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In which Dr. Gorski once again finds himself a target of the “pharma shill” gambit

EDITOR’S NOTICE: NOTE THE DISCLAIMER. Also note that there is a followup to this post entitled The price of opposing medical pseudoscience that is highly recommended after you read this post.

The “pharma shill gambit”: The quack’s favorite flavor of ad hominem argument

One of the very favorite and most commonly used tactics to attack criticism in the armamentarium of pseudoscientists, cranks, and quacks (not to mention politicians) is the ad hominem fallacy. In this fallacy, rather than addressing the actual evidence and science that demonstrate their favorite brand of woo to be nothing more than fairy dust, the idea is to preemptively attack and discredit the person. The ad hominem is not just insults or concluding that someone is ignorant because, well, they say ignorant things and make stupid arguments (in which case calling someone stupid or ignorant might just be drawing a valid, albeit impolitic, conclusion from observations of that person’s behavior), but rather arguing or insinuating that you shouldn’t accept someone’s arguments not because their arguments are weak but because they have this personal characteristic or that or belong to this group or that. Truly, the ad hominem is right up there with demanding public “debates” with skeptics as a favored defense strategy of cranks of all stripes.

Among the very favorite flavors of ad hominem attack used by quacks, cranks, and pseudoscientists is the fallacy of poisoning the well. This particular fallacy alludes to the medieval European myth that the Black Plague was caused by Jews poisoning town wells. Not surprisingly, this myth was used as a justification for pogroms and the persecution of the Jews. The idea is to poison how others view your opponent by preemptively attacking them. Well do I know this fallacy, having been at the receiving end of it many times! Basically, it involves invoking something bad or biased about a person’s situation or personality and then using a phrase something like, “Of course he (or she) would say that” to dismiss a person’s arguments, the implication being that the person receives such benefits from holding the position being attacked or has such a personality that he couldn’t argue otherwise regardless of the evidence. In my admittedly anecdotal experience, far and away the most common use of the ad hominem from quacks and pseudoscientists is what I once described as “the pharma shill gambit.” The idea behind this gambit when it comes to attacking those of us who promote science-based medicine is to tar one’s opponent as being a “shill” for big pharma or claiming that we have a conflict of interest so blatant that “of course we would say that.” In most cases, the bogey man is big pharma, in whose pockets we SBM bloggers are supposed to be safely (and profitably) ensconced, blogging away in our underwear for big bucks and, following the orders of our supposed paymasters, attacking anything that has even a whiff of being “alternative” or that “questions” the safety and/or efficacy of vaccines.

While I realize that there is such a thing as an “astroturf” campaign, in the vast majority of cases, the pharma shill gambit is nothing more than the variant of the ad hominem fallacy known as poisoning the well. I also realize that conflicts of interest (COIs) matter, particularly undisclosed COIs. Indeed, I wrote a rather lengthy post (I know, I know, do I write any other length of post?) about 8 months ago laying out my views regarding COIs in science-based medicine. The short version is that we all have COIs of some sort or another, be they financial, belief-based, or emotional, and more disclosure is usually better, to let the reader decide for himself. As far as COIs related to big pharma or finances, I think Mark Crislip put it quite well in his most recent Quackcast when he said that if a study is funded by big pharma, he decreases the strength of the evidence in his mind by a set amount. However, evidence is evidence, and, although it is reasonable to increase one’s level of skepticism if there is a major COI involving the authors, be it big pharma or otherwise, it is not reasonable to use that COI as the sole reason for rejecting its findings out of hand. That’s just an intellectually lazy excuse to dismiss the study, nothing more. Indeed, one prominent difference between a scientist and a pseudoscientist or quack is that in general scientists understand this and struggle to assign the correct degree of skepticism due to a COI when analyzing scientific studies, while quacks and pseudoscientists do not. It’s far easier for them just to put their fingers in their ears and scream “Conflict of interest! Conflict of interest!” and then use that to dismiss completely their opponent’s argument. It’s simple, neat, and it doesn’t require all that nasty thinking and weighing of evidence..

Yes, quacks, cranks, and pseudoscientists really, really like their “poisoning the well”-style ad hominem attacks. So much do they rely on such attacks that, when they can’t find a real COI to use, abuse, and exaggerate, they’ll make one up, hence the pharma shill gambit. Certainly they’ve tried it on me many times. Over the last six years I’ve lost track of how many times anti-vaccine zealots, homeopaths, Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy fans, HIV/AIDS denialists, and supporters of “alternative medicine” have asked me accusingly, “Who do you work for?” or outright accused me, “I bet you work for Merck” or [insert most hated pharmaceutical company here — I used Merck because of the whole Vioxx issue]. Then they don’t believe me when I point out to them that, sadly, the amount of funding I receive from any medical or pharmaceutical company is…..[drum roll, please]….zero!

That’s right. Zero. Nada. Zip. Sadly, being a high-ranking mouthpiece of big pharma doesn’t pay what people think it pays. Clearly, I need a new agent. Or just an agent. And a ruthless editor, come to think of it. Be that as it may, over the weekend I became aware that apparently I’m once again in the sights of the anti-vaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism and that the apparent weapon to be used to attack me is the pharma shill gambit.

Dr. Gorski gets an e-mail

Of all the brands of pseudoscience-supporters who’ve attacked me over the years, none have been as persistent or nasty as the merry band of anti-vaccine activists at Generation Rescue (GR) and its wholly owned subsidiary propaganda blog Age of Autism (AoA). Usually, it’s J.B. Handley who’s been on the attack, beginning two years ago with the usual sort of title J.B. comes up with David Gorski, MD: The Worldwide Wanker of Woo, Dr. David Gorski and His Merry Band of Idiots Don’t Like Full Page Ads, and Dr. David Gorski Jumps the Shark over Desiree Jennings Case. He also apparently hates Steve Novella, too, and there are other anti-vaccine activists out there just as vitriolic, including one named Craig Willoughby, who started a blog, one main purpose of which appears to be to savage yours truly’s good blog buddy, if you know what I mean.

All of this is my usual logorrheic style of introducing my notification that AoA is about to launch yet another such attack. I know this because on Saturday morning I woke up to find this in my e-mail:

Dr. Gorski,

This is Jake Crosby. I am doing a piece about your acknowledgment that disclosure of conflicts of interest is important, yet your lab at Wayne State University stands to benefit from Sanofi-Aventis money for the breast cancer research you are conducting on a drug the company manufactures and markets, Riluzole, which is also being studied for the treatment of autism. Why isn’t any of this disclosed on your blogs? I await your reply.

Sincerely,

Jake Crosby
Age of Autism
Contributing Editor with Autism
http://www.ageofautism.com/jake-crosby/

Oh, dear. It would appear that Jake has found a “gotcha.” At least, he clearly thinks he does. He is sadly mistaken, which is why I sent back an e-mail saying that I couldn’t respond on Saturday with anything other than a brief message pointing out that I receive no money from Sanofi-Aventis or any other pharmaceutical company, nor am I likely to any time in the foreseeable future. Then on Sunday I wrote this post.

In any case, clearly, Jake didn’t bother to read my disclaimer:

Dr. Gorski has been funded over the last decade by institutional funds, the Department of Defense, the National Cancer Institute, the ASCO Foundation, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. He currently receives no funding from pharmaceutical companies, although he did once receive a modest payment for an invention from such a company back in the mid-1990s. Indeed, so bereft of pharmaceutical funding is Dr. Gorski that before his talks, when he is required to make his disclosures of conflicts of interest, he often jokes that no pharmaceutical company is interested enough in his research to want to give him any money. Maybe one day that will change, but for now, like most biomedical scientists in academia, he must beg the NIH and other granting agencies for the money to keep his lab going.

It’s true, too. Being a pharma shill apparently just doesn’t pay, although being an Associate Professor of Surgery at Wayne State University at least pays well enough to live on. Depressingly, it’s nowhere near as comfy as sitting back in my underwear, sipping coffee and typing screeds against quacks, cranks, and pseudoscientists. I actually have to work for a living! The indignity! You’d think the pharma overlords who rule the world with David Icke’s reptilians, the Illuminati, the Masons, and the Bilderberg Group could at least slip me a few hundred thousand every now and then to keep my lab churning out reductionist, non-wholistic “Western” science (or at least spring for a really good dinner at The Rattlesnake Club or Michael Symon’s Roast from time to time — now that would be worth selling my scientific soul for). But no. Not even a ride in their famed Black Helicopter (just ask David Ayoub), leaving me feeling as dissed and ignored as Mark Crislip. I continue to submit grant application after grant application to the NIH and various other funding agencies in a very hostile funding environment, hoping against hope to keep my lab going but suffering rejection after rejection. Where’s that filthy lucre? I’m tired and beat, with a severely bruised scientific ego right now, having just recently gotten discouraging news on my latest grant application.

Sanofi-Aventis and your fellow Pharma Lords, take me away!

But I digress. Clearly, a preemptive strike is indicated — nay, demanded against Jake’s impending attack. After all, the best defense is a good offense. However, something still gave me pause. I wondered whether I should bother to respond or, if I respond, it would be perceived as being too “mean” to beat up on Jake, particularly in the wake of a post I did a couple of weeks ago about Julie Obradovic. After all, Jake is young and inexperienced, a college student who’s “on the spectrum,” and it might initially appear unseemly to be too hard on him. Heck, although I’m sure he doesn’t believe it, I actually even kind of like Jake. He seems like basically an otherwise decent kid who’s clearly fallen in with the wrong crowd, namely J.B. Handley’s band of merry anti-vaccinationists at Generation Rescue and Age of Autism. Sadly, they’re corrupting him. Whenever I see Jake do stuff like this, I feel a fatherly impulse to try to set him straight, given that I am actually old enough to be his father. I want to sit him down and calmly ask him in the most fatherly manner I can muster what the hell he’s thinking doing stuff like this and hanging out at AoA promoting pseudoscience. My desire to try to correct a young man’s descent into pseudoscience aside, though, Jake is now an adult, and as an adult he needs to face the consequences of his words and deeds.

Jake Crosby: A rather confused young man with a penchant for conspiracy-laden ad hominem attacks

Sadly, from my perspective, Jake’s words and deeds do require some consequences. Since he’s joined AoA, Jake has made the conscious decision to adopt “poisoning the well”-style ad hominem attacks against anyone whom he perceives as opposing the scientifically discredited notion that vaccines cause autism as his personal modus operandi, apparently having learned at the feet of masters of the ad hominem, such as J.B. Handley, David Kirby, and Dan Olmsted. For example, last year Jake wrote an amazingly conspiracy-filled attack on Adam Bly, founder and CEO of Seed Magazine and creator, of course, ScienceBlogs, which is another home to Peter Lipson and one other SBM blogger, he who must not be named, if you know what I mean (and I think that most of you do).

The attack came in two parts. The first part was “Science” Blogs: Seed Media’s Aggressive Weed, Part I: Fertilizer From Pharma. In it, Jake insinuated that, because Seed and ScienceBlogs accept ads from pharmaceutical companies, both are clearly propaganda outlets for the pharmaceutical industry. Most hilariously, though, Jake claimed that, because Adam Bly had “served at the age of sixteen as the youngest guest researcher at the National Research Council — a Canadian government body that overseas scientific progress, studying ‘cell adhesion and cancer,’” and because of corporate sponsorship of the NRC by Sanofi-Aventis (damn, them, they have their tendrils everywhere!), apparently Adam Bly had been indoctrinated into the Dark Order of Pharma at the tender age of 16 and turned through some sort of dark Satanic ritual into a willing pawn doing the bidding of his pharma masters ever since. (Trust me, I exaggerate only slightly for dramatic effect. Or don’t trust me and read Jake’s original post for yourself.) Then in part II, Jake argues that, because there are members of Seed’s board of directors who have also either worked for or consulted for pharmaceutical companies, Seed and ScienceBlogs must exist only to promote big pharma propaganda, while conflating Steve Novella (who does not blog for ScienceBlogs) and the Discover blog network with ScienceBlogs as though they had anything to do with each other whatsoever.

Since then, Jake has become a very skilled young Padawan who is being corrupted by the Sith and developing into a master of the pharma shill (or the closely related “minion of the CDC”) gambit. He’s applied it to promoters of science over anti-vaccine pseudoscience as varied as Chris Mooney (author of The Republican War on Science, Storm World, and Unscientific America, as well as the journalist who wrote an excellent article on the anti-vaccine movement about a year ago entitled Why does the vaccine/autism controversy live on?); Amy Wallace (who wrote the excellent WIRED article An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All, which resulted in misogynistic attacks on her by J.B. Handley); Trine Tsouderos (the Chicago Tribune journalist who has written multiple excellent articles on vaccine-autism pseudoscience and quackery over the last year or so); the producers of the FRONTLINE documentary on the anti-vaccine movement (SBM commentary here); and, of course, Paul Offit. Perhaps the most tortured use of the pharma shill gambit by Jake occurred when he tried to paint New York Times journalist Gardiner Harris as a hopeless shill for big pharma because — get this — Harris’ brother once worked for pharmaceutical companies (as recently as November 2004, yet!) and now works for a device manufacturer, meaning, as Jake put it, “Gardiner Harris’ brother still deals with pharmaceutical companies.” I kid you not. You just can’t make stuff like this up. (At least I can’t.)

So, with that background in mind, I asked my fellow SBM bloggers whether I should respond, ignore this, or hold back. The unanimous (at least among those who responded to my e-mail) consensus?

Go, get ‘im! So I will.

A retort and explanation from your humble blogger–with science!

Let me just say this to Jake: I do not receive any money from Sanofi-Aventis (or any other pharmaceutical company) to fund my research (or my blogging, for that matter). If you had bothered to read my disclaimer you’d know that. Sadly, I’m not likely to be getting any of that filthy lucre from Sanofi-Aventis any time soon. Again, read my disclaimer. My lab work is entirely funded by grants I’ve gotten through competitive applications and institutional start up funds I received when I accepted my current position. Indeed, Sanofi-Aventis doesn’t even supply me with the drug Rilutek (the trade name of Riluzole) to use for my clinical trial or experiments using mouse tumor models. That’s all funded by grants and startup funds too. Moreover, prior to Jake’s e-mail I had been completely unaware that Riluzole had even been considered for, much less tried as, a treatment for autism. I’m not a neurologist or pediatrician; so it’s unlikely that I would know about that, although I can say, knowing what I know about Riluzole, that it doesn’t strike me as a particularly promising approach.

At this point, no doubt my readers want to know just what on earth Jake is talking about as he tries to paint me as a willing sycophant, toady, and lackey of Sanofi-Aventis; so let me explain. I normally don’t discuss my own research very much on SBM, other than relatively vaguely, because to do so just seems entirely too self-serving to me. (Maybe my lack of self-promotion skills is one reason why the Dark Lords of Pharma want no part of me; or maybe it’s some of my posts, like the one likening vertebroplasty to acupuncture or this one lamenting a pharmaceutical company paying a publisher to publish a fake journal.) However, so that you and Jake understand why his approach is utter nonsense, I have to provide you with a brief primer of my work.

