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The Internet has changed the nature of scientific debate - Comments

ukvillafan's Avatar Comment 1 by ukvillafan

I know this is posting off-topic,for which I apologise, but in relation to the UN resolution from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference attempting to criminalise the "defamation" of religion, I have had a petition to the Prime Minsters web site in the UK accepted. Only UK citizens can sign I believe. The link follows - pass it on to all UK individuals you know.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 16:14:00 UTC | #333915

jo5ef's Avatar Comment 2 by jo5ef

Actually i think he said "if 50 million etc..."
Anyway, all good points made, although the volume of thoughtful and reasoned debates on sites like this, Pharyngula and many others at scienceblogs and elsewhere give me hope. After all internet discussion is more like real life social discourse than old media, so the standards are different, and theres always going to be a lot of crazy stuff (4chan anyone?).

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 16:26:00 UTC | #333919

tieInterceptor's Avatar Comment 3 by tieInterceptor

ukvillafan, once you sign, can any visitor see the names or addresses of the people who signed? or is it kept private?

off topic: Anjem Choudhary on Military Coup In The UK

check this guy, this is why we need this UN resolution to be stopped, look how crazy they are.

I saw this guy walking on the speakers corner here in London. What a crazy f*k.

it's scary how he talks about taking over, and implementing the sharia with a smile, and he's got the nuts to complain that the anti-terror laws are made just for guys like him.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 17:27:00 UTC | #333931

TheLordHumungus's Avatar Comment 4 by TheLordHumungus

1. Comment #349973 by ukvillafan -- First of all, well done on that, unfortunately can't sign it since I live here in the USA, but it is nice to see everybody pitching in on this problem.

This article makes a lot of good points. Discussion has deteriorated on many sites to potty-mouthed mudslinging, and whack-o religious ideas and damaging conspiracy theories run rampant.

At the same time, my ten year old niece knows that Betelgeuse is a red giant star in the Orion constellation that may very well explode in our lifetime. I was talking with her about the cosmos and she whips that fact out of no where. The internet is to thank for that. So I will take the bad with what will hopefully be the overwhelming good of highly educated kids thanks to the internet.

I read a stat once that said that one issue of the New York Times (or any other paper, really) holds more bits of information that an average person living in the 1800's would have accumulated in an entire lifetime. Imagine where the internet fits into a stat like that.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 17:28:00 UTC | #333932

Old School's Avatar Comment 5 by Old School

Like Dennett Says there's to many memes out there...

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 17:37:00 UTC | #333933

Old School's Avatar Comment 6 by Old School

"But on the Web, it is mob rule"

Yep. And this is because Google and most search engines display the search results according to popularity. The most visited sites are the ones that show first. And people usualy choose those hence reinforcing the effect.
This is what bores me in the net. The search bots are very stupid. I'm waiting for an AI revolution of the net. Bots with soul and a little understanding of my standards...

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 17:47:00 UTC | #333935

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 7 by NewEnglandBob

This is a well written article bu Andre Picard. Yes, there are many stupid places and people on the web with quackery running rampant but there are many good informed places to go on the web to get proper information or participate in rational discourse.

Don't forget, the biggest use of the web is for porn and that will probably never change. As long as there is free or inexpensive access and democratic abilities for everyone to express or vent or lie or obfuscate or discuss, then it will be a mix of reason and nonsense.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 17:52:00 UTC | #333937

Bernstein's Avatar Comment 8 by Bernstein

I often get the impression that the quality of physicians has also been dropping steadily. There was a time when primarily those genuinely interested in helping others became doctors. These days, many people want to be just because of the money and don't really have what it takes in the long run. Universities (especially non-Western ones) are also churning out graduates in these fields who can't be trusted with a kitchen knife, much less a scalpel. It's no surprise some people tend to doubt what their doctor tells them. Not only does it sound ridiculous (e.g. a diagnosis in under 10 seconds without any tests), it's also expensive and potentially dangerous. Chances are, your doctor hasn't been keeping up with the latest medical journals either.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 17:53:00 UTC | #333938

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 9 by NewEnglandBob

#6 by old school:

I'm waiting for an AI revolution of the net. Bots with soul and a little understanding of my standards...

Don't just wait for it, create it!

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 17:54:00 UTC | #333939

Old School's Avatar Comment 10 by Old School

9. Comment #349999 by NewEnglandBob

I wish :)

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 17:58:00 UTC | #333941

Wosret's Avatar Comment 11 by Wosret

My angry letters are polite, so I am exempt. It's the rest of yous guys that s/he must be talkin' 'bout.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 18:03:00 UTC | #333943

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 12 by NewEnglandBob

11. Comment #350003 by Wosret:

My angry letters are polite, so I am exempt. It's the rest of yous guys that s/he must be talkin' 'bout.

hehe, this from a guy whose profile interests include "..and slappin' tits around."

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 18:19:00 UTC | #333949

Dr Benway's Avatar Comment 13 by Dr Benway

This is the year of medical science vs. pseudoscience.

