic of Idiocy” that The Daily Show segment labels the no-vaccination movement is head scratching given that the anti-vaccine movement is being led by the most educated in our society.

Are all those parents with college degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs and, yes, even many MDs that are saying no to shots for their kids complete idiots?

Highly doubtful!

No-vax parents aren’t the real “science deniers”. In fact, they the ones most interested in the science because they are digging into the research and demanding unbiased, objective data to support vaccination, not the slanted version presented by the CDC and conventional pediatricians like Dr. Offit who makes millions supporting the very industry that handsomely maintains his lifestyle.”

Uh, no.

No matter how much Ms. Pope wants to claim the mantle of science through the University of Google, she and her fellow antivaccine activists are just as antiscience as anthropogenic global climate change denialists and creationists (a.k.a., evolution denialists). They also share another important trait with people holding those antiscience beliefs. They’re just really, really good atmotivated reasoning, and one reason they’re so good at motivated reasoning is because they are educated and smart, which is why vaccine denialists and other science denialists are sometimes referred to as “smart idiots.” It’s a very apt term. I do, however thank The Daily Showfor making me aware of Ms. Pope. Her blog looks like—shall we say?—a highly “target-rich” environment for potential future blog posts.

However, we should take care to not oversimplify the AVM and the political affiliations of its adherents, because while there are many AVMers who are left-wing, there is also a strong (and apparently growing) right-wing element to vaccine denial.  More from Orac:

However, there is also a very strong strain of antivaccine views on the right as well, including General Bert Stubblebine III’s Natural Solutions Foundation, far right libertarians, and others who distrust the government, including government-recommended vaccine schedules.

Indeed, many of the the antivaccine people and groups whom I monitor tend to be anything but liberal politically. For example, The Canary Party, a rabidly antivaccine group that pushes the idea that toxins in vaccines are responsible for autism and all sorts of health issues and that autism “biomed” quackery is the way to cure vaccine injury recently teamed up with the East Bay Tea Party to oppose vaccine mandates in California. Moreover, the Canary Party has also recently been sucking up to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), with one of its major financial backers, Jennifer Larson, contributing a lot of money to Issa’s campaign (indirectly, of course) in order to buy influence and win a hearing by his committee examining autism and focused on vaccines as one potential cause. Fortunately, Issa’s hearing in 2012 was a bust.

So what are we to conclude about this question of anti-vaccination and political affiliation?  Well, the answer appears to be “not much” because it seems the question hasn’t been rigorously studied…

Unfortunately, there aren’t actually a lot of good data examining whether there is a correlation between political affiliation and anti-vaccine views. I blogged about this very issue a three years ago, discussing an article by Chris Mooney looking at polling data and doing the best he could to characterize the politics of vaccine denialism.

At this point, about the only thing I can say is that regardless of the political motivations of those who buy into and promote the dangerous nonsense espoused by the AVM, their lies and pseudoscience must be countered.  So how do we do that?  How do we in the skeptical and pro-science movement formulate an effective message to counter the AVM’s noise and misinformation?  Well, I am happy to say that last year a study was published (via the JREF and Women Thinking, Inc.) on this very question.  Please give it a look 🙂

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Skeptical Teacher Interviewed on The Pink Atheist

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2013

This past Sunday evening, I was interviewed on The Pink Atheist podcast/radio show.  The topics of discussion were the vaccine survey research I was involved with and the importance of promoting a good pro-vaccine message, as well as talking about some of the physics behind various crazy demonstrations I perform both in and out of the classroom.

Click the link below for the full audio of my interview, which starts at the 20:25 mark.  Enjoy! 🙂

The Pink Atheist

pink atheist

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Opinion Survey on Vaccines Published by JREF and WT,Inc

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2013

I am very pleased to announce that a ground-breaking survey conducted on the issue of people’s opinions regarding vaccines and vaccination has been published; the work was a joint project of the James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. and it gets to the heart of how those of us who support good science-based medicine can communicate a more positive message on vaccines.

In addition, I am happy to say that I took a personal role in this research during my time with the Women Thinking, Inc. organization 🙂

[**Addendum: My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, wrote a wonderful piece on this survey research over at Skepchick, and she outlines there just how many people were involved in this process over the last few years.  Check it out!]

