Michael Specter: The Danger of Science Denial

GrrlScientist writes on ScienceBlogs:

Vaccine-autism claims, “Frankenfood” bans, the herbal cure craze: All point to the public’s growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter. He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.

57 Comments on "Michael Specter: The Danger of Science Denial"

  1. Ferrets are very curious creatures. They have no fear when it comes to danger, so you have to keep a close eye on your pet. Another of misbehavior in ferrets is tugging on electric cords. Some people will just unplug appliances to keep the ferret safe, but there is a way to teach the ferret to avoid wires and cords.
    Ferret Guide

  2. This guy's not even a scientist.

    He states there's no correlation between autism and vaccines. Autism was so rare in the past that it wasn't even recognised as a condition until the middle of the 20th century – around the time vaccination became common. Now there are peer-reviewed claims that 1 in 70 children have some form of autism. Therefore there is a massive correlation. Whether there's a causal relationship is another matter. Not that Specter would have a clue; he's not a scientist. He rightly points out that measles doesn't kill anybody in the US – despite falling vaccination rates. Which begs the question: if Jenny McCarthy wants to tell people not to vaccinate their kids then what business is it of his? If people take her advice and on the infinitesimal off-chance actually lose a child they have only themselves to blame and those who were vaccinated will be immune anyway. It's called freedom.

    Is he familiar with the swine influenza “pandemic” which killed 10% as many people as the seasonal 'flu does every year? Does he think that warranted the ex-pharmaceutical executives running the WHO recommending that everyone on the planet be injected with experimental medicines? Too fucking right he does. 'Cos he's not a scientist. Modern medicine wouldn't cure a disease even if they could: they'd be putting themselves out of business. Then knew helicobacter pylori caused stomach ulcers for decades and sat on it because antacids rang the tills.

    Humanity will need 70% more food 50 years from now? Will crapulent obesity be in vogue then? The UN says the human population will peak at about 140% of what it is now around about then before going into decline. There is currently 0.5 hectares of arable land per person on this planet. That much land can easily feed 3 people on a modern Western diet – resourceful vegetarians can reliably feed a dozen from the same space using only organic methods. Even if every fish in the lakes and oceans went extinct and sea level rise miraculously accelerated from the current <3mm per year that it's been since the ice age ended to flood half the farmland on Earth we'd still have plenty of food for everybody 50 years from now. People are starving today because it's an agenda to keep the poor and dark-skinned in their place. The EU regularly destroys food to keep prices artificially high, I assume the US does the same. Thanks to the Anthropogenic Global Warming Scam biofuel is being grown condemning millions more to death by starvation in the name of profit. Monsanto wants the world to grow its terminator seeds so farmers will have to buy more from them every time they plant. It's not vitamin A in rice they're interested in, it's Vitamin $ they want.

    When new racial hygiene laws came into effect in Germany in the late 1930's the doctors who ran care homes murdered their disabled charges without question. Not one of them spoke out. You absolutely should question everything “science” tells you. Not that this poncey shill Specter is a scientist.

    • “Autism was so rare in the past that it wasn't even recognised as a condition until the middle of the 20th century”


      • emperorreagan | Apr 20, 2010 at 11:50 am |

        There are a fair number of conditions that weren't recognized until recently, especially in the area of mental health.

        It has nothing to do with rarity and everything to do with the evolution of modern medicine.

        • So essentially what you're saying is that Fergal is talking bullshit. I was trying to get him to use his brain rather than his knee, but perhaps there is no point.

          All the evidence indicates that autism is not linked with the MMR vaccine – AT ALL.

          The guy may not be a scientist. But he is calling for an evidence based approach to the challenges we face, rather than kneejerk idiotic protectionism.

          • emperorreagan | Apr 20, 2010 at 12:31 pm |

            Yeah, I was saving Fergal the trouble of posting some bullshit anti-vaccine website.

            The problem that with arguing about science is that many of the attacks (like the anti-vaccine arguments) offer a lot of emotion and very little in the way of rational argument or actual studies. That's compounded by many scientists being dry and being unable to speak in the same absolutes that their critics use.

