Thursday Throughput: Peter McCullough, Omicron, and Space Telescopes

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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28 Responses

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    One of the tactics used by anti-vaxxers, and one McCullough uses, is to throw out a rapid series of talking points and references to make them sound knowledgeable and authoritative.

    AKA the Gish Gallop.

    But addressing even one of those talking points or debunking even one of those references can take an entire article. You could spend ten hours going over why the claims made in one hour are false or misleading.

    The bullsh!t asymmetry principle. Ten seconds to throw out a superficially plausible talking point, two semesters to fill in the background knowledge needed to understand why it’s wrong.Report

  2. InMD says:

    I think part of the way to approach conspiratorial thinking on the vaccines that hasn’t been tried much is doing less ‘debunking’ and more common sense-ing. I know we’re all super into mRNA (and it is really cool), but to the extent we’re dealing with fear of new technology, it’s worth emphasizing that J&J uses an adenovirus which is decades old. And hey you only need one shot for that version!

    Instead of getting into a battle of studies no one has actually read I think the better question is ‘what would your doctor say?’ Or, ‘Are you really that worried about a shot? So worried you’d rather miss Christmas with Grandma again?’

    I’m not saying this kind of thing works with everyone. But I do think we’re going to convert a lot more people by turning down the tension and talking more about normal things that sound less like political talking points. I also think part of the appeal of the conspiracy theory is the idea of being in on something others aren’t. The best way to deal with that isn’t to treat it as super high stakes but to ground it in the mundane, and hopefully reassuring.Report

  3. Chip Daniels says:

    I’ve referenced Fred Clark over at Slactivist before, but he has a good series of posts on “I Want To Believe”, where he talks about conspiratorial thinking like Satanic panics.

    He notes that people don’t make their way to that point innocently, but start with the premise that Something Is Wrong with the world and that dark evil people are doing it and engineer their way back into whatever conspiracy fits.

    Notice how they are never relieved when its pointed out that millions of children are not in fact abducted each year, but instead they become angry and defiant and just widen the conspiracy to include whatever source of information is presented.Report

  4. Oscar Gordon says:

    I remember after 9/11, that a number of respected professors of engineering (civil and mechanical!) pushed the conspiracy that the towers were preset with cutting charges, or the planes were packed with high explosives, because there was no way jet fuel would burn hot enough to melt steel.

    Any first year engineering student understood why that was a load of BS, so it was especially sad to watch such people make fools of themselves to spin a conspiracy.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I remember that too, and was struck by how it wasn’t just mouth breathing morons, but actually well educated people who bought into it. Except they were educated in wholly unaffiliated fields, like medicine or law or something.

      But it was a case where just a little “self research” was disastrous. They would read or skim a few articles and pick up a few key words and concepts, then go around talking confidently about “bending moments” and “modulus of elasticty” while sneering at actual engineers.

      Which was the tell- They insisted that expert knowledge isn’t trustworthy, but then load their arguments with sciencey-sounding jargon to make themselves sound like an expert.Report

    • IIRC (and I might not), the argument went like this:

      “I’ve done the math, and burping all the jet fuel wouldn’t create enough heat to topple the building.”

      “All the stuff inside the building burned too.”

      “Oh! Never mind.”Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        The jet fuel would burn hotter than the paper or wood, although those would burn longer.

        No, the failure of the argument is that it was never about melting, it was about softening the steel enough to cause it to suffer plastic deformation and be unable to support the weight of the floors above. Once the first floor dropped, it was a chain reaction all the way to the bottom.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    How do we know the fatality rate of Omicron at this stage? Or is it still somewhat speculative?Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    ThTh8 reminds me of a study they did of infants that claimed to show they understood addition. If I recall correctly, they’d show them a single doll and then clear their slate and then show two dolls and based on how the infants reacted, they concluded they were doing arithmetic.

    Turns out the babies were simply responding to change and novelty and could not, in fact, do math. Baby Geniuses they were not.Report

    • KenB in reply to Kazzy says:

      I remember when that came out, because I was both studying linguistics at the time and also a fairly new parent, and the conclusions were obviously wrong. It was the same “stare longer at something unexpected” concept, and they would e.g. show the infant one doll, then put a screen or curtain in front of it, then visibly put a second identical doll behind the curtain, then remove the screen — but in some cases they would secretly add a third identical doll behind the screen before revealing it. Infants that were old enough (around 6 months) would stare longer when the extra doll was added.