So, without further ado, I would like to link to the JREF’s press-release on the survey; please note that you can download the full paper at this link, so please share it!

Opinion Survey by JREF and Women Thinking Free Foundation Supports Childhood Immunization

The James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. have come together for an opinion survey aimed at better understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children. The project, Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation, explores better ways to communicate a “vaccine-positive” message.

“Vaccine misconceptions have been running rampant, which should not only be concerning to science advocates but to parents and the greater public,” said WTinc President Louise Kellar. “Previously it had been unclear which misconceptions had been taking a toll on parents. Through this survey that the JREF funded, we hope that that science advocates and educators will be able to focus their outreach efforts, thereby helping children have the best start in life and hopefully saving some lives in the process.”

The joint project is an opinion survey that includes data from hundreds of parents of young children. The survey data was collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to “anti-vaccine” messages. The JREF and Women Thinking, Inc. is happy to make the results freely available to public health and science advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.

“There are some provocative conclusions that may be drawn from the survey data,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, the survey data suggests that most parents do understand the importance of ‘herd immunity,’ but just consider this a greater risk than possible harm to their children coming from vaccination. We hope the information from the survey will help science educators and activists better understand parents’ concerns in order to help them make the healthiest choices regarding childhood immunity from dangerous diseases.”

The JREF-WTinc survey, conducted over the last two years and released to the public today, aims to help science advocates fill gaps in the public’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asked specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. From the report: “The most effective anti-vaccination arguments are those that induce fear in parents by naming frightening ingredients and by greatly exaggerating the risks of vaccinations. The best pro-vaccination arguments were those that focused on a good-parenting message, such as suggesting that not immunizing your child is equivalent to putting them in a car without a car seat.”

You may download a copy of Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation here.

Click here to read the rest of the press-release

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Science Resources for Children

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2013

On my second day at  SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The first one was an excellent panel titled “Science Resources for Children”, and it was geared towards talking to and discussing with people about what kind of good sources of science education are available to kids outside of schools.  What books and activities can you do to promote science understanding in kids? From the best on the bookshelves to how to extract DNA in your kitchen, we talked about great ways to learn about science in the home.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Windy Bowlsby, Brandy Snyder, and Nicole Gugliucci, a.k.a. The Noisy Astronomer.  Below the linked recording of our panel I have also listed notes made by Windy Bowlsby in case anyone would like to peruse them 🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Science Resources for Children

conv

“From the “Science Resources for Kids” panel, this is the list of resources and advice that was gathered:

Make Magazine (website and hardcopy)

SkepticalTeacher.org

NASA Wavelength (webpage)

SciStarter (webpage)

Mars Globe app

Google Earth and Sky app

GoSky Watch app

MN Parent Blog (posts Nature Center activities)

Science Museum Hacker Spaces – like our local Hack Factory

Cosmos (book)

Demon-Haunted World (book)

Scientific American blog

Discovery News blog (news.discovery.com)

How Things Work – book

Vlog Brothers

You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)

Basher Books

Mythbusters

Bill Nye (who now has an app!)

Mr. Wizard

Google+ has science Sunday

Radiolab (podcast)

BrainsOn.org (podcast)

Free Range Kids

Reference Librarians

Zuniverse.org

Magic School Bus (on Netflix)

Beakman’s World (tv show)

CoolTools.org

How Its Made (book)

321 Contact (tv show)

Connections (tv show)

TED Talks (podcasts and YouTube)

Edible DNA (fun experiment)

MadArt Lab (website)

tinkering activities (give kids old machines & electronic to take apart)

Having adults around you express interest in science Science is a Methodology

Anytime you try to figure something out – you’re a scientist”

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Announcing Joint Vaccine Survey Effort Between Women Thinking Free & JREF!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2011

I’m very excited to (finally!) let you all know about a behind-the-scenes project that I’ve been assisting with for quite some time now: a joint effort between two skeptical organizations, the Women Thinking Free Foundation and James Randi Educational Foundation, to conduct survey research & understand the opinions of parents regarding vaccines, vaccine safety, and the effect(s) that anti-vaccine propaganda might have upon their decisions.  We feel that this information is vital to have if we are to be effective in countering the spread of this deceitful & dangerous fear-mongering.