This fight will be far uglier than the fight against the Discovery Institute. The DI gang are mere amatures with a few million bucks. The pseudoscientists on the healthcare side have many billions, many politicians, and even many MDs from top schools on their side.

markg, I can't seem to add comments, so I'll add to this post.

Andrew Weil, Dean Ornish, Mark Hyman, and Mehmet Oz, aka The Four Horsemen of the Woo-pocalypse testified last month before the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Tom Harkin (D-IA). These four represent hundreds of similar MDs. Unfortunately nonsense invaded leading academic med centers in the US in the 1990s (thanks, Clintons!).

Behind these seemingly respectable MDs stands an army of quackery modern medicine hasn't seen since the 1920s. Chiropracters, naturopaths, and homeopaths all want and expect to be labeled "primary care physicians" in the new Healthcare Reform Bill, to be completed by the end of this year.

The Republicans may have their IDiots. But the Dems have their vitamin pushing and colon cleansing vaccine hating quacks.

In his opening remarks to the committee, Senator Harkin said,

"One of the purposes of this center (NCCAM) was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short. It think quite frankly that in this center and in the office previously before it, most of its focus has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving."
Facepalms were heard all across the medical blogosphere. Truly, Harkin represents a tragic failure of American science education.

But someone clued him in subsequently. You can read the entire speech here, save that one paragraph.

The Tufted Titmouse made a parody regarding "integrative journalism," in which objective reporting is integrated with creative writing to make the news more interesting.

Harkin chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pention Committee. He sits on the appropriations committee for Health and Human Services, the agency that funds NIH. And he wrote the law that formed NCCAM, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. He's a big fish.

Harkin is funded by Herbalife and is strongly supported by chiropractic.

Ornish got into it with Orac here and here. Quite amusing, really. Kuhn and Galileo make their usual appearances.

Fire up the popcorn.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 19:04:00 UTC | #333957

markg's Avatar Comment 14 by markg

Dr. Benway-

If you don't mind me asking(and are still around) who are the more prominent pseudoscience MDs you speak of, any with name recognition?

What's your opinion of Dr. Andrew Weil? Years ago I used to get a newsletter of his and read a couple of his books. He seems like he'd be in that category since he combines western medicine with TCM.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 19:27:00 UTC | #333961

entreri100404's Avatar Comment 15 by entreri100404

How amusing.

I had just this second written an email to the Liberal Democrats in the UK to tell them they had lost my vote because of their stance on the faith schools issue:

As I was typing it out it occured to me: this is so much easier than writing snail-mail.

I am so tired of reading cowardly MP's appeasement-based strategies (Chris Huhne, another Lib Dem MP, is the guy who defended the decision to bar Geert Wilders from the UK, in this Guardian article: These guys need to know they are losing people's votes, even if aforementioned people have only got "minority" parties left to vote for (UKIP, not BNP, for what it's worth).

Although, having said that... just who the fuck do Labour think they are to ban members of the police force from having membership of the political party of their choice? )

The sheer arrogance is breathtaking. Either BNP are a legitimate party or they are not - and if they are, I think any police officer would be perfectly justified in telling these control freaks to mind their own business, which certainly does not include said police officer's political leanings.

Rant over.

EDIT. #1 ukvillafan, very very good call, and nicely worded. My sig added.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 20:29:00 UTC | #333966

Halfpixel's Avatar Comment 16 by Halfpixel

I don't think the Internet has made quackery or unintelligent discourse more prevalent. I just think it's easier for groups of uneducated, misinformed or generally stupid people to communicate now.

However, I don't see this is a problem, because the Internet has (quite obviously) also made it easier for intelligent people to communicate. Could a discussion forum such as RDF (as it exists today) have existed 50 years ago? It certainly could not have.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 20:52:00 UTC | #333967

Bernstein's Avatar Comment 17 by Bernstein

Comment #350027 by Halfpixel

However, I don't see this is a problem, because the Internet has (quite obviously) also made it easier for intelligent people to communicate. Could a discussion forum such as RDF (as it exists today) have existed 50 years ago? It certainly could not have.

Amen. I think the Internet is a blessing beyond reason. Imagine what it would be like to work or study without it? Asian countries would go bankrupt sending their students to the West to get their degrees. Businesses would lose out on the profits of countless markets. We would actually have to go to the public library to find out about stuff! There's no going back now. It would be the end of the world as we know it.

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 21:09:00 UTC | #333974

Dr Benway's Avatar Comment 18 by Dr Benway

Ok Halfpixel. We're communicating. How are we gonna stop the Woopocalypse, which our government is preparing for us?

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 22:21:00 UTC | #333988

Barry Pearson's Avatar Comment 19 by Barry Pearson

#349973 by ukvillafan: I have had a petition to the Prime Minsters web site in the UK accepted.

Index to "religions and gods":

Islam - summary and index:

Sat, 07 Mar 2009 23:55:00 UTC | #333991

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 20 by Alovrin

Dr B

How are we gonna stop the Woopocalypse, which our government is preparing for us?

