I’m a scientist, I believe in proof

Near as I can tell from the trailer for I, Origins, the movie is about an affectless neuroscientist who takes pictures of eyes for Science, and then because he finds someone with similar irises to his dead lover, decides that reincarnation has been proven.

All I know is that whoever wrote this dreck has no idea about how scientists think.

Oh, joy. Another What the Bleep Do We Know, a bad and stupid movie that clueless nitwits will be throwing in my face for years to come to inform me that science is wrong.

Should you circumcise your child?

Probably not. But the New York Times reports:

A review of studies has found that the health benefits of infant male circumcision vastly outweigh the risks involved in the procedure.

Actually, it doesn’t. Not at all. The paper is all about the frequency of circumcision in the US; this is the only real data in the paper, and notice that a good chunk of it is speculation.

Prevalence of adult circumcision in the United States during the past 6 decades (1948-2010). The solid line represents documented prevalence among adults; dashed line, [Morris's] predictions.

Prevalence of adult circumcision in the United States during the past 6 decades (1948-2010). The solid line represents documented prevalence among adults; dashed line, [Morris's] predictions.

It does toss in a table purporting to show the tremendous risks of not circumcising baby boys, but this is not new — these are the same sloppy data that the author has been peddling for over a decade. With some trepidation, I give you a sample from his 2007 paper: don’t trust these numbers!

circrisks

The author is Brian Morris, better known as the Man Who Hates Foreskins. He’s a real crusader, who touts foreskin removal as just as important as vaccination — that leaving it intact imperils the child to a 1 in 3 chance of a serious condition requiring medical attention. You might immediately question how he arrives at this conclusion — by multiplying a series of dubious assertions together — and the likelihood of it being true, given that circumcision is a culturally variable practice, and that countries where it’s rare (for instance, in Scandinavia, where the frequency of circumcisions is around 2%) don’t typically have emergency rooms crowded with young boys whose penises are in painful, infected, states, raddled with disease.

I suppose it could be because glorious Scandinavian penises are perfect and universally wholesome — that’s what I’ve been told, anyway — but that would be baseless speculation and unwarranted extrapolation of anecdotes into unsupportable evidence, of the sort that Brian Morris does.

Take that first condition, the likelihood of urinary tract infections. That’s taken from a sample of 36 children, half of whom had an unknown circumcision status, and the difference was not found to be statistically significant. Yet here he just presents it as established fact, that uncircumcised children have a ten-fold greater rate of urinary tract infections.

Or look at his claim of much greater rates of HIV infection. There actually is some interesting mechanistic reasoning behind that: the foreskin represents an enlarged area of delicate membrane which could be an avenue of entry for some viruses. But the real test would be an epidemiological study: there are lots of circumcised men around, and lots of uncircumcised men, when we look at the rates of infection, is there a significant difference? It hasn’t been done very often, but when it is, the hypothesis often fails to be supported. Here’s one example of a scientist who thought heightened sensitivity to STIs was a reasonable hypothesis (his “hunch”), but found it didn’t pan out at all when examined.

Armed with this hunch, rather than set up a website I chose to do some research. Australia is a good place to do such research because there is a roughly even population split for the intervention (circumcision) and in most cases it is not a maker of ethnicity, wealth, education or religion. Unexpectedly, our research findings were uniformly negative. Circumcision did not protect against STDs in our clinic population, though we did not look at HIV because it is rare in heterosexual men in Sydney.

Then there are some of Morris’s very peculiar ideas. This is the abstract from a paper advocating more circumcision; note that one of his arguments is basically that women find uncircumcised penises ugly. As usual, no evidence for that is presented.

