Can we STEM the Tide of Alternative Facts?

February 8, 2017

Stat News:

During Senate hearings Tuesday on DeVos’s nomination, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked point-blank if a DeVos-led Department of Education would side with students or with purveyors of junk science. She evaded answering — but conspicuously used the “critical thinking” catchphrase beloved by creationists and climate change deniers alike.

Others in the Trump administration have been more outspoken challengers of climate change and evolution.

During the campaign for president, Donald Trump repeatedly called climate change a hoax. His recent claim that “no one really knows” is a scant improvement.

While evolution was not as much in the headlines during the campaign, Vice President-elect Mike Pence once saw fit to denounce evolution on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The federal Department of Education has little power over what teachers are required to cover. Science education standards are set at the state level. Evolution is generally integrated into current standards and textbooks, and climate change — a relative newcomer to American science education — is increasingly included in them.

But just including evolution and climate change in standards isn’t enough. Teachers must feel confident when presenting the material in their classrooms. Unfortunately, they often don’t. Only 54 percent of American science teachers teach climate change forthrightly, while only 28 percent do the same for evolution.

Seattle Times:

Besides running the library, Hagen said, she teaches a class called “digital life.” She meets with fifth-graders twice a week and with eighth-graders once a week. The classes are a mix of technology and information-literacy skills, but since the presidential election, she’s increased the focus on the latter.

“It was because of all of the buzz (about fake news). You can look at the Google analytics, and the search for ‘fake news’ was unprecedented.“ she said. “It’s our job as teachers to address what’s going on in the world.”

One Monday morning, her eighth-graders took a group quiz in which they were asked to identify different kinds of information — advertising, publicity, propaganda, news, opinion pieces. They worked on their laptops choosing from multiple options, and their choices showed up on a big screen at the front of the classroom. There was discussion after each question, especially when not everyone got the answer right.

Hagen introduced the new focus to students by showing them the results of a Stanford History Education Group study in which students from college, high school and middle school were tested on their understanding of various types of information.

Most middle-school students were able to distinguish advertisements from news stories, but more than 80 percent confused native advertisements with news stories. Native advertisements are designed to look like news stories, but they carry a label that sets them apart, usually “sponsored content.” That wasn’t enough.

There is a great need for more education in the critical-thinking skills that are part of information literacy.

New York Times:

It’s looking as if 2017 could become the year when the anti-vaccination movement gains ascendancy in the United States and we begin to see a reversal of several decades in steady public health gains. The first blow will be measles outbreaks in America.

Measles is one of the most contagious and most lethal of all human diseases. A single person infected with the virus can infect more than a dozen unvaccinated people, typically infants too young to have received their first measles shot. Such high levels of transmissibility mean that when the percentage of children in a community who have received the measles vaccine falls below 90 percent to 95 percent, we can start to see major outbreaks, as in the 1950s when four million Americans a year were infected and 450 died. Worldwide, measles still kills around 100,000 children each year.

The myth that vaccines like the one that prevents measles are connected to autism has persisted despite rock-solid proof to the contrary. Donald Trumphas given credence to such views in tweets and during a Republican debate, but as president he has said nothing to support vaccination opponents, so there is reason to hope that his views are changing.

However, a leading proponent of the link between vaccines and autism said he recently met with the president to discuss the creation of a presidential commission to investigate vaccine safety. Such a commission would be a throwback to the 2000s, when Representative Dan Burton of Indiana held fruitless hearings and conducted investigations on this topic. And a documentary alleging a conspiracy at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” has recently been shown around the country.

As a scientist leading global efforts to develop vaccines for neglected poverty-related diseases like schistosomiasis and Chagas’ disease, and as the dad of an adult daughter with autism and other disabilities, I’m worried that our nation’s health will soon be threatened because we have not stood up to the pseudoscience and fake conspiracy claims of this movement.


21 Responses to “Can we STEM the Tide of Alternative Facts?”

  1. Tom Bates Says:

    When you make a statement with words like junk science in them you are a politician and they lie every time they open their mouths. The deniers, to use your words, are not denying the science, they simply point out the science does not actually support the contention it is all mans fault and the world is going to doom and gloom.