The reason Jake mentioned Riluzole is because it’s one drug I study as a potential therapy for breast cancer. In fact, if I do say so myself, the project looking at Riluzole in breast cancer is an example of why science-based medicine is so cool compared to the fairy dust of “alternative” medicine or the pseudoscience that is the anti-vaccine movement. It all began a while back with a basic scientist at Rutgers named Suzie Chen, who wanted to make a transgenic mouse to study adipogenesis. So she used standard techniques to insert a gene she wanted to study, but after the transgenic mice were born the mice in one of the strains all developed skin lesions that looked like melanoma by the age of two to four months. Being a good and careful scientist, Dr. Chen realize that she had inadvertently created something really interesting, a mouse model of melanoma. So, teaming up with Dr. James Goydos, my surgical partner at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (which is where I was at the time), Dr. Chen went back and looked at what had happened and figured out that the transgene had disrupted part of the regulatory region of a gene known as Grm1 (GRM1 in the human), which codes for a gene known as metabotropic glutamate receptor-1 (mGluR1), in such a manner that mGluR1 was being made at a level far higher than normal.

A word of explanation is in order here. Glutamate is a major neurotransmitter in mammals that functions by binding to either ionotropic or metabotropic receptors (genes: GRM1-GRM8; receptors: mGluR1-mGluR8). I’m not going to talk about ionotropic glutamate receptors. mGluRs belong to a family of G-protein-coupled seven transmembrane domain receptors (GPCRs), which mediate responses to a diverse array of signaling molecules, including hormones, neurotransmitters, chemokines, and autocrine and paracrine factors. In the mammalian CNS, mGluRs, which are categorized into either group I, II, or III receptors based on sequence, what compounds they bind, and how they signal in the cell, are essential for normal neuronal function, and have been implicated in diverse neurological pathology, particularly ALS. Their existence and importance in melanoma had previously been unsuspected.

Again, being a careful scientist, Suzie Chen went back and made a new transgenic mouse, this time using Grm1 engineered in such a way that it is only expressed in the melanocytes of the mouse strain created and observed very close to the same thing. Now here’s where things get really interesting. It turns out that there is already an FDA-approved drug that blocks glutamate release and signaling. This drug is Riluzole, and it’s used to treat amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease). In fact (and Steve will correct me if I’m wrong) Riluzole is the only currently known drug that prolongs the life of ALS patients, albeit not by a lot. Truly, this was serendipity of the sort that most scientists never see in their lifetimes.

Why is Riluzole so important in this story, even though it doesn’t specifically inhibit the activity of mGluR1? Because it was already FDA-approved. Thus, testing it in cancer didn’t require a new drug approval, only an approval to test the off-label use of Riluzole against melanoma, which is what Drs. Goydos and Chen did, demonstrating that Riluzole inhibits the growth of melanoma in cell culture and in mouse tumor models, that it is an oncogene in melanoma, and that it showed promise against melanoma in a small pilot clinical trial. Dr. Goydos is currently running a clinical trial to test Riluzole in melanoma patients, one for patients with unresectable melanoma.

In the meantime, about three years ago I started collaborating with Dr. Goydos to see if mGluR1 is expressed in breast cancer. It turns out that it is and that it is active. Indeed, our first paper reporting these results has been submitted, and I’m busily putting together a paper to report our results in animal models, results that I reported at the recent ASCO meeting. I also have a small pilot clinical trial, funded by The ASCO Foundation and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, that is going on right now. In the meantime, while my collaborators keep working on melanoma and some other tumor types, I’m working on figuring out how mGluR1 functions in breast cancer with the hope that the knowledge will lead to a treatment for breast cancer that can be taken as a pill and that has very low toxicity. Riluzole meets both criteria. If it passes clinical trials, it may well be a very useful drug for potentiating the effects of other cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation.

If this research works out, I’d like to think I did something good, building on the work of Drs. Chen and Goydos, to benefit breast cancer patients. In fact, I’m quite excited that we’re on the verge of publishing our first paper on our work and currently deep into the process of writing our second paper. Both, I hope, will appear before the end of 2010.

Real conflicts of interest versus phantom conflicts of interest

The bottom line is that, for Jake’s insinuation to represent a true COI that needs to be reported up front when I write about vaccines and autism, at least three things would have to be true. First, I would have to be receiving money from Sanofi-Aventis. I am not. Second, I would have to have the reasonable expectation to receive money from Sanofi-Aventis. I do not. I’m not even angling for money from Sanofi-Aventis to run my lab. Third, I would have to know that Riluzole is being tested as a treatment for autistic children. I did not until Jake wrote to me. In fact, Jake isn’t even correct. I searched ClinicalTrials.gov, and all I could find was a study called Riluzole to Treat Child and Adolescent Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder With or Without Autism Spectrum Disorders. It’s clear that the primary purpose of this trial is to test Riluzole in children with obsessive-compulsive disorder and they just happen to be including children with ASD as well. I really don’t know why; it seems to me that including children with ASDs would only make the results of the study more difficult to interpret.

In any case, even if I had known that, it still wouldn’t have been a COI. I’m not a neurologist, and I don’t treat ASD or OCD. I’m never going to be doing research with Riluzole in children with ASD, OCD, or both. I’ll attempt to follow Jake’s tortured logic. Apparently, because Jake buys into the AoA-promoted myth that autism is in reality due to “vaccine injury,” to him anything that is used to treat autism is in fact equivalent to treating “vaccine injury.” Apparently it follows that, because I’m doing research involving Riluzole and there is a clinical trial using Riluzole to treat children with OCD, some of whom will also have an ASD, I must be defending vaccines and arguing against the idea that vaccines cause autism because I’m heavily invested in Riluzole as a treatment for “vaccine injury” as well as cancer. Either that, or Sanofi-Aventis must be paying me big bucks or because I stand to make money off of Riluzole if it’s found to be a good treatment for OCD and/or breast cancer.

I must admit, Jake’s “logic” confuses me. But, then, I don’t see conspiracies everywhere. (Well, most of the time, anyway.)

As I come to the end of one of my typically logorrheic magnum opi, I wonder two things. First, I wonder if anyone’s reading anymore or if everyone’s gone to sleep. Second, and more importantly, I wonder once again if I’ve been too hard on Jake. I don’t think so. If Jake did not have a documented history stretching well into last year of trying to slime everyone he can who has the temerity to argue against the scientifically discredited idea that vaccines cause autism or to criticize GR and AoA for promoting that myth with charges of either being in the pay (and therefore thrall) of big pharma, I probably would have written a shorter and friendlier version of this post and sent it to Jake as a private e-mail. Unfortunately, Jake does have a history of trying to slime anyone he thinks he can dig some “dirt” on with the charge of an undisclosed COI or of being in the thrall of big pharma and clearly has me in his sights as his next target. Sadly, Jake has learned from J.B. Handley and others at AoA.

Jake’s conspiracy-laden posts finding tenuous connections between his enemies that he trumpets as “undisclosed COIs” that to him apparently completely invalidate the science being argued, indicate to me that Jake fancies himself an investigative journalist and wants to play in the big leagues. Unfortunately, as I pointed out before, dismissing an opponent’s argument solely on the basis of a COI, perceived, real, or imaginary, is intellectually lazy. Clearly, Jake isn’t even ready to play Class A ball yet. He’s probably out of his depth in Little League. Even more unfortunately, as long as Jake stays affiliated with AoA, I don’t think he ever will be ready for the big leagues. It’s a shame, because Jake seems like a smart and ambitious kid who could have an impressive career at something and actually contribute to society rather than spreading conspiracy theories. What a waste. Maybe one of Jake’s professors will take an interest in him, take him under his or her wing, and mentor him away from the craziness.

I can always hope, can’t I?

Posted in: Medical Ethics, Neuroscience/Mental Health, Public Health, Vaccines

Leave a Comment (182) ↓

182 thoughts on “In which Dr. Gorski once again finds himself a target of the “pharma shill” gambit

  1. daijiyobu says:

    You have copiously defended yourself against the ‘Big Pharma Shill’ accusation [perhaps libel!], Dr. G.

    But, I wonder, how will you defend yourself against the accusation that you are a shill for…
    .
    .
    .
    .[wait for it, I've HUGE evidence and it's quite handy]
    .
    .
    .
    ‘Big Scalpel’?

    -r.c. (just kidding)

  2. jimpurdy says:

    QUOTE:
    “As I come to the end of one of my typically logorrheic magnum opi, I wonder two things. First, I wonder if anyone’s reading anymore or if everyone’s gone to sleep.”

    I did, I read it all the way through! Now when do I get my BigPharma money?

    Oh, and as someone who has competed in senior spelling bees at the local, state and national levels, I want to thank you for this triple gem: “logorrheic magnum opi”

    Jim Purdy
    The 50 Best Health Blogs

  3. Harriet Hall says:

    I recently encountered another example of a cowardly and dishonest attack by someone who couldn’t refute my facts. I posted a review of Andrew Wakefield’s “Callous Disregard” on Amazon.com. A commenter who calls herself Pearl Zovwisdom accused me of not having read the book because there was no record of me buying it from Amazon. I explained that I had been sent a review copy, and it should have been obvious from my detailed comments that I had read it. Pearl retaliated by posting a very negative review of my book “Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly” on Amazon that consisted entirely of criticisms of me that were unrelated to the subject of the book, made no reference to anything in the content of my book, and made it glaringly obvious that she had not read it. Some of her statements were false and amounted to libel. I complained to Amazon and they promptly removed her review. The next day, she posted another review that characterized my book as “dull and starchy” and a waste of time, and again made no reference to the contents of the book. Dull it might possibly be (to someone with no sense of humor) but starchy it is not. It is obvious that she has not read my book and is simply carrying out a personal vendetta. I complained and Amazon again removed her review.

  4. BillyJoe says:

    A tribute to Jake.

    (“Jake the Peg” by Rolf Harris)

    I’m Jake the Peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um
    With my extra leg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um
    Wherever I go through rain and snow
    The people always let me know
    There’s Jake the peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um
    With his extra leg, diddle-iddle-iddle

    The day that I born (oh boy) my father nearly died
    He couldn’t get my nappies on, how matter how he tried
    ‘Cos I was born with an extra leg, and since that day begun
    I had to learn to stand on my own three feet
    Believe me that’s no fun

    [Chorus]

    I had a dreadful childhood really, I s’pose I shouldn’t moan
    Each time they had a three legged race, I won it on me own
    And also I got popular, when came the time for cricket
    They used to roll my trousers up
    And use me for the wicket

    [Chorus]

    I was a dreadful scholar, I found all the lessons hard
    The only thing I knew for sure, was three feet make a yard
    To count to ten I used me fingers, if I needed more
    By getting my shoes and socks off
    I could count to twenty four

    I’m Jake the [stops to count]

    …to twenty five

    I’m Jake the peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um
    With my extra leg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um
    Whatever I did they said was false
    They said “quick march” I did the quick waltz
    Then they shouted at me “put your best foot forward” – but which foot?
    I said “it’s very fine for you, you only got a choice of two”
    But me, I’m Jake the Peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um
    With the extra leg… diddle-iddle-iddle-um

  5. kirkmc says:

    “As I come to the end of one of my typically logorrheic magnum opi, I wonder two things. First, I wonder if anyone’s reading anymore or if everyone’s gone to sleep. ”

    With all due respect, Dr Gorski, you have a lot to say, but often you say too much. Your posts, such as this one, tend to wander, and often read – in style – like the posts of the people you’re attacking. A bit of concision would be a really good thing, both for you, to make your arguments a bit tighter, and for readers, who may, as me, get tired way before the end and skip much of what you say to get to the conclusion.

  6. tommyhj says:

    The ad hominem fallacy is particularly nasty, because we use it as scientists all the time ourselves. When a professor in a certain field states something as fact, we tend to trust that it is true, expecting that he would provide valid references if asked, that would validate his claims to the smallest detail. Whenever we DON’T read those references, we are using ad hominem as an argument to accept the claims of the professor.

    In a real life setting, the ad hominem argument is the only thing available (asking a senior resident), and we don’t have time to check the logic or evidence ourselves.

    And that’s not all bad – it’s time-saver in a closed circuit of trust in the scientific community.

    We just have to remind ourselves that it’s a fallacy, and every so often check up facts and evidence whenever accepting an argument based on trust.

  7. BillyJoe says:

    …you are describing the “argument for authority”

  8. BillyJoe says:

    ….$#!+, I meant “Argument from Authority”

  9. David Gorski says:

    With all due respect, Dr Gorski, you have a lot to say, but often you say too much.

    One wonders if you think the same about Mark Crislip and Kimball Atwood, both of whose typical posts are usually in approximately the same range of verbiage of mine. Is it really the verbiage, or it the style?

  10. David Gorski says:

    @Harriet

    The reason you were attacked so nastily is because your review of Wakefield’s book wasn’t like this one:

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2010/06/callous-disregard-book-review.html

    which is all Wakefield fans want to see.

  11. kirkmc says:

    Dr Gorski,

    It’s the verbiage. The style – that of you and your colleagues – is very good scientific-ese, often much better than much that I’ve read. (I’m a freelance writer and editor, and have had occasion to edit scientific articles not destined for journals.) But I think there’s just too much in many of these articles for people to follow.

    Ms Hall’s articles are much more concise, at least in relation to others.

    I don’t mean to pick on you, it’s just that your article came up today and I yawned several times before getting to the real meat.

    This is, of course, a personal opinion, but it seems that you might get more readers – or more coverage of your articles – if they were a bit tighter. And in some ways it makes you look like those with whom you are debating, who often confuse verbosity with valid arguments.

    As someone who appreciets what you do, I’m just sayin’…

  12. Kultakutri says:

    nitpick
    opera magna /magna opera, magnum opi broke my eyes.
    /nitpick

    We have a saying here that goes along the lines of The who wants to beat a dog always finds a stick. I wouldn’t really worry about the ad hominem attacks, especially if they are so silly.

  13. rosemary says:

    So many of readers are very talented writers. Several are professionals. Have you ever considered asking for volunteer editors? (I’ve heard professional journalists say no one can edit his own work.)

    I personally think that it would be better if you dropped terms like “woo” and “logical fallacy” because very few people in the general public understand them and many who do simply don’t relate to them. Of course, if the general public isn’t your main target, than there is no reason to do that.

  14. Mojo says:

    Most hilariously, though, Jake claimed that…

    Actually, I think the most hilarious thing is not any of Jake’s claims, but their juxtaposition with the sponsorship banner at the top of the page he makes tham on.

  15. Kylara says:

    “Is it really the verbiage, or it the style?”

    One thing that is helpful in the longer articles generally (this one I actually read all the way through with no problem) is subheads that label sections of the argument. Some of the very sciencey ones go over my head and if I get bogged down in “The Evidence” or something, I can skim until I get to “Interpretation” or “What It Means” or whatever. Or in articles where I’m not as interested in the topic, I can read the beginning and skip right to “Conclusion” and then decide if I want to go back and read the middle. :)

  16. David Gorski on communication: “I want to sit him down, look him in the eye, and calmly ask him in the most fatherly manner I can muster what the hell he’s thinking doing stuff like this and hanging out at AoA promoting pseudoscience.”