Circumcision of males represents a surgical “vaccine” against a wide variety of infections, adverse medical conditions and potentially fatal diseases over their lifetime, and also protects their sexual partners. In experienced hands, this common, inexpensive procedure is very safe, can be pain-free and can be performed at any age. The benefits vastly outweigh risks. The enormous public health benefits include protection from urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted HIV, HPV, syphilis and chancroid, penile and prostate cancer, phimosis, thrush, and inflammatory dermatoses. In women circumcision of the male partner provides substantial protection from cervical cancer and chlamydia. Circumcision has socio-sexual benefits and reduces sexual problems with age. It has no adverse effect on penile sensitivity, function, or sensation during sexual arousal. Most women prefer the circumcised penis for appearance, hygiene and sex. Given the convincing epidemiological evidence and biological support, routine circumcision should be highly recommended by all health professionals.

I suspect that women’s preferences are going to be shaped by culture, by familiarity, rather than some objective hideousness of the foreskin, and what the heck is appearance doing in a paper that is supposed to be summarizing medical evidence, anyway?

It’s also an argument that can cut both ways. When presented with evidence that one phenomenon, dyspareunia (painful intercourse) was found to be more common in partners of circumcised men than uncircumcised men, Morris waved it away by arguing that women in countries with lower rates of circumcision might be disturbed by the sight of a cut penis.

Morris et al. should be commended for their creative attempt to dismiss the higher prevalence of frequent dyspareunia in women with circumcised (12%) than uncircumcised (4%) spouses (ORs between 4.17 and 9.00). They suggest that Danish women with circumcised spouses may be so psychologically troubled by the shape of their spouse’s penis that it might result in painful intercourse. A more plausible explanation would be that reduced penile sensitivity may raise the need among some circumcised men for more vigorous and, to some women, painful stimulation during intercourse in their pursuit of orgasm.

But then, that’s Brian Morris all over the place. He actively tries to suppress work that doesn’t support his conclusions, he inflates any evidence that suggests circumcision might have a few benefits (there are some!), and dismisses any evidence to the contrary…or worse, twists it around to claim it supports the opposite of the author’s interpretations. All this in defiance of worldwide statements from pediatric organizations that say the evidence for health benefits from circumcision are weak, and that routine circumcision is not recommended.

One other weird thing: why are circumcision advocates so obsessed with this procedure? It’s certainly not that the benefits are as solidly established as they are for vaccination; reading the literature, the most striking observation is the murkiness and insignificance of the evidence. If you’ve got lots of studies, and they vary up and down in their conclusions, and are constantly skirting the margins of likelihood, what’s the best explanation: that there is a strong effect that can only be detected by true believers, or that we’re dealing with no effect at all and people are cherry-picking peaks and troughs from statistical noise? I lean towards the latter. The former is also the excuse used by psychics, UFOlogists, and Bigfoot hunters.

It also doesn’t help that Morris has been affiliated with the Gilgal Society a pro-circumcision organization that also published a book of ‘erotic’ circumcision stories.

Yes, you read that right. Circumcision child porn. Short excerpt below, in rot13.

Ur unq abg ernpurq choregl ohg fbba jbhyq: n srj unvef jrer fgnegvat gb tebj ng gur onfr bs uvf cravf. Arvy jnf gura nfxrq gb yvr ba gur pbhpu sbe gur cravf gb or cubgbtencurq. …gur qbpgbe grfgrq gur svg bs gjb fvmrf bs Tbzpb Pynzc oryy. Qhevat guvf cebprqher Arvy rerpgrq, ohg jnf abg rzoneenffrq ol vg naq znqr ab nggrzcg gb uvqr vg.
Znex pnzr va arkg naq ntnva qebccrq uvf gebhfref ernqvyl. Ur unq ernpurq choregl naq jnf dhvgr jryy qrirybcrq. … Vgf yvxr na ryrcunagf gehax jnf gur qbpgbef pbzzrag, gb juvpu Znex urnegvyl nterrq. … Cubgbtencuf bs uvf cravf jrer gnxra…
Ur unq ernyvfrq nsgre frk rqhpngvba yrffbaf ng fpubby gung ur unq n ceboyrz.
…gur oblf jrer tvira cyragl bs jvar gb erynk gurz. …gur qvfphffvba jnf nobhg gur frk yvirf bs gur oblf naq gurve fpubby sevraqf. Gur qbpgbe nfxrq ubj bsgra gur oblf jnaxrq. … Gur qbpgbe fubjrq gur oblf uvf zvpebfpbcr naq nfxrq vs gurl unq rire frra fcrez haqre bar. … Ur fhttrfgrq gb Znex gung vs ur jnagrq gb, ur pbhyq unir n dhvrg jnax juvyfg Arvy jnf orvat pvephzpvfrq… Guvf jnf rntreyl npprcgrq. … Ur ynl onpx jvgu uvf rlrf pybfrq naq whfg yrg gur qbpgbe trg ba.