    NASA studies and others show it was warmer in 1000 AD with 1/3 less CO2 in the air so something else was warming the world back than. A NASA study showed the arctic was ice free from 8500-6500 BP which is 2000 years when CO2 was a lot lower than today. Another NASA study shows the CO2 increased plant mass around 8 percent , 415 million people who lived instead of starving to death from that increased CO2, The Berkeley labs study showed an increase in warming from the increased CO2 of 2/10ths of a watt per sq. meter, 4150 times less than average solar gain and 210 times less than warming from ongoing changes in earths tilt and orbit. All this warming was per NASA not occurring in the oceans while antarctica ice increased which lowers ocean levels. Per NOAA the ocean rise trend on land not moving up or down is 3 inches in 100 years, per the French, who have measured since 1805, 4 inches in 100 years. If anything the trend is going down with the longer baseline.

    Sure the world is warmer than in the depths of the little ice age around 1625, That is a good thing unless you do not mind starving to death from crop failure in a cooling world. Doom and gloom is a money and power grab as the UN has admitted.

    • grindupbaker Says:

      “showed the arctic was ice free from 8500-6500 BP” Earth precession/orbit combination favoured the Northern Hemisphere for warming at that time. Additionally, the oceans have thermal inertia. Your 8500-6500 BP looks like 2,000 years to move thermal inertia to me, or maybe just 1,000 years. The 46 years 1970-2016 not so much. Wait a few more decades and watch out.

    • Torsten Says:

      Tom wrote: “When you make a statement with words like junk science in them you are a politician and they lie every time they open their mouths.”

      So Tom, you’ll agree that Steve Milloy, who runs the website, and spends a lot of effort criticising climate science, is a lying POS?

      Tom, I wrote the following some time ago, and merely regurgipost it here again.

      Tom won’t learn. He continues to spout this 2/10th watt “warming”, “per a Berkeley study”, without knowing what it means. On August 24 he actually posted a link to his source for this figure, which was a press release from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (managed by UC Berkley), here:

      I pointed out that the 2/10ths watt per square metre was the decadal change. More precisely, it’s the change in radiative forcing (not warming”) due to the 22 ppm change in atmospheric CO2 between 2000 and 2010. I also quoted from the press release this important statement:

      “The results agree with theoretical predictions of the greenhouse effect due to human activity. The research also provides further confirmation that the calculations used in today’s climate models are on track when it comes to representing the impact of CO2.”.

      Maybe I’ll get to your other nonsense in the morning you silly boy.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        Sorry, Torsten,

        for a minute I thought the 2/10 watt was a comment about how bright Tom is.

        Then I decided that wasn’t how you meant it.

        Then I realized that life and meaning and well, everything, is like poetry. It’s best when it has more than one meaning.

    • Torsten Says:

      Tom wrote “A NASA study showed the arctic was ice free from 8500-6500 BP which is 2000 years when CO2 was a lot lower than today. “

      It’s another of his favorites, and discussed here:

      But I’ll save you the click and just copy/paste the content here:

      Tom claims “per NASA research the arctic regions were ice free from 8500-6500 BP”, but doesn’t offer a pointer to where “NASA” says that.

      Here’s the interesting thing: A number of recent papers (e.g. Stranne et al, 2014; Funder et al, 2011) have explored arctic sea ice variation during the Holocene and found that there were indeed periods where sea ice was less than today.

      Stranne et al studied it using a general circulation model. They discussed at great length the parameterization of the model, the type of ice cover modes it produces, subtleties of the feedback mechanisms, etc. Imagine, a computer model that gives results of the kind that Tom wants to hear! But of course, Tom wouldn’t know that amongst their conclusions they write:

      “However, at the same time as our simulations show the importance of the surface albedo feedback, there are likely two distinctly different underlying causes for the feedback to kick in: increased insolation (past) and increased GHG levels (present).”

      Funder et al went into the field to find evidence of past beaches with seasonally open water (where there is ice today), and estimated when they were open by carbon dating driftwood. Pretty cool, especially using species ratios to infer where that driftwood may have originated. And what is included in their conclusion?:

      “The reduction of the HTM sea ice in northern Greenland fits with the simulated ice distribution and surface temperature in orbitally forced ECHAM5/JSBACH/MPI-OM (EJM) and LOVECLIM general circulation climate model simulations.” (HTM refers to Holocene Thermal Maximum.)

      They also discussed details of the different results amongst models and their weakness in predicting where open water would occur in the time frame they observed it from their field/laboratory work. Of course, they pointed to where the models need to be improved. Yet again, models give Tom the results he wants to hear about. But does Tom care how these paleo studies relate to our current situation?

