Bad Science, Politics and Magical Thinking

from website archive, April, 2014

How Bad Science and Emotional Appeals Spread Disinformation.

In today’s world, there is more false and misleading “information” than there is good science that is based on facts and not emotions and mythical or wishful beliefs. Much of what you see is either false or overblown. How can you know what to believe? It’s easy for me to say “Do your own research,” but that is often asking too much of most people who do not have analytical minds which have a habit of using critical thinking, much less have training in interpretation of scientific testing and results.  Today’s sensational and social media agenda are often driven by emotions, ideologies, politics, commercial aims or just plain stinking thinking.  The image above can help you understand factors that are important to discern fact from fiction, speculation and mythology.

Anecdotal stories do not constitute facts. Correlation does not mean causation. The flawed reasoning goes something like this: John ate a lot of apples. John got heart disease or cancer. Therefore, apples (or some chemical on them) caused John to develop heart disease or cancer. More examples of people who ate apples and got heart disease or cancer do not constitute proof that they cause disease.  Correlation does not mean causation. Maybe it is just two unrelated facts that are paired for sensational effect or to intentionally mislead you.

In humans, there are a lot of lifestyle and workplace differences between people, so one factor (apple) cannot be said to be a cause of anything without taking into consideration what else could contribute or cause the effect. Other factors such as obesity, alcohol, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, sleep habits, age, heredity, other risky behavior, etc. have to be ruled out in closely controlled studies. Small numbers of examples that seem to support the premise do not constitute “clinical trials” or proof.  To be statistically significant, very large numbers must be included along with control groups that do not use the suspected substance, preferably in a double blind study.  (double blind means neither the subject or the person giving the substance know which are real and which are placebo so their attitude cannot affect the result.)  I’m sorry, but Reader’s Digest and Facebook “statistics” are often flawed and any conclusions must be questioned and examined closely, even if it seems to come from a reliable source or even your grandmother.

It is wise to consider the source. There are powerful advocacy groups pushing agendas having nothing to do with real science or caring for your safety, which they claim.  These include anti-vaxx, organic anti-modern agriculture, anti-pesticide, anti-fossil fuel, in general anti-human progress groups that influence national and international agencies to act out of a preponderance of caution. The precautionary principle, used in the European Union, stops all progress in its tracks. If a substance with no presently known safety issues may possibly, conceivably cause some unforeseen harm in the future it cannot be used. It is also unscientific because it demands proving a negative.

Word to the wise: Be cautious and suspicious of any health claim you read or hear about.  There is often an agenda driven ideology or money-making scheme behind it.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.                             —H. L. Menchen





Facts about Zika virus and Microcephaly

Facts about Zika virus and Microcephaly.microcephaly

Is there a cause and effect link or merely a correlation of unrelated events? Here is the story and the facts so far.  In October 2015 an increase in microcephaly was reported in Brazil. A Brazilian doctor, Adriana Melo, at IPESQ, a research insti­tute in Campina Grande, was the first to report a firm link between Zika and microcephaly. Several months before, there had been an outbreak of Zika virus throughout Brazil. The increase in microcephaly cases occurred only in a coastal state in the northeast of the country. Why not the entire Zika epidemic region?

90% of the 1709 cases of microcephaly and birth defects were concentrated in this limited area. Of this number 1153 were diagnosed as microcephaly. There was no increase in other parts of the country, including an adjoining coastal state with a similar population, which only had 3 cases. This suggests there may be other contributing factors. Socio-economic factors may contribute since most of the mothers of the microcephalic babies were young, single, black and poor, living in small cities near larger cities. Additionally, this same northeastern region has always had the highest incidence of microcephaly in Brazil.

A study by the Latin American Collaborative Study of Congenital Malformations (ECLAMC) called for more controlled studies, and concluded that the data so far is inconclusive of a cause and effect link between Zika infection in the first trimester of pregnancy and microcephaly and similar nervous system defects. For an English translation of the original Portugese summary of the ECLAMC studies, see!/file/NS-724-2015_ECLAMC-ZIKA%20VIRUS_V-FINAL_012516.pdf

This report discusses weaknesses in the methods used by IPESQ, recommendations for further studies and several other factors that may have caused or contributed to the birth defects as listed below.

