Category Archives: creationism

Dissecting pseudoscientific and political propaganda

Tactics used in anti-science and pseudoscience propaganda are essentially the same as used in political propaganda.

Everyone has their own ideological and political starting points – and none of us are really rational, even when we think we are. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find we are fully  in agreement with some people on one issue but on the opposite sides of the fence with the same people on other issues.

I often find this  in my on-line discussions . Some of my “allies” in the fight against pseudoscience (for example, in debunking anti-fluoride propagandists) will become my “opponents” when I discuss issues like the war in Syria. (I use quote marks because I do not feel any enmity towards discussion partners when the discussion is civil).

Nevertheless, I do not consciously separate my approaches to science and politics (and I guess my discussion partners would make the same claim). People can often be more resistant to anti-science propaganda because claims can be tested against reality. This is sometimes harder to do with political issues but if we don’t try we can be fooled by political propaganda. So, a recent article –  Dissecting the Propaganda on Syria – appealed to me as I immediately recognised that the tactics used by propagandists against the Syrian government are essentially the same as those tactics used by anti-fluoridation propagandists.

The article identifies three propaganda tactics:

1: Demonise the enemy

Those pushing pseudoscience do this continually. Scientists are claimed to be only in it for the money. How often do we hear the chant “follow the money” (and how hypocritical is this considering many of these propagandists are making money out of the “natural”/alternative health industry.


Anti-fluoride campaigner Paul Connett regularly charges NZ scientists with fraud – but he fraudulently distorts the evidence to do so.

Honest scientists are accused of fraud and researchers whose work contradicts the propaganda are personally attacked.

On Syria, we continually hear about the Syrian “regime” and its “brutal dictator” – despite the fact that the Syrian government and president have been elected. Words like “regime” instead of “government” are a way of demonising.

Responsibility for all the deaths in this war is often attributed solely to President Bashar al-Assad. This is absurd as these deaths also include those fighting on the government’s side. As the article says:

This propaganda “deems Assad responsible for everything, including the killing of Syrian soldiers by the armed opposition. This opposition, which is financed and armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S., includes extreme jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda’s longtime affiliate and the Islamic State. Yet, none of the leaders supplying these rebels – in defiance of international law – bears any blame for the death and devastation of Syria, according to” the propaganda.”

This demonisation of Assad is part of the interventionist strategy of “regime change.” We saw it before in Iraq and Libya. Liberal intervention to correct a wayward government appeals to many, and fools even more. After all, it is easy to find fault with the governments and leaders in these countries. But those who want regime change in Syria do everything to protect the regimes and leaders of other countries, like Saudi Arabia, with far greater violations of human rights. And the “regime change” doctrine violates the fundamental rights of people to decide their own government and leaders.


What better way to demonise advocates of community water fluoridation than to compare them to Hitler?

In a parallel way those anti-fluoride propagandists who demonise honest scientists can easily be found to be guilty of the very charges they lay against others. Aren’t these propagandists often paid shills for big business – the “natural”/alternative health industry? And don’t they frequently misrepresent and distort the science? Are they not the ones who should be charged with fraud?

2: Romanticise the opposition

Anti-fluoride propagandists continually describe themselves as fighters for truth who have “done their research.” They are fighting for natural, pure, food and water and against the wicked big business “fluoride industry” which is disposing their contaminated waste by dumping it in our water supply. And how often do we get the David vs Goliath analogy – even when it is the anti-fluoride activists who have dominated submissions to local bodies?

On Syria, our mainstream media

“portrays the conflict as a “civil war” which began with peaceful democracy-loving Syrian revolutionaries who were ruthlessly repressed by a brutal regime.

In reality, there was a violent faction from the start. In the first protests in Deraa, seven police were killed. Two weeks later there was a massacre of 60 security forces in Deraa.

In Homs, an eyewitness recounted the situation: “From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

In the first two months, hundreds of police and security forces were killed. Yet, . . . the West’s mainstream media, ignores this reality because it clashes with the desired image of white-hatted protesters being victimized by a black-hatted government.”


Violence against the Syrian government occurred even during the early demonstrations.

This romanticisation is hardly suprising when we realise that most of our information on the Syrian war is coming from rebel or terrorist sources – or sources sympathetic to antigovernment fighters. Al Jazeera has reporters embedded in  “rebel”/”terrorist” militia forces. And so often our news reports cite “activists” or sources like the Aleppo Media Center, White Helmets, or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which are sympathetic to the rebels.