    I don’t know Jake either, but if he’s on the spectrum he might not be able to hear you very well if he has to put a lot of energy into maintaining eye contact with you. It’s entirely possible that he would hear you better if he were standing up, staring at your telephone and rocking back and forth on his heels and toes.

  17. kwombles says:

    I read all the way through, first thing this morning, before coffee had even hit my system (although thanks to Novella’s excellent recent caffeine post, I cannot, apparently credit the coffee for alertness).

    You were kind to Jake, especially in comparison to how kind he is to those he attempts to excoriate.

    Your verbiage is part of who you are, what gives your posts their personality. Since it’s not your daily bread and you have no editor breathing down your neck demanding changes so you get that daily bread, write however the heck you want. And when people assert that if only you’d change this or that, you’d get more readers, point them to a certain sitemeter at a certain place and point out, sure, you’re no PZ Myers in terms of numbers, but more than 10,000 people a day drop by to see what you’ve written in your meadering, zinging style.

  18. kirkmc says:

    “I personally think that it would be better if you dropped terms like “woo” and “logical fallacy” because very few people in the general public understand them and many who do simply don’t relate to them. Of course, if the general public isn’t your main target, than there is no reason to do that.”

    I agree with the above. These terms used in internet arguments are generally over my head, and only impress others who use them. I don’t see them as being germane to real debate; they are debaters terms, meta-langugae in a way.

    “One thing that is helpful in the longer articles generally (this one I actually read all the way through with no problem) is subheads that label sections of the argument.”

    Subheads are _very_ useful in any article that’s more than a few hundred words long.

  19. “I personally think that it would be better if you dropped terms like “woo” and “logical fallacy” because very few people in the general public understand them and many who do simply don’t relate to them.”

    For “fallacy,” I couldn’t disagree more.

    In discussing science and the problems with much of the stuff promoted as scienciness in the popular media, it’s indispensable. It’s like suggesting that a neurobiology blog dispense with the word “neuron” because most people don’t really understand what it is, or “don’t relate” to neurons. If you don’t know what a neuron is, you just aren’t going to get much out of a neurobiology blog and maybe you should learn.

    Similarly, if you don’t know what a fallacy is or how to recognize one, you just aren’t going to get much out of a blog that deconstructs pseudoscience. I find that most bloggers here go to great lengths to show why various pseudoscientific assertions are fallacies.

    Anyone who finished high school should have a general understanding of the word “fallacy.” If they don’t, that’s a fundamental failing of the educational system that graduated them. Anyone who finished college should recognize the names of the most common fallacies and be able to look them up on wikipedia if they are feeling fuzzy about the details. If they can’t, their college should be decertified. Really, that’s pretty serious.

    If you decide to be concerned about the failings of education, fine. But please demonstrate faith in the abilities of people. Don’t drop “fallacy.” If you really need to, link to a wikipedia article or to an internal glossary page.

    “Woo”? Sure, maybe it’s internet skeptic geek-speak. But it’s onomatopoeic, not exactly counterintuitive. If you must, link. Or drop it. Whatever. I really don’t care.

    I care very, very much about “fallacy.” I don’t understand how we can discuss thinking about science without discussing thinking.

  20. kirkmc says:

    From Wikipedia:

    “In philosophy, the term logical fallacy properly refers to a formal fallacy: a flaw in the structure of a deductive argument which renders the argument invalid.”

    I know what fallacy is, but didn’t know precisely what the term “logical fallacy” meant. And I went beyond high school; just a bit…

    Personally, when I read all of these “debaters’ terms” or whatever you call them – ad hominem, strawman, logical fallacy, etc. – I tune out. I see these things in internet arguments all the time, and this is meta-language which takes debates into the finer points not of whatever is being debated, but the process of the debate itself. It’s not that they don’t have their place, but I’m guessing that people other than those involved often in internet debates don’t know what they mean.

  21. RE style:

    You were not at all unfair to Jake – if anything, too lenient. If he wants to go public with attacks, than he risks his attacks being revealed as lightweight and ridiculous in public. It’s not the most fun part of growing up, but it is indeed part of discovering how sheltered from consequences children are, and an opportunity to learn how to behave like an adult.

    Your style is just fine. Really. Don’t loose sleep over it. Yes, you could improve your writing by making it tighter. Your thoughts are clear, so you could be your own editor if you felt like it. Just write as you normally would, then go back over it and make it one third as long. You’ll find that you naturally focus on the most important parts and state your main thesis simply and straightforwardly. If you don’t feel like it, don’t change. There are multiple bloggers on this blog, each with their own style.

  22. rosemary says:

    Kwombles, “And when people assert that if only you’d change this or that, you’d get more readers, point them to a certain sitemeter at a certain place and point out, sure, you’re no PZ Myers in terms of numbers, but more than 10,000 people a day drop by to see what you’ve written in your meadering, zinging style.”

    I don’t think it is that simple. What % are: from the groups being debunked; the choir; marketers selling quack products checking to see if you’ve come up with convincing evidence or arguments that they have to counter; rational people actually looking for the information they need to make informed decisions? How many checking the site read each blog? Read the comments? How many understand them? And is 10K an impressive # on the Internet today? I have no idea.

    IMO, it is marketers who bring quackery from the fringes, from the true-believers who are quite irrational to the general public, in an effort to sell goods and services either by directly promoting them and/or by using scare tactics. Efforts to counter them should be evidence-based. They should be researched. The techniques found to be most effective should be used. Those found to be ineffective or counter-productive should be abandoned. I think alts know this and that in understanding and applying it that they have have left science guys in the dust. Of course, unlike the scientists, most of the quacks have a financial interest. They know that market research is a good investment and have the money to do it.

  23. kirkmc on logical fallacies:
    “I see these things in internet arguments all the time, and this is meta-language which takes debates into the finer points not of whatever is being debated, but the process of the debate itself.”

    If someone said that 10 + 20 = 200, would you think that discussion of the differences between “addition” and “multiplication” would be a meta-discussion distracting from the number being debated? Or would it be the core of the problem?

    Internet discussions are a great place to learn about logical fallacies because people lay out their thoughts in written form and they can be systematically deconstructed. It’s much easier to distract people from logical gaps in casual speech.

  24. David Gorski says:

    “I personally think that it would be better if you dropped terms like “woo” and “logical fallacy” because very few people in the general public understand them and many who do simply don’t relate to them. Of course, if the general public isn’t your main target, than there is no reason to do that.”.

    There might be a way for me to disagree more, but right now I can’t think of one, at least not about logical fallacies. In fact, I will continue to point out and define logical fallacies because logical fallacies are a primary tool of pseudoscientists to fool their marks. The ability to recognize logical fallacies is nearly important as the knowledge of what does and does not represent good scientific evidence for the purposes of recognizing what is and is not quackery.

    As for “woo,” it’s a convenient shorthand for pseudoscience, quackery, and paranormal nonsense. Regular readers of this blog will pick up on its meaning soon enough. Consequently, I will continue to use it.

  25. On fallacies, this is a wonderful and engaging summary in the form of a short story:

    http://vondraye.blogspot.com/2010/03/love-is-fallacy-by-max-shulman.html

  26. Subheadings – these are good. I encourage my cobloggers to use them more.

    Logical fallacies – this is not some debating trick. Understanding valid logic and fallacies to avoid is critical to our endeavor. We want to make them part of everyday conversation. Call it a dream – but it is central to our mission.

    “Woo” is in the urban dictionary – how’s that for an argument from authority?

  27. David Gorski says:

    Then let’s see if adding subheadings makes my post easier. What say you, now that they’re there? :-)

  28. Jake wants full disclosure on a blog? In my opinion, the cool thing about a blog is you don’t have to include all references, you don’t have to include an abstract or precis or running head or a corresponding author, you don’t have to disclose all funding sources, you don’t have to make a statement about what stocks your family owns, you can stay semi-anonymous, and so on.

    I am about as suspicious of big pharma as you can get (while still in the real world), but I don’t worry about a blog posting not having COI disclosure. Jake: ease up, dude.

  29. David Gorski says:

    I don’t know Jake either, but if he’s on the spectrum he might not be able to hear you very well if he has to put a lot of energy into maintaining eye contact with you. It’s entirely possible that he would hear you better if he were standing up, staring at your telephone and rocking back and forth on his heels and toes.

    After several years writing about this topic, I probably should know better by now. On the other hand, my original text had me suppressing an urge to grab Jake by the shoulders, shake him, and ask him what the hell he’s thinking getting mixed up with people like the crew at AoA. I scratched that because I know that autistic people are often more sensitive to touch and would thus likely respond even more negatively than a neurotypical person would to such an intrusion. In any case, you’re right; I removed that phrase.

  30. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    I enjoy the style, length, detail and use of technical, logical and scientific terminology. I actually find Myers’ posts off-putting due to their brevity and don’t read his regularly as a result. Though I’ve got a bit of science background, I appreciate that I can go from zero understanding to a reasonable degree to actually appreciate the science, in a couple paragraphs. Though, given the length of my own comments, perhaps I’m not a representative sample.

    Subheadings though – good idea.

    The thing about arguments from authority – if it’s a real authority, it’s a valid way of navigating life. You can’t read everything. You can’t check everything all the time. When it’s a real authority, being able to take them at their word is a huge time-saver. The problem is the cheaters. Human culture is predicated on, to a large extent, honesty. We expect reciprocal altruism. If we know the rules, we expect people to play by them. That’s why cheaters of all sorts, are dealt with so severely. Jail, execution, gossip, excommunication, social exclusion – all are punishments for lies, deception and betrayal of social mores. Humans are weak, inefficient predators singly, and evolved in medium-to-large social units because it allows much greater achievements, as well as the Lamarckian evoultion of technology to build. Serial killers who “think they get away with it”, con artists, forgers, and CAM practitioners who are deliberately decieving their clients by ignoring evidence (I’m thinking of Dana Ullman here), these are the people who take the flawed, but useful argument from authority, and twist it for their own advantage. I read through the first two pages of Ullman’s latest bit of nonsense that he pointed to in the comments at Naturopathy for Allergies (http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=5225#comment-52688). His article (http://www.thorne.com/media/alternative_medicine_review/2010/Volume_15/Number_1/AMR15-1Homeopathy.pdf) is flatly terrible. I read the first two pages, and spent several hours actually looking up the references. Invariably, their support for the points made in the paper was tenuous, if not outright lacking, with some outrageous cherry-picking of a Cochrane Review, picking out the single positive word (“promising”) in an other wise totally negative review.

    My point – arguments from authority can be a reasonable way of dealing with many things. However, because of cheaters willing to take care of the trust we need to live on a planet with 6 billion people, we have to spend huge amounts of time checking and rechecking the claims.

    Thank you cheaters, the world progresses more slowly because of your efforts.

  31. David Gorski says:

    Actually, I’ve thought for quite a while that the name for the “argument from authority” logical fallacy should be changed to the “argument from false authority,” because that conveys more accurately what the fallacy is.

  32. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Ugh, three “though”s in a single paragraph. I need a proofreader.

    Also, “…willing to take care…” should read “…willing to take advantage…”

    The headings look great by the way, somehow I feel comforted by their presence. Curious.

  33. Skeptico says:

    kirkmc

    Personally, when I read all of these “debaters’ terms” or whatever you call them – ad hominem, strawman, logical fallacy, etc. – I tune out.

    Then you’re missing a large part of the point.  These are not mere “debaters’ terms” they are a fundamental part of being about to do critical thinking. 

    It’s not that they don’t have their place, but I’m guessing that people other than those involved often in internet debates don’t know what they mean.

    I imagine that’s why Dr Gorski defined what an ad hominem is in so much detail.

  34. Dr Gorski – Yes, I read it to the very end. :) (Although I do admit to skimming some of the AoA stuff.) A few things.

    Firstly, In my very inexpert opinion this (and about a paragraph before and after) is the lead

    Let me also say this to Jake: I do not receive any money from Sanofi-Aventis (or any other pharmaceutical company) to fund my research (or my blogging, for that matter). If you had bothered to read my disclaimer you’d know that. Sadly, I’m not likely to be getting any of that filthy lucre from Sanofi-Aventis any time soon. Again, read my disclaimer. My lab work is entirely funded by grants I’ve gotten through competitive applications and institutional start up funds I received when I accepted my current position.

    I have no complaint about the lengthiness of your posts, but I will say that you often bury the lead…way, way, way down. Sometimes it is like reading a suspense novel. I would not complain, but I have children who interrupt often. Sometimes I don’t have time to get that far down. Perhaps you could do a Cliff Notes Version?

    On the other hand, there are days that I’m sure you are striving to single-handedly fight off the short-attention span culture that some believe the internet has built. :)

    Secondly – I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but every time I read one of your post I am blown away by the amount of brains and f&*#ing energy you must have. Are you sure you’re not twins? Do you sleep at all?* Also, thanks so much for the explanation of the Riluzole research. Very interesting.

    Thirdly – Very funny riff on the lack of lucre in being a pharma shill. Thanks for the chuckle.

    *I know, I sound very uncool when I gush, but I think it seems deserved.

  35. David Gorski says:

    These are not mere “debaters’ terms” they are a fundamental part of being about to do critical thinking.

    Exactly. Understanding logical fallacies, how to avoid them, and how to counter them is absolutely essential to effective critical thinking. Asking me to avoid using the term “logical fallacies” or pointing out logical fallacies is akin to asking me not to eviscerate a bad argument. It just ain’t gonna happen.

  36. kirkmc says:

    The subheads make it easier to navigate, but “cute” subheads don’t tell the reader much.

    The above commenter who said that you “bury the lead…way, way, way down” has hit the nail on the head. That’s part of what irks me. Tell me what you’re going to say, say it, then tell me what you said. (I don’t know whose rule that is, but it’s a good one.)

    Or use the situation-problem-solution format. The first section should lay out the context; the second, the issue at hand; the third, the solution (or summary). The first section should be very short, if possible. The second should be concise and clear, and can be followed by another section amplifying what it says. And the solution/summary should be clear as well, so people can read the intro and conclusion and have an idea of whether they want to read more.

    Sorry for making this thread about your style. You have a lot of good things to say, and they need to be said. I was just frustrated this morning reading this article that seemed, to me, to skip over the essential.

  37. Archangl508 says:

    “With all due respect, Dr Gorski, you have a lot to say, but often you say too much. Your posts, such as this one, tend to wander, and often read – in style – like the posts of the people you’re attacking.”

    Dr. Gorski, as someone who quite enjoys your style and verbiage, please don’t change. A blog should express, not just an opinion or information, but also a bit of a person’s personality as well. That is why I find your writings quite interesting (as I do many of the other writers on SBM of varying styles). We live in a world far too worried about focus groups and opinions and I think it far too often stifles personal creativity and expression.

    Write the blog you want to in the style that best expresses who you are.

  38. David Gorski says:

    Sorry for making this thread about your style.

    In retrospect, I now realize that I should have stayed quiet, because now I’ve unintentionally contributed to the degeneration of this comment thread into what is to my mind a rather pointless discussion about writing style, rather than the substance. Mea culpa. I knew it was a mistake when I did it, but for some reason I did it anyway. As a result (at least partially), this comment thread has drifted into an unproductive line of discussion.

