It's Been 50 Years, Time to Drop The Conspiracy Theories

Today, newspapers including the NYT and WaPo are commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death both on their front pages and opinion pages I was thinking if it’s finally time to confront one of the most persistent, and widespread conspiracy theories out there – that of a larger conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination.

However, I’m not interested in addressing specific allegations of the conspiracy theorists, as Fred Kaplan does or Vincent Bugliosi in his thorough debunking of JFK conspiracies and Oliver Stone’s absurd JFK.(If you can find it it’s great: Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy) While Bugliosi’s book is excellent, I can save your 50 bucks and hours of reading by summing up the central point – Conspiracy theorists have consistently fabricated, misrepresented, or misunderstood the relevant evidence to serve their interests, time and time again. And why should we be surprised? In our years of interacting with conspiracies from 9/11 truth to birtherism, the pattern is always the same. First comes the conclusion, then the evidence is bent, cherry-picked, falsified, or invented from whole cloth to fit that conclusion. Whether it’s changing the position of the occupants of the car to create a bizarre ballistic trajectory, showing the undamaged side of a bullet in a photograph to suggest it was undamaged after its recovery, wrongly suggest Oswald or similarly competent shooter could not make the shot despite replication of the act and even improvement on his time and accuracy by other shooters, or any of the various tenuous links that show ties between Oswald and the CIA or the Soviets or the mafia or whatever, it’s the same problem we’ve always seen with conspiratorial thinking. The only data that are incorporated are those that are convenient to the theory, and, in 50 years, there does not exist a solid, well-proven alternative explanation of the assassination or Oswald’s involvement that explain the data.

We’ve seen 9 presidents since then, the fall of the soviet union, the advent of more modern forensic and technological analysis, and the evidence still overwhelmingly shows that Oswald, a Marxist, failed defector, crackpot and loser, bought a cheap rifle, made a failed attempt to assassinate Edwin Walker, successfully shot the president and wounded Governor John Connally, was seen leaving the scene, while fleeing got in an altercation with a police officer, who he shot in front of multiple witnesses, and was ultimately apprehended within hours by police. While his motivations will never be certain, his links to various governments, spy agencies, or criminal organizations remain unproven.

Despite 50 years, multiple changes of administrations, governments, investigations and re-investigations, there is still no better explanation than that a solitary loser shot a powerful, important man, because he wanted to make a statement, or because he could.

You understand the motivation of the conspiracy theorists in this case. It’s such an unsatisfactory and disturbing revelation. Even small men, men like Oswald, can have a dramatic impact on history. And as we’ve seen in intervening decades various examples of actual government conspiracies, from anti-Castro assassination attempts to Iran-Contra, it seems like such a behavior is within the capacity of our government. Critically, this argument fails for three reasons. One, the government, as demonstrated by the common knowledge of these supposedly secret activities is completely incapable of keeping anything secret for anything but short periods of time, and certainly a secret as big as an internecine assassination by agents of our government would be virtually impossible to conceive, plan, or subsequently cover-up. Second, the physical evidence tying Oswald to the shooting is incontravertible, it was his rifle, his ammunition (also tied to the Walker attempt), his workplace, he was seen entering and fleeing the scene, and even shot a police officer in his attempt to flee. Third, the idea that anyone would rely on Oswald as an assassin is ludicrous. He wasn’t some professional receiving guidance or pay from some well-equipped or funded organization. He bought a cheap rifle from a mail-order catalog, not because it would hide his tracks, but because he couldn’t afford better (and it was tracked right back to him despite his attempt at using an alias). He wasn’t even clever enough to arrange a straw purchase. He was a rabid Marxist and anti-fascist, not the type the CIA would employ to lick stamps, let alone carry out the highest-profile assassination in history.

After 50 years where is the solid data the conspiracy theorists have? Is Oliver Stone’s JFK their best effort? If so then all they have is the story of a loony, homophobic southern prosecutor/media whore, whose failed attempts to link a presidential assassination to an unfortunate, and innocent businessman in New Orleans was glorified by the film-maker rather than condemned for being the worst kind of bigotry and incompetence. Jim Garrison is a dubious character to hang your hat on, with a prosecutorial career only exceptional for accusing dozens of people of various crimes, using dubious witnesses, and with no successful prosecutions (unless you count the one against him for defamation). His conspiracy theory was similarly ludicrous and tied together so many groups and agencies (from Earl Warren to NASA) the idea it could remain secret for 2 hours defies belief.

What else is there? In 50 years, what solid evidence of anyone but Oswald being involved is left? What incontrovertible data has arisen in 5 decades that is more plausible than Oswald as the shooter? Is it time to stop tolerating our nation’s most socially-acceptable, loony conspiracy theory?

Environmentalists Must Face Down the Anti-Science in Their Own House

How can environmental groups and media outlets maintain that they are advocates of science, and not ideology, when they engage in the anti-science Luddism of GMO fearmongering? The potential of this anti-science behavior to poison their credibility on global climate change is real, as there is an obvious comparison between their flawed risk assessment on GM foods being compared to their legitimate risk assessments on issues of global climate change and pollution.

One of the major arguments of environmental groups on global warming is that there is overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. This consensus, which is represented by the IPCC and supported by the national academies and scientific societies of every country in the world, is that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that human activities add enough of this heat-trapping gas to warm the planet. This is a valid argument. When one finds oneself on the opposite of the scientific consensus of such esteemed bodies as the NAS, the Royal Society, the IPCC, etc., you should be worried. If you don’t have an overwhelming level of evidence and a solid body of literature backing you up, you should consider a period of introspection and self-evaluation, because you might just be a crank or denialist. Most cranks don’t have this capability, instead they have conspiracy theories, and a set of ready-made logical fallacies to throw at their critics like “you’re just a shill for x”, where x is variably big pharma, monsanto, corporations in general, big government, grant money, environmental groups, the democratic party, the republican party, or whatever other bogeyman the crank hates. If they throw in a reference to how they’re just like Galileo, we’ll happily give them the crank stamp and call it a day.

That’s why it’s so disturbing when purportedly pro-science environmental media groups like Grist engage in this exact same behavior. In his promotion of the underwhelming evidence presented recently against GMO corn and soy, Tom Laskawy wrote against the “GMO-lovers” (uggh it’s just like Warmist) “freaking out” over these results.

Umm, no. Freaking out would suggest that a study had been performed that created enough evidence that the extensive literature on safety has in any way been put in doubt. This is not the case. What’s Laskawy’s read of the situation?