Similarly, anti-fluoride propagandists very often cite sources from their own anti-science side. Their hope is that their reliance on sources such as “NaturalNews”, The Health Ranger, the Fluoride Action Network and Mercola, and continuous promotion of articles from those sources, can be translated into a similar acceptance by our mainstream media.

3: Attack anyone who questions the dogma

Many health professionals who recognise community water fluoridation as a safe and effective social health measure refuse to speak up in its defence because this can lead to personal attacks. A dentist who recently took issue with the misinformation being promoted by an anti-fluoride group was told in an anonymous personal letter:

“How dare you try to shut the truth down, people like you are a total insult to the art of Dentistry.”

And that is a mild example. How often are people who attempt to inject some logic and fact into this argument accused of being “shills?” Or attacked in a memes on social media – almost always from behind a wall where they are banned from participating in the discussion or answering their critics.

Similarly, those who attempt to debate the “party line” on Syria are often accused of being “Asad supporters” or worse. I was recently described as being a “fanatical follower of the Soviet camp” when I attempted to argue that there are child casualties in the government-held west Aleppo as well as in the “rebel”terrorist” held east Aleppo. (Some readers may object to my use of the word “terrorist” in this context – but the fact is the anti-government “Army of Conquest” which unites all the “rebels forces” in the current battle for Aleppo is led by Al Nusra – officially recognised as a terrorist organisation by the Russian Federation, USA and the United Nations).

Such attacks are simply a way of shutting down honest discussion of this conflict. A way of preventing information undesired by our political leaders from getting through the propaganda we are exposed to. Such attacks are really just a neo-McCarthyist tool in the information war.

Anti-fluoride propagandists and their allies in the “natural”/alternative health industry use exactly the same tactic. By attacking and labelling honest scientists and others who attempt to debunk the pseudoscience propaganda they hope to intimidate people and raise doubts about the science. We have seen this before from climate change deniers and creationists. They also use such attacks to raise doubts about the science of evolution and the findings of climate scientists.


This article quotes a leader of the US Veterans of Peace:

The U.S. peace movement has been demobilized by disinformation on Syria.”

I think he is correct. The tactics of demonising the Syrian government and president, of romanticising the “rebels” by selective reporting of history and current events, and of attacking anyone who speaks out against such propaganda, has been very effective in muting opposition to this war and encouraging “regime change.”

While the same tactics being used by the anti-fluoride and similar pseudoscientific or anti-science movements has been less effective for the population at large it still resonates with many.

Such propaganda tactics need to be resisted.

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Richard Dawkins – speech to Reason Rally, 2016

This was Richard Dawkins’ speech to the 20116 Reason Rally in Washington DC last week.

Richard suffered a mild stroke earlier this year and this video shows he is still not fully well. Anyway, too unwell to travel so he presented the speech as a video.

There is nothing new here – he has made all these points before. But these points are well worth repeating, and he makes them so well.

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Sunday reading – Richard Dawkins reads some of his “fan mail”

This is a more recent version of Richard Dawkins reading some of his “fan mail.”

Don’t remember much of the first batch he read – but get the impression the language skills of fundamentalists has become even poorer in the intervening period.

Warning – explicit language.

via Love Letters to Richard Dawkins – YouTube.

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Creationist ‘audits’ science museum

Imagine you are 10 years old and your crazy aunt is taking you out for a treat.

A crazy aunt can be fun. Problem is this aunt is also a creationist and she is taking you to the local natural history museum.

Well it never happened to me (not that I didn’t have a crazy aunt) but I imagine this is what it would be like.

The museum is the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History – looks great.

Thanks to: Christian Fundamentalist Goes To Science Museum To ‘Audit’ Its Liberal Bias, Makes Ass Of Self VIDEO.

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Determining scientific knowledge by petition

Some readers may be familiar with the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” petition organised by the Discovery Institute. It’s a classic example of trying to decide science by petition. The petition still gets trundled out by creationists attempting to “prove’ that the acceptance of evolutionary science is weak in the scientific community – or that many “brilliant” scientists oppose Darwin’s ideas.

Six years ago I did my own brief analysis of signatories to the petition specifically to check their scientific credentials (see Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?). I really only looked at a sample (those with the first name Steve, and the three from New Zealand).

The other day in my surfing I came across another analysis of these signatories at Rational Wiki (see A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism). This appears to have attempted to check the credentials of everyone on the list. It is worth having a browse to get an idea of what motivates these people..

By the way, I came across a new term I have not heard before – Wingnut welfare.