For more details on this joint effort, I now refer you to this press release from the JREF…

Opinion Research Effort by JREF and Women Thinking Free Foundation Will Support Childhood Immunization

LOS ANGELES—At the start of National Infant Immunization Week, the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) announced they are joining together for a new research project aimed at understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children.

“Misinformation about vaccines isn’t just a concern for scientific skeptics, it’s now a public health concern.” said WTFF President Elyse Anders. “There are millions of parents right now who are making decisions about immunization for their children, who are trying to make sense of the conflicting information they’re getting from the media. The research we’re conducting with the JREF will help us understand how parents make those decisions, and what information will help them give their kids the best start in life.”

The joint project is an opinion survey, already underway, that will include data from hundreds of parents of young children by the time survey gathering is complete. The surveys are being collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to anti-vaccine messages. When the research is completed next spring, the JREF will be make the results freely available to public health advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.

“Our goal is to help save lives,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, we don’t really know what information is getting through to the parents who need it. We want to help parents get the unbiased information they need to know that they’re making the healthiest choice when they give their child immunity from dangerous diseases.”

The JREF-WTFF project aims to fill gaps in the skeptical movement’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asks specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. The survey should identify the ideas and information parents have heard both for and against immunization, and which they found most important in making their decisions. …

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Okay Fine… Happy Groundhog Day

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 3, 2009

What’s a skeptic to do? With all the crazy pseudoscientific woo in the world to deal with, every now and then I just have to give in and go along with it. No, don’t worry, I’m not talking about becoming a fan of uber-douchebag Kevin Trudeau or believer in crystal energy & other New Age weirdness. Rather, I’m referring to some nutty, and kind of fun, traditions that U.S. society follows. I’m talking about Groundhog Day.

groundhog

The story goes like so… since 1886, every February 2nd, a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil (not always the same one since the critters aren’t immortal) comes out of his burrow in Punxsutawney, PA and is expected to react to whether or not he sees his shadow. The legend has it that if he doesn’t see his shadow due to cloudy weather then it means winter is close to an end; however, if ol’ Phil does see his shadow in the sunny weather and, as the story is supposed to go, retreats back into his burrow then winter is to last for about six more weeks.

Now, how a little rodent getting, or not getting, spooked by its shadow is supposed to accurately predict the weather for the next month-and-a-half is beyond me. I recall learning the story as a kid, and I thought to myself “How’s that supposed to work?” I guess I figured that as time went on some responsible adult would tell me how ol’ Phil had such amazing powers of precognition.

Alas, after a few years I, like most children I suppose, figured it out for myself that there wasn’t really anything to it. Of course, despite the silliness of seriously considering that a groundhog can predict the weather, there does seem to be quite a party atmosphere around the event in Punxsutawney, PA every February 2nd. And, as people who know me can tell you, I can appreciate a good party 🙂

But, believe it or not, there actually do seem to be some people who believe the groundhogs know their stuff – no really, I’m not kidding. According to Wikipedia, the GDPs (Groundhog Day Proponents – “believers” sounds just a little too creepy) maintain that the groundhogs get the prediction right somewhere from 75% to 90% of the time! Of course, when stacked up next to climate data from the National Climate Data Center, the real accuracy of the predictions is closer to 39%.

So why does this myth persist? For that matter, why do most myths in our society persist – from Groundhog Day to Santa Claus to the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy? I suppose part of it is because today’s adults were told these stories as children, and – here’s a big part of it – there was a considerable amount of celebration & fun associated with these myths. It is assumed that many, hopefully all, kids will eventually figure out there is nothing to the myth – it’s kind of like a right-of-passage.

There is a lesson here for skeptical parents with children: you can use events like Groundhog Day and such to teach kids about where the line between reality and fantasy lies. Take the opportunity to teach your kids to employ their critical thinking skills at a young age when dealing with such myths. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you take the fun out of the event – enjoy the egg hunt at Easter with your kids, but help them understand that it’s all in fun and that the Easter Bunny isn’t real.

If more parents would teach their kids at a younger age that employing a healthy skepticism & flexing those critical thinking skills is a good thing (how many times did you hear as a kid “Don’t ask questions like that”?), then I think in the long run we’d all be better off for it.

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone!

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