            I think many “discussions” about the validity of established science are about on par with trying to have a rational discussion with someone who believes Obama was born in Ethiopia – there are only two ways they would believe he was an American citizen: (1) God decends from Heaven and imparts said information on them personally, or (2) you travel back in time to the hospital at the moment of Obama's birth and let them see for themselves.

          • Do you think people should be forced to take vaccines and prosecuted if they advocate against them?

          • emperorreagan | Apr 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm |

            No. I think that people will learn their lesson if vaccination rates fall to a point where an easily preventable disease becomes a public health issue again. Nothing like a bunch of deaths to make people remember why vaccines were such miracles of modern medicine.

          • I didn't want to “like” this, because I don't like the idea of people dying. But unfortunately you're right. It will take something catastrophic before people will open their minds to the evidence.

          • Are you a troll? I mean seriously… where did either of us say anything that would imply we'd agree with people being forced to receive vaccinations?

          • The dude in the video says that people who don't get their kids vaccinated are dangerous. Legislating against those considered a threat to public health would seem to be the logical next step. I'm glad your answer is no.

            100 years ago there was a huge amount of psychological and behavioral research going on, and yet nobody noticed an autistic for another quarter century. The condition is quite idiosyncratic despite the wide variations in its severity. It's embarrassing to science that they don't seem to know what causes it.

            I've haven't received any feedback from you regarding my answers to your first two questions. If I tell you whether or not I'm a troll will you blank me again?

          • emperorreagan | Apr 21, 2010 at 7:16 am |

            Autism has been a diagnosis that has evolved with time. Asperger's Syndrome is an even more recent diagnosis as being a condition completely separate from autism. The diagnosis of mental health conditions has been an ever evolving issue, moving from eras when people would be labeled as possessed, to asylums, to actual scientists doing research and trying to define & treat conditions.

            Well-documented cases of what people suspect was autism are recorded as far back as the mid-1700s – Hugh Blair of Borgue.

            I also don't think that it's embarrassing to science that they don't know what causes it – especially if it's a complex genetic condition.

        • You're mistaken. Many sufferers of autism live their entire lives without communicating using anything more than grunts. That seems pretty specific and noteworthy doesn't it? There is next to no evidence of this having been observed prior to the 20th century.

          For what it's worth, I don't subscribe to the belief that vaccines cause autism, there are many other possible causes which are just as likely. There is however a very strong correlation with vaccination – whether there's any connection or not – noone can honestly deny that.

          • emperorreagan | Apr 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm |

            Yeah, that's why all of the major medical bodies in the world reject said correlation and numerous well-controlled studies fail to show said correlation.

            And the number one study pointed to by those believing in a correlation between autism and vaccines was withdrawn from the journal that published it for being flawed.

          • Look, I'm really sorry, but vaccination rates have gone up at the same time autism rates have increased. This is a correlation, I'm not saying that one causes the other. At first flush you'd be stupid not to suspect there was causation though and if research on this has stopped because “the science is settled” or some such bullshit then that's criminal.

          • emperorreagan | Apr 20, 2010 at 3:18 pm |

            Just because both rates have increased doesn't indicate any statistically significant correlation. You could also show a weak positive correlation between car ownership rates and autism rates.

          • . . .or a 0.5C increase in global temperates and a rise from 0.00028% to 0.00038% in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. Oh, no, wait, temperature hasn't gone up in 15 years while CO2 increase has accelerated.

            Seriously, though, there is little doubt that autism rates are increasing. Last time I read up on it Prof. Baron-Cohen of Cambridge had suggested the condition could be an exaggerated normal male personality (on the assumption that men are terrible communicators) and/or the result of mildly autistic people being attracted to each other thereby exaggerating the characteristic in their children (McCarthy and Carrey both seem a bit wacky but substance abuse can't be ruled out there). I didn't find his insistence on a genetic link very compelling, since the increase seems to be occuring in all societies, even those with limited social mobility.

            I'll have to read up on his latest lines of inquiry. I never bothered checking the evidence of the vaccine link before but my trust in science has been shattered in the last year. I will examine the vaccine link now.

    • “When new racial hygiene laws came into effect in Germany in the late 1930's the doctors who ran care homes murdered their disabled charges without question. Not one of them spoke out.”

      Source? Proof that, if this indeed did happen, that it was the fault of the scientific method?

