You’re pitting WHO against Stephen Hawking?!

May 18, 2011

"Suck it, bitch!"

The other day, the world’s most famous living physicist Stephen Hawking made headlines with an off the cuff remark he made about heaven:

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he told the newspaper.

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

And all of a sudden, people went ape shit, and several people called out the genius physicist for his statements. So who were these brave intellects who entered the ring against Stephen Hawking? Evangelical and former child actor Kirk Cameron, for one.

According to Cameron:

“”To say anything negative about Stephen Hawking is like bullying a blind man. He has an unfair disadvantage, and that gives him a free pass on some of his absurd ideas. Professor Hawking is heralded as ‘the genius of Britain,’ yet he believes in the scientific impossibility that nothing created everything and that life sprang from non-life,” the former TV star tells E! News.

I do agree on one point. Hawking does have an unfair advantage…actually knowing stuff.

Then ABC Nightly News with Diane Sawyer pitted Hawking against a random 12-year-old kid who we’re told had a near-death experience where he gained access to easily accessible information. ABC even framed the story as one versus the other. It’s almost like this kid had some sort of internet or something.

Then a religious physicist named Scott M. Tyson criticized Hawking with a bunch of logical fallacies, which Steven Novella details in his latest article. And finally, there is some writer for The Guardian who states that he’d stake his life that Stephen Hawking is wrong, which PZ Myers references in his piece explaining how not to argue with Hawking.

I’d love to be able to say there was no clear winner in any of these battles but just look again at the people going up against one of the greatest physicists of our time: an actor, a journalist, a 12-year-old kid? It’s sad that not only do these laypeople think can contend with Hawking but that the media seems to think they’ve got what it takes to be fair opponents. That’s like a boxing match pitting Mike Tyson against…well, a 12-year-old.

Sorry media but it wasn’t even close. The winner and still champion is Hawking, who only wins this battle of wits on the grounds that he’s way smarter than you and is a leading expert in the subject.

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Andrew Wakefield is a fraud!

January 5, 2011

Andrew Wakefield is a fraud. To many of you out there, this is not news at all. But today the British Medical Journal released the first of several close examinations by journalist Brian Deer that exposes Andrew Wakefield’s now retracted 1998 study published in the Lancet that analyzed twelve children as not just bad science but deliberately fraudulent.

Among many distortions, Wakefield altered the medical information of all twelve children including changing the dates their symptoms were first reported to fit his predetermined conclusions. For instance,  although the children were reported in the study to show their symptoms almost immediately after receiving the MMR vaccine, their medical records show some developed their symptoms earlier while others not for many months after vaccination (not unlike Jenny McCarthy, who claimed that her son appeared to lose his very soul almost immediately after vaccination but recently admitted it was many months later that his symptoms appeared).

And suddenly this has created a media firestorm on the side of good for a change. Everyone’s talking about this and it’s being called by many to be the biggest scientific fraud of this generation. Orac is even calling it the greatest scientific fraud since Piltdown Man. Dan Harris and Diane Sawyer were harsh in their report on ABC World News tonight. Then Sanjay Gupta went on Wolf Blitzer’s show and firmly declared the study a fraud. Elliot Spitzer and Sanjay Gupta interviewed JB Handley on CNN and were pretty tough on him. Handley said they hadn’t done the research and Spitzer blunted stated, “I think we have.” It was pretty awesome.

But nothing was better than when CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta, got the exclusive privilege of interviewing Wakefield himself and just ripped him to shreds.Not since Jon Stewart was on Crossfire was there a more epic smack-down on television.

Cooper pulled no punches, reminding Wakefield mid-conspiracy that it’s not just Brian Deer calling him a fraud but the entire global medical community and chastising Wakefield for using this interview to just plug his book. Unfortunately, Cooper wasn’t able to respond to Wakefield’s now frequent claim that his research has been repeated in five other studies around the world other than to simply say that this claim is false. But for those who are curious, here are the embarrassing facts about those five studies. Then after the interview, Cooper invited on Seth Mnookin, author of the new book The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. Cooper said Wakefield refused to be interviewed with Mnookin there to ask questions, so now he and Gupta were just going to talk to Mnookin after the Wakefield interview. And I really started to think Anderson Cooper has been paying attention to skeptical blogs because they hit on just about every point, including whether the media has played into the perpetuation of the myth that vaccines cause autism by presenting a false balance.

This may have been the single biggest nail in the coffin on the anti-vaccine movement yet. It’s just a PR disaster for them. Just look at their flimsy response.

This idea that the entire world is against them and in on an evil conspiracy is, as Mnookin says, just laughable. And this is just a slam dunk victory for good science reporting and skepticism.

[UPDATE 1/7/11: Today, Brian Deer himself (the man Wakefield calls the “hitman” hired to take him out) made several CNN appearances that can viewed here and on Anderson Cooper here.]

[UPDATE 1/11/11: Seth Mnookin talks on American Morning here and Sullivan fact-checks Age of Autism’s defense of Wakefield here]

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