OK, everyone have a seat and take a few deep breaths. Go to your calming place. Ready? Good. Because I’m about to talk about a new study that suggests that eating genetically modified crops might not be the best thing for us.

You’ll remember, I’m sure, the recent brouhaha over a French study by scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini that purported to find evidence that a GMO-based diet caused tumors in rats. Critics immediately raised significant questions about that study and the consensus quickly became that it was poorly conceived and executed. It was also the study that caused several science writers to conclude that anti-GMO sentiment was the moral equivalent of climate denial. Good times.

Already we’re in trouble. The study in no way suggests that GM might be harmful to us, because the study doesn’t suggest anything at all. The study authors might make that suggestion, but the results of the study are just as likely to be due to chance as from any effect of GM food, and in the days since I’ve learned their assay of inflammation was only based on redness at gross pathology. In my first read I had been too charitable and thought they had actually performed histology to assess for inflammation, silly me. Similarly, the the Seralini paper was a joke, its press-release promotion was despicable, it was ample demonstration of the ideological bias and political motivation of those performing the study. When science writers like me discuss the equivalence between GMO scarmongering and global warming denialism, it’s not a moral one. We’re criticizing the methods, not their motivations or good intentions. So we already have overstatement of a paper that literally shows nothing, followed by a straw man about how we science writers are just big mean bullies calling them “immoral”. Sorry, we have a legitimate beef with the anti-science methods of the anti-GM advocates, and the methods, not surprisingly, are the same as with global warming deniers. That’s because, when one wants to oppose a body of evidence, the tactics of denialism are pretty much universal, that’s what we’ve been writing about here for the last 6 years.

For the most part we have no issue with the morals of the anti-GM advocates, if anything, they only really have good intentions, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This may be why there is is one clear difference between global warming denialists and GM advocates as far as I know. Marc Morano and Steve Milloy tend to confine their insane stupidity to websites and TV appearances, while anti-GM advocates have frequently used violence, including arson, property damage and destruction of scientific experiments rather than engage in dialogue. The global warming denialists might be mean, and routinely slander scientists like Michael Mann, but they have yet to show up in his lab and set it on fire.

Anyway, after a summary of the study, Laskaway continues:

Nonetheless, even critics of the study agree that it was conducted in a rigorous way, and the findings are intriguing and worth pursuing. The researchers did, after all, find high rates of severe inflammation.

Well if you actually read what the critics said in that link you find something interesting, they said, “The paper does not support the claim that GM crops cause stomach inflammation or increased uterus weight.” Who cares if they complemented its design if they felt the results were so weak that it didn’t support it’s own conclusions? If anything, that would be more damning to the study. Nor do I see where they said these results are “intriguing” or “worth pursuing”. Maybe Laskaway is taking the classic, “needs more study”, deflection of scientists seriously. By the way, when scientists say that, it’s usually a more polite way to say, “nice try, but you haven’t proven anything yet”. Then look to see who is exaggerating to see where the bullshit it. Huffpo described this paper as “damning” to GMOs. Um, are we reading the same paper? The author, Carman, on her website refers to the paper as a “landmark study”. A paper that shows nothing has been declared, by the authors no less, to be a “landmark” within days of it’s publication because why exactly? Has it been cited yet? Has it created a new field of study? Has the Nobel committee been calling already? This paper is only intriguing to those who desperately want it to be. To me it’s about as intriguing as roadkill.

But instead of calling for independent, rigorous science to explore the questions the study raised, critics dismiss it as “junk science,” biased by Carman, who is a professor at Flinders University in South Australia but has produced commentary critical of GMOs.

But what if the study didn’t really raise any questions worth answering? If you perform a screen for 100 different variables, and you end up with 5 statistically-significant results, you haven’t actually raised any questions or proven anything. Really, all you’ve done is performed an exercise in statistical probabilities. Without any follow-up analysis, without expansion upon and prospective validation of the findings of the screen, all you’ve done is wasted our time. Don’t make me post the relevant XKCD again, because I will goddammit. This is, also, ignoring the critique which suggests the stomach inflammation assay itself was fundamentally-flawed as they apparently didn’t even do tissue histology for their pathological scale! Basic peer review should have taken care of these problems, and that’s why you have to be so careful about lower tier journals with questionable peer-review and editorial standards.

Critics of GMOs are accused of letting ideology trump science. But watching the scathing, knee-jerk reactions to any new piece of research that shines a less-than-positive light on GMOs, it makes me think that the shrill has found itself on the other foot.

These are not “knee-jerk” reactions to criticisms of GMO, these are reasoned and valid criticisms of shoddy papers, and over-interpretation of data. If there were a legitimate paper showing a risk to GM foods I wouldn’t be pissed off at all, I have no dog in that fight. What irritates me is waking up to find lay-media sources parroting exaggerated claims of a press-release for a paper that basically shows nothing.

And what exactly is the ideology that ties together Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Mike Shermer, Dave Gorski (who thinks the anti-vaxx comparison is more apt), Steve Novella, and Keith Kloor? Could it be skepticism? Respect for science? It sure isn’t politics (Shermer is even a libertarian – ewwwww). None of us works for any of these companies, or receives money from them (although I hear Keith is in bed with Monsanto these days). That won’t stop us all from being called a “shill” in every comment thread in which we express skepticism of the often outrageous, science-fiction claims of anti-GM advocates like Jeffrey Smith. So what’s this ideology that binds us all together on the ludicrous nature arguments made against GMO, other than a hatred of bullshit?

So Laskaway is partially correct, on one side we have groups with a specific and obvious bias with a high probability of ideology clouding their reason on science. On the other side we have the AAAS, the European Commission, the Royal Society, the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine, and a diverse group of skeptic and science writers from Richard Dawkins to PZ Myers to Dave Gorski and Steve Novella. Feel free any time to take these two weak papers that show nothing, wave them under our nose and call us the ideologues.

This reminds me of Amy Schumer taking on a heckler and warning them to take the draw.

Take the draw.

SCOTUS decision on gene patents is bad biology, and bad for science

I’m pleased the Supreme Court has decided to reject the idea of patenting genes, as such case law would be restrictive to scientific discovery and also just feels fundamentally icky. From a legal perspective, as far as I understand patent law (not a lawyer here), it also seemed to fail on the more basic level of novelty and obviousness. The methods used to discover such genes were not what was invented. And one could conceive of “gene trolls” that would seek out gene aberrations and sit on them, just like other patent trolls, waiting for a payout and hindering scientific and medical progress.

