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Nov 03 2011

Mike Adams doesn’t know a skeptic from a strawman, part 1

Natural News’ crank ranger, Mike Adams, launched an all-out assault on skeptics recently for what they believe (though by recently I mean in January 2010). Skeptics, as a group. As though we believe anything in any unified or dogmatic manner. I know PZ Myers and Steven Novella have already gone over this particular well-poisoning polemic, but my dear friend Erin sent it along when she saw it posted to a parenting forum she frequents, asking me to have my way with it. And my way with it I shall have!


Now, bear in mind that for having raised so many skeptics’ hackles and having been pointed out by many influential folks in the skeptical community, Adams has already taken a victory lap with regard to having attracted so much attention.

I can see the headline now:

Allopathic activists and atheists agog and aghast after attention attracted at Adams’ absurd antiscientific assertions! Abjectly abuse alliteration!

Though his victory lap really only serves to reinforce just what kind of nonsense he peddles, crowing about how we’re all simply close-minded to his quantum healing and water having memory or some other such anti-science nonsense. Please take heed, moms. This guy’s a quack. He can’t accurately describe his detractors, he feels the need to launch an outright assault to make us do his dirty work of outreach, and his recommendations are more likely to harm than help you or your children.

Adams’ entire rant is a strawman built out of smaller strawmen making up each individual component. There’s hardly an aspect of his diatribe that actually describes a real person in the community. There are a few that come close to describing me, but I don’t actually know anyone who fits all of them, and there are several claims that fit none of us at all. The fact is, the skeptical “community” is oftentimes indistinguishable from a barroom brawl. And we seem to prefer it that way. It is an extraordinarily loose-knit collection of online activists who trend toward liking science and preferring it over unevidenced alternatives. So when he says “skeptics believe”, whatever comes after it is almost certainly incorrect in part or in whole. But since there are no real leaders in this community, only hub figureheads around whom people happen to rally (PZ is one of them; Steven Novella is another), and since we don’t subscribe to any particular philosophy by any particular leader, I can really only speak for myself. So I will answer each charge as though he is trying to describe me. Because he is, in theory.

Skeptics believe that ALL vaccines are safe and effective (even if they’ve never been tested), that ALL people should be vaccinated, even against their will, and that there is NO LIMIT to the number of vaccines a person can be safely given. So injecting all children with, for example, 900 vaccines all at the same time is believed to be perfectly safe and “good for your health.”

No, I do not believe all vaccines are safe and effective, considering “all” includes those new vaccines that have never been tested. I believe that the vaccines that have been tested and proven safe and effective (over many decades, in fact) should be implemented per recommended schedules in an effort to prevent certain terrible diseases like polio, measels, mumps, rubella, tetanus, Human Papilloma Virus, influenza, et cetera, from killing people unnecessarily. And I believe that the choice offered to parents is whether their children get the vaccine and are allowed to have contact with the rest of society, or whether they should be allowed to skip immunization and live sequestered from all human contact for the rest of their lives. You’re perfectly free to move to Antarctica and live in your own little disease-infested squalor. And hey, you’ll have all the ice you need to make magic water to cure any disease you could ever get while you’re there!

We are fighting diseases by training our immune systems to be able to handle them before we get attacked by the disease when our bodies’ natural defenses can be overwhelmed. When herd immunity (the percentage of our population that has been immunized) drops, pockets of the disease can foment and become new versions of the disease that might be more infectious, circumvent current vaccinations, kill people quicker, or target the weak and elderly in our society. Vaccination prevents devastating diseases from disproportionately affecting the disadvantaged — there I go with the alliteration again, oops. And I don’t know of any vaccine schedule that actually recommends immunizing against 900 diseases at the same time, but hey, if you want to give me a shot that will prevent me from ever getting 900 potentially deadly diseases, sign me up. It’s certainly not the same thing as getting stuck with 900 needles, though that’s the image he certainly wants you to have.

Skeptics believe that fluoride chemicals derived from the scrubbers of coal-fired power plants are really good for human health. They’re so good, in fact, that they should be dumped into the water supply so that everyone is forced to drink those chemicals, regardless of their current level of exposure to fluoride from other sources.

No, in fact, I don’t believe that fluoride is “really good for human health” — like everything, too much will harm you. (Even homeopathic medicine — that’s all just water anyway, so too much of that will make you need to pee, and WAY too much of it will start you into water toxicity levels, from which you could die.)

I believe it’s been scientifically proven to have a prophylactic effect on tooth decay, which, prior to modern science, killed more humans than any other disease. And I know that all water has some amount of fluoride in it naturally, and that our fluoridation techniques are in actuality intended to regulate that fluoride to a known-safe level. In some cases, water fluoridation plants actually remove some fluoride from the water to bring it down to regulated levels because the naturally occurring fluoride is too high. And like with vaccinations, fluoridation helps prevent tooth decay, which disproportionately affects the poor and young.

Where that fluoride is made is irrelevent, and Adams only says this to be emotionally manipulative. That fluoride is a byproduct of coal plants and that we can pull that fluoride out, purify it, and use it elsewhere is a good thing — use every part of the buffalo, and all that.