Morris has been trying very hard to dissociate himself from Gilgal, at least, but still…eww.

“Gilgal”, by the way, is apparently Hebrew for “hill of foreskins”. Really? They needed a word for that? Double eww.


Frisch M (2012) Author’s Response to: Does sexual function survey in Denmark offer any support for male circumcision having an adverse effect? Int. J. Epidemiol 41 (1): 312-314.

Morris BJ (2007) Why circumcision is a biomedical imperative for the 21st century. Bioessays 29(11):1147-58.

Morris BJ, Bailis SA, Wiswell TE (2014) Circumcision Rates in the United States: Rising or Falling? What Effect Might the New Affirmative Pediatric Policy Statement Have? Mayo Clin Proc doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.01.001. [Epub ahead of print]

When will this situation improve?

Maybe never. I know a lot of you hate facebook (with good reason), so I’ll just copy this straight from facebook so you can read it here.

From former JREF Outreach Coordinator Brian Thompson:

“Let me explain why I’m supporting Karen Stollznow’s legal defense fund. Maybe some of my Facebook friends don’t know who she is or what this is all about. Karen is a linguist, writer, and investigator who looks into claims of the paranormal, the supernatural, and the outrageous with a skeptical eye. Skeptics like her do a lot of good for the world in ways large and small. They’re the ones fighting against the kind of scientific ignorance that keeps people from vaccinating their kids, for example. And if it weren’t for skeptical investigators, I might still be cowered in fear every night thinking aliens were going to abduct me or ghosts were going to throw things around my bedroom. Now I’m just cowered in fear thinking that I might never be on one of those interior design makeover shows. This is progress.

I believe so strongly in the good work these skeptics do that several years ago I started hanging out with them, working on activism projects with them, and drinking lots and lots of booze with them. I went to their conferences and meetings and pre-swingers’ parties, and for a couple of years I even worked in an official capacity with one of the world’s most well-known skeptical activism nonprofits, the James Randi Educational Foundation.

In that time I got to know a lot of great people. I’m not going to name them all, because I know I’ll leave out Christian Walters, and then our lovemaking will take a passive-aggressive turn. But a lot of people who share this common interest in making the world a better place through rationalism are kind, honest, funny, talented, and valuable friends. Then there are people like Christian who are maybe just two or three of those.

But I no longer identify with this community of benevolent know-it-alls, because not all of them are the best folks in the world. In fact, a good percentage of the top ten worst humans I’ve ever met are prominent members of the skeptics’ club. They’re dishonest, mean-spirited, narcissistic, misogynistic. Pick a personality flaw, and I can probably point you to someone who epitomizes it. And that person has probably had a speaking slot at a major skeptical conference.

I grew particularly disgusted with the boys’ club attitude I saw among skeptical leaders and luminaries. The kind of attitude that’s dismissive of women, sexually predatory, and downright gross. When I first started going to skeptical conferences as a fresh-faced know-it-all, I started hearing things about people I once admired. Then I started seeing things myself. Then I got a job with the JREF, and the pattern continued.