Unfortunately, the second half of the SCOTUS decision makes little sense to me from a scientific perspective, or my unsophisticated understanding of the law. From the NYT coverage:

The price of the test, often more than $3,000, was partly a product of Myriad’s patent, putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. The price of the test “should come down significantly,” said Dr. Harry Ostrer, one of the plaintiffs in the case decided Thursday. The ruling, he said, “will have an immediate impact on people’s health.”

The court’s ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material.

The decision hewed closely to the position of the Obama administration, which had argued that isolated DNA could not be patented, but that complementary DNA, or cDNA, which is an artificial construct, could. The patentability of cDNA could limit some of the impact on industry from the decision.

This strikes me as completely undermining the nature of the first part of the decision, and scientifically and legally unsound. Now, most of us understand the basics of molecular biology, but all you need to know to understand the significance of this is that DNA is transcribed into RNA, which is then translated into protein. In the process of transcription of DNA to RNA, large sections of the RNA are spliced out (the introns) and the remaining pieces (exons – which are expressed) are what get translated into the final protein sequence by little machines called ribosomes. Scientists are usually more interested in the final, mature RNA sequence after splicing, since that’s what results in function (for now ignoring regulatory elements in introns etc.). To study these sequences, they harvest RNA from cells, and reverse transcribe that information using an enzyme called a “reverse transcriptase” to turn that sequence into cDNA, which is more stable, can then be made double stranded, variously manipulated, cloned into plasmids or amplified by techniques like the polymerase chain reaction.

The Supreme Court has decided that since cDNA is artificial (is it really? We make it with enzymes stolen from viruses so viruses make cDNA too right?), cDNAs can be patented. But the exact same information from the mature RNA is in the cDNA! What’s the damn difference? This is like saying you couldn’t patent a recipe on paper, but if you transfer it word for word onto sheepskin, it becomes patentable. Does this make sense to anyone? Am I taking crazy pills or is this basically saying you can’t patent genes, unless you copy the information into a new format? Unless the cDNA is truly novel, and not isolated or cloned from a human or other organism, this strikes me as simply sleight-of-hand.

This decision is terrible and not the victory science advocates would like to believe, at least to my understanding of what has been done. I’ll read the actual decision once I’m home from work, but just from the news coverage, I’m disturbed.

**Update** As I read the decision it appears that our esteemed Justices don’t really understand biology, and as a result, have made a frankly stupid decision. Sentences that make me cringe include, “cDNA is not a “product of nature
,” so it is patent eligible under §101.” Umm, no, cDNA is found in nature. We use natural enzymes to make it! Viruses make their reverse-transcribed genes all the time. Also, check out this boneheaded statement, “cDNA does not present the same obstacles to patentability as naturally occurring, isolated DNA segments. Its creation results in an exons-only molecule, which is not naturally occurring.” Agggh! What about the mRNA that is was copied from? Are they saying cDNAs are the only form of “exons” only molecule? This is either bad biology, or poor sentence construction. Or maybe they think cDNA comes from stitching together sections of genomic DNA by some other process?

Then they appear to reject the idea you should be able to patent the only type of DNA that arguably should be patentable:

This case, it is important to note, does not involve method claims, patents on new applications of knowledge about the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, or the patentability of DNA in which the order of the naturally occurring nucleotides has been altered.

So, copy the information from mRNA to a cDNA and you’ve created something “new” (bullshit) but change that DNA sequence yourself for potentially novel and interesting results and that won’t necessarily be patentable? Idiots!

Check out this nonsense:

That may be so, but the lab technician unquestionably creates something new when cDNA is made. cDNA retains the naturally occurring exons of DNA, but it is distinct from the DNA from which it was derived. As a result, cDNA is not a “product of nature” and is patent eligible under §101, except insofar as very short series of DNA may have no intervening introns to remove when creating cDNA. In that situation,a short strand of cDNA may be indistinguishable from natural DNA.

The mere fact that they describe this as a mere technical process should be a hint. The human adds nothing. The justices seem to suggest that by taking advantage of the cell’s splicing apparatus, you have created something new, but you have not! You have merely copied the information from the mRNA onto a new media.

Add to this the bizarre rejection of the first section of the decision by Scalia, which only describes facts about biology (he rejects basic science that’s been established for 50 years!) , and I have to ask, why do we let these 9 non-experts decide anything related to technology? How was their extensive education so flawed with regards to biology? Who is educating them on biology now in preparation for a case such as this? Whoever it is needs to be fired. They have written law based on such a flawed conception of basic biology (and one actually abstains from acknowledging the existence of molecular biology!), that we now have this stupid idea that mere transcription of genetic information to a new media should be protected under patent! The source of this idea seems to come from the opinions of the lower court judges who seemed to think that any cutting or synthesizing of DNA to make a “new” molecule should be patentable. That would suggest using any restriction enzyme that cuts genomic DNA creates millions of new patentable molecules. It is equivalent to suggesting that by cutting a wire made up of 4 recurring metals fused together in some order, one is creating new patentable wires because their chemical composition is different from the original wire, but that’s nonsense, because what makes DNA a molecule of any patentable interest is not it’s simple chemical composition or the changes in chemical composition when subjected to enzyme treatments or synthesis reactions, it’s the information contained within the order of the chemicals in the chain. The chemical composition, in terms of the absolute quantity of each of the base-pairs is unlikely even change by such a process. The only thing that matters is the information contained in the code.

The Supremes, and I guess whichever clerk wrote this for Clarence Thomas (not that I esteem his intellect, but that’s how these things work right?) have failed Bio 101. As a result this decision is stupid, unscientific, and worse, bad law. This should not have been reported as any kind of victory for science, but rather is a muddled, ignorant, and unhelpful decision that awards patent protection to the mere transcription of information from one media to another using methods in existence for the last 30 years.

Pollan and Bittman, the Morano and Milloy of GMO anti-science

Why do food writers think they are competent to evaluate the scientific literature? I know of at least two who, based on their tweets, clearly are not. One is Mark Bittman, who we have previously chastised, and now also Michael Pollan who has been a bit more coy about promoting anti-science related to GMO. Now they’ve both been broadcasting the flimsy results of this paper – A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet – published in the “Journal of Organic Systems”. Why do I feel like I’m reading headlines from Climate Depot or Milloy’s Junkscience? Because it’s the exact same behavior.