  39. Oh well, I don’t think it’s completely unproductive. As someone who has no formal education in logic, the logical fallacy discussion is illuminating.

    But that is what I like about SBM, people expect the comments discussion to be productive. ;)

  40. GinaPera says:

    Well said, David. Especially this part:

    “However, evidence is evidence, and, although it is reasonable to increase one’s level of skepticism if there is a major COI involving the authors, be it big pharma or otherwise, it is not reasonable to use that COI as the sole reason for rejecting its findings out of hand. That’s just an intellectually lazy excuse to dismiss the study, nothing more.”

    ——-
    As an advocate on the subject of ADHD for many years, I’ve had all of the rhetorical devices thrown at me, including “Gina Pera wants to inject your fetus with medication.”

    Every review I’ve written on Amazon of “Stop Your ADHD in 18 Days” type books (usually by chiropractors but sometimes the rogue neurologist) invariably draws comments along You’re a Pharma Shill” lines. Typically, it’s obvious that the black-and-white-thinking commenters lacked the reading comprehension skills to even parse my review; it’s just a knee-jerk response.

    Never mind that my work has been entirely self-funded, despite many suggestions over the years that I should apply for a grant from pharma. As a journalist, I know the importance of the “wall” between editorial and advertising, and with a topic as “controversial” as ADHD, I wanted no hint of possible taint.

    What I’ve learned over the years is that the bulk of the “flames” have come from former psychiatric patients and/or “Mad Priders.”

    Many are simply lost in their own anosognosia, or low insight; it’s remarkably common across all the frontal-lobe disorders. They claim their disorder is a gift. And until the economy tanked, at least one notable “ADHD expert” (a psychiatrist who has ADHD but can wave the Harvard flag to establish credibility) made this his platform and convinced many in the media of it.

    More notably perhaps, many of these people have been deeply scarred by sloppy prescribing physicians, suffering so many unnecessary adverse side effects. Moreover, they’ve seldom been offered helpful psychoeducation to help them adjust to the “side effects” of new clarity, focus, etc.

    When I’ve managed to engage some of my worse critics in a dialogue by e-mail, my suspicions have been confirmed. These are the people who held out the most hope for medications actually working, only to be immensely let down. They then go on the Internet to “self-medicate” with vindictiveness and retribution.

    Gina Pera, author
    Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?
    http://www.ADHDRollerCoaster.org

  41. GinaPera says:

    Another source of Pharma Shill propaganda: Insurance companies. Or should I say insurance-industry backed politicians such as Chuck Grassley, who grandstanded an immense effort to discredit psychiatric researchers.

    Grassley and Scientology. Strange bedfellows indeed.

  42. GinaPera says:

    Perhaps SBM should come up with a visual rating department, a la St. Petersburg Times’ “Politifact.”

    They research statements by pundits and politicians and rank them according to Truth, Half-Truth, Mostly Truth, Lie, and Pants on Fire.

    http://politifact.com/

  43. superdave says:

    By Jake’s standards, everything is a conflict of interest. There is simply no way that doing quality science won’t give you some sort of gain.

  44. Dawn says:

    I finally got a chance to read your post. Actually, your discussion of your research, how it started and what you are doing is fascinating and I personally would love to read more about it at times.

    As for Jake – he is a sorry soul who sees monsters under every bed and behind every tree. I have quit trying to deal with him, I just feel sorry for him.

    As for the length of the post – perhaps a little long, but the subheadings really helped (and maybe a few more would have helped more). But I enjoy how you write. It is your voice, just as PZ has a different voice. They are different but enjoyable as different things. If I wanted writers who all sounded alike I wouldn’t be reading blogs!

  45. rosemary says:

    David, “Understanding logical fallacies, how to avoid them, and how to counter them is absolutely essential to effective critical thinking. Asking me to avoid using the term “logical fallacies” or pointing out logical fallacies is akin to asking me not to eviscerate a bad argument. It just ain’t gonna happen.”

    I never asked you to avoid using the term nor did I expect that you would if I had requested it. I said, “I personally think that it would be better if you dropped terms like “woo” and “logical fallacy” because very few people in the general public understand them and many who do simply don’t relate to them. Of course, if the general public isn’t your main target, than there is no reason to do that.”

    I think it is very easy to get the public to see nonsense and illogic without giving them formal names and I think that by giving them formal names that you turn off a lot of the people you want to reach and have to reach to make a difference.

    We have a difference of opinion about the most effective way to educate the general public and it will remain a difference of opinion until educators or psychologists come up with evidence from good solid studies showing which position is correct. However, the topic of communication is not a minor point, something to ignore because it distracts from an argument. If we are to protect people from quacks and expose insane ideas learning to effectively communicate is absolutely essential. That is a point I think very few people would disagree with even without scientific evidence to substantiate it. I think they would also agree that there are probably different ways in which people learn. You and your colleagues are very intelligent and highly educated. All I have tried to do is point out that maybe, just maybe, what works for you and your friends doesn’t work for the other 90% of us and that in order to make major changes someone, not necessarily you, is going to have to reach the majority.

  46. BKsea says:

    In your review of conflicts of interest, I think the one that is missing is the inherent conflict of interest due to self preservation. Every time someone reports a finding or comments on a topic, there is an opportunity for the advancement of one’s career, but also the potential for loss of respect and damage to one’s career.

    I like to ask “what would happen to the person if they had to admit they were wrong?” when I consider COI. At some point, the potential downfall becomes so big that the message becomes more suspect, not less.

    Now consider Dr. Gorski’s blog posts. What happens if he says something wrong? Well, he ends up with a little internet egg on his face, but his real career marches on. What if he is wrong about riluzole? Again, a setback, but his career goes on.

    Now compare this to say Jenny McCarthy (sorry for the comparison Dr. Gorsky). If she ever admits to being wrong she’ll end up going back to pulling her pants down in girly mags to make a living. If Wakefield ever admits to being wrong he will be a pariah in both the scientific world he abandoned and the woo world. Somehow I find these to be much bigger conflicts of interest than any pharmaceutical associations.

    Furthermore, truly being a “pharma shill” may lead to short term benefits, but ultimatley would be career-ending. Similarly, falsifying research might help in the short term, but ultimately destroys the person. In general, these internal conflicts of interest help balance the more apparent external ones in real scientists.

  47. David Gorski says:

    What if he is wrong about riluzole? Again, a setback, but his career goes on.

    To be honest, were my riluzole project to fail to find a benefit, it would be a rather significant setback to my research, but, you’re right, it wouldn’t be career-ending. I have other projects, albeit not enough of them. The problem with having a small lab is that I don’t have enough people working in my lab to be able to work on lots of projects at the same time and thereby spread out the risk tot he lab if one of them turns out to be a turkey, scientifically speaking.

  48. David Gorski says:

    I think it is very easy to get the public to see nonsense and illogic without giving them formal names and I think that by giving them formal names that you turn off a lot of the people you want to reach and have to reach to make a difference.

    Got any evidence for that? Anecdotally (and, yes, I realize it’s anecdotal, but I don’t know if there is any scientific evidence addressing this question), I find that most people appreciate learning about logical fallacies, and naming them makes them more “real” and concrete. That using the names of the logical fallacies strikes you as a “debaters’ terms, meta-language in a way” does not mean that that’s how most people perceive them. Moreover, trying to point out logical fallacies takes a lot of verbiage if without names for the logical fallacies. Look how much verbiage I devoted to explaining the ad hominem and “poisoning the well” fallacies. Now that I’ve done it though, readers know what those fallacies are, and if they see the terms again they’ll know what they mean. Why on earth would that turn people off?

  49. “Now compare this to say Jenny McCarthy (sorry for the comparison Dr. Gorsky). If she ever admits to being wrong she’ll end up going back to pulling her pants down in girly mags to make a living.”

    Normally I don’t like arguing about hypothetical situations, but what the heck. I believe that with savvy publicity Jenny McCarthy could do a turn-about and use it as a carrier building opportunity. Just as we had a rash of books by Bush appointies about where the Bush administration went wrong, she could reveal how her commitment and caring for her child led her to be “taken in” by the dark side or some such. It’s all the talent of the spin.

  50. rosemary says:

    David Gorski, “Got any evidence for that? Anecdotally…I find that most people appreciate learning about logical fallacies, and naming them makes them more “real” and concrete…Look how much verbiage I devoted to explaining the ad hominem and “poisoning the well” fallacies. Now that I’ve done it though, readers know what those fallacies are, and if they see the terms again they’ll know what they mean. Why on earth would that turn people off?”

    I certainly do. Anecdotally. In emails. Actually, I think I’ve been in this game longer than you have. A great many people really do recognize nonsense when you present them with the appropriate evidence.

    And why do people laugh at jokes? Because they recognize nonsense. For instance a woman called Car Talk once and was describing a problem with her car. The guys were having trouble diagnosing it. They were asking her pertinent questions, the make, model, etc. Then one very seriously asked, “What color is it?” She paused. Said “black”. Then started to laugh. He then seriously asked, “How many doors?” She was laughing hard now. She laughed because she understood that those things had nothing to do with the mechanical problem. No one had to spell it out for her.

    On a tangential note, few people know the grammar of their native language on a conscious level. They don’t know a verb from a noun or a subject from a object by name anyway. Yet they know grammar on an unconscious level. If they didn’t their speech would be unintelligible and they would not understand what anyone told them.

    I have no doubt that most of the people you speak to appreciate learning about logical fallacies, but most of those I know do not. I think that means that we have contact with different types of people. I suspect, but do not know, that your contacts are mostly with academics, Skeptics and the intellectually elite while mine are mostly with the guy in the street. If that is a correct assumption, than the group I am in contact with represents the majority of the population.

    My major was philosophy. I had an excellent education in logic and was very good at it. In fact the reason I chose that as my major was that it was so easy and natural for me. But that was over 40 years ago and I don’t remember what the terms mean. And if you think it is because I’m senile you are wrong. I forgot over 30 years ago. :-) Yes you explained some terms, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who read your explanations will remember them for long. And yes there are many people here who are here mainly because they like your style and they are very pleased that you explained the terms and very pleased that you use them and will remember them although they probably already knew them which may mean that what really pleases them is that you speak the same language and think alike. However, I suspect that there are many others, the majority, who would stop reading when they were confronted with such terms. And they are not just the guys in the street. I know very good scientists who share my views on this topic. If you are interested in having some verify it, write to me privately.

    What turns people off is the academic detachment, the geekiness. (I don’t know if that is a word or if it is how to spell it, but it is the best I can do to convey the idea.) Carrying on formal logical discourses among other things gives many people the perception that you completely disregard emotion, something scientists must try to do when working as scientists, but if you take emotion out of your efforts to communicate with the general public, you loose a vital link, the connection.

    I don’t have references but believe that trial lawyers have actually done studies on this, on how best to present complicated information to the general public (juries) so that they understand it. I’ve mentioned this here before and had more specific information on hand then. Emotions as well as logic play a very important role in the way we learn. Based on my experience, I believe that that is true of academics too. In fact I’ve often found them to be highly emotional even when they were unaware of it themselves.

    The points that I am trying to make are: decide who your target audience is; if it is the general public as opposed to academics and intellectuals get some experience with them and see how they communicate. A good way to start is to talk to the professionals – the journalists who write for them. Don’t assume. Investigate the way you would do with a medical claim.

  51. Zoe237 says:

    Noooo, don’t get rid of explanations of logical fallacies! Argument from authority is technically a fallacy (and it’s an “informal” fallacy) when it is an argument from UNQUALIFIED authority. This article describes when an argument from qualified authority might be necessary. http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html

    I may not always agree with Dr. Gorski, but he is one of the most ethical, consistent bloggers I read. This Jake guy is ridiculous.

    I do however think that COI are important and I take them into account.

  52. Peter Lipson says:

    I don’t mind a bit of derailing about style because it brings up a substantive point. Fallacies (rhetorical/logical/informal) are very familiar to skeptics but less so to many others. Many of us earlier in our writing careers focused more on the specifics of these fallacies and perhaps it would be useful for us to point them out more often.

    Giving a name and an explanation for something is a good thing. If David were to say, “Jake is wrong cuz he said I was a poopy head” that gives us no generalizable principle. When he shows this to be an example of a rhetorical trick (often referred to as a logical fallacy although we tend to use the term imprecisely) we can take that tool and use it again.

  53. rosemary says:

    David Gorski, “Got any evidence for that? Anecdotally”

    I just realized this was handy and think it illustrates my point. It happened years ago. A silver promoter wrote to me making claims. I asked for evidence. He said he didn’t have any but he was on a list where the members did. He told me to join. I did but I eventually came to think it had been a setup. When they couldn’t woo me to their side, they tried intimidation. One called my home. I simply kept asking for the evidence that substantiated their claims. They got nastier and nastier. What follows are excerpts from one of the last posts sent to the list. My response follows.

    Bruce, ND (engineer & naturopath who sells machines to make silver supplements):
    Rosemary,
    One message, and only one!
    I have had about enough of your ‘vindictive’, ‘narrow minded’, ‘argumentative’, ‘worthless’, (OLD) information! You have ‘stirred’ this list up a bit (thanks for that),
    WE know what WE know. WE have ‘seen’ and ‘experienced’ with our own eyes, and bodies! We believe in what CS is capable of!
    Since you choose to be nothing but ‘negative’, and ‘argumentative’, to our own ‘personal (real) experiences’ (even to the point of discrediting ‘professionals’), you have overstepped your bounds and can consider your duty fulfilled. We have been ‘informed’ (by your ignorance’) of the dangers, and we will proceed as WE were destined before your arrival!
    I don’t know if I speak for the ‘whole’ list, but I think I do for the few that have been drained of valuable resources , time, and effort, attempting (unknowingly) to ‘educate you’ (like teaching a rock), responding to your diatribes, and getting beat up by your “attitude” (you are eloquent, which I presume endears you to the less
    educated). On this list, ‘you are out of your league’!
    My very last suggestion to you is: GET OUT OF “DODGE”, and DON’T COME BACK!!!
    I suggest you go terrorize a less intelligent group with your terrorist tactics. If anyone wants the ‘other side of the story’, your web site is there for them to see, read, and evaluate!
    Meanwhile – GET OUT OF “OUR” FACES!!! We are here to HELP people, IF we can!
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    ND to Ivan:
    If you have the wherewithal to go after this ‘bitch’ I suggest you do it, or she will be after ‘you’ next month (she wants ‘notoriety’). I welcome ‘informative data’, but ‘vindictiveness’ I have no room for!
    Bruce
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Rosemary wrote:
    Thank you so much Bruce. And I had heard that N.D.s were sweet, caring gentle folks!
    I believe that you and the others have answered my question. Your replies indicate that you have no evidence that ingesting silver in any amount, form or particle size is beneficial, but based on your own personal experience and that of others, you believe that it is. You believe that personal experience is a more accurate means of evaluating drugs and therapies than testing them in large numbers of people where the results are carefully monitored and recorded.
    If I got it wrong, I know you will tell me. If you are rude, I hope that Preacher Ian preaches to you about appropriate behavor the way he does to me. If he doesn’t, I’ll assume that it is because there is a double standard on this list.
    If I got it right, what is the big deal? Why the personal attacks? Why can’t you simply state that you believe that your personal experience is more reliable than controlled trials? No one can prove that God exists. Yet many believe that he does and are not ashamed to say so. I’ll be most interested in what the list member who sent me here thinks of your responses. He had said that you are very polite. Bruce, do the majority of N.D.s believe that personal experience is the most accurate way of evaluating drugs and therapies?
    Rosemary,
    “The Vindictive, Narrow-minded, Argumentative, Worthless, Bitch.”
    ___________________________________________

    They closed down the list but regrouped on others. I don’t know but think that they did that because they feared that rational lurkers looking for information would see through them. The “professionals” who were supposedly better educated than me and therefore far more knowledgeable included an engineer, RN, college foreign language instructor. They got me so angry that I posted FAQs to respond to things they had said and I thanked them for the inspiration. They tried harassing me a few times after that but stopped when I threatened to post their nasty correspondence.