      Their conclusion was that it showed that babies could do simple arithmetic, but coincidentally the age at which babies would show this behavior was the same age as when they’re expected to acquire the concept of object permanence. While the researches naturally saw the dolls as two or three members of the same category, there was no evidence that the infants did anything other than recognize that there should have been a thing and another thing behind the screen but not this other thing. The infants’ results would’ve been the same if the researchers had used three entirely distinct objects, where there would be no sense that arithmetic came into play.

      There’ve been a bunch of studies like this over the years (babies or animals supposedly counting or doing simple math) that mostly just showed the researchers’ lack of understanding of what cognitive processes are involved in the concept of numbers.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Kazzy says:

      Actually it seems remarkably banal an obvious conclusion, that animals have a good grasp of how things should move.

      After all, just watch how any predator chases and anticipates the movement of the prey and times its leaps to be where the prey will be, instead of where it is.

      After all, just like humans, animals have spent their entire existence experiencing and learning from the cause and effect of walking, running and balancing.Report

      • KenB in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Yeah the whole “Newtonian physics” thing is silly – it’s basically “dogs are surprised when moving objects don’t behave normally”.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to KenB says:

          “This defied expectations” is different than “This defied the laws of motion.”

          A 3-year-old would remark if he went outside and the sky was green. It doesn’t mean he understands light wavelengths.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

      My dogs wouldn’t watch a TV. They didn’t know what it was. They reacted to noises it made (particularly doorbells and animal sounds) but the images on there might as well have been static. I can only surmise that dogs like these would basically not react to whatever was on a screen at all.

      Other dogs love TV and will react to things on them. I knew one dog that would become very animated if a TV showed video of another dog hunting, or at play: she ran up to the TV and licked the screen maniacally wherever the image of the other dog was. These are probably the kinds of dogs who react with confusion or curiosity when the TV depicts objects behaving in unexpected ways.

      But I don’t know what it is about a dog that makes her reactive or indifferent to a video screen.Report

      • Dark Matter in reply to Burt Likko says:

        If I remember correctly, their eyes have a different refresh rate so it’s mismatched against some TV technologies. That plus “no smell” plus “no color” means it’s a lot harder for them to relate.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Oh, your dogs can watch TV all right but are judging your taste in entertainment and finding it lacking.Report

        • Dogs dislike HBO: nudity, violence and no dog food commercials.Report

          • Dark Matter in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            That reminds me. Back in the day my brother had a cat channel. The dog would sit in a chair for hours and watch it.

            3rd story (closed) window with a chair next to it. The dog would look out at the street, and once every few hours she’d see a cat! Very exciting!

            This was more of a “kill cats on sight” thing than “play with me”.Report

            • I grew up in a house that had a deck, and thus a glass door, that looked out onto a hill that was open space. The county would arrange for a flock of sheep to keep the weeds down, and the sight of them drove our dog (a Lab) nuts. But nothing compared to when we got a Border CollieReport

  7. Burt Likko says:

    A vaccine may not completely protect you but it will dramatically cut your chances of ending up in the hospital or the morgue. And, at this point, anything we can do to slow the spread will help our hospital workers get through yet another awful wave.

    I mean, if it isn’t going to make the virus bounce off of my nostrils like bullets off of Captain America’s shield, what’s even the point?Report

  8. Michael Cain says:

    ThTh4: Related, I’ll just mention that SpaceX did their record-breaking 31st successful launch of the year this week, a third in a 72-hour interval IIRC, and the 100th successful booster recovery. The Russians and Arianespace are wasting taxpayer dollars.

    Part of me always wants to mention that the end of the ULA is in sight, other than the painfully expensive SLS/Artemis recreation of Apollo.Report

  9. Kazzy says:

    Which is it, CNN? Should we trust the science and the experts and the leadership? Or should we all change course to a more expensive (thereby excluding many folks) and more challenging (thereby reducing compliance) set of rules because of what two experts — one of whom works for you — says?

    They’d quickly shame anyone who questioned masking… except when it’s them doubting their efficacy.Report