For all you budding science journalists out there, here is your first red flag, novel groundbreaking research is rarely reported in a such journals. Not to demean the smaller journals, good science is done there, but the quality of the publications must be one of the first factors taken into account when evaluating the significance of results published in the lay press. Note Reuters and Huffpo both published fluffy repetitions of “press release” evaluations of the study. Neither appears to show any skepticism or depth into the significance of the results, other results within the paper, or whether the fundamental conclusions of the authors are even supported by the data. Let’s do this now.

First, let’s describe the study. It’s a long-term (22.7 week) feeding study in pigs, with two groups of 84 pigs randomly selected to either receive GMO feed or non-GMO feed. During the trial all conditions are controlled, the feeds are found to be nutritionally identical (interesting given how GMOs has no nutrients!11!!!), and were obtained according to standard practices of pig farmers from similar local sources. The pigs were raised to the standard age they are when they go to slaughter, and were then killed and their bodies autopsied. While living the animals were evaluated by weights weekly, level of activity of pigs, level of contentment, skin problems, respiratory problems, eye problems, stool quality, blood biochemical analyses right before slaughter, and mortality. At autopsy organs were weighed and evaluated by veterinarians for evidence of tissue pathology.

Second, the findings. A good science journalist determines these by looking at the data, not by repeating whatever the authors tell them. Looking at the data there were no differences in any of the major variables evaluated by the study, such as weights, veterinary costs, illnesses, or mortality. No significant differences in blood biochemistry were found. At autopsy most organ weights were similar between groups. There was a statistically significant (but likely clinically-meaningless) increase (0.1kg vs 0.12kg) in uterus weights in the GM group. At pathology there were nonsignificant decreases in cardiac and liver abnormalities in the GM group (half as many), in stomach pathology there was one significant finding of more “severe inflammation” (on a 4-point scale from no inflammation to severe) in the GM group. This is the finding that has been amplified as variably “damning” or “concerning” depending on which source is reporting these dramatic new findings.

But since we’re skeptics here (real skeptics not like global warming “skeptics” in scare quotes) we ask, is it really?

Lets take a closer look at the data in table 3. Here are the relevant numbers:
Carmentable3data

While it is clear that along the severe inflammation row there is a difference, look at the moderate inflammation row immediately above it, and see if it changes your mind. What if we were to combine this table into a binary, no to mild inflammation vs moderate to severe? The numbers become GMO 41, non GM 38. Why would I look at it this way? Because pathologic scales of things like inflammation are subjective. (***Update It has been pointed out that the authors also didn’t actually do tissue pathology, instead they just graded how red the stomachs were on gross pathology, which also makes this assay totally meaningless. See full update below***) One should be very cautious about results presented on such a scale representing true differences especially given the next nearest population on the scale is reversed and eliminates your effect when the two groups are combined. Trying to make this objective data to suggest an association is very much trying to cram a square peg through a round hole, and would not fly on most reviewers’ reads of this data, and if I had been a reviewer I would have squashed this on this point alone. The fixation on one single data point in this table to the exclusion of the others and building the conclusions around it is unscientific. One needs to be a lot more cautious given the design of this study. Let me explain.

This is not hypothesis-driven work. They authors did not at the outset say, “we propose stomach inflammation will be greater in GM fed pigs because of x”. No. What they did was feed pigs two different diets and then go fishing for abnormal values. This is not necessarily wrong behavior, scientists go on fishing trips all the time looking to find significant effects. What is wrong is then publishing the results of your fishing trip! This is unscientific.

If you were to study some 20 variables in your study (these authors studied far more variables and I would actually expect more abnormal results then we have), and have a cutoff for significance at the standard arbitrary value of p = 0.05, one would expect, just by chance, that 1 of those variables will be significant. A good scientist then says, “well that’s interesting, let’s see if it’s real”, and then follows this study with a hypothesis-driven study specifically designed to study the apparent effect. When the single effect is then studied in isolation, with appropriate power, one should see if the result you found, perhaps by chance, is a real effect or not.

So what we have in this study is the first half of a valid study (the fishing trip) but no real hypothesis driven research to confirm if this 1 in 20 result is real. There is no molecular data to suggest a mechanism. They don’t further determine if it was the soy component or corn component on the diet. There are no follow up evaluations examining this effect alone, or trying to link ingestion of cry proteins on stomach inflammation. So far, one can only conclude that it’s just as likely that this result occurred by chance as it is to be an actual effect of feeding the pigs GM corn and soy. Now, is that “damning” or “concerning”? Concerning is even a stretch.

Third, it’s important for the good science journalist to interpret these new findings in the context of the literature, and perhaps consult an expert in the field to determine the significance of these results in context of the total knowledge in the field.

One should mention the extensive literature on the safety of GM foods. Other writers including Mark Lynas have evaluated this paper as well with similar conclusions as mine. Additionally, Mark points out the paper’s favorable interpretation of Seralini’s work – a bad sign. The authors appear to have ties to anti-GMO advocacy groups, and even thank Jeffrey Smith (the hysterical anti-GMO fake expert with no scientific or medical training). Andrew Kniss points out that he can’t replicate their result with the appropriate statistical test. I admit, I am confused about exactly how they calculated the p value, as in their methods they describe using t tests, Mann-Whitney and Chi Squared variably based on the distribution or categorical nature of the variables, so half the time reading I was trying to figure out which test they were using at any given moment. I’m still unsure exactly why they chose to do which test in each instance – in table 5 they appeared to switch between a Wilcox and a t-test at random. Although in table 3 they appear to have used a Uncorrected Chi squared based on the footnote, I’m not exactly sure, based on how one could be constructed with different expected values, if this was appropriate. No statistical expert am I, but again this smells a bit like statistical fishing to me. Even so, it doesn’t change the relevance of the results. Even if it does technically pass statistical muster, it’s still just the first step in a real scientific investigation. Another GMO expert suggests given the levels of mold they measured on their GM corn, it could have been a result of their source selling them moldy feed (at levels much higher than are usually found on GM crops).

So, to summarize, in this paper the authors performed a large non-specific screen for potential evidence of harm from GM crops. Of the many analyses performed, one showed statistical significance for severe stomach inflammation on a pathology scale in the GM group, but this effect rapidly-disappears if one groups inflammation based on broader categories. The clinical significance of this finding can only be determined by subsequent hypothesis driven research into this potential effect, but it is equally likely this is a result of random chance.