  54. DLC says:

    Good to hear you’re making progress, Dr Gorski. If it turns out to be something less than or other than what you hoped it would be, it’s still worth doing. Congrats to Dr Chen — the phrase most often associated with scientific progress is not “Eureka” but “Hm, that’s funny”.

    as to the “woo” and “logical fallacy” talk . . . I’m fine with it.
    If it looks like a duck, etc.
    Especially when your opponent? (adversary ? interlocutor ? those seem to grant him more gravitas than he’s worth) is opposing you based on application of logical fallacy.

  55. tcw says:

    But is it acceptible in skeptic land to use these fallacies at times? Perhaps when the scientist is a christian (don’t forget the usual adjectives: born-again or fundamentalist), paid off by the right wing pro-life zealots who have lawyers awaiting to sue, or enfranchised by the cash loaded and power thirsty Vatican that will take over the world!

  56. Lawrence C. says:

    To paraphrase Goldwater, being pleonastic in the defense of science is no vice but being a tautologist in the pursuit of reason is certainly no virtue even if you’re speaking to the home crowd. In addition, making a ritual apology for certain behaviors and then going right ahead and doing them anyway is simply sophomoric if still entertaining.

    Other than that, a fun article likely to irritate all the right people. Pray continue!

    (Then again, I may have worked for the government so every thing I say must be Part of A Big Conspiracy. In addition I once propped up the corner of a lab table with The Merck Manual so it can be said my work was entirely leveled by the pharmaceutical industry and their nefarious emphasis on facts and standards.)

  57. BillyJoe says:

    Too late to this discussion, so I would just like to say: continue as you are, but the subheadings are not a bad idea – a good place to stop and get a coffee before continuing :)

  58. rosemary says:

    Lawrence C, “To paraphrase Goldwater, being pleonastic in the defense of science is no vice but being a tautologist in the pursuit of reason is certainly no virtue even if you’re speaking to the home crowd. In addition, making a ritual apology for certain behaviors and then going right ahead and doing them anyway is simply sophomoric if still entertaining.”

    I have no idea what any of that means. Does that matter to you? I don’t know if it is a joke or an insult or if it is aimed at me or has nothing at all to do with me.

    Science doesn’t only apply to medicine. Whether or not the most effective way to communicate with the general public is by speaking Skeptic or the vernacular is a hypothesis that can be tested. Of course, the end points will not be as clear as those in most medical studies, but the conclusions will be much more accurate than opinions based on either personal experience or philosophical beliefs about the role of logic in education.

  59. Rosemary – I think you have some interesting points, but I fear that some of your changes in approach would result in a rather homogenized blog. I’d rather read a blogger that has an expectation that I am willing to stretch my intellect rather than one who is trying to spoon feed me the information.

    That said, in regard to vaccination and the anti-vax movement, if there were some links to more neutrally toned websites or articles directed to non-scientifically inclined parent/grandparents that could be helpful to some of us. The “where to send the mildly defensive mom you meet on the playground” primer.

    I’m not sure where those links could be placed so they would be easily accessible when needed. That’s an issue with blogs. Static material gets buried quickly.

    Apologies for the grammatical, spelling mess. Bad sleep night.

  60. Lawrence C. says:

    Rosemary, my comments were about the article and thus have nothing to do with you.

  61. lillym says:

    I want to jump in on the discussion about using terms like “logical fallacy” and “woo”.

    I am the general public – or at least the general public who would be interesting in reading a science blog. I have pretty much ZERO science education – I managed to graduate high school (I went to three in 4 years) without taking a lab class of any kind. I never took biology where we dissected anything, I never took Chemistry or Physics. The highest math I took in high school was Algebra II.

    In the nearly 20 years I’ve been out of high school I’ve managed to cobble together passing grades to cover, maybe 3 semesters of college. I never managed to pass College Algebra. The only science class I took was Astronomy 101 – it was a kind of Rocks for Jocks type class.

    I’m not dumb, I just was sick a lot when I was younger and missed school and I was the smart lazy student who could figure out the exact minimum I needed to do in order to pass certain classes. I’m not sure I’ll ever end up with a 4 year degree.

    BUT I love learning. I read this blog and Skeptic Dictionary and Skeptical Inquirer and Science Blogs so I can learn more.

    1 year ago I wasn’t reading any of this. But I stumbled on to the blog and now I’m hooked on them because I’m learning.

    Even though I figured out (mostly) what logical fallacy means based on how it is used in context I did have to read up on what it is. I had to read up on confirmation bias and ad hominem fallacy and other logic terms. (Normally I go to the Skeptic’s Dictionary he has good entries).

    I don’t always understand some of the topics, especially the genetics post, I’ve read it a few times and read the comments and I get what the point of the post is without understanding a lot of the science.

    The thing is I like being stretched, I like having to go to another source and look something up, I like following the comments and understanding better. Despite being a lazy student I like learning.

    from personal experience (and this is obviously not hard data) the people who want things broken down and made simple and spoon fed to them are the ones who don’t like to or want to learn,

  62. pmoran says:

    “Exactly. Understanding logical fallacies, how to avoid them, and how to counter them is absolutely essential to effective critical thinking. Asking me to avoid using the term “logical fallacies” or pointing out logical fallacies is akin to asking me not to eviscerate a bad argument. It just ain’t gonna happen.”

    As scientists we should be accustomed to robust debate, so I dare to suggest that pure logical fallacies are rare in healthfraud and antivax debate.

    For example, we freely admit that conflicts of interest (COIs) should be taken into account when weighing up scientific opinion and published results. The COIs alleged by antivaxers and “alternative” supporters are rubbish not because of any fault in that logic, but because the alleged corruption is not based upon fact – we are simply NOT being paid by drug companies to put forward certain viewpoints and there has never emerged a scrap of evidence to show that anyone ever has on these or related issues.

    Such allegations are as much a defensive ploy as ad hominem – antivaxers and those peddling dubious remedies have to have a plausible (?) explanation as to why so many well-qualified people are “agin” them – also something to throw into debate when the going gets tough, as it always does for them — or, I think very often, just something with which to jerk our chains out of spite and frustration .

    Also, do not these fallacies merely prohibit firm deductions being made in this format: “because of this (alone), therefore —“? That can be hard to pin down. Even if Jake wrote a whole piece saying that “David Gorski cannot be trusted because he gets money from drug companies” there is an implied “ taking also into account the contrary evidence we have supplied elsewhere”.

    Both sides still have to knuckle down and present their very best evidence in as clearly assimilable and accessible form as possible — “This is why I think such and such“. Thereafter it is up to the public to decide where to invest their trust, and debating style, dignity, even perhaps a little forbearance with the seriously misguided (sorry, Jake!), may all have some small influence upon that.

  63. SD says:

    Well, I’ll say this, Cde. Gorski; your politics are appalling, but I actually find myself believing you when you say that you don’t take the Pharma shilling.

    (Now, if we could just work on your habit of taking the King’s shilling…)

    A side note to Senor Jake of the Autistas: if you really think that Cde. Gorski is committing the scientific equivalent of simony, then the way to figure that out is to look at his lifestyle. It’s easy to spot someone who has access to big money: pimped-out Mercedes, huge mansion with swimming pool, and a habit of dining out at really nice places, statistically speaking. It’s also easy to spot someone who doesn’t: beat-up Volvo, a house in the “fair-to-middlin’” range in a suburb (probably needing to be painted), and a habit of dining at Carl’s Jr or a taco stand.

    I’m betting Homeboy here is more of a Carl’s Jr. kind of a guy.

    Of course, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. God forbid anybody actually make an effort to provide *evidence* for silly assertions like that, though. After all, there are so many better ways to attack Cde. Gorski than blowing bullshit about his being paid off by Big Pharma.

    “reluctantly, he disagreed”
    -SD

  64. “(Now, if we could just work on your habit of taking the King’s shilling…)”

    I’m not sure if you are using the royal “we” or ? but, I’m very happy to have my tax money go toward promising medical research, so please don’t include me in your we.

    But apparently Dr. Gorski shouldn’t get the money from a corporation and he shouldn’t get it from the government. Oh, lucky for that money tree he has growing in his suburban back yard.

    And I should leave it at that, but since I’m in Michigan and anti-tax and anti-government seem to be the soup-du-jour, I’m just going to say how desperately sick I am of people who want something for nothing and will believe any politician who tells them they can have it.

    but, I know that is another topic another day.

  65. rosemary says:

    lillymon:
    “I want to jump in on the discussion about using terms like “logical fallacy” and “woo”. I am the general public – or at least the general public who would be interesting in reading a science blog.”

    Lillym, I think there are a few logical fallacies in your post, but perhaps not since I really am not up on Logic anymore. When I introduced the term “general public” I used it in the sense in which it is generally understood – that set of the population that represents the majority’s view. Assuming that we agree that only a small % of the population is interested in reading a science blog or the publications you love, I think that drawing the conclusion that you represent the “general public” is erroneous.

    Lillym, “from personal experience (and this is obviously not hard data) the people who want things broken down and made simple and spoon fed to them are the ones who don’t like to or want to learn,”

    In context of the discussion your conclusion would only be valid if the only alternative to avoiding the use of terms like “logical fallacy” and “woo”, was to break things down into simple concepts and spoon feed them to people. I, being the one who brought it up in the first place, think that there are other alternatives.

    The Internet is wonderful in giving people a place to meet and talk with people who think like they do – something that I believe is really great and very valuable for sane, as opposed to insane, people who engage in it although I did read a new article once that disagreed saying that that compartmentalizes people and that newspapers were better because anyone reading them always found some views challenging, as opposed to reinforcing, their own.

    But back to the topic at hand, if communicating with like-minded people is your purpose, using esoteric words is fine. But if your purpose is to protect the public from danger by educating them, closing down quack sites, exposing quacks and teaching people how science evaluates drugs and therapies then I think you need some good studies, the kind that marketers do all the time, to see which method or methods work best in reaching your target audience which I assume should be the general public since that is the one you are trying to alert and educate, the one that quacks target.

  66. rosemary,

    I don’t think this blog needs to be all things to all people. Much of the general public would get more out of a smart YouTube video or Myth Busters, but I don’t see that as a problem. YouTube and Myth Busters exist!

    I don’t watch television and very very rarely watch YouTube videos, so sciencebasedmedicine.org is great for me.

  67. rosemary,

    … though I do get your impatience with some of the internet posturing where bloggers and commenters throw fallacy accusations at one another to score points. I don’t find that so much here, partly because so many women contribute to the discussions and partly because the bloggers dissect and explain the fallacies for the reader. But yeah, generally, to follow this blog you need some comfort with geekiness.

  68. rosemary says:

    Alison, me impatient? Moi? :-) I’m sorry. I just don’t belong here. It isn’t my crowd. Not my style. I think differently and express myself differently than the bloggers and regular posters but lack the discipline to keep quiet and I get very frustrated when people who hold science to very high standards of evidence replace evidence with opinion in other areas like communication.

    From your comments I know you are very well educated and have a great talent for writing. Quite awhile ago you posted wonderful accounts of your difficulties with finding appropriate treatment for depression. If I remember correctly, your posts got a few others to speak of similar experiences. I think that if you posted that material on a website that it would help and educate lots of people. The style was personal not geeky and I think that style would reach many, even more if you could convert it to a video, but you are right nothing has to be all things to all people.

  69. rosemary on sciencebasedmedicine.org:
    “I just don’t belong here. It isn’t my crowd. Not my style. I think differently and express myself differently than the bloggers and regular posters …”

    Which is exactly why your input is so valued, at least by me. It seems to take you some effort to contribute (it may take you even more than it seems) and I appreciate it very much.

    “… but lack the discipline to keep quiet … “

    Yaay rosemary!

    “… and I get very frustrated when people who hold science to very high standards of evidence replace evidence with opinion in other areas like communication.”

    It’s not clear that they have a choice. They aren’t professional communicators and blog in addition to their day jobs, so they blog in their own styles. Their communication styles are presumably informed by their experience educating patients, students and ancillary health care professionals and also by their need to cut loose and say what they want as fully as they want. If they needed to confine their styles too much they might be less invested in the blog and less effective if they tried to write in a style not their own.

    The goals of the blog do not explicitly include educating the general public; it’s possible that the bloggers want to reach primarily health professionals and science journalists, and secondarily educated laypeople. They may not have any particular audience in mind beyond “anyone who will listen.” They are educated, passionate and (mostly) clear-thinking, and that is what attracts me – and possibly you.

    I like the strategy of combining skepticism generally with medicine and health care. More laypeople are interested in health care than are interested in skepticism, and I think this intersection probably teaches laypeople more about thinking than they expected to learn.

    rosemary on Alison Cummins:
    [lots of very kind things that I am too embarrassed to repeat]

    Thank you very much, rosemary. I have mentioned my struggles with depression on my personal blog a couple of times, but I haven’t attempted to write a persuasive essay about it. Only my friends will ever follow my blog – I go into far more detail about my dogs than anyone who doesn’t love me personally would care to bother with – and there are some very beautiful depression blogs out there. Depressives tend to introspection, which often leads to writing. But you make a good point and I think I will start a blogroll of well-written depression blogs.

  70. lillym – hey, we’re twin brains separated at birth. ;) I’m with you. I don’t have much science education. Although I was fortunate to have two very gifted biology teachers, one in high school, one in freshman college. I just find science fascinating. I find the logic fascinating. I enjoy being challenged and sometimes being in over my head.

  71. Rosemary – why ever would you want to stay quiet or think it’s a virtue. :)

    I don’t agree with you entirely on your opinion of Dr. Gorski’s communication style or the logical fallacy stuff, but I do think you have some good point that were worth mentioning. Even if Dr. Gorski choses not to use your points, perhaps they will be helpful to another reader/blogger who’s style is more suited to your suggestions.

    Also note. Sometimes I don’t get a lot out of an article written here, but I do get alot from one of the follow-up comments. If you think something should be stated in a different way, then state it in the comments and maybe some reader who wasn’t getting that lovin’ feeling from the article will get more out your comment.

    That ain’t bad.

  72. Alison Cummins to rosemary,

    “… though I do get your impatience with some of the internet posturing where bloggers and commenters throw fallacy accusations at one another to score points.”