There’s a particular guy popular with the skeptical crowd who writes books, gives talks, and wears bicycle shorts. What’s not to love? Well, a female friend of mine told me she didn’t like it very much when he locked eyes with her from across a room and pointed to his dick. When I started working for the JREF, my boss described this same guy as an “old school misogynist”. Then a friend told me this same skeptical celebrity had groped another speaker at a conference. Grabbed her breast without invitation. Sexually assaulted her. Then my boss told me that not only did this assault happen, but that he witnessed it and intervened. The woman who was assaulted won’t name names for fear of being dragged through the mud. Another woman I know has told me that this same guy assaulted her. Others have confirmed her story to me. I believe her. But she’s remained anonymous for much the same reasons.

I’m tired of this. I’m tired of hearing about sexual predators like Mr. Bicycle Shorts, who has yet again been invited to speak at the JREF’s annual conference. I’m tired of hearing things like what I’ve heard from [redacted]. That my old boss grabbed his junk in a car and said he would be “presidentially displeased” if [redacted] didn’t give my old boss a kiss.

I’m tired of people like Richard Dawkins, whose lashing out at my friend Rebecca Watson for having the nerve to talk about what kind of male attention makes her uncomfortable has led to years of the most heinous abuse being flung at her and her colleagues. Heinous, woman-hating abuse from enthusiastic members of this broken little community of freethinkers.

Pardon my Yiddish, but oy, that shit’s fucked. And it’s also fucked that people are afraid to speak out about their stories for fear that it will become the focus of their careers or that their privacy will be destroyed or that they’ll be sued or that they’ll somehow damage organizations that do a lot of good work.

This makes me sick, and it makes me mad. So of course I’m going to help Karen speak up and fight back.

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: Karen used to work with another writer and investigator named Ben Radford at an organization called CFI. Karen says Radford continually harassed and abused her. She brought the situation to CFI, which found Radford guilty of some of Karen’s charges. Then they let him off with a slap on the wrist. Karen blogged about this. Radford sued her for defamation.

Based on the evidence I’ve seen, my own experience with Radford’s dishonest and creepy behavior, and the assurances from friends of mine who know more about this situation than I do, I’m willing to believe Karen. And more than that, I’m willing to put my money behind her efforts to fight back in court. Because she deserves the chance to make her case instead of having to fold under insurmountable financial pressure. Defending yourself in court isn’t cheap.

Also, I don’t like bullies or creeps. Especially the kinds of bullies and creeps who have been protected by their peers and allies in a community that places pseudo-celebrity and books about how lake monsters aren’t real above the well-being of women who are at least as vital to fighting the good fight. A fight, by the way, that’s about the righteousness of the truth.

So I’ve given to Karen’s fund. You can do the same here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/give-a-voice-to-harassment-victims/x/6875853

As long as atheism is about nothing but disbelieving in gods, and as long as skepticism is about nothing but demanding evidence, as long as there is no human heart behind the goals of these organizations, this behavior will continue. We must have secular values beyond simply rejecting claims; we must recognize the import and implications of living in a material, natural world; there must be secular values that give us purpose.

Guess who’s speaking at the NSTA National Conference

amyfarrahfowler

The featured speaker at this year’s National Science Teacher Association conference in Boston is…Mayim Bialik.

The lucky ones among you are saying right now, “who?”. Others may know her from her television work, but maybe don’t know the full story behind her ‘science’ activism.

She’s an actor who plays Sheldon’s girlfriend on Big Bang Theory. Right there, as far as I’m concerned, we have a major strike against her: I detest that show. It’s the equivalent of a minstrel show for scientists, where scientists are portrayed as gross caricatures of the real thing — socially inept, egotistical jerks who think rattling off an equation is a sign of intelligence. I think it’s literally an anti-science communication show. Who in their right mind would want to be anything like Sheldon, the narcissistic nerd? Who would want to work with people like that? The message it’s sending instead is that if you are a superficial asshole, you should become a scientist, where you will be loved for personality traits that would get you shunned in civilized company. (We also see the same phenomenon in atheism, where so many people think it’s a great excuse to be the insensitive Vulcan.)