The arcane US health insurance system and user pays has also paved the way for this woopocalypse.
Do you include that as a preparatory factor as well Dr?
If a quack arrives in town saying there is a fix for half price people will form a queue methinks.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 00:05:00 UTC | #333994

RamziD's Avatar Comment 21 by RamziD

Good article.

Carl Sagan made this point best in The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark . If you haven't read it, you should.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 00:21:00 UTC | #333998

Dr Benway's Avatar Comment 22 by Dr Benway

I think we have to get Tom Harkin out of the game. He's scientifically illiterate, in spite of decades of working on legislation concerning science. That means he's not teachable.

But I don't know how to do that.

Perhaps everyone needs to make a stink about his little gaff and what it reveals.

Telling NCCAM scientists it's their job to *prove* CAM therapies is like a judge telling jurors it's their job to *prove* the defendent guilty-as-charged.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 00:21:00 UTC | #333999

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 23 by Russell Blackford

All I know is that the internet has enormously reduced the "tyranny of distance" (per Geoffrey Blainey) factor for people like me who live a long way from major cultural centers such as London and New York. Living in Australia, I love what the internet can do for me.

I wish I'd had it two or three decades earlier than I did. Still, I can now do my thing reasonably effectively without having to become an expatriate ... as the previous generation pretty much had to do.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 00:23:00 UTC | #334000

Art Vandelay's Avatar Comment 24 by Art Vandelay

Stating the obvious really, but seems to assume most people will believe the first thing they come across. Give them a little more credit.

If people are seeking views that will confirm their own (isn't that why we're here, and not at Ben Stein's home page?),they will do that anyway. But I think most, especially the young'uns, know how to read round a subject if they want to get the facts.

We all have our own filters! Those of us not brought up with the internet realise how amazingly useful a tool it really is.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 01:31:00 UTC | #334009

DamnDirtyApe's Avatar Comment 25 by DamnDirtyApe

The internet is a silly place.

Look over there! Its an entertaining animated gif!

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 01:51:00 UTC | #334010

Flapjack's Avatar Comment 26 by Flapjack

I also have a friend who believes just about any rubbish he picks up through his many new-age conspiracy obsessed aquaintances. Just last week he told me he had "proof" that HIV/AIDS was a conspiracy of Christian biochemists trying to kill off the gay population. The proof was of the "some guy I met on a spiritual retreat said..." variety.
Now I can vouch that right wing Evangelical Zealots have made much mileage out of the whole HIV/AIDS thing when attempting to tell the faithful that gay people are diseased by default, but even taking that into account, a cabal of homophobic Christian bio-engineers working on behalf of Fred Phelps sounds mighty far fetched to me. A smoking gun might help...
Mind you, this is also the same friend who thinks chugging bucketfuls of ayauhuasca in Peru with local shamen will cure his recent bout of Bi-polar disorder (most likely brought on by drinking it in the first place!)
I think he would benefit greatly from watching this: Tim Minchin on the topic of New Age Quackery

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 04:32:00 UTC | #334016

DamnDirtyApe's Avatar Comment 27 by DamnDirtyApe

Tim for the win there flappy.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 08:03:00 UTC | #334047

Caudimordax's Avatar Comment 28 by Caudimordax

Andrew Weil, Dean Ornish, Mark Hyman, and Mehmet Oz, aka The Four Horsemen of the Woo-pocalypse

Thank you for that, Dr. Benway!

Too bad that the people most likely to say they don't trust doctors are those most likely to trust those you listed. When people say they "don't trust doctors," and that their shaman / faith healer cured them, I point out that at least a doctor has made the effort to attend school for a number of years, while the "shaman" might have read a couple of articles on the internet before hanging out a shingle - which is exactly what a certain relative of mine does. One year he's a life coach, the next year he's a shaman, then a faith healer - and people actually pay him, for a while until he moves on to the next more lucrative thing. I've stopped speaking to the relative because I just can't stand it. Interestingly, all these (briefly held) practices are defended with the same emotional explosiveness you would expect if you walked into a baptist service and announced that god doesn't exist.

Even people less overtly crazy people will turn red and splutter and start babbling about "respecting their beliefs" if you should try to explain calmly that there is actually nothing - as in nothing - in homeopathic remedies.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 08:12:00 UTC | #334049

Caudimordax's Avatar Comment 29 by Caudimordax

26. Comment #350076 by Flapjack - Poor Tim Minchin! He obviously had dinner with my cousin*. I didn't know she'd changed her name. Too bad he didn't stick around for the part where he gets called "judgemental" and "arrogant."

Edit: *The cousin who bows her head at the mention of John Edward, much the way old-fashioned catholics bow their heads at the mention of jesus.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 08:25:00 UTC | #334051

Frankus1122's Avatar Comment 30 by Frankus1122

26. Comment #350076 by Flapjack

Tim's party encounter was similar to my own which I have recounted here:

Although his retelling was perhaps more entertaining.

Sun, 08 Mar 2009 08:34:00 UTC | #334052