      • This was the programme : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_T4

        In other parts of Europe in the 1930's enforced sterilization and concentration camps were used. More than half of the United States had laws compelling people to be sterilized against their will at the time. Doctors, politicians, judges and scientists gladly went along with it as they had been propagandized into believing it was the logical conclusion of Social Darwinism.

        • But again, you're confusing the scientific method, which is a set of practices and a philosophy on how to get evidence, with fallible humans who have agendas and politics.

          This is exactly why stuff needs to be peer-reviewed. To nullify the effects of politics and agendas.

          As for enforced Euthanasia and eugenics and all of that kind of thing – politicians and scientists with no morality. But that isn't the fault of science. That's like saying all people with mustaches are psychopaths just because Hitler had one. It's a bullshit argument.

          • 'Frankenfood' debates are not 'science' arguments, they are corporatism arguments. People starving in third world countries cannot even save the seeds of bio-engineered food, it is often illegal. This is corporate lobbying – get the poor nations a permanent government contract of your product, and better yet, use the UN, funded by US tax dollars as your ultimate lobbyist.

            Last year we almost went into mandatory H1N1 flu vaccines – some health workers were threatened with losing their jobs if they did not comply with getting the shot. Then to see that it was a non-event, and some vaccines hurt people, a direct link, and the EU launched a formal investigation into the scare tactics of pharma that lead to governments over purchasing the products they had made for this 'possibly worse than any flu we've ever seen'.

            Please do not get sucked into the straw man vortex that people are 'anti-science' if they do not want lobbyists to make tonnes of money having legislation created to force their products on you with your own tax dollars.

            That's a million miles away from a science discussion.

  3. Hadrian999 | Apr 20, 2010 at 9:10 am |

    people should question science but discounting science out of hand is just as stupid as blindly following
    you are told

    • Exactly. The Scientific Method, rational empiricism, whatever you want to call it, is pretty irrefutably beneficial to humanity. “Scientism” — the dogmatic belief that current materialist orthodoxy represents the ultimate and final truth of reality — is as obstructive to actual progress as any other kind of religious fundamentalism. Not only that, but it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific method. By definition, science never “reveals” objective reality, but approximates it with increasing accuracy and precision, provided only that we keep questioning and refining it.

  4. I think it makes for a very marketable position on the lecture circuit to say the things he's saying. I don't doubt he believes them but I'm sure his speaking fees strengthens his beliefs. I don't disagree with the general ideology that this country has a hard time dealing with facts and science. However, he's full of shit if he won't give weight to the side that has some mistrust of science because agribusiness and pharamceuticals are big industries that put profits in front of people. Just saying that science can do wonderful things and we need to trust it is naive and silly. We as a society are past the point where we blindly allow any and all authority to tell us what is and it's the internet that has empowered the masses. You can't tell me Mr. Specter that there isn't enough justification or evidence to question much of what passes for authoritative advice when it comes to medicine and food. Can science serve humanity at the highest levels? Sure. Does it? Like anything with the best intentions, sometimes it gets it right, sometimes it gets it wrong and most of the time it falls somewhere in between. He talks about how the arguments people make about gm foods are ones that can be regulated by laws and have nothing to do with the science itself. Is the sky really blue in your world Specter? I think we should govern so that we all must love each other and get along but do you see that happening? Until we as a species, evolve past the point where business and money dictates the progression of science, there's no way science will be so altruistic and 'pure'. How's this for your pure science for humanity's sake argument….remember Nikola Tesla? F'ing genius who wanted to provide power free to the world? Big business didn't like that so much so they thrashed him and propped up Edison and now we have nice billable electricity. So don't go judging those of us willing to do research and take responsibility for our own health. That said, don't replace science with religious clap trap.

    • Paragraphs please. They are important for breaking up the flow of words that come out of your fingers.

      The video is not supportive of big business; watch the video again. Understand that yours and his stance are not mutually exclusive.

      Like he said: Science is not a country. It isn't even an idea. It is a process – or to put it differently, methodology for dealing with problems. Big business has no relation to the fundamentals of science. Big business is within the realm of politics.

      • Sorry you have a problem reading my post. Ignore it if you want, i could care less.