Or you can skip all the words above and read the XKCD one of Mark Lynas’ commenters suggests

XKCD knows stats

A final note, I’m not interested in comments saying I work for Monsanto, that I’m a corporate shill, blah blah blah. I haven’t worked for, or accepted money from, a corporation in my adult life (excluding Nat Geo sending me beer money for this blog, and working as a valet for Toyota dealership when I was 16). Address the data, the paper, relevant biological arguments etc, or get lost.

**Update**
In reading an additional response to the Carman et. al study, I now change my opinion on this paper from “competently performed but meaningless” to “totally meaningless”.

At issue is a criticism by Robert Friendship in the link above, that the author’s assay for inflammation is basically meaningless. In my initial read of the paper I didn’t notice this sentence “Typical examples of each of the four categories of inflammation are shown in Figure 1. For a severe level of inflammation, almost the whole fundus had to
be swollen and cherry-red in colour.”

I incorrectly assumed the authors had taken sections, performed histology, then assessed inflammation based on a legitimate pathological scale. This was apparently too generous. No, they just looked at the color of the stomach by gross pathology. As Dr. Friendship points out, this is meaningless.

An apology, from America, for Alex Jones

Dear British friends,

I am deeply ashamed, and mortified, on behalf of my entire country for the embarrassing phenomenon that is Alex Jones. I see you have learned now for yourselves, this disturbed, bizarre person, is quite possibly the worst guest you could have ever invited to be on a television show. I have enclosed the relevant clip below.

I feel the need to apologize, as Jones appears to represent the worst stereotypes of Americans; that we are loud, bullying, and rude, that we prefer to shout to win debates, that we have no manners compared to our cousins across the pond. Please understand, we find him just as awful as you do. He is just as uncivilized, rude, loud and obnoxious within our borders as he is without. If we could have avoided having him inflict his company on you, we would have, but sadly that is beyond our power.

I know you will say that you too have nutters that you have inflicted upon the world (David Icke comes to mind), but I would remind you that your nutters have always been unfailingly polite when they have visited us. I appreciate the enormous restraint Andrew Neil showed in only calling Jones an idiot while making the universal “crazy person” sign. I promise the next time I am in England I will try to offset some of this harm by buying rounds, speaking softly, and by no means mentioning the existence of Simon Cowell. I can see how you already have that problem in hand.

(start at minute 1:45)

Sincerely,
MarkH (on behalf of America)

What is at the root of denial? A Must Read from Chris Mooney in Mother Jones

Chris Mooney has been exploring the basic underpinnings of denialism lately, with this latest article a good summary of the basic problems:

In a recent study of climate blog readers, Lewandowksy and his colleagues found that the strongest predictor of being a climate change denier is having a libertarian, free market world view. Or as Lewandowsky put it in our interview, “the overwhelming factor that determined whether or not people rejected climate science is their worldview or their ideology.” This naturally lends support to the “motivated reasoning” theory—a conservative view about the efficiency of markets impels rejection of climate science because if climate science were true, markets would very clearly have failed in an very important instance.

But separately, the same study also found a second factor that was a weaker, but still real, predictor of climate change denial—and also of the denial of other scientific findings such as the proven link between HIV and AIDS. And that factor was conspiracy theorizing. Thus, people who think, say, that the Moon landings were staged by Hollywood, or that Lee Harvey Oswald had help, are also more likely to be climate deniers and HIV-AIDS deniers.

This is similar to what we’ve been saying for years. Ideology is at the heart of antiscience, (yes even liberal ideology) and when in conflict with science will render the ideologue incapable of rational evaluation of facts. The more extreme the ideology, the more likely and more severe the divergence from science. Then there is the separate issue of cranks who have a generalized defect in their reasoning abilities, are generally incompetent at recognizing bad ideas, often believing conflicting theories simultaneously, and are given to support any other crank who they feel is showing science is somehow fundamentally wrong. This is the “paranoid style”, it’s well-described, and likely, irreversible. However, more run-of-the-mill denialism should be preventable.

We’ve discussed this extensively in regards to research by Dan Kahan, although I have disagreed with this jargon of motivated reasoning. Chris, however, knows what they’re referring to with their fancified science-speak, ideology is at the root of denial.

Recognizing that the problem of anti-science is not one of a lack of information, or of education, or of framing is of paramount concern. This is a problem with humans. This is the way we think by default. People tend to arrive at their beliefs based on things like their upbringing, their religion, their politics, and other unreliable sources. When opinions are formed based on these deeply-held beliefs or heuristics, all information subsequently encountered is either used to reinforce this belief, or is ignored. This is why studies showing education doesn’t work, the more educated the partisan is on a topic, the more entrenched they become. You can’t inform or argue your way out of this problem, you have to fundamentally change the way people reason before they form these fixed beliefs.

Scientific reasoning and pragmatism is fundamentally unnatural and extremely difficult. Even scientists, when engaged in a particular nasty internal ideological conflict, have been known to deny the science. This is because when one’s ideology is challenged by the facts you are in essence creating an existential crisis. The facts become an assault on the person themselves, their deepest beliefs, and how they perceive and understand the world. What is done in this situation? Does the typical individual suck it up, and change, fundamentally, who they are as a person? Of course not! They invent a conspiracy theory as to why the facts have to be wrong. They cherry pick the evidence that supports them, believe any fake expert that espouses the same nonsense and will always demand more and more evidence, never being satisfied that their core beliefs might be wrong. This is where “motivated reasoning” comes from. It’s a defense of self from the onslaught of uncomfortable facts. Think of the creationist confronted with a fossil record, molecular biology, geology, physics, and half a dozen other scientific fields, are they ever convinced? No, because it’s all an atheist conspiracy to make them lose their religion.

How do we solve this problem?

First we have to recognize it for what it is, as Mooney and others have done here. The problem is one of human nature. Engaging in denialism doesn’t have to mean you’re a bad person, or even being purposefully deceptive (although there are those that have that trait), the comparison to holocaust denial, always a favorite straw man of the denialist, is not apt. Denialism in most people is a defense mechanism that protects their core values from being undermined by reality. And no matter what your ideology, at some point, you will have a conflict with the facts because no ideology perfectly describes or models all of reality. You are going to come into conflict with the facts at some point in your life no matter where you are on the ideological spectrum. The question is, what will you do when that conflict arises? Will you entrench behind a barrier of rhetoric, or will you accept that all of us are flawed, and our beliefs at best can only provide an approximation of reality – a handy guide but never an infallible one?