Skeptics believe that many six-month-old infants need antidepressant drugs. In fact, they believe that people of all ages can be safely given an unlimited number of drugs all at the same time: Antidepressants, cholesterol drugs, blood pressure drugs, diabetes drugs, anti-anxiety drugs, sleeping drugs and more — simultaneously!

No I don’t. And I don’t know anyone who does. In the event that a young child needs some sort of drug, I trust that the doctor has carefully assessed the situation and feels the benefits outweigh the risks, and even then the parents have to consent before giving that very young child the drug regimen. But frankly, I’ve never heard of a six month old being on all or even ANY of these drugs listed. This is a reductio ad absurdum.

Skeptics believe that the human body has no ability to defend itself against invading microorganism and that the only things that can save people from viral infections are vaccines.

Uh… I actually just answered this one in the point about vaccines. The human body has an immune system that is an amazing first line of defense against diseases. It’s adaptive, it’s reactive, it can save your life. It’s even so good at its job that sometimes it goes rogue and paramilitary on your ass, and that’s when you get autoimmune diseases or allergies.

Here’s the thing, though. Some viruses are actually quite clever. They have ways of overcoming and overwhelming your immune system before it has a chance to learn how to adapt to them. Many viruses, like measels, can kill its host before the host has a chance to adapt — probably because said host was a weak, poor, elderly, or otherwise disadvantaged member of the herd. Luckily, we humans are incredibly adept at circumventing natural selection and not allowing diseases from culling our numbers. Our intellects and our empathy lead us to develop novel ways of fighting these beasties so that even those who would normally have died from contracting the disease have a fighting chance. See, they take deactivated versions of the virus and inject them into people. These people’s immune systems figure out how to fight the virus before the virus has a chance to overwhelm them. We’re giving our immune systems a little boot camp and special ops training.

And an excellent side-effect of vaccinating to truly supplement our immune systems is that the disease’s more grievous effects outside of killing its hosts — mostly in the prolonged illnesses and pain that the hosts experience — are eliminated as well. If you don’t succumb to measels in the first place, you won’t have to deal with this kind of experience while waiting for the roulette wheel to stop spinning, to see if you’re going to be one of the lucky ones to survive. Caution — that link is not for the squeamish. Young boy afflicted with measels. It’s very sad.

It’s also sad that so many diseases, diseases which are decidedly significantly damaging and deadly and significantly more likely than most possible vaccine reactions, are still going mostly unvaccinated-against, not because parents have weighed the risks and made informed decisions, but because they’ve just not followed the recommended schedule for them. I personally have no idea what shots I’m overdue for, but I’m certain there’s a buttload of them. I intend to rectify that next time I visit the doctor.

Skeptics believe that pregnancy is a disease and childbirth is a medical crisis. (They are opponents of natural childbirth.)

No I do not and I am not, thank you. Pregnancy is a big deal, yes. A lot can go wrong in childbirth, given that evolution treated us with such big heads and women with such narrow pelvises. If you want a “natural childbirth”, which I understand to mean vaginal and without drugs, well, that’s what you get most of the time in hospitals; it’s, after, all the optimal result. If you want a “home childbirth” with a midwife, like you’re playing renaissance fair, then you’re doing so without the safety net of having the ability to deal with emergency situations which can happen suddenly and turn the normal birthing process into a gigantic crisis without notice. And to insure against this, watch to see if you have to sign forms waiving liability if you or your child happens to die — and if you think the risks of dying in an emergency are small enough that they won’t happen to you, that’s fine, it’s your choice. Not everyone wants to walk a tightrope with a safety net, and it’s your choice to do so. You’re putting yourself and your child at risk, and I don’t think you’re doing it in an informed manner if you’re taking advice from cranks like Mike Adams, but still. Do what you will.

I understand why you’d want to avoid a hospital, in the medical climate of the States where giving birth costs a lot of money — more than I’ve put into my current car. And maybe some obstetricians are motivated by that potential profit, like that whole Business of Being Born documentary — though there’s significant reasons to consider that movie overplaying the problem of meddlesome OBs, there’s no reason to deny it’s a problem, as C-sections are expensive after all.

However, in more civilized countries, you can give birth without going bankrupt, thanks to a single payer system that makes hospitals a public common good and not a moneymaking scheme. But even then, going to a hospital means you’re near people trained to deal with medical crises that can come up in the process of childbirth. And there are many possible complications, a number of which are serious enough and common enough that you really are rolling the dice if you give birth outside of a medical environment. This is, again, an issue of common good vs individual freedom — should everyone be forced to pay for everyone else’s medical expenses? I’m strongly of the opinion that yes, the common good outweighs the absurdly small burden placed on the individual.

Skeptics do not believe in hypnosis. This is especially hilarious since they are all prime examples of people who are easily hypnotized by mainstream influences.