        You're delusional if you believe science is just in the realm of politics. It's in the realm of big business too my friend. There are few products that don't have some measure of science and scientific study connected to them. Science process or methodology for dealing with problems, however you want to characterize it still needs funding and the institutions that fund science and scientific study have an agenda which mostly boils down to profits and power. Pure science for science's sake is rare. Is it any surprise that studies come out about the effects of, say emf (electro magnetic frequencies), only to be refuted by another study months or a year later?

        I get that you want to isolate science as a pristine and noble entity that is irrefutable with no gray areas and stands on solid ground. I still believe in the scientific method, the pursuit of studying and exploring our universe and more but that doesn't refute political and business influences that creates all manner of misinformation posing as official and true science. Unfortunately, you still need to do your own research.

        • Tuna Ghost | Apr 20, 2010 at 9:04 pm |

          “You're delusional if you believe science is just in the realm of politics.”

          A typo, surely? After all, absolutely no one has voiced this opinion.

          • oh yes, my bad. I confused my thoughts. I was trying to respond to what Drewbles said about how big business has no relation to the fundamentals of science. My response meant to be that big business and science are bedfellows. Perhaps Drewbles is correct if he's talking about isolating science by talking about the methodology and how that is different than the types of occupations in business but I don't think you can seperate the two.

          • But pointing that out is no more relevant than pointing out that some humans co-operate with each other.

            Big business is not inherently evil. It's not an evil concept and in reality it doesn't always produce negative effects in the world.

            Doing your own research involves a lot more than the DisInfo website – most of what is on here is just garbage.

          • and yet you're on here spearheading a debate….why if this site is garbage?

            Your argument is weak and incorrect. It IS relevant that big business and science work closely together as the money funding science often comes from business and therefore influences science work. You can't seriously argue that science exists in a vacuum.

            Also, I never said big business is evil (well….maybe Monsanto) yet you can quickly and easily see some of the negative effects of big business. I'm not against business but I am very very wary about companies whose market is our food, water and health. Businesses survive by making a profit and that will always be the #1 priority. You may be able to say that a business gives back to the community or it donates to charities, etc but no business, especially big business, does this primarily otherwise they wouldn't exist very long. Because the profit motive is built into our system of capitalism, any humanitarian priorities are going to be secondary at best.

          • Not much point getting involved in debating people who agree with you now is there? 😀

            I guess my point is this: it isn't the fault of the scientific method that people use it incorrectly.


            Would you say the situation as outlined above was the fault of science or the fault of the Bayer company?

      • apologies for my “…i could care less” statement. For some reason you got my hackles up.

      • You are quite correct…independent of the topic at hand…science is a process. Cool, emotionless and logical, a pathway toward information/knowledge with accuracy.

        Sadly, it is rarely employed this way in modern times. It is a tool employed by hands that have a desired goal in mind at the outset of inquiry…which would be fine…except that the ethos that once held sway and taught us not to manipulate data for the sake of a desired result is dead and buried.

        What has replaced science is psuedo-science, and it is employed by business and politics alike. The science you, or I, might admire and trust is a thing largely of history. What we see and hear through todays media (and sadly, Mr Specter, given that he encourages a return to the blind faith that has not served us well) is the science that others speak of, and it is not to be trusted, but scrutinized with ever greater intensity.

        I favor neither radical alternatives nor corporate sponsored solutions…only what can be weighed and measured with accuracy, untampered, self evident and appropriate.

        • Precisely why we need to emphasis the need for an evidence based approach. Misunderstanding of science and misuse of science isn't limited to any one sphere.

          The point is that people here don't seem to be making the distinction between people interpreting an idea, and the idea itself.

  5. malatesting123 | Apr 20, 2010 at 10:24 am |

    So how much is monsanto, cargill, Merck, Lilly, Glaxo, etc., paying you, douche?

  6. Out with the old | Apr 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm |

    I'm with FergalR on this.

    Science is good at figuring out things and then implementing them. But then establishment becomes ignorant and steadfast if any possible change in their theories occur. Free energy, cures for AIDS, cures for cancer have all been found I'm sure but it doesn't make money for the companies in control. Thats why everything is crumbling today. Its a karma payback. Truth always wins.