Second, we have to develop strategies towards preventing ideological reaction to science and recognize when people are reacting in an irrational fashion to an ideological conflict with science. One of my commenters pointed me to this paper, which describes an effective method to inoculate people against conspiratorial thinking. Basically, if you warn people ahead of time about conspiratorial craziness, they will be more likely to evaluate the claims of conspiracists with higher skepticism. We should encourage skeptical thinking from an early age, and specifically educate against conspiratorial thinking, which is a defective mode of thinking designed to convince others to act irrationally (and often hatefully). When we do see conspiracy, we shouldn’t dismiss it as harmless, the claims need to be debunked, and the purveyors of conspiracy theories opposed and mocked. Before anyone ever reads a line of Alex Jones, or Mike Adams, a training in skepticism could provide protection, and with time, the paranoid style will hold less and less sway. People primed to expect conspiratorial arguments will be resistant, and more skeptical in general. The Joneses, Moranos, and the Adamses of the world don’t have the answers, they know nothing, and their mode of thought isn’t just wrong, but actively poisonous against rational thought. As skeptical writers we should educate people in a way that protects them from their inevitable encounter with such crankery. This is why writers like Carl Sagan are so important with his (albeit incomplete) Baloney Detection Kit. He knew that you have to prepare people for their encounters with those with an ideological agenda, that others will bend the truth and deny the science for selfish reasons.

This is what is at the heart of true skepticism. First, understanding that you can be wrong, in fact you will often be wrong, and all you can do is follow the best evidence that you have. It’s not about rejecting all evidence, or inaction from the constantly-moved goalposts of the fake skeptics. It’s about pragmatism, thoughtfulness, and above all humility towards the fact that none of us has all the answers. Second, it’s understanding not all evidence is created equal. Judging evidence and arguments requires training and preparation as recognizing high-quality evidence and rational argument is not easy. In fact, most people are woefully under-prepared by their education to do things like read and evaluate scientific papers or even to just judge scientific claims from media sources.

Thus I propose a new tactic. Let’s get Carl Sagan’s Baloney detection kit in every child’s hands by the time they’re ten. Hell, it should be part of the elementary school curriculum. Lets hand out books on skepticism like the Gideons hand out Bibles. Let’s inoculate people against the bullshit they’ll invariably contract by the time they’re adults. We can even do tests to see what type of skeptical inoculation works best at protecting people from anti-science. It’s a way forward to make some progress against the paranoid style, and the nonsense beliefs purveyed by all ideological extremes. There is no simple cure, but we can inoculate the young, and maybe control the spread of the existing disease.

Psychics like Sylvia Brown are immoral frauds

In the wake of the dramatic events surrounding the discovery of three women including Amanda Berry, being held captive for a decade by a monster, it’s important not to forget another sociopath played a role in this drama. That sociopath is the psychic who told Amanda Berry’s mother that her daughter was dead:

Her mother, Louwana Miller, never gave up hope that the girl known as Mandy was still alive, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The case attracted national attention when Miller went on Montel Williams’s nationally syndicated television show in 2004 and consulted a psychic.

“She’s not alive, honey,” the psychic said. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

After Berry’s mother died in 2006, there were occasional clues in the search for Berry, and police have conducted a number of searches over the years. All proved fruitless — until Monday night, when Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were rescued from the house in Cleveland.

As Ben Goldacre reminds us, that psychic was Sylvia Brown, speaking out of her ass, surely “just for entertainment purposes” when she told Louwana Miller her daughter was dead. As the Wiki shows, her predictions aren’t reliable, and not surprisingly, she has a history of criminal behavior, including indictments and convictions for fraud and grand theft.

Psychics are by definition frauds. They don’t have magic powers. No human has the ability to read minds or see into the future. If you then take money under such known false pretenses that is the definition of fraud. If they truly do think they have magic powers, they should submit themselves to James Randi’s 1 million dollar paranormal challenge to determine if they can perform in a blinded, controlled test (which none of these frauds has ever come close to passing). Not surprisingly, Sylvia Brown has refused, many times, to take this challenge. This is because psychics know they’re frauds. Worse, Brown has even been previously convicted of fraud but sadly not for giving psychic readings. As a criminal, I guess she smartened up since 1992, the question is, why don’t we treat all psychics as criminals all the time? The burden of proof should be on them to prove they have this exceptional ability under controlled circumstances. Until then, we should simply arrest people that take money from others on the basis of such lies.

Obama Makes Hospital Charge Masters Public

And the best article on the implications of this, surprisingly, comes from Huffington post authors Young and Kirkham:

The database released on Wednesday by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services lays out for the first time and in voluminous detail how much the vast majority of American hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures billed to Medicare. The database — which covers claims filed within fiscal year 2011 — spans 163,065 individual charges recorded at 3,337 hospitals located in 306 metropolitan areas.

Within the nation’s largest metropolitan area, the New York City area, a joint replacement runs anywhere between $15,000 and $155,000. At two hospitals in the Los Angeles area, the cost of the same treatment for pneumonia varies by $100,000, according to the database.

We discussed this issue before when it was brought to the public’s attention by Brill’s “Bitter Pill” piece in Time. Hospitals have a wildly-irrational billing scheme that represents a war they are in with payers. However, Brill was wrong to attribute excess costs of US healthcare to the charge master problem, while the HuffPo piece gets this issue right. It’s not a problem for insurance companies, or government, since they don’t pay these bills. It only screws payers without negotiating power or knowledge of how to navigate these bills – the uninsured:

“The charge masters are totally irrational,” Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance company executive who consults for health care companies as president of Alexandria, Va.-based Health Policy and Strategy Associates, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

Hospitals used to base prices on health care costs and on the need for profit that would, among other things, enable them to make investments in their facilities, Laszewski explained. “They became the baseline from which the hospitals started,” he wrote. But over time, hospitals raised charges in anticipation of negotiating discounts with private health insurance companies while maintaining their revenue streams, he said.

Prices have continued growing over decades to the point where there is no plausible justification for them, according to Laszewski: “Over the years, the charge masters have become more and more disconnected from reality.”

And since they haven’t been public or shared before now, I suspect each hospital probably has some set of services that appear to be priced excessively compared to their near neighbor. The costs haven’t grown so much from a response to the treatments they provide, so much as the perceived ability to force insurers to pay a larger portion. Each hospital has probably independently evolved a strategy to do this, hence the wide variability in pricing.

The charges are the prices hospitals establish themselves for the services they provide. Although Medicare and Medicaid don’t base their payment rates on these figures, private health insurance companies typically do, which means they usually pay more for the same health care than the government does. That translates into higher premiums for people with insurance. And uninsured people are expected to pay the full list price or a discount from that number, which tends to mean they pay more than anyone else.