What? Hypnosis is a mental state induced in people for a number of reasons, including the perfectly sound reason of manipulating the placebo effect to make someone feel better without actually curing them of whatever’s wrong. Some people believe hypnosis is a state wherein someone is actively role-playing how the hypnotist expects them to behave, but others believe the brain is actually capable of running in a different manner altogether — like booting a computer into “safe mode”. I’m not going to debate who is hypnotized by what influence, considering how low-hanging a fruit it is to suggest that Adams is simply hypnotized by his own inflated sense of self-worth.

Look, seriously, I need to split this one up into multiple parts. This post’s at 2000+ words as it is, and there’s so much fodder here that I can’t possibly expect you to slog through this all. What Adams has done here is called a Gish Gallop — it’s when you spout so many lies in such a rapid-fire fashion that you have to spend many times as long just unpacking it all for proper rebuttal.

The saddest part of Adams’ rant is that he suggests that he’s referred to skeptics’ websites. However, every single word that’s linked in the post is an automatically generated back-reference to some other post on NaturalNews. A pro tip for those of you looking for what’s real and what isn’t on the internet — if it doesn’t at least refer to some site outside your own domain, it’s well possible they’re trying to fool you. Corroborate the assertions from as many neutral third parties as you can find. If you can find third parties willing to actually link you to peer-reviewed studies, you’re on your way to determining whether it’s true or not, but don’t assume that just because something’s published and “peer-reviewed” that it’s actually reviewed by people with experience in a relevant field.

Woo-practitioners are a self-feeding lot — they’ve generated a lot of content over the years, and refer only within their little subculture of unreality. If you aren’t seeing this corroboration from a scientist who is willing to prove stuff with actual evidence, don’t blame the scientist for being closed-minded. Blame the nonsense-peddler who can’t seem to manage to show his work.

More tomorrow. Maybe. My head hurts just from that tiny slice of anti-science slander.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    OverlappingMagisteria

    I love his ending where he basically says “I found all these on skeptic websites, but I’m not gonna say where, so just trust me.”

  2. 2
    Erin

    When I read the re-post on the birthing site, I posted a comment about that sentence and it being poor journalism to not cite references (at risk of being accused of making it up). I also pointed out that the whole ‘article’ was really bigoted and would wind up alienating a bunch of her readers…she deleted it.

  3. 3
    Crommunist

    One can only hope that Adams’ screed gets woo-friendly folks so outraged that they go out and get into a debate with an actual skeptic. Nothing shatters stereotypes quicker than non-conforming actors.

    Mike Adams is a waste of perfectly good carbon.

  4. 4
    Les

    Anyone else notice that Mike’s little skeptic rant is from January of 2010? Is it really still making the rounds?

  5. 5
    Avicenna

    Mike Adams is quite well liked in many alt. med and anti-vaccine circles. I (sadly) read a bunch of anti-vaccine sources for material to angry up my blood and his is one of the most insane pieces of propoganda ever.

    He is basically a schill for a chinese pharmaceutical company to flog snake oil to stupid people who think “the wisdom of the ages” somehow means something.

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    Yep — as stated by Erin, in a parenting forum, which is why she asked me to tear into it. I’m well aware I’m late to the party, but it’s a party I want a piece of.

  7. 7
    Composer99

    Straw turtles all the way down.

  8. 8
    Composer99

    By which I mean Adams’ rant is straw turtles &c.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    Jason Thibeault

    Thanks, Tis. I knew PZ did it, but I didn’t know where, and my Google-Fu simply wasn’t working yesterday when I wrote most of this. Migraine most of the day.

    I’ve also edited the post to include the January 2010 fact, which is recently enough to make me want to tear it apart.

  11. 11
    'Tis Himself

    Adams doesn’t get past the words “skeptics believe” to be wrong. As a rule skeptics do not believe in anything, as belief is not part of skepticism.

  12. 12
    Randomfactor

    Mike Adams is a waste of perfectly good carbon.

    At least some of which originated in coal-fired power plants’ emissions.

  13. 13
    badandfierce

    Skeptics are an argumentative bunch. For instance…

    As I understand it, midwifery when practiced responsibly and in cooperation with the rest of medicine, is generally better for women and babies than a blanket condemnation of the practice as primitive. I haven’t done deep and extensive research, honestly, as I’ve had no call to, but between a project in an anthropology class in undergrad and articles from neutral sources, that’s the impression I’ve gathered. In countries where midwives are vilified and all women are treated by the same doctors, giving birth is more dangerous, whereas in countries with well-trained midwives and lots of communication, the maternity ward handles complicated and dangerous cases whereas more normal births are attended by midwives with an ambulance on call.

  14. 14
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    I suppose the only think skeptics, as a group, can be said to “believe in” is the value of questioning.

    Ah, but even that is up for debate, yeah?

  15. 15
    mechanoid

    Adams’ entire rant is a strawman built out of smaller strawmen making up each individual component.

    A Fractal Strawman? Self similar all the way down.
    See also:
    Fractal Wrongness

  1. 16
    Mike Adams’ Active Imagination regarding Skeptics, part 2 | Lousy Canuck

    [...] is a continuation of this post, being a thorough point-by-point fisking of Mike Adams’ anti-skeptic rant of January 2010. [...]

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