    People go about their lives with these strong beliefs in their heads without questioning them. Hospitals inject us with multiple vaccines when we are born. Are you telling me that the human race cannot survive a birth into this world without all these inoculations? How did we survive before? Most of these vaccines are for diseases that we are probably very unlikely to get today. More questions. Do these diseases still exist that we must take the vaccines for? Are there many cases of people developing the diseases if they don't take the vaccines? Does sudden baby death syndrome have anything to do with all this crap being injected in us as soon as we are born?

    Besides the vaccines I got as a baby, I had one when i was 16 for varsity football. I'm 29 now and I haven't been to the doctors since. I stopped taking medicine altogether. I haven't even been to the dentist since I was 6 years old. Well Guess what? I have no diseases. My wisdom teeth grew in fine. None of my teeth fell out. I never get cavities. I never get sick except for the common cold during the change of seasons. I don't have health insurance and I never have to go to the doctors. Why? Because I don't ingest man-made chemicals and inject myself with mercury and pig DNA, or whatever else they have in those vaccines. I mean its pure f'kn logic. These people who have no problem telling of the dangers of marijuana, have no problem injecting mercury into their bodies or into their teeth? Really? F'n hilarious.

    I never take the flu shot either.I remember a couple of people developing horrible disabilities after taking the swine flu shot and it was mainstream news.

    Is this guy gonna deny I exist because I laughed at their “science for the last 13 yrs?

    Am I gonna listen to Monsanto, Merck, Lilly, Glaxo, and the rest of that bunch who only care about profit or am I gonna listen to my body?

    • “Free energy, cures for AIDS, cures for cancer have all been found”

      There was a well documented complete sequencing of the genome for lung cancer, recently. Public information.

      AIDS research – public information.

      Free energy – many ideas are out there, most of which have been thoroughly refuted. Public information.

      “People go about their lives with these strong beliefs in their heads without questioning them.”

      People go about their lives with the idea that there is an alternative reality, that only a special elite are paying attention to. This is just sociopathic.

      You say you never get sick; but how can you truly know that? Have you documented your illnesses over a period of say ten years, and then compared the evidence to a host of other people doing the same thing? Or are you just selectively remembering all the times you've felt healthy… to prove a point on a discussion board ??

      Oh… you don't get ill because you don't ingest man made chemicals? Well what about all the non-man made chemicals you injest?


      1. Not all man made chemicals are harmful.
      2. Not all man made chemicals that are harmful at large doses, are harmful at small doses.
      3. Not all natural chemicals are safe.
      4. Not all natural chemicals that are safe at low doses, are safe at large doses.

      Hell… drink too much water, and you'll get ill. Intake too much vitamin C, and you'll get diarrhea.

      You're a perfect example of the rising back-to-nature fundamentalist mindset that is creeping into modern society.

      • Tuna Ghost | Apr 20, 2010 at 9:10 pm |

        Well said, although I would've liked to hear something about linking going to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned with “science”.

  7. projectile | Apr 20, 2010 at 4:32 pm |

    i choose my direct experience of feeling really good after eating home grown food over this guys speech.

    • Could be placebo. Could be the added satisfaction of growing it yourself. I know when I cook some chicken wings, they're tastier and more satisfying to eat than when I just go and buy a bucket of chicken wings from one of those Halal places down the end of my street.

      Point is – anecdotal evidence is not good enough to make objective statements on this sort of stuff. There is a wider issue than you're bloomin' homegrown carrots!

      • I love how the “placebo effect” is this mystical fudge factor used to dismiss anything that doesn't fit with the current materialist narrative, and that people are supposed to trust materialist orthodoxy over their own experiences. Scientism is as irrational and dogmatic as any other religion.

      • The placebo effect has been proven to exist by empirical scientific method, not just anecdotal evidence.

        The irony is that modern science cannot explain how the placebo effect works and its very existence contradicts much of what modern science tells us is true.

        • Tuna Ghost | Apr 21, 2010 at 1:25 am |

          I've always wondered why the placebo effect is derided and commonly used only as evidence that something DOESN'T work, as opposed to being viewed as something that IS working, something that we can do to ourselves to boost the healing process. It feels like we're overlooking something that has the potential to be very, very useful.