When a hospital doesn’t get paid as much as it wants from one source, it tries to make up the difference in other ways, such as billing so-called self-pay patients — almost always the uninsured — for the full list price of a service, said Robert Huckman, a health care expert at Harvard Business School. Even when hospitals agree to huge discounts for patients who can’t pay the bill, those discounts are taken from inflated prices much higher than those the government or private insurance companies pay, he said.

“The charge master is complete nonsense that really doesn’t matter — unless you are an uninsured person and you’re getting these huge bills driving you toward bankruptcy,” Laszewski wrote. “The biggest irony of the U.S. health care system is that only the uninsured — often people who don’t have a lot of money — are the only ones the hospital expects to pay these incredibly inflated list prices!”

Hospitals also inflate charges to raise money for things that aren’t related to treatments, said former Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), who is senior health policy fellow at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.

“The biggest factor by far, in my experience, is what are you trying to cross-subsidize,” he said. Hospitals will increase charges to finance things like technology upgrades and education and research and to compensate for their operational efficiencies, Durenberger said.

We’ve discussed extensively the sources of excess costs in US healthcare. It’s not the chargemaster. It’s excessive administrative costs of private health insurance, excessive drug costs (everything from direct-to-consumer advertising, the fact US citizens are charged more and GWB made it so medicare can’t negotiate for lower drug prices), inefficient delivery (primary care in the ER), redundant delivery, lack of a government-implemented or regulated standardized electronic medical record (EMRs from private companies actually increase costs), defensive medicine, excessive end-of-life care, and excessive reimbursements of procedures and diagnostic testing.

What will this data release mean for health care costs? Probably not much as the hospitals will now just normalize excessive bills to each other, rather than just having their own individually-irrational billing scheme. The charge master is unjust, but it’s not why we pay more for healthcare overall.

There is a solution to the charge master problem though, and it was found in New Jersey. Force hospitals to charge the uninsured what they charge Medicare. It’s that simple. It’s that easy.

Why we should be concerned Tamerlan Tsaernev read Infowars

I’ve recently written about the relationship between conspiracy theories and hate speech. Too often, conspiracy theories are used to justify irrational hate for one group or another, and to direct anger over lack of control of one’s life onto a group the conspiracist ideologically opposes. Historical examples include the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or blood libel and more modern examples include everything from the racist birther allegations that our president isn’t American, the homosexual agenda, and the rabid anti-government conspiracy theories advanced by lunatics like Alex Jones, and Glenn Beck. Beck, astonishingly, made the assertion that it must be a foreign terrorist behind the Boston bombings because American terrorists only attack the government, they don’t attack streets full of people.

Think about that for a minute. Ignore, for the moment, the obvious factual inaccuracy of the statement given the homegrown terrorists that have bombed abortion clinics, churches, planes, the Olympics, or schools. Think about what Glenn Beck is saying. He’s saying that previous terrorists who have targeted the government, like for instance Timothy McVeigh, weren’t targeting people in their attacks. They were targeting government. Never mind that at OKC Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people, including 19 children under 6, and injured 680. Those weren’t people. They were “the government”. This man is sick.

Enter Alex Jones, who has never had a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, from moon-landing conspiracies to constant (and hilariously false) predictions of impending government collapse, government assassinations, terror attacks, monetary collapse, or whatever seems to spring into his mind from moment to moment. A compendium of his hilariously-false predictions is a fascinating watch:


(thanks to Ed Brayton

By their fruits you shall know them.

Why should we be at all surprised that someone as full of hate as Tamerlan Tsaernev was a believer in a host of conspiracy theories:

It’s not particularly surprising that Tsarnaev would be drawn to a wide range of conspiracy theories, as research shows that people prone to believing one conspiracy theory will likely believe many — even if they’re completely contradictory. And he fits a profile of a type of person likely to be drawn to conspiratorial thinking, considering he was allegedly alienated from and disgruntled with society.

On top of Jones and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, we have to add the one that seems to be the most important of all: The kind of anti-American conspiracy theories pushed by Islamists. For instance, the Washington Post reports that the brothers were apparently motivated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers there. As with many conspiracy theories, there is a grain of truth here — American soldiers really have done some horrible things in those countries. But Tsarnaev went beyond the evidence by telling people that “in Afghanistan, most casualties are innocent bystanders killed by American soldiers.” In fact, according to the U.N., the Taliban is responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths — 81 percent in 2012.

Anti-American and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are foundational to al-Qaida and other radical groups’ ideologies, according to Matthew Gray, a professor at Australian National University who wrote in his book “Conspiracy Theories in the Arab World,” that ”the speeches of Osama Bin Laden are peppered with conspiracist language and the assumptions that underline conspiracism.”

Indeed, conspiracy theories are hardly unique to the United States and often run rampant in the Muslim world, as Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in the New Republic, and seem to be especially strong among Islamists. A 2011 Pew poll of residents of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories and Indonesia found that the vast majority refused to believe that Arabs executed the terrorist attack on 9/11. “There is no Muslim public in which even 30 percent accept that Arabs conducted the attack,” the study found.

From the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to 9/11 truth, to Alex Jones Infowars, Tamerlan was a promiscuous-believer in conspiracy theories, and his younger brother, from his Twitter account, appears to also be a CT proponent of 9/11 truth.

While the right would like to blame the behavior of these individuals on radical Islam, I’d like to propose a different source of radical, and hateful behavior. I would suggest we consider that conspiratorial thinking might be behind this type of group violence. As the Salon article mentions, one of the major propaganda elements of groups like Al Qaeda are conspiracies about the US, about Jews, about Israel, about anyone who they believe is their enemy. Conspiracy theories are often a reflection of a feeling of powerlessness, and those who are more likely to believe them are reacting a world which is often disordered, and out-of-control. The conspiracy theory is a simplistic explanation for one’s troubles, and usually incorporate one’s irrational, tribal, or bigoted beliefs about the world.

But while conspiracy theories might make people feel better about an out-of-control world, as it gives them the false perception that they (and no one else) really knows what’s going on, at the same time they feed back on themselves and reinforce that very sense of powerlessness. If democratic government is just a sham, the US is imminently about to round us up and put us in FEMA camps, or kill us with a billion DHS bullets, your supposed grasp of the problem does nothing to solve it. It only further shows how helpless you are to do anything. What are the solutions the conspiracists fall back on? Arming yourself, doomsday prepping, and detachment from society, especially all those stupid sheeple (it’s amazing how often Jones calls his audience stupid!), is the solution. Civil society, voting, community, charity, and collective action aren’t the solution. It’s guns, and isolation.