    Sometimes it seems like soccer (hockey, basketball) with the fans calling the fouls.

  73. SD says:

    @michele:

    “(Now, if we could just work on your habit of taking the King’s shilling…)”

    I’m not sure if you are using the royal “we” or ? but, I’m very happy to have my tax money go toward promising medical research, so please don’t include me in your we.”

    Why the hell not? You include everybody else in *your* “we”.

    “But apparently Dr. Gorski shouldn’t get the money from a corporation and he shouldn’t get it from the government. Oh, lucky for that money tree he has growing in his suburban back yard.”

    Nah. Nice thing about libertarian solutions: they tend to align “incentive” with “result” better than competing systems. You like to pretend that no research would happen at all if, for some reason, the government were cut out of the loop. I gently suggest that this is an, ahem, “ahistorical” position to take.

    (I can smell someone winding up to go “What about BP, huh?! HUH?!”. Yeah, don’t even go there. BP is (a) a quasi-governmental entity, (b) a corporation, and (c) protected by legislative and administrative fiat. There is no such thing as a ‘free-market oil company’, and hasn’t been since Standard Oil.)

    Okay, so try this little thought exercise: about two months ago, you filed a tax return, yes? State and federal, most likely. Take the value of your tax liability – probably in the vicinity of 25% of your income, closer to 40-60% depending on how much you make and what *other* (hidden) taxes are factored in – and put that back in your pocket. At median income, that’s about $10,000. Yes, some of that goes to replacing government “services”, call it half. That leaves $5,000.

    Q: How much would you write a check to Cde. Gorski for, to carry on his research, assuming that you had the money to do it?

    That’s a function of how good you believe the Cde. is at his job, how plausible you believe his research to be, what benefit it’s likely to have, and how good it’s likely to make you feel. I might write a check for $500, say.

    Now: How many people have to write such checks before Cde. Gorski is running a pretty good lab? How many people have to do that before he’s running a better lab than he is *now*? (Before you squawk about how this is fantasy and could never possibly work, take a look at the former patronage system for artists and scientists. Yes, Virginia, scientists *were* privately supported, back in the day, and it seems to have led to pretty good results, like most of the Industrial Revolution. Contrast this with the system we have now, exemplified in Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech, where he warned of the perils of a scientific-government complex. A particularly trenchant observation in that speech is the observation that federal funding is virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.)

    Now: What incentives does that impose on the Comrade, and on the system of scientific inquiry at large? Here’s one: it forces the Comrade to bring his scientific A-game, instead of perfecting his “sucking up to the trough” skills, the exercise of which skills occupy the largest percentage of time of those scientists who are funded by grants from government agencies. It is instructive to think through others. If you do not have the skills to get the goods, you discover that fewer people are willing to write you checks. If you do have the skills, you discover that more people are willing to write you checks. This ain’t rocket science.

    Perhaps you will say that you would not be willing to write such a check yourself, or that you have better things to spend the money on. I ask you, then, what possible moral reasoning leads you to the conclusion that it is okay for you to write a check using *my* checkbook, or anybody else’s, instead of your own. You will rapidly discover that you have no moral ground on which to stand.

    “And I should leave it at that, but since I’m in Michigan and anti-tax and anti-government seem to be the soup-du-jour, I’m just going to say how desperately sick I am of people who want something for nothing and will believe any politician who tells them they can have it.”

    Yeah, well, Michigan seems to have been very pro-tax and pro-government; I guess we can see how well that’s worked out for y’all, especially in such progressive places as Detroit.

    I suggest you do a little reading; it isn’t that people want “something for nothing”, it’s that they’re tired of getting less than nothing for all the money they’re paying in taxes. Getting “nothing” from government would be a net improvement, even if the same amount were collected in taxes, because at least their depredations would be a simple deadweight loss instead of active interference in production. Being forced to pay for things that you neither asked for, nor want to pay for, nor use is offensive to the moral sense, and doubly so when the amount you are being asked to pay both (a) increases on a regular basis, (b) actively does you harm, and (c) benefits other people while harming you. So, yeah.

    I’d get used to the notion of “anti-tax” and “anti-government”, and of living with greater moral agency and responsibility in your own life, with your own resources. The naive plebeian question of “How shall we eat, then, if Caesar does not give us bread?” is not a big seller, these days.

    “but, I know that is another topic another day.”

    No time like the present. >;->

    “you make the damn bread yourself!”
    -SD

  74. SD – yes, I’ve come to my conclusion because I’m immoral and haven’t read much. (Oh, that’s so convincing) The free market concept is shockingly new to me and I can see now that it will save us all with it’s brilliant innovations.

    If you believe that, I’ve got some lovely credit default swaps to sell you.

    Oh and that comrade jab. Do you really not understand the difference between paying taxes to supply government services and communism?

  75. ” I ask you, then, what possible moral reasoning leads you to the conclusion that it is okay for you to write a check using *my* checkbook, or anybody else’s, instead of your own. You will rapidly discover that you have no moral ground on which to stand.”

    Apparently you have chosen to live in this democracy that provides the services it does for the taxes that it gathers. You have the right vote to influence those services and taxes or you are free to chose to live (with your checkbook) in another country with a different system.

    How are you being forced to contribute? Did someone tell you you couldn’t leave?

  76. David Gorski says:

    Nice thing about libertarian solutions: they tend to align “incentive” with “result” better than competing systems.

    Really? Got any objective evidence to support that assertion?

  77. Zoe237 says:

    Hmm, I think SD was complimenting the Cde in his own bizarre way. What teabaggers and pure libertarians fail to understand is that unfettered capitalism means no FDA, no child labor laws, no regulation on oil companies, no meat packing laws, little police force, no public funding of roads etc etc etc. They also tend to focus on welfare for children even though it is an extremely small portion of the budget. The main error here is a false dichotomy- one side tends to trust the corporation implicitly, while the other tends to trust the government without question, when in real life, this power must be balanced. There is no such thing as pure capitalism or pure communism. The other error is claiming that SD is being “forced” to pay for things, aka taxation without representation. Unless you live in Washington DC, you have representation and nobody is forcing you stay in our republic. Sorry, another Michigander annoyed by the utter historical ignorance demonstrated by tea party idiots standing on the corner every week. Especially disturbed to see endless Thomas Jefferson quotes, when he was staunchly anti corporation and pro public education.

    “Yeah, well, Michigan seems to have been very pro-tax and pro-government; I guess we can see how well that’s worked out for y’all, especially in such progressive places as Detroit.”

    Assuming this is sarcasm, we have Premise 1) michigan is pro tax and pro government. And premise 2) The auto industry has collapsed. Thus, one caused two. Which fallacy is that? I tend to blame the very libertarian NAFTA myself.

    Rosemary, I think you’re probably right. Most of the public doesn’t even think scientifically or logically. They like anecdotes and feelings and being a part of a group. Scientists often demean the average person who doesn’t give a hoot about scientific studies and they set themselves up as an elite, unapproachable group. However, i don’t think the answer is to stop talking scientifically (not that “woo” is an example, I’m not a big fan of the word either). I don’t know what the answer is, but it would be interesting to see scientific communication studied. There have been many popular science authors in the past few decades, scientists who reach a huge swarth of the population without sounding like elite jerks. I wonder what the common thread is. I do think it a travesty that logic and statistics aren’t required courses in secondary mathematics. Probably slightly more useful than algebra and geometry (not that I would ever propose replacing those). We need four years of science and four of math required (it’s two years of each in many areas), as well as the scientific method being applied in all subjects studied.

  78. SD says:

    Govorit’ Cde. Gorski:

    Nice thing about libertarian solutions: they tend to align “incentive” with “result” better than competing systems.

    Really? Got any objective evidence to support that assertion?”

    Sure. It’s all around you. There is no Central Commissariat tasked with providing you with pens, bread, Coca-Cola, carpet, cardboard, or any of the other things you use on a daily basis. These things are provided by private concerns, who busy themselves with (a) making their product and (b) getting you to buy it. You know, that dirty “anarchy of production” thing. There is a natural incentive there; to keep people buying a thing, they must value it in some way. Defective goods tend to lead to public disinterest in those goods, tending to cause those products to go away. (If you doubt this, feel free to go to your Ford dealership and price a 2010 Pinto or Edsel.) Therefore, we do not have poisonous Coke, or exploding pens. When such things are discovered, that discovery is typically followed by a sharp drop in consumer interest for those goods, as the makers of the Shrek glass sold at McDonalds discovered; parents are not amused when they buy their kids glassware featuring cadmium-laced cartoon characters.

    There’s a reason “consumer goodwill” is an actual entry on a ledger in the real world, you know.

    On the other hand, where such things as Central Commissariats have been tried – on the theory that removing “dirty profit” from the equation for these critical goods and arrogating production capacity and decisions to the State leads to greater efficiencies – the results have been disastrous failures, without exception. This has occurred on scales from small (American Progressive communal-farming arrangements) to gigantic (the USSR). The usual cost for these experiments averages about 10% of the population. (Incidentally, Hayek won the Nobel Prize for demonstrating that critical information about distribution and need of resources is embedded in prices, manipulation of which by central planners distorts the system of production, producing malinvestments… which lead, inexorably, to systemic failures as described above.)

    In contrast, let’s discuss some of the things that are heavily regulated by or are monopolized by the government, and how excellent the outcomes of that regulation are in our modern age:

    * Banking

    * Stock trading

    * Lending

    * Medicine

    * Oil drilling

    * Energy markets

    * National defense

    I note that the huge reams of legislation, judicial precedent, administrative fiat, and other interventions involved in all these fields of endeavor, which regulation has steadily increased over the last several decades, have led to an unprecedented era of stability, and that the common man enjoys unprecedented access to and benefit from all of them, at prices “too cheap to meter”. (Which prices never rise, of course, and which quality never falls.) I note that especially, medical costs in the face of the Byzantine regulation surrounding the endeavor have become cheaper and cheaper, and convenience and satisfaction have risen to such heady levels, that public contentedness with the medical system and medical professionals has never been higher.

    I’m curious – do you have any objective evidence to *refute* the assertion that libertarian solutions align incentive with result better than competing systems?

    “on like donkey kong”
    -SD

  79. SD says:

    @michele:

    “SD – yes, I’ve come to my conclusion because I’m immoral and haven’t read much. (Oh, that’s so convincing) The free market concept is shockingly new to me and I can see now that it will save us all with it’s brilliant innovations.”

    The so-called “free market” is not an “it”. This is an error in perception, imputing agency to something that cannot possess it by definition.

    “Free market” means exactly one thing – people making decisions to trade with one another without interference. That’s *it*.

    Grasp that Truth and you might take a different view of some of the things you apparently believe.

    “If you believe that, I’ve got some lovely credit default swaps to sell you.”

    Yes, and you know that CDSes are teh 3vul because… how, again?

    Do you even know what one *is*? What is it about them that’s bad, precisely?

    “Oh and that comrade jab. Do you really not understand the difference between paying taxes to supply government services and communism?”

    No, not really; the difference between “coercive transfer of wealth to support centrally-planned enterprise” and “coercive transfer of wealth to support centrally-planned enterprise” is not one that appears to be very distinctive.

    I have no doubt you have some wonderful, “Third Grade Civics” reason why the two are different; feel free to explain, I could use the laugh.

    “” I ask you, then, what possible moral reasoning leads you to the conclusion that it is okay for you to write a check using *my* checkbook, or anybody else’s, instead of your own. You will rapidly discover that you have no moral ground on which to stand.”

    Apparently you have chosen to live in this democracy that provides the services it does for the taxes that it gathers. You have the right vote to influence those services and taxes or you are free to chose to live (with your checkbook) in another country with a different system.

    How are you being forced to contribute? Did someone tell you you couldn’t leave?”

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!!!!

    “Love it or leave it”? Really? SRSLY?

    Wow. I note that that trope never worked on the people who proposed the asinine legal novelties and economic folly that got us into this mess; why, precisely, do you feel justified in using it on me?

    “srsly?”
    -SD

  80. SD says:

    @Zoe237on:

    “Hmm, I think SD was complimenting the Cde in his own bizarre way. What teabaggers”

    You know, when *I* use terms that are deprecating to the other side, *I* get called a “troll”…

    “and pure libertarians fail to understand is that unfettered capitalism means no FDA,”

    Exactly! It’s refreshing to be on the same page here!

    For the bonus round, can you identify some other ways to accomplish the goal of “food safety” and “drug safety” without coercion?

    “no child labor laws,”

    Exactly! Finally, someone that gets it! Why is it, precisely, that a kid can’t be paid for doing something useful? I know I wouldn’t have minded being employable at age 12. Instead I had to wait six years.

    Warning: I know all the tropes you can pull out in response, and can demolish all of them. Do yourself a favor and think about this question instead: If it were possible for kids to work at occupations they were skilled at, how much would that improve their lives in the long run, compared to the current results of our system, which is incarcerating them in publicly-funded mental masturbatoriums until they turn 18? A kid who’s apprenticed to a carpenter at age 14 does not have time to huff paint, knock up girls/get knocked up, or vandalize property. They’re too busy *doing something* that makes them money and learning valuable things.

    “no regulation on oil companies,”

    Logical error: “no government regulation” does not mean “no regulation”.

    Side note: How’s that regulation of oil drilling working out for you? I guarantee you that Deepwater Horizon platform operations were substantively in compliance with the law, and probably documentably so to boot.

    2nd side note: Observe BP’s stock price right now and then tell me that “the market” [sic] does not punish those who malfease.

    “no meat packing laws,”

    Okay, now this is a little silly. You *do* know that Upton Sinclair was documentably full of shit, right?

    And you *do* know that your USDA-inspected meat-packing plants produce all kinds of nasty crap anyway, right?

    And you *do* know that your cleaner meats are vetted by *private* inspection, right? I’ll take an Orthodox Union hechsher over a USDA stamp any day of the week.

    “little police force,”

    Yes! Wow, this is awesome!

    Here’s a couple of blogs you might want to check out:

    http://www.theagitator.com/
    http://www.injusticeeverywhere.com/

    Read some of the stories there. Seriously, go check ‘em out. Might broaden your horizons a bit.

    Hint: The police are not here to help you.

    “no public funding of roads”

    Yes! Exactly!

    You know that many fine roads are paid for – paved, made, &c. – by *private* consortia of citizens? Where I live, if you want your street paved, you get together with your neighbors, pool funds, and call the paving truck. You get bids from private companies for snow-removal and maintenance services, and pick one to keep your street plowed.

    (Truth in Advertising disclaimer: this is done through a government process, but is VERY localized. Some people have the bright idea of “consolidating” it, though. Hey, what could go wrong with that, huh?)

    “They also tend to focus on welfare for children even though it is an extremely small portion of the budget.”

    Are you fucking kidding me? Most of the libertarians *I* know object most strenuously to the war(s) (“War is the health of the state”), and various other epic time- and money-wasting projects, like Medicare and the War on Drugs.

    Education isn’t that “small”, either – don’t kid yourself. Go take a look at how much money is pissed away down the rathole of public education in any given state and then ask yourself if you really think that a private alternative could do any worse.