But OK, that’s a matter of taste, I will admit, and maybe not enough of a reason to be appalled to think she is going to be speaking to science teachers (although it’s enough for me). And she does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience, you have to respect that.

But…

Mayim Bialik does not vaccinate her kids. She’s the spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network. I know what you’re thinking: “holistic” doesn’t sound so bad. But take it away, Orac!

Just one look at its advisory board should tell you all you need to know. For instance, there’s Dr. Lauren Feder, who bills herself as specializing in “primary care medicine, pediatrics and homeopathy” and has been a frequent contributor to that bastion of quackery and antivaccine looniness, Mothering Magazine, where she recommended homeopathic remedies to treat whooping cough. It doesn’t get much quackier than that. But Feder is just the beginning. Also on the Holistic Moms advisory board is the grand dame of the antivaccine movement herself, the woman who arguably more than anyone else is responsible for starting the most recent iteration of the antivaccine movement in the U.S. Yes, I’m talking about Barbara Loe Fisher, the founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a bastion of antivaccine propaganda since the 1980s. She’s not the only antivaccine activist on the advisory board, though. There’s also Peggy O’Mara, publisher of Mothering Magazine and Sherri Tenpenny, who is described right on the Holistic Moms website as, “one of America’s most knowledgeable and outspoken physicians, warning against the negative impact of vaccines on health.” Then there’s Dr. Lawrence Rosen, “integrative” pediatrician who appeared at the NVIC “vaccine safety conference” back in 2009 with Barbara Loe Fisher and Andrew Wakefield. In fact, Barbara Loe Fisher, Sherri Tenpenny, and Lauren Feder are featured very prominently on the Holistic Moms Network page on vaccination.

But that’s not all. If there’s one more thing that should tell you all you need to know about the Holistic Moms Network approach to science-based medicine, then take a look at its sponsors: Boiron (manufacturer of the homeopathic remedy for flu known as Oscillococcinum), the Center for Homeopathic Education (and I bet it is homeopathic too), the National Center for Homeopathy, and a whole bunch of other purveyors of woo and quackery.

And he has a lot more to say, as usual.

So why is this woo-peddling, vaccination-denying sitcom star being featured as a speaker at NSTA? I don’t know. Because she has a Ph.D. and pretends to be socially inept on TV? That doesn’t seem to be a good reason. Will Jenny McCarthy be invited to deliver a keynote next year? How about Ken Ham — he’s very into ‘science’ education, you know. Gosh, if we’re going to open the door to quacks, the pool of potential speakers just expanded immensely! Joseph Mercola? Andrew Weil? Deepak Chopra!

Tsk, NSTA. Do you vet your speakers at all?

The paper they don’t want you to read!

The climate change denialists are a bit thin-skinned; they’ve also been exposed as a bit on the wacko side. The journal Frontiers in Psychology is about to retract a paper that found that denialists tend to have a cluster of weird beliefs (NASA faked the moon landings, the CIA was in charge of the assassination of political figures in the US, etc.) because the denialists screamed very loudly.

This outrage first arose in response to a paper, NASA faked the moon landing–Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science (pdf) which analyzed voluntary surveys submitted by readers of climate science blogs, in which the respondents freely admitted to having a collection of other beliefs, in addition to climate change denial. That paper found something else interesting, and was the primary correlation observed: a lot of denialists are libertarians. Are you surprised?

Rejection of climate science was strongly associated with endorsement of a laissez-faire view of unregulated free markets. This replicates previous work (e.g., Heath & Gifford, 2006) although the strength of association found here (r ~.80) exceeds that reported in any extant study. At least in part, this may reflect the use of SEM, which enables measurement of the associations between constructs free of measurement error (Fan, 2003).