It is worth doing this sort of analysis when you come across similar petitions – the are common with those wanting to deny the current scientific consensus on an issue. Petitions like this have been produced by climate change deniers and opponents of fluoridation.

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Losing trust in religious leaders

I recently reported the data from our last census showing the decline of the numbers of Christians in New Zealand, and the associated increase in people declaring they have no religion (see Census 2013 – religious diversity). It’s interesting to consider the consequences if the trend continues. As the graph below shows, the”crossover point” (when the number of Christians = the number of No religion) will occur in 2016 – only 2 years away. Christianity itself will decline even further so that in about 20 years it will likely have only  20% of the census responses.


I think most people now accept that secularisation in the modern pluralist, democratic societies is a fact. (Although Christian apologist WL Craig still clutches at straws to deny this – see Philosopher reveals his predictions for the future of Christianity in America). Only the reasons for this are debated.

Of course, there is not going to be just one factor – life is never that simple. But one that interests me is changes in the way we perceive the representatives of religion. In my younger years I was quite happy to respect religious leaders – and give to religious charities. Despite my rejection of their beliefs I still held a certain amount of trust in those leaders. But not any more – and I think I am not alone in this.

Gallup recently released results of their latest poll of American’s attitudes towards professions (see Honesty and Ethics Rating of Clergy Slides to New Low). The poll asks people to rate the honesty and ethics of people in different fields. Gallup reported:

“Americans’ rating of the honesty and ethics of the clergy has fallen to 47%, the first time this rating has dropped below 50% since Gallup first asked about the clergy in 1977. Clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67% in 1985.”

The graph below demonstrates this decline of trust in clergy.


Again, the decline in rating of the honest and ethics of religious clergy will probably have multiple causes. Sex abuse in the church will be a significant cause. As will attempts to promote outdated and inhumane attitudes on moral issues.

For me another strong cause of declining trust is the way that prominent Christian leaders and their news media will flagrantly misrepresent science –  particularly evolutionary science .  I agree, those specific leaders  might not be representative of all Christians (who is), but these other Chrsitians seem unwilling  to criticise them.

How can one maintain trust in people who knowingly misrepresent well established scientific facts and ideas? And how can one maintain trust in their associates who remain silent about that misrepresentation?

Credit: The honesty of clergy, car salesmen, and politicians.

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All things bright and beautiful

Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins

I always enjoy the Daily show and this is another classic. Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins (who is on a tour for his latest book An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist).

Can’t embed the daily Show videos, but go to September 24, 2013 – Richard Dawkins | The Daily Show With Jon Stewart – Full Episode Video | Comedy Central.

The whole show is 36 min long – but if you just want to the interview it starts at 13.33 and goes to the end.

Stewart is an amazing interviewer.

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Dentists you can trust?


Credit: Making Sense of Fluoride Facebook page.

Looks like the Fluoride Free Hamilton activists have managed to find 3 dentists who they agree with. None of them work in Hamilton – one is from Northland, one from Wellington and the other is from Dunedin. So they literally searched far and wide to locate them.

Never mind, Fluoride Free Hamilton and its network is trusted by the Hamilton City Council when it comes to health matters. So they can continue to ignore the advice from local and national health experts. However, it might be harder for the incoming council to ignore the advice coming from voters during the upcoming local body elections and fluoridation referendum in the city.

The activist’s claim that their 3 dentists are the informed ones carries the implication that all other New Zealand dentists are uninformed! In fact Grant et al (2013) survey New Zealand dentists on the opinions of fluoridation (see New Zealand dentists’ views on community water fluoridation). Their finding were that:

“Most practitioners (93.5%) reported supporting community water fluoridation; the other 6.5% either were unsure or did not support it. Higher proportions of more recent graduates supported CWF. Some 85.6% of practitioners thought that drinking fluoridated water was a harmless way to prevent dental caries, but 6.2% felt that fluoridated water may cause other health problems.”

And they concluded:

“Most New Zealand dental practitioners support community water fluoridation, although a very small proportion believe that it is harmful and/or does not prevent caries.”

The fluoridation issue is turning out like the controversy around scientific issues like climate change and biological evolution. Just as scientists supporting creationism or climate change denial turn out to be a very small fraction of the numbers on those fields, dentists opposing community water fluoridation are also a very small fraction of all dentists.

Mind you – Fluoride Free Hamilton seems to be making a virtue out of that embarrassingly small support for their views. I am expecting to hear them come out with the Galileo Gambit some time soon.