    “The main error here is a false dichotomy- one side tends to trust the corporation implicitly, while the other tends to trust the government without question, when in real life, this power must be balanced.”

    Again – are you fucking kidding me? What kind of straw-capitalist have you constructed in your head, that you believe this crap?

    Hint: The corporation is a creature *of the government*. Who exactly do you think it is that blesses businesses with immunity from personal liability, the Tooth Fairy?

    “There is no such thing as pure capitalism or pure communism.”

    Ask the Cambodians. They might disagree.

    Then, go read Mises. Short version: “There is no such thing as ‘partial socialism’.” A course of Hayek might not be amiss, either.

    “The other error is claiming that SD is being “forced” to pay for things, aka taxation without representation. Unless you live in Washington DC, you have representation and nobody is forcing you stay in our republic. Sorry, another Michigander annoyed by the utter historical ignorance demonstrated by tea party idiots standing on the corner every week. Especially disturbed to see endless Thomas Jefferson quotes, when he was staunchly anti corporation and pro public education.”

    Ah, that good old “love it or leave it” trope, again.

    Question: Does notionally having a vote on who can decide how the booty is spent remove the element of ‘force’ from taxation?

    2nd question: How is it “okay” to take money from people to do things they don’t want done? Do you, for example, feel happier about paying lots of money to barbecue Iraqis alive in their mud huts because you got to sternly express your disapproval of it at the polls? How is that better than a system where the people who want to barbecue Iraqis have to individually decide that barbecued Iraqi is something they want to pay for, and then have to continually write checks to someone to go do it? How long do you think such a war would last, in such a scenario?

    ““Yeah, well, Michigan seems to have been very pro-tax and pro-government; I guess we can see how well that’s worked out for y’all, especially in such progressive places as Detroit.”

    Assuming this is sarcasm, we have Premise 1) michigan is pro tax and pro government. And premise 2) The auto industry has collapsed. Thus, one caused two. Which fallacy is that?”

    No, that’s a pretty straight line from A to B. There are other factors involved, of course, but Michigan’s business climate doesn’t help. (Why do you think they build auto plants in the South now? Heh heh heh.) You don’t have to believe me, of course. Just sit in Michigan, watch it keep doing what it is doing, and then tell me if it works. My Magic 8-Ball says “Signs point to ‘NO’”. But hey, maybe you’ll get lucky, and your leaders have the perfect tax and law structure figured out *this* time.

    “I tend to blame the very libertarian NAFTA myself.”

    Yes, because protectionism has such awesome results. How dare those dirty Japs make a cheap and reliable car! Let’s punish the traitors in America who buy them! U-S-A! U-S-A!

    How dare those dirty Mexicans make car parts cheap! Let’s punish the traitors in America who buy them! U-S-A! U-S-A!

    How dare those… You get the picture.

    “you-ess-ay”
    -SD

  81. Chris says:

    Hmmm, SD seems to have responded with lots of bluster and absolutely no evidence.

    In the future he should restrict himself to things that do not involve any public funds. These things would include roads, telephones, radio waves, public health inspections, internet and even (depending on the area) electrical service.

    I am good with you building a nice high wire fence that involves no communication outside of the boundaries. And that includes getting delivery services to get replacement parts for your well (that involves going over those evil tax built roads!).

    Good luck with that.

  82. SD says:

    @Chris:

    “Hmmm, SD seems to have responded with lots of bluster and absolutely no evidence.”

    What part of “evidence is all around you” is not in plain English?

    “In the future he should restrict himself to things that do not involve any public funds.”

    Which part of “pens, bread, Coca-Cola, carpet, cardboard” (e.g.; there are an infinity of others) involve public funds?

    “These things would include roads, telephones, radio waves, public health inspections, internet and even (depending on the area) electrical service.”

    Roads: can be, are, have been, will be built with private funding. Gave an example in the other post.

    Telephones: existed (and did quite well) before government intervention. Did substantially better after government interference was lessened. Ever *dealt* with Ma Bell? Historical note: Ma Bell used to be a *government-sanctioned* monopoly.

    Radio waves: existed (and did quite well) before government intervention. Amateur service (government-licensed and -interfered with, yes, but lackadaisically at best) performs admirably, and consists entirely of individual enthusiasts working open bands. Why, when official government communications fail, oddly enough, it’s the hams that always step up to the plate, running self-organized radio networks to provide communications…

    Public health inspections: a creature of government intervention. You probably think you mean things like “food sanitation” and “plumbing codes”. Plumbing codes are largely enforced by *lenders* and *insurers*; it’s kind of hard to borrow money on, or insure, a monstrosity that leaks sewage into the water main. Banks and insurance companies don’t have much of a sense of humor about that. Food sanitation (e.g. in restaurants) is largely a self-curing problem; salmonella poisoning tends to drive away customers. I know it doesn’t take *me* more than once to do the “Bathroom Sprinkler” before I place a restaurant on my blacklist. You’d be surprised how few people enjoy that kind of thing.

    Internet: yeah, great example; didn’t actually go anywhere until DARPA lifted the restriction on commercial use of it. Gee, oddly enough, in 1992. How about that?

    (Oh yeah – incidentally, there is no such thing as ‘the’ Internet. You know what ‘the’ Internet is? A whole crapload of individual (and mostly private) networks, all lashed together by a commonly-agreed-upon protocol and privately-negotiated contracts.)

    “I am good with you building a nice high wire fence that involves no communication outside of the boundaries. And that includes getting delivery services to get replacement parts for your well (that involves going over those evil tax built roads!).

    Good luck with that.”

    If I could avoid being taxed inside of it, I would.

    “who is john galt, for two hundred, alex?”
    -SD

  83. SD says:

    By the way, when I drove home, I came up with this really awesome question to ask Cde. Gorski (which drags this thread back to an original topic, “conflicts of interest”).

    I expect, Comrade, that you would have no problem with the following federal law:

    XX USC YYYY:

    “It shall be a felony, punishable by no fewer than one and no more than five years in prison, and by a fine of not less than ten thousand nor more than one hundred thousand dollars plus forfeiture of all granted monies, all materiel used in or for the preparation of the research, and all profits generated from such research, for a scientist to engage in:

    (a) any scientific study;
    (b) any scientific writing as the original author or as a member of a group of authors covered under this section;
    (c) any publishing of scientific writing; or
    (d) any review of any scientific writing;

    who does not fully and publicly disclose all conflicts of interest simultaneously with the publication of study, writing or research, including, but not limited to,
    (a) direct fiduciary reward as a result of said research;
    (b) promises or prospects of future employment substantially connected with any particular result of said research, or that a reasonable observer would expect to be connected with any particular result;
    (c) ownership of or financial interest in any company or future company substantially interested in or benefited by any particular result of said research; or
    (d) ownership of or financial interest in any company or future company substantially interested in or benefited by production for profit of any result of said research

    pertaining to the subject written about at the time of publishing.”

    Look good to you?

    Or, in other words: Since good things do not happen except by force of law, then what law compels you to disclose your conflicts of interest?

    “ohburn!”
    -SD

  84. SD – It is the democracy part of the U.S. that you seem to have a problem with. The fact that citizens vote and then we agree to abide by the majority decision. We do have the constitution and Bill of Rights that prevents the majority from infringing on a list of individual rights, but freedom from taxation is not one of them. Even if freedom of taxation was one, it seems you would still have a problem with any infringement of your personal choice that is based on majority rule.

    So, I do not understand why you choose to partake in the stability and services that a democracy provides while feeling actively oppressed by the concept of democracy.

    I would in no way suggest that you need to love the country or leave it. I don’t mind if you live here. I even suggest that you use your vote and resources to support your beliefs (that I deeply disagree with). But you seemed to believe that someone had forced the concept of democracy on you. You arefree to leave it. No one is forcing you to stay.

    I know it’s hard to find countries that have no taxes or government intervention. Perhaps you could build your compound in Somalia?

    Also, I notice that every suggestion of a flaw with the free market is met by some explanation from you of how that example is not really free from government intervention. You are beginning to sound like th1th2 with his “naive baby”.

    Credit default swaps are generally described as a group of mortgages that are bought with the hope the mortgage holders will pay enough on the loans to make the purchase profitable, thereby shifting the risk of mortgage default from the institution responsible for making the loan to another institution.

    There, that was gift. Now you can find your better definition and then pretend that disproves everything I’ve said.

    QUIZ to anyone who is still reading- Does this represent a logical fallacy? If so what one?

    I have to say, I don’t know. I only know I’m not learning anything from this discussion, because there is so little mean, mostly insults. So I must move on. Busy day ahead.

  85. Dawn says:

    @SD: are you for real? Or do you just blather on to hear your voice?

    What the heck do you mean by: “Or, in other words: Since good things do not happen except by force of law, then what law compels you to disclose your conflicts of interest?”

    Do you really believe that? Or are you putting words in Dr Gorski’s mouth that he never said? He has always been a proponent of disclosing any conflicts of interest.

    Maybe I don’t understand your viewpoint. Or maybe you just don’t want to live in a civilized world. Would you prefer not to have police, fire departments? And no, vigilante groups didn’t work as well as a regulated police department. Volunteer fire departments are well and good (my town has one) as long as there are enough people home and willing to participate. I’ll pay my taxes.

    And yes, if I didn’t pay so much in taxes, I would probably happily pay money towards Dr Gorski’s research. As a woman, as a person who has known several family members with breast cancer, his research is important to me. But I could not support him alone. And if I supported him, I would not be able to support other researchers who work on issues important to me: genetics, prostate cancer, macular degeneration, cardiac disease….

    So I am happy to pay taxes and let all the researchers, even those that I perhaps wouldn’t support now but will be grateful for their research sometime in the future, get money from my taxes.

  86. David Gorski says:

    There is no Central Commissariat tasked with providing you with pens, bread, Coca-Cola, carpet, cardboard, or any of the other things you use on a daily basis. These things are provided by private concerns, who busy themselves with (a) making their product and (b) getting you to buy it. You know, that dirty “anarchy of production” thing.

    That’s capitalism, not libertarianism. They are not the same thing.

  87. David Gorski says:

    What part of “evidence is all around you” is not in plain English?

    Evidence. You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Just a word of warning to everyone else: Engaging SD in discussion is very much like trying to nail the proverbial blob of Jello to the wall. If that’s the sort of thing you’re into, have at it. When I’m in a particularly perverse mood sometimes I’ll try to nail the Jello to the wall, but, truth be told, I tired of SD’s antics a long time ago.

    Judge for yourself, though, based on your own experience with SD. Your mileage may vary.

  88. Lesson learned.

    But I like the Jello nailed to the wall image.

    I’m visualizing an installation of huge expanse of rainbow colored Jello squares nailed to a wall that must be constantly replaced as they warm. I will call it “Ode to Online Political Debates” and dedicate it to SD.

    Luckily, I’m not a installation artist.

  89. Zoe237 says:

    Michelle:

    “SD – It is the democracy part of the U.S. that you seem to have a problem with. The fact that citizens vote and then we agree to abide by the majority decision. We do have the constitution and Bill of Rights that prevents the majority from infringing on a list of individual rights, but freedom from taxation is not one of them. Even if freedom of taxation was one, it seems you would still have a problem with any infringement of your personal choice that is based on majority rule.”

    Yes, that’s pretty much it. Interesting thing is that we tried a “no federal income tax” more libertarian form of government with the Articles of Confederation before the Constitutional Convention. All the states had different money systems, there were separate state militias, states were printing their own money like crazy to pay off the Revolution debt. It was a complete disaster. Historical perspective please! I would suggest SD read some Federalist and anti-Federalist papers. One could reasonably argue for less federal control. But little to none? SD is living in la la land.

    Also fascinating how far right and far left come together again in a circle fashion- some sort of idealist anarchy soup. Unfettered corporate control (capitalism) versus unfettered government control (communism) look in practice remarkably similar.

  90. SD says:

    @Zoe237:

    “Yes, that’s pretty much it. Interesting thing is that we tried a “no federal income tax” more libertarian form of government with the Articles of Confederation before the Constitutional Convention. All the states had different money systems, there were separate state militias, states were printing their own money like crazy to pay off the Revolution debt. It was a complete disaster.”

    Hmm. Interesting. Governments printing money, leading to disaster? Balderdash! Such a thing cannot possibly be true!

    Hint: Google “Gresham’s Law”. (Prediction: somebody here will go ‘What is the empirical evidence that Gresham’s Law is true, huh?’)

    Question: What should happen to a bank producing fractional-reserve (i.e. “fraudulent”, “counterfeit”) banknotes? What should happen to a state that does the same thing? What is the cure for this state of affairs?

    The federal government has accomplished exactly one thing in this area – now it is not possible to simply go to another state and escape the madness, since the Fed is in control of the printing press. Thank you, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Nicholas Biddle, Alan Greenspan, and everybody in between. Your servicing of the American people is without peer.

    Also note that the States were beginning to head *out* of the recession by the time the Constitution was ratified. Like most worshipers at the altar of the Almighty State, you assume (“post hoc ergo propter hoc”) that the welding of the states of the Union under Federal hegemony was the cure for this state of affairs, when it in fact had already begun to resolve itself.

    Here’s an interesting parallel – the situation with Europe today. Interesting, we now have a time-machine, in which we can examine in minute detail the havoc wrought by “currency unification” with a fiat currency, the Euro. How’s that working out for Europe so far? They’ve been doing it for all of ten years, now. I’ll bet the average Kraut wishes nostalgically for the era of the deutschmark, which had the singular virtue of *not* being the drachma.

    “Historical perspective please! I would suggest SD read some Federalist and anti-Federalist papers. One could reasonably argue for less federal control. But little to none? SD is living in la la land.”

    I might suggest you do the same thing. Anti-Federalist #36 comes immediately to mind as a good choice, specifically the part about how such powers as internal taxation “… may be abused by designing men”. Wow, good thing *that* didn’t happen, huh?

    “Also fascinating how far right and far left come together again in a circle fashion- some sort of idealist anarchy soup. Unfettered corporate control (capitalism) versus unfettered government control (communism) look in practice remarkably similar.”

    There’s nothing “idealistic” about it. I ask you; standing as you do in the wreckage of the grand social projects of the past, preparing as you are to double-down by proxy on provably failing strategies for the “common good”, surrounded by evidence and warning aplenty about the unadvisability of these schemes in general, and silently berated by the ghosts of the victims of the excesses of these philosophies, can you *really*, with a straight face, tell me that it is more “idealistic” to say ‘Government is not the answer’ than to say ‘All those last projects failed, but what we really need is to concentrate more and more power and make more and more laws, then we’ll *really* get it right and everything will be better’? Exactly which of us, then, lives in the dream-world?

    And where did you get the damnfool idea that “corporate” is the antonym to “government”? I suggest you go talk to whoever put that idea in your head and demand your money back, because they have cast you adrift in a sea of folly and Error.

    “lesson for today: corporate = government”
    -SD

  91. rosemary says:

    Alison, “The goals of the blog do not explicitly include educating the general public; it’s possible that the bloggers want to reach primarily health professionals and science journalists, and secondarily educated laypeople. They may not have any particular audience in mind beyond ‘anyone who will listen.’ They are educated, passionate and (mostly) clear-thinking, and that is what attracts me – and possibly you.”