A second variable that was associated with rejection of climate science as well as other scientific propositions was conspiracist ideation. Notably, this relationship emerged even though conspiracies that related to the queried scientific propositions (AIDS, climate change) did not contribute to the conspiracist construct. By implication, the role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science did not simply reflect “convenience” theories that provided specific alternative “explanations” for a scientific consensus. Instead, this finding suggests that a general propensity to endorse any of a number of conspiracy theories predisposes people to reject entirely unrelated scientific facts.

Oh, how they howled. Even libertarians seem to be embarrassed at being affiliated with libertarians, I guess. And conspiracy theorists, too? Why, the accusation itself is clearly evidence that there’s a conspiracy out to get them. They protested that because the respondents to the survey all found it through mainstream science blogs, all the responses were false flag operations put out by Big Climate.

What they didn’t realize was that they were generating more data to support the hypothesis. The authors of the first paper then wrote a second paper, the one that is now being retracted by the cowardly publisher, called Recursive Fury: Conspiracist Ideation in the Blogosphere in Response to Research on Conspiracist Ideation, in which they scanned public posts and comments on the first article, and analyzed the text for evidence of conspiracist tropes (it’s a nefarious scheme, they’re out to get us, it’s an organized movement to defeat us, etc.) and found that yes, conspiracist reasoning was quite common on climate change denial blogs.

They also rebutted some claims. The claim that the authors never bothered to contact the denialist blogs to host their survey was shot down pretty easily: they had the email, and further, they had replies from denialists who later claimed they never received any request to host the survey.

Initial attention of the blogosphere also focused on the method reported by LOG12, which stated: “Links were posted on 8 blogs (with a pro-science science stance but with a diverse audience); a further 5 “skeptic” (or “skeptic”-leaning) blogs were approached but none posted the link.” Speculation immediately focused on the identity of the 5 “skeptic” bloggers. Within short order, 25 “skeptical” bloggers had come publicly forward9 to state that they had not been approached by the researchers. Of those 25 public declarations, 5 were by individuals who were invited to post links to the study by LOG12 in 2010. Two of these bloggers had engaged in correspondence with the research assistant for further clarification.

Those emails were also revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request.

The squawking reached a new crescendo. Steve McIntyre wrote a strongly worded formal letter demanding that the defamatory article be removed, and accusing the authors of malice. Further, they complained that analyzing the content of blog posts and comments, public, openly accessible work, was an ethics violation.

Ludicrous as those claims are, Frontiers in Psychology is apparently about to fold to them. For shame.

You know, my university had a meeting with our institutional lawyers yesterday — I was called in to attend the information session for some reason, like having a reputation as a trouble-maker or something — and I was impressed with their professionalism and their commitment to actually defending the faculty and staff of the university. I guess not every organization is lucky enough to have good lawyers of principle.

Oh, well. All I can say is that, thanks to the denialist ratfuckers, now everyone is going to be far more interested in reading the two papers by Lewandowsky and others. I recommend that you read Motivated rejection of science (pdf) and Recursive fury(pdf) now, or anytime — they’re archived on the web. You might also stash away a copy yourself. You make a denialist cry every time you make a copy, you know.


The first author on the papers, Stephan Lewandowsky, has a few comments.

The strategies employed in those attacks follow a common playbook, regardless of which scientific proposition is being denied and regardless of who the targeted scientists are: There is cyber-bullying and public abuse by “trolling” (which recent research has linked to sadism); there is harassment by vexatious freedom-of-information (FOI) requests; there are the complaints to academic institutions; legal threats; and perhaps most troubling, there is the intimidation of journal editors and publishers who are acting on manuscripts that are considered inconvenient.

#upfordebate: @DonLemon Did a chupacabra eat Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

It’s kind of neat how a twitter hashtag and my contempt for cable news are colliding right now. Apparently, True Skeptics™ are supposed to be willing to debate anything and everything, even if it gives unwarranted credibility to nonsense. The True Skeptics™ must be loving CNN right now, because with the unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, they are just going to town with weird speculation. Everyone seems to be doing it.