  • Rumor may have caused over reporting due to active searches and over diagnosis. Brazil health authorities estimate that as many as 2/3 of cases are normally not reported to authorities. If the estimate is correct, this would partially account for an increase, but not the degree reported, so other factors must be involved. However, Brazil reports a rate of 0.5 per 10,000 births compared to EUROCAT of 2.85 per 10,000 births, indicating a gross under reporting.
  • Broadened criteria for microcephaly diagnosis from 3 standard deviations to 2 standard deviations below normal average age and sex adjusted head circumference, and no confirming follow up brain scans or autopsies in most cases.
  • Zika infection in the first trimester of pregnancy cannot be confirmed at the time of birth because the virus is short-lived in the body and will not be present in the mother. Unless the mother was diagnosed early in her pregnancy, occurrence and connection cannot be confirmed.
  • In the original studies other known causes were not ruled out such as STORCH (syphilis, toxoplasmosis, “other,” rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex), prematurity, diabetes of the mother and fetal alcohol syndrome, a major cause of microcephaly in Brazil.
  • Also not ruled out are possible co-infections with dengue or chikungunya, both present in the population in recent outbreaks. The dengue virus is similar to the Zika virus and difficult to differentiate in tests.
  • A low rate of yellow fever vaccination also seems to correlate to this incident. Yellow fever virus is similar to Zika virus and vaccination may offer some immunity to it.
  • At IPESQ Bovine diarrheal virus (BVDV) was found in brain tissue of 3 fetuses in a later study. This virus does not usually infect humans but is known to cause birth defects in cattle. If true, this may be significant, but Dr. Adriana Melo suspects it may be a contaminant in the sampling or testing procedures.
  • Contaminated water was not considered, although it is common for small cities without proper sanitation and water purification to have biologically contaminated water.
  • Nutrition was not considered in this study other than a mention of general socio-economic influences, although the CDC, NIH and other agencies recognize folic acid (a B vitamin) deficiency as one of the leading causes of neural tube defects (NTD), including microcephaly, anencephaly, and spina bifida. In a recent NIH study they found that other micronutrients may decrease the risk of NTD occurrence, including thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), betaine (a B vitamin), vitamin A, retinol (A1), vitamin C, vitamin E and iron.

In conclusion, the “link” between Zika virus and microcephaly is far from proven because the original studies lacked scientific discipline and controls. More studies are needed to clarify what role the virus may play in these birth defects. However, it is probably best to take a precautionary approach until more is known.

Is it time to bring back DDT to eradicate the mosquitos that carry Zika and other diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and other diseases? Over 80% of infectious diseases are caused by insects. Assumed adverse environmental and health effects of this important insecticide have failed to materialize in many repeated controlled studies over the last 40 years. See “DDT: A Case Study in Scientific Fraud,” by J. Gordon Edwards, PhD entomology, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Volume 9 Number 3 Fall 2004, at


“Eclamc Final Document – V.3, Summary and conclusions of Documents 1-5,” December 30th, 2015!/file/NS-724-2015_ECLAMC-ZIKA%20VIRUS_V-FINAL_012516.pdf

“Neural Tube Defects and Maternal Intake of Micronutrients Related to One-Carbon Metabolism or Antioxidant Activity,” US National Institute of Health, Angela L. Chandler1, Charlotte A. Hobbs1, Bridget S. Mosley1, Robert J. Berry2, Mark A.Canfield3, Yan Ping Qi2, Anna Maria Siega-Riz4, Gary M. Shaw5, and National Birth Defects Prevention Study, in Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol. 2012 November ; 94(11): 864–874. doi:10.1002/bdra.23068.

  1. Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Little Rock, AR 72202
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia
  3. Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, Texas Department of State Health Services, Austin, Texas
  4. Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition, University of North Carolina School of Public Health, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  5. Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, California

“Brazil’s birth-defects puzzle, Zika virus might not be only factor in reported microcephaly surge.” By Declan Butler, 28 July 2016, Nature, Vol. 535, Page 475-6.

“Zika epidemic uncovers Brazil’s hidden birth defect problem,” by Alex Cuadros, March 1, 2016, Washington Post

Disease Transmission by Arthropods,” E. J. L. Soulsby and William R. Harvey, Science 176, no. 4039 (1972): 1153–1155.

“DDT: A Case Study in Scientific Fraud,” by J. Gordon Edwards, PhD entomology, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Volume 9 Number 3 Fall 2004, at