Should we then be surprised when individuals influenced by these conspiracy theories resort to violence? Should we be surprised that when people are told the political process is a sham, the government is killing us at will, and everyone else who doesn’t believe this is stupid, that they then go out and target government, and other citizens, and cops, indiscriminately? Isn’t this just conspiracy theorists, like Jones, and Al Qaeda for that matter, just reaping what they sow?

In the aftermath of this tragedy, the usual actors came out of the woodwork to ghoulishly use human suffering to advance their agenda, whether it was attacking government, or blaming abortion, people who knew nothing and cared nothing for their fellow citizens sought to use the tragedy to their advantage. The conspiracists, of course, settled on the usual suspects (Beck has his Saudi agent/government conspiracy, Jones and Mike Adams the FBI/government). Not that they had any information that we didn’t. They were pronouncing this nonsense within minutes of the attack. Now that we have some information we know that the two alleged suspects have some pretty damning evidence against them if the timeline is correct. They were both witnessed at the scene with, and then without backpacks. One was filmed dropping a backpack at the scene of the second bomb. Both were filmed coolly-observing the aftermath. They shot one MIT police officer to death, apparently in cold blood. They carjacked an individual who said they identified themselves to him as the Boston Marathon bombers. They had pressure cooker bombs in their apartment. They exploded such a bomb while eluding police, critically injuring another police officer.

This is, to put it mildly, a damning case.

However, the conspiracy theorists have not changed their tune. Beck continues to blame some Saudi national who’s major crime appears to be he happened to be in Boston that day. Jones and infowars continues to blame the FBI, the CIA, anyone, including Sunil Tripathi, the missing student who has been found dead. Likely this will not stop them, they’ll just say that the FBI killed him to keep him quiet, and keep victimizing his poor family, who have suffered enough from the loss of their son. If the analysis reveals he died over a month ago, that won’t stop them either, because who did the analysis? The government! It’s sad, and pathetic, and horrible. They blame the innocent, and further create the impression that in our society there is no justice, the government is the real criminal (and is not composed of living, breathing, human people), anyone who believes otherwise is stupid.

My question is, for those who believe this nonsense, how long until we see another one plant a bomb? For those for who believe they have no political or civil power, isn’t violence the outcome encouraged by this belief?

I think we have to stop just blaming the religious extremism, and start considering the role of conspiratorial extremism in acts of political violence and terror around the world. When you make people feel powerless, and stupid, and excluded from society and participatory democracy, one should not be surprised when they turn to violence and political terrorism. The Tsaernev family insists their children didn’t learn this from them, or in their life abroad, they learned to think this way in America. Maybe they’re right.

Jones’ response that Tamerlan was a fan was typical, another conspiracy as will the responses to whatever I write here I’m sure. I’ll be accused of being paid off, working for the FBI, a shill, whatever. It’s boring, and part of the known self sealing aspect of conspiratorial thinking. Whenever anything conflicts with the predetermined truth, it must be then incorporated into a new, grander conspiracy. One of my commenters joked about this phenomenon:

A group of elderly JFK conspiracy theorists were comparing notes when one of them suddenly had a heart attack. After going through the whole tunnel light scenario he finds himself facing God. He asks “Oh Lord, who really killed JFK?” And God replied “It was Oswald acting alone.” At that point the EMTs were able to jolt him back to life. Later in the hospital with his co-theorists he said in a low voice “The conspiracy is bigger than we thought.”

So on that lighter note, I ask to think about how dismissive we should be of conspiracy theorists. We often treat them as just ridiculous and foolish. But given the historical and modern examples of hatemongering through conspiracy theories, and the conspiratorial beliefs of terrorists from Timothy McVeigh, to Al Qaeda, to the Tsaernevs, maybe we should be looking at the darker side of this behavior. Maybe it’s time to recognize that those who call us stupid, and powerless, and helpless, are the ones encouraging violence as a solution.

Conspiracy Theorists are Just Like the Westboro Baptists

And Alex Jones and Mike Adams are their Fred Phelps. It’s a wonder that Anonymous doesn’t retaliate against these ghouls as well as against Westboro who are planning to picket the Boston Marathon funerals.

Why are the the same thing? Because they’re all ghouls, and they all use any tragic event to bolster their warped, abhorrent world view no matter what the facts are, and no matter how offensive to the victims.

Within minutes, with no one knowing any facts, Jones claims this is a false flag attack. The only appropriate response to an event like this, within the first minutes and hours, is to hope the first responders and emergency personnel can get to and rescue as many as possible. But to the ghoul, every event such as this is another chance to push their agenda of hate. For the Westboro Baptists, similarly not knowing anything, they think this is further evidence that God hates America because we tolerate homosexuality. For the conspiracy theorist, all traumatic events instantly become incorporated into their evidence that the government/FBI/CIA whatever is faking them/planning them to increase their control over us. No matter what the evidence is, or will be, it will just be further sealed into this fixed, false belief. Avicenna at FtB has a good post (warning for graphic images) of examples of how despicable this behavior can be. I think one of the most grotesque acts yet was one of the CTs asking the governor of Massachusetts if this was a false flag. How stupid and awful a person do you have to be to ask that question in the wake of such a tragedy? Here is the governor, trying to address a crisis, and some scumbag is basically asking (1) is the US government randomly murdering innocent US citizens (2) is he in on it? To the governor’s immense credit, he didn’t immediately jump into the crowd and start strangling the questioner. CTs were so awful as to accuse the victims of just being actors, of the whole thing being staged, or the whole thing actually being performed by government (read your fellow US citizens), including Mike Adams’ immediate blaming of the event on government agencies. What is their evidence? They have no evidence. They just hate without reason.

These conspiracy theorists are just another type of hatemonger. This event is just the latest proof. No matter what the reality is, what the facts are, every event just becomes further proof of their warped and hateful world view. Never mind that it casts civil servants and law enforcement as the murderers, the victims as liars, and the rest of us as fools, that’s what they believe. We shouldn’t continue to tolerate this as just fringe wackiness. This is hate mongering, and the worst kind. It’s hate mongering in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, designed to make us hate and fear our fellow citizens, those trying to help us, and those who were hurt the most. It’s hate and divisiveness when we should be pulling together rather than apart. It’s no different from what the Westboro Baptists church does. And Alex Jones and Mike Adams are just like Fred Phelps.