So cable news has to fill up 24 hours of endless talk with something, and this is the perfect opportunity for them: call in a panel of ‘experts’, have an open-minded moderator who feeds all the speculation, and then blather away in the complete absence of information. CNN bubblehead Don Lemon has become the go-to guy for every crazy theory out there, going so far as to ask about the possibility of a supernatural explanation, and here he is babbling about black holes, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Twilight Zone.

There are six nobodies sitting in on this panel. If I were one of them, I would not say that the ideas were unlikely but that I just love the theories — I’d stand up, throw off my microphone, and flip off Don Lemon as I left the set.

Open-mindedness to a degree is a virtue, but not to such an extent that it’s like you’ve got an open head wound and are stumbling about hemorrhaging copiously and smearing flecks of greasy brain tissue on the walls you’re bumping into.

This is why I don’t watch any of the 24 hour news channels. It’s like a bad zombie movie come to life.

The chupacabra beat must be a valuable and difficult one

It’s a mystery. Ben Radford has been a pimple on the butt of CFI for quite some time. Remember the time he picked a fight with a four year old, and made a series of bogus arguments about pink? How about his denial of the influence of media, in which he misrepresented a science paper? It’s been a pretty poor run for a skeptic.

That’s just a commentary on the quality of his output. More damning is that he is guilty of sexually harassing Karen Stollznow for years (a fact that led to CFI temporarily suspending him). Despite all that, he still has a job at CFI. Totally mysterious.

And now, in the latest news from while I was out of town, Ben Radford writes a bizarre, anecdote-laden mess of an article about false rape accusations. Yes, they happen…rarely. They’re important to detect. But rape — now that’s a much bigger and much more important problem. A topsy-turvy inside-out post emphasizing the injustice (willingly conceded!) of false rape accusations is what I’d expect of an MRA blog, not Skeptical Inquirer.

It’s got to be bad when your own boss disavows your article: Ron Lindsay tore it apart. And just to add an avalanche on top of that slingstone, Orac writes a leventy-kajillion word post deploring the whole mess. A guy with a sexual harassment history hanging over his head, pretending that false accusations are a serious problem? Not credible. Bad idea to have even written it (and I’m wondering who on the editorial staff let that choice sail through?)

The biggest mystery right now, though, is why Ben Radford still has a job. When he’s not stalking women and making embarrassingly bad arguments on the internet, he writes about mundane skeptical issues like chupacabras and bigfoot and UFOs. That must be an extremely important set of topics for CFI, requiring rare skills that only a scarce few individuals possess. Or maybe it’s extremely hazardous — is it a dirty job that actually requires wrasslin’ monsters? Because, otherwise, I don’t know why they’re keeping a toxic hack around.

The sum of all natural numbers is not -1/12

Oh, good. There’s this claim going around that the sum of all natural numbers (1+2+3+4+5…) converges on the value -1/12. I saw that and said to myself that it’s obviously wrong, but saw the smooth patter and rapid-fire use of mathematical jargon and infinities, and no mathematician myself, couldn’t see where the error slithered in. Mathematician to the rescue: Mark Chu-Carroll explains why the story doesn’t work. Short answer: they falsely equated a summation with a converging series.

Inconsistency is death in mathematics: any time you allow inconsistencies in a mathematical system, you get garbage: any statement becomes mathematically provable. Using the equality of an infinite series with its Cesaro sum, I can prove that 0=1, that the square root of 2 is a natural number, or that the moon is made of green cheese.

What makes this worse is that it’s obvious. There is no mechanism in real numbers by which addition of positive numbers can roll over into negative. It doesn’t matter that infinity is involved: you can’t following a monotonically increasing trend, and wind up with something smaller than your starting point.

I could see the point he makes in the second paragraph, but it takes much deeper knowledge to pick out the flaw in the argument.

(Dang — I don’t even have a category for math here. Should I start one? Not that I can talk about math very often.)