    Alison, I understand that and have asked several times who the bloggers are trying to reach but have never seen an answer. If they simply want to discuss issues with like-minded people, that is fine, but I would like them to state that. I would like to see clearly delineated endpoints.

    If I understand David correctly he wants to eliminate pseudoscience, something I think most of us want to do. If I understand him correctly, he is of the opinion that the only way people can recognize psuedoscience (quackery) is by being trained in “critical thinking” or formal logic which entails the use of words like “logical fallacy” and “woo”. This is where I have a problem and where I think that he has abandoned science by disregarding the evidence and forming an opinion on a premise which is based on a philosophical belief about how best to educate.

    Let me regress. Does anyone think that Dr. Barrett has been effective in helping people recognize quacks? Does he use terms like “logical fallacy” and “woo” on Quackwatch? I have never seen him do that. Does anyone think he would be more effective if he did? How about all the rest of us, several now deceased, who have been trying hard to educate the public since before the bloggers came on the scene, people like John Renner, Victor Herbert, the Rosas, Peter Moran, Bob Imrie, me and many others too numerous to mention? Aside from the Rosas I don’t remember any speaking of logical fallacies or “woo”. And what about the Rosa TT study published in JAMA? It didn’t use those terms yet it was brilliant and highly educational reaching a large segment of the public and the scientific community. The only critics were quacks and a small band of Skeptics. IMO, the results of the work done by people who try educating the public about quackery without ever even thinking about critical thinking or formal logic, although certainly not strong scientific evidence, indicates that one most certainly can educate the public about quackery without falling back on formal logic. Dose it show that their way is best or that pulling in critical thinking is counterproductive? No. It doesn’t address those questions at all.

    My opinions based on personal experience, I know I have no evidence, are that the best way to reach the public, certainly not all segments, is by steering clear of formal logic. In fact, I think that when you use it you come off sounding like those arrogant MDs quacks love to ridicule, people who care about intellectual concepts not human beings.

    My point is that these are hypotheses which can be tested. (No the results will not have the degree of certainty that well designed and executed medical studies have, but they will be far better than mere opinions.) To test the hypotheses use a pseudonym, post articles that do not use words like “logical fallacy” and “woo” on topics already covered that used those terms and have a professional journalist edit them just the way he would for a respected print publication. After you have done this for awhile, compare things like the number of hits, the number of people commenting, the type of comments, the number of links, the number of media inquiries, etc. to what you get to the same articles on the SBM blog. If you don’t have the inclination, time or resources to do that, that is fine.

    All I request is that if that is the case that you accept the fact that we have a difference of opinion on how to communicate effectively with the largest number of people and that neither of us has enough evidence to determine which one of us is correct. (Another one of my unproven assumptions is that the most effective way to stop quackery is by reaching the general public rather than segments like Skeptics or politicians because I believe that it is a deceived general public that is forcing public policy and institutions to smile on quacks to a degree unseen since the start of the last century.)

    I could be very wrong. It may just be that I am the one who is very removed from the general public, but I often feel like all the Skeptics are someplace “on the spectrum”. I know that I certainly wish I had the resources to hire a professional to determine how effective my methods are and to tell me how to proceed, but I don’t so I have to continue plodding along, going by instinct. (Contrary to reports all over the Internet and in print, yes I’ve even been sent a book in German that mentions me by name, I am not funded by anyone, but as I tell my accusers, if you know anyone who will pay me to say what I say, please, please, please give me their names and contact numbers. I need all the help that I can get!)

  92. rosemary says:

    Alison, I believe that good science journalists are very talented, well trained and well educated people who are able to understand facts and present them to the public in a way that they can understand them. To do that, the jounalists have to understand the science while being able to present it in a way that catches and holds the public’s attention while at the same time communicating the relevant information to them.

    IMO, they do this by combining scientific information with the very personal and if I remember correctly, that was the beauty of what you did in your comments on depression. If I remember correctly, people were disputing the use of medication as opposed to the benefits of talk therapy. Your personal experience took the discussion from an abstract argument to the real world, the heart and soul of human beings. It illustrated that the issue was not simple but complicated and that there is a very definite place for antidepressants in medicine. It illustrated that medicine is not just an abstract science but one that has a deep and profound effect on human beings and their lives.

    While people can argue about scientific evidence till the cows come home, illustrating the evidence with personal experience, usually ends the argument, the chess game, and gets the facts across to most of the audience. The trick is finding and using experience that rally is supported by objective evidence. The experience isn’t evidence. It is just a very good way to illustrate the evidence, and most humans are far more interested in reading about personal experiences than they are about abstract concepts.

  93. David Gorski says:

    Let me regress. Does anyone think that Dr. Barrett has been effective in helping people recognize quacks? Does he use terms like “logical fallacy” and “woo” on Quackwatch? I have never seen him do that.

    Dr. Barrett may not have written them, but he does include on his site discussions of logical fallacies under “propaganda techniques.” They just aren’t always labeled logical fallacies, although some of them are named:

    http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/propa.html

    Ad hominem, appeal to authority, appeal to popularity (except that it’s called “social proof”), they’re in there. Some of the other techniques are simply logical fallacies under a different name and not called logical fallacies.

    Here’s another that lists some logical fallacies here, although again they aren’t all referred to as logical fallacies:

    http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/pseudo.html

    Here’s a quote from it:

    Pseudoscience attempts to persuade with rhetoric, propaganda, and misrepresentation rather than valid evidence (which presumably does not exist). Pseudoscience books offer examples of almost every kind of fallacy of logic and reason known to scholars and have invented some new ones of their own. A favorite device is the non sequitur. Pseudoscientists also love the “Galileo Argument.” This consists of the pseudoscientist comparing himself to Galileo, and saying that just as the pseudoscientist is believed to be wrong, so Galileo was thought wrong by his contemporaries therefore the pseudoscientist must be right too, just as Galileo was. Clearly the conclusion does not follow! Moreover, Galileo’s ideas were tested, verified, and accepted promptly by his scientific colleagues. The rejection came from the established religion which favored the pseudoscience that Galileo’s findings contradicted.

    Pseudoscience argues from ignorance, an elementary fallacy. Many pseudoscientists base their claims on incompleteness of information about nature, rather than on what is known at present. But no claim can possibly be supported by lack of information. The fact that people don’t recognize what they see in the sky means only that they don’t recognize what they saw. This fact is not evidence that flying saucers are from outer space. The statement “Science cannot explain” is common in pseudoscience literature. In many cases, science has no interest in the supposed phenomena because there is no evidence it exists; in other cases, the scientific explanation is well known and well established, but the pseudoscientist doesn’t know this or deliberately ignores it to create mystery.

    Pseudoscience appeals to false authority, to emotion, sentiment, or distrust of established fact. A high-school dropout is accepted as an expert on archaeology, though he has never made any study of it! A psychoanalyst is accepted as an expert on all of human history, not to mention physics, astronomy, and mythology, even though his claims are inconsistent with everything known in all four fields. A movie star swears it’s true, so it must be. A physicist says a “psychic” couldn’t possibly have fooled him with simple magic tricks, although the physicist knows nothing about magic and sleight of hand. Emotional appeals are common. (“If it makes you feel good, it must be true.” “In your heart you know it’s right.”) Pseudoscientists are fond of imaginary conspiracies. (“There’s plenty of evidence for flying saucers, but the government keeps it secret.”) And they argue from irrelevancies: When confronted by inconvenient facts, they simply reply, “Scientists don’t know everything!”

    Lots of logical fallacies mentioned, including the non sequitur, argument from ignorance, arguments to false authority, appeals to emotion, etc. Elsewhere in the article the appeal to ancient wisdom is listed as a commonly used fallacy. In fact, the quote above explicitly defines the non sequitur as a logical fallacy, as it does for arguments from ignorance. These fallacies aren’t just relevant to distinguishing medicine from quackery; they’re relevant to all critical thinking.

    Then there’s:

    http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/ploys.html

    The “bandwagon” fallacy and appeal to popularity are in there, as is reversing the burden of proof.

    Perhaps the difference here is that I’m interested not only in quackery and pseudoscience but in critical thinking in general. These sorts of fallacies are often subtle and hard to recognize. That’s part of the reason why many of us consider it important–even essential–to know what they are and to be able to recognize them “in the wild,” so to speak. They are the primary technique of camouflaging a weak or nonexistent argument favored by cranks, quacks, and pseudoscientists.

    Politicians and advertisers like a lot of them too. Particular favorites are the ad hominem, appeal to authority, appeal to popularity, and appeal to ignorance. Thus learning the logical fallacies yields benefits that go far outside of just science.

  94. Zoe237 says:

    “The federal government has accomplished exactly one thing in this area – now it is not possible to simply go to another state and escape the madness, since the Fed is in control of the printing press. Thank you, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Nicholas Biddle, Alan Greenspan, and everybody in between. Your servicing of the American people is without peer.”

    I would much rather see the NIH fund Dr. Gorski’s work rather than Sanofi-Aventis.

    Well, at least you know who the Federalists were. Many teabaggers liberally quoting the Constitution don’t seem to get that the Federalists (strong central government) actually WON.

    But if you don’t see the problem with printing limitless amounts of money to cover your debt, I dunno what to say.

  95. rosemary says:

    David, either I was unclear or you have totally missed my point. I was specifically talking about self-contained articles on Quackwatch and the method they use to enlighten the public about each specific topic. Unlike your blogs, the articles I have read on Quackwatch over the years have never used formal logic, the jargon of formal logic or the word “woo” as the Skeptics define it to explain a topic being written about. They speak in plain English and I believe that they are highly effective.

    I also believe that the work by the others I mentioned, the best known of which is the Rosa TT study published by JAMA, work which did not include jargon has been very effective.

    Until I see something indicating that those debunking quacks in plain English are for the most part ineffective, I will be of the opinion that your belief that the only way to make people recognize pseudoscience is by the use of formal logic is incorrect.

    David, “Perhaps the difference here is that I’m interested not only in quackery and pseudoscience but in critical thinking in general. These sorts of fallacies are often subtle and hard to recognize.”

    Actually, I think that does explain the difference and also states your goals, something I appreciate knowing. You are interested in those three things. I am interested in the first two. The only problem that I have with your interest in the third is that I fear, and I know that I may be entirely wrong, but my gut tells me that speaking jargon turns off a lot of the people you need to reach. Also, I’ve never met a subtle quack. I have met several who are exceedingly rational and sound very reasonable but that is only because they start with lies than draw logical conclusions.

    The woman I spoke about who called Car Talk and laughed when the host asked what color her car was laughed because she understood how nonsensical the question was in the context in which it was asked. It had nothing to do with her knowing anything about logical fallacies and everything to do with her knowing about automobiles or rather enough about them to understand that the mechanics of how a vehicle runs are not in any way affected by the color of the car. My point is that the main reason people believe quacks, aside from emotional reasons, is that they lack knowledge of the specific area of medicine the quack is deceiving them about, not that they lack an education in formal logic. However, I doubt that this is worth discussing further since I believe we both understand each others’ opinion and know that we lack the evidence needed to determine whose view is accurate.

  96. squirrelelite says:

    I read most of Jake’s post. (I admit to skimming over a few sections.)

    IMHO, it’s a total confused mess.

    He complains about your not answering his question in your email response (which essentially is what this whole blog post is about).

    He acknowledges that you don’t receive money directly from Sanofi-Aventis. But, since Wayne State received some money from them in the past and might again in the future, he asserts that you’re still a shill and goes on to attack you anyway. ( :) )

    I suppose since the U.S. Government receives some money (taxes) from Sanofi-Aventis and I continue to receive money from them as long-term extended compensation for previous services (AKA military retirement), that makes me a third party shill for them as well ( ;) ).

    In that case, essentially everyone in the U.S. is at least a six degree of separation shill.

    There’s no escaping it.

    We’re all tainted.

    Oh, yes. You also committed the horrible crime of investigating a drug that might actually work.

    I suppose you’ll have to make some sort of response to his more egregious claims.

    I will await it with interest.

  97. Zoe237 says:

    You know, I have some concerns regarding the corporate funding of universities. However, to paint every single person who works for a university as a shill is insanity. The bad news is that his diatribe will work. Those logical fallacies are so seductive for a reason- people buy into them wholesale. That’s why being aware of them is CRUCIAL, and every school child in the U.S. ought to be educated on them.

    The nice thing about logic and being aware of fallacies is that it gives everyone some common ground to engage in critical thinking in any subject area. I don’t know a whole lot about medicine, as a layperson, but I can most certainly recognize a logical fallacy when I see/hear one.

  98. mikerattlesnake says:

    RE: Style

    I love Dr. Gorski’s style, there is only one part that bugs me (as if he gives a pair of dungs): the recap. Usually the entire section before the jump (3-4 paragraphs) sets the stage for the rest of the post by summing up the issue at hand. With oft-discussed topics, these recaps can get very repetative. The anti-vax related ones especially seem to repeat themselves, often with the same wording. Maybe some written summaries elsewhere with links in the post might be helpful. It could work for logical fallacies too, that way you could link to them every time they are mentioned without making your article any longer and allowing those already in-the-know to continue uninterrupted.

    RE: SD

    A boring, bloviating libertarian. I stopped reading in this thread when he boldly asserted that the fact that some enterprises thrive on capitalism, they ALL would. It speaks of a simple mind when someone thinks that the deciding factors for success of a sham-wow should be the same as those for chemotherapy. Capitalism can create a better iPod, but the argument that it could create a better fire department is pretty silly… at the very least it’s NOT analagous to the iPod and should be analyzed differently. He’s posted before about his standards of evidence, and they are lacking. He’s a moron with an above-averge vocabulary and a loose grasp on logic which he has mistaken for intelligence. Do not feed him, you will gain no satisfaction from the excercise.

  99. ejwillingham says:

    Poor Jake is a horrible writer. If we’re going to parse science writing, let’s parse that, which is intended as an “article” in a “newspaper” rather than a piece posted on a blog. It’s your damned blog post, not a piece in the New York Times. Write it how you want to write it. What is this, a science-writing seminar? If so, I’d suggest that young Jake get on over here and pick up some pointers. Oh, let’s just invite all of the AoA “writers” on over so they can learn someth…oh, never mind.

    And while we’re parsing, let’s see how Jake’s pretzeled logic leading him to conclude that Gorski has a COI compares to what Jake’s take might be on Wakefield’s transgressions. Given that the Wakefield COIs (and their concealment) have been clearly established as following a fairly linear path and require no contortion of any kind, I wonder how young Jake would manage that one? I’m sure he’d garble it up somehow. Logorrhea, I can handle. Garbled writing, pretzeled logic, vicious intentions? Hurl.

    This is indeed a classic case of ad hominem. But they’re getting meaner and nastier about it–didn’t even know that was possible after the whole “Amy Wallace = whore” thing. I guess it’s the epic string of failures and embarrassments they’ve experience lately that’s driving this. Too bad that even with their empty arguments, crappy writing, and total absence of facts, they still manage to do some damage.

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