      Needless to say, it takes time to understand these papers, but why invest any of that when you can just say “NASA says…” when it suits you?

  2. Tom Bates Says:

    correction If anything the trend is going down with the longer baseline a lot from the claims of doom and gloom using the longer baseline.

    • lesliegraham1 Says:

      Every projection is coming true faster than originally projected.
      Especially where Arctic ice is concerned.
      We are 60 years ahead of schedule.
      Now that the effects of man made climate change have become an obvious everyday reality all over the world you and your dwindling little band of deluded deniers just sound unhinged.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      Tom Bates talking shite (“alternative facts”) again 🙄

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    The lunatic right wing go-to about “critical thinking” has another function besides its obvious use as a smoke screen for “Let’s muddy the waters with nonsense so nobody can tell what the truth is”.

    We really do need to teach critical thinking in schools. People are too psychologically vulnerable and too poorly-educated to fend off the constant, unrelenting barrage of advertising and other media squeezings of dubious (to say the least) factual quality. Whether those ads are to sell products or politicians, or (mostly right wing) memes and frames to create and exploit those vulnerabilities, people need actual critical thinking skills to sort out sense from the constant chatterclutter of nonsense. Logic and rhetoric should be taught to everyone; and special attention should be paid to the most commonly used logical fallacies and deception techniques, as here:

    • J4Zonian Says:

      oops, somehow the last part of my message was cut when I put the video link in.

      The other function of the cynical use of the “critical thinking” phrase is to ruin the phrase for calling for actual critical thinking education. They’ll use it so much that if anyone else calls for critical thinking education in order to combat creationism, climate denial (and other, mostly anti-ecological, anti-science) the frame that will be strengthened is the anti-science “muddy the waters” frame, strengthening their argument and weakening our counterargument to defeat this very technique. This is diabolically brilliant jujitsu by the loonies–although very likely mostly unconscious. We need other ways to call for those skills, and we need to call attention to every deceptive phrase, technique and argument in public.

      • webej Says:

        One of the things that impressed me in my children was their aptitude for separating different kinds of narratives. Even though they believed in “Santa Clause”, when we watched a royal coronation or such, they asked questions because they were confused: On the one hand it was like a fairy tale, on the other it was being presented as news. Even at four, children are quite good at separating genres (fairy tales, fiction, reality), and most normal people recognize stories about UFO’s or Hillary’s pregnancy as a certain genre.
        On the other hand, children are completely vulnerable to advertisement aimed at them, since they do not yet have the guile to question the motives of those who are presenting. This is why I consider commercial advertising aimed at children to be child abuse.
        While I applaud the teaching of rhetoric and logical fallacies to students who have the aptitude to process it, the idea of teaching “critical thinking” about “fake news” also sounds a lot like indoctrination and apologetics for conventional views. I was also sucked into a lot of conventional ideas about everything as a teen-ager, before I started to question some (there is no time to question everything) of these things. Teaching rhetoric is great, but teaching what is “fake news” seems rather fraught with doing the oppositie. Everybody knows that in a college class or at work, you are told to be critical and argue alternate cases, but when it comes to getting marks, you will generally do a lot better presenting the case the “boss” wants to hear.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          I agree about most of that and am only ignorant or unsure about the rest. It certainly is worse than simple child abuse, as it’s destroying our world and along the way, creating more of the regular kind of child abuse as well. Absolutely we’d be better off with some form of publicly funded television only, without profit motive there–or in any place necessities or the things that compete with necessities are concerned. (like land that can produce palm oil, the 3 sisters and a couple of cousins, or wildlife, for example, or anything that forms unalterable brain development in childhood.)

          Though children are eerily wise, (when compared to our sick society, I guess) we almost all get sucked into conventional ideas (conservative ideas? False or over-emphasized belief in a separate existence? for example) and have to recover from them. Certainly hierarchical/patriarchal relationships to authority are one of those false beliefs; most of us never recover completely. Fully nurturing relationships are crucial in all of this; I’m working on a piece starting with George Lakoff’s work and going further with the effects of nurturing and not on attachment and how that creates conservatives and progressives. All speculative for me at this point; I”m just beginning to search the literature.