          • That's not entirely correct. It is sometimes used to prove that something DOES have an effect – take homeopathy for instance. The placebo effect has proven that whilst chemically homeopathy has no intrinsic value, socially and mentally it does.

            People who believe in homeopathy and practice it, whilst their pockets are empty, they are a lot happier than other people who have gone to a regular GP. It's because the doctors spend more time with the patients and the experience is of higher quality than going to a regular doctor.

            That's a fault of the infrastructure of medicine currently.

          • Odd side note…I'm no homeopath, but I saw one in action once. His wife got multiple stings from a ground bee nest…whatever was in that pill he threw together left her breathing comfortably and reduce the swelling to pinpoints in under 15 minutes…and she was allergic to bee stings. I believe in medicine, and I suspect that both traditional medicine and alternative medicine have their share of bunk…but on at least one occasion I saw a substance I had never heard of work like gangbusters.

            Same guy…also saw his regular doctor every month like clockwork, took his pills for diabetes, and used regular medicine daily…his homeopathy kit came out only when he was sure of what he was dealing with. (also…he wasn't broke.)

    • Tuna Ghost | Apr 20, 2010 at 9:06 pm |

      You do know that many vegetables and fruits that one can grow at home were genetically modified hundreds of years ago, right? I mean, carrots weren't always orange. Half the citrus family is the result of genetics. Mankind has been modifying food for at least a thousand years, we're just much better at it now.

      • Yes, mankind has been genetically 'modifying' food for a long time however mankind has only been genetically 'engineering' food for a relatively short period.

        Splicing together cells from completely unrelated species (eg pig + fish) and creating animals that glow in the dark is a completely new science

        • Tuna Ghost | Apr 20, 2010 at 11:25 pm |

          I don't think the difference between “modifying” and “engineering” is as separate as you are claiming–we've been modifying food with a specific goal in mind for centuries, how is that different from engineering? We designed food. We had designs, we followed the known processes required to create foods meeting the specifications of our designs.

          The technology is new and much of the knowledge has advanced very rapidly very recently, that's all.

          • I agree with you on your point, Tuna.

            We have been selectively breeding different types of food over centuries, the difference is with genetically doing it is that it is quicker and safer – in theory.

            The problem is that GM food has not been given enough of a chance to develop, because of people who are scared of the concept.

  8. Well…that should end all that foolish questioning of safe, healthy scientifically backed public policy…

    …cuz…after all…in the face of a non-scientist's paid lecture, all those pesky moments when cash-driven shortcuts transformed good science into irresponsible actions with lethal consequences will just dry up and vanish overnight!

    Or maybe not. It's a sword that cuts two ways. Good science isn't practiced by either side anymore, just targeted research to achieve preset goals. Much like the debate that rages on, with each side selectively quoting only the buzzphrases that back their position, and writing off as fiction all that might contradict same.

    Endgame…vaccines generally do an excellent job at boosting the immune systems of people who use them, especially with regard to diseases they might otherwise develop no immunity to…but…there are side effects, many of which remain unexplained and under-investigated because liability makes it dangerous to admit potential responsibility.

    Frankenfoods, great idea to boost yields and increase world food supplies…rushed into hastily without any attempt to gauge long term effects on both environment and humans alike resulting in deep seated mistrust of the outcomes.

    Herbal cures…sometimes they're just the right tool for just the right job…and sometimes you really need a doctor, surgery, medicine etc.

    Treat your mind like your options…keep them both open.

  9. justmeint | Apr 23, 2010 at 6:41 am |

    Your child’s chance of being harmed by the flu is far greater than the chance of being harmed by the vaccine.

    • Two days ago a child in Australia died after receiving a standard vaccine.
      In the past week in Western Australia over 60 children had extremely adverse reactions to a flu vaccine and the vaccine was withdrawn from public
      These kind of things make me tend to disagree with you on that one

  10. Not much point getting involved in debating people who agree with you now is there? 😀

    I guess my point is this: it isn't the fault of the scientific method that people use it incorrectly.


    Would you say the situation as outlined above was the fault of science or the fault of the Bayer company?

  11. Precisely why we need to emphasis the need for an evidence based approach. Misunderstanding of science and misuse of science isn't limited to any one sphere.

    The point is that people here don't seem to be making the distinction between people interpreting an idea, and the idea itself.



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