Thanks to Dan from Making Sense of Fluoride for bringing my attention to the paper.

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
New Zealanders for fluoridation Facebook page

The Galileo fallacy and denigration of scientific consensus

Statue of Galileo outside the Uffizi, Florence

It’s one mark of the significance of Galileo to scientific progress that many myths about him exist even today. He seems to still be a focal point in  present day debates between science and religion, pseudoscience and magical thinking.

But one of the most cynical myths is the opportunist interpretation of his promotion of the Copernican heliocentric solar system as being simply a David vs Goliath struggle. And that Galileo was correct because he was standing up to the “orthodoxy,” or consensus, of the then “establishment.”

A recent example is that promoted by British playwright Richard Bean “who reckons  climate change science is junk, the findings alarmist, data frequently tortured into submission and the mainstream media not in a position to confront the complexity of the issue and question whether it’s really happening” (see Herald article Beyond belief). He said in his interview:

“Orthodoxy closes off thinking and if you can’t express an opinion or question an idea, well, Galileo is the perfect example of what happens.

“He declared that not everything revolves around the Earth and paid the price for his beliefs [he was tried by the Inquisition as a heretic, threatened with torture, was forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest] while human thinking and endeavour were held back.”

But this is wrong on 2 counts:

  1. It relies on the fact of being in the minority, of opposing the consensus, as being “proof” of correctness.
  2. It implies that because the user of the fallacy is in the minority and opposing the consensus then the user is correct. In  other words – “bugger the evidence, I must be right because I am coming out against the consensus.”

As Rational Wiki puts it:

“The Galileo gambit, or Galileo fallacy, is the notion that if you are vilified for your ideas, you must be right.”

It’s a favourite argument used by creationists, by climate change contrarians/deniers/ pseudosceptics (see the egregiously named Galileo Movement in Australia) and, as I have found lately, anti-fluoridationists. A way of claiming superiority while at the same time discounting, even denigrating, the wealth of scientific knowledge with which the user disagrees.

Being vilified doesn’t make you right

And, it didn’t make Galileo right in everything he advanced. Classically he made a big mistake with his theory of tides where he tried to use tides to “prove” the movement of the earth. He was wrong there, and probably wrong in many other places, like all great scientists . Those people comparing themselves to Galileo are opening themselves up to the charge that they are “proving” themselves wrong, and not right.

It’s about evidence, silly

The real lesson from Galileo is not to oppose the “establishment” or current scientific consensus – but to rely on evidence. It was this argument of his, which today most of us accept and see as almost self-evident, that describes Galileo’s real contribution to the progress of science.

His argument for the heliocentric solar system, and against a geocentric solar system, was really an argument of evidence against dogma, prevailing philosophy and the Church’s use of scripture. he expressed it very well in a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615. He said:

“I think that in disputes about natural phenomena one must begin not with the authority of scriptural passages, but with sense experiences and necessary demonstrations.  . . . and so it seems that a natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes by sense experience or proved by necessary demonstrations should not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning.”

He was arguing against the idea that science should be a handmaiden to, or slave of, religion. That for matters of the natural world, in astronomy for example, science trumped scripture (or its specific interpretation). And it did so because it was derived from experience, from interrogating reality, rather than relying on dogma and preconceived “revelations.”

So what about the “scientific consensus?”

Scientific authority no longer rests with the Church and religious philosophers, as it did in Galileo’s time. When we talk about scientific consensus today we usually refer to the widespread acceptance of a scientific idea, theory or facts based on evidence. The consensus on climate change represented by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, are not dogma typical of Galileo’s time. It can in no way be compared with the consensus of theologians who rejected the Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system (see Consultant’s Report on Copernicanism (24 February 1616). It is in fact a consensus on the facts and conclusions based on an extremely thorough review of the scientific literature.

It is actually those people who use the Galileo gambit to support their own dogmatic, contrarian or pseudoscientific views who are not using evidence. They are relying on personal beliefs, religious ideas or magical thinking and not evidence. Their use of the Galileo gambit is a substitute for interrogating reality.

Of course, none of what I have said means that new ideas in science are never in the minority. obviously they often are – and must be fought for. But new ideas don’t win credibility by using the Galileo gambit, by arguing that just because they oppose the scientific consensus they must be right. They win credibility because their proponents gather the evidence that supports them, and evidence which conflicts with the prevailing ideas.

A minority viewpoint can and does win credibility because its proponents provide evidential support. The Galileo gambit is for losers.

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