          I think the difference between the fairy tale thing (being able to tell the difference) and the guilelessness thing (not being able to tell the difference) may be partly that they can see what’s there but not always what’s not there; that comes with experience and a certain amount of brain development. I think fairy tales happen in a sort of perpetual time that exists because of the differential development of amygdala and hippocampus, for example. (Traumatic abuse at a young age also exists in that perpetual time, which is why it’s so damaging.) And the most effective lies, as can be seen with climate denying delayalism, involve something that’s not there, as well–with cherry picking (and special cases of cherry picking like false dichotomies) you have to just know the other choices are there.

          I wonder what forms of aid to development are possible and how young.
          I think we could at least teach children a process like science, of investigating truth, in which one step is to think about the things that aren’t there and then go and look for them outside the argument being made. Come to think of it, we oughta teach that to adults, too.

          And conspiracy theories–a sort of shadow-world fairy tale? are an interesting case. Need more thought on that…

 looks interesting.
          also Judith Hermann, Trauma and Recovery and Babette Rothschild, The Body Remembers

          • webej Says:

            A thoughtful reaction: I have always thought along these lines with regard to childhood trauma. There is a reason we don’t remember much from before four years old, and that is the discontinuity in our experience before and after. Trauma from before that age is not accessible to verbal and therapeutic methods, but is remembered in the “body”, as is every experience. This is also why I don’t put any stock in re-awakening early childhood memories where people suddenly remember the gynocologist wore glasses, etc., since you wouldn’t be able to “see” glasses before knowing them — memory is not like photography. Biographical anecdotes can, however, reveal something about a persons’s journey: the narrative can transcend the actual details, as can dreams.
            The eternal present also applies to mythology and much religious thought. We sometimes speak of the mythopoeic world. The Egyptians could easily have 7 different stories about how the sun moves from east to west everyday (recreated daily, drawn in a chariot with oxen, etc). That they felt no call to reconcile the details of these various stories demonstrates that they were not “primitive theories” trying to explain “facts” in a childish way. That would be to misunderstand the actual literal intention of such narrative.
            The analytical discursive way of thought is not a natural habit of the human mind but a trained habit — we often forget/repress that our mind mostly works in other modes. I have always been fascinated by universal mental “schemes” for organizing thought that occur in science but also in cultures throughout history, such as: infection, recapitulation, micro/macro cosmos, equilibrium, harmony.

  4. lesliegraham1 Says:

    The last of the deniers (12% globally) just sound unhinged now. It’s over for them.
    You don’t need to be a climate scientist to see what’s happening.
    You don’t even need to be scientifically literate any more – it’s just obvious.
    Everywhere you look all over the world the effects of man made climate change are plain for all to see.

  5. Sir Charles Says:

    “no one really knows” isn’t an improvement. It only shows again the incompetence of this bloody amateur Trump.

    People who elected this fascist should visit a plumber the next time they have a toothache, and they should welcome burglars and thieves at their home as they voted for a guy who built his empire by defrauding employees and cheating other companies and banks. Welcome to the middle ages.

  6. Sir Charles Says:

    DeVos also favours an education system that is solely financed by privates. Welcome to the middle ages.

  7. Lionel Smith Says:

    DeVos (sister of Erik ‘Blackwater’ Prince) has ties to student debt collection firms according to Sourcewatch.

    Never before has the system been systematically gamed like now.

  8. Lionel Smith Says:

    Scott Pruitt should be removed from EPA forthwith given that “the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a national investigative watchdog group, alleges in a new lawsuit that as Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt has violated the Oklahoma Open Records Act for failing to provide public access to official emails and other documents for more than two years. The lawsuit also asks for an injunction to prevent the Oklahoma Attorney General from destroying any documents relevant to the group’s open records requests.”

    Another unfit to hold office is of course Jeff Sessions approved as Attorney General (with the help of Mitch McConnell in silencing Elizabeth Warren) who has history that demonstrates why Warren’s speech was an embarrassment to Sessions.

    I tried to help black people vote. Jeff Sessions tried to put me in jail: Voices.

    This madness needs to stop, now.

  9. Here’s a terrific new alternative fact (wish I’d have thought of it):

  10. J4Zonian Says:


    This was particularly interesting to me: “I have always been fascinated by universal mental “schemes” for organizing thought that occur in science but also in cultures throughout history, such as: infection, recapitulation, micro/macro cosmos, equilibrium, harmony.” Thanks, I’ll have to think about that list.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: