Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pseudoscience, Junk Science in Politicized Discourse.

The ubiquitous Jill Stanek, great lover of babies, abstinence and God, has a column at WorldNetDaily titled, "Under Obama, STD Super Strains All the Rage." It's an absolutely star example of unscientific, unreasoned fear-mongering in politicized media, meant to make the point that the evil Obama administration - and liberal policies in general - are infecting citizens with increasingly untreatable strains of diseases. Stanek scribbles:

Recalling the Rev. Jeremiah Wright once famously accused the "government … [of] inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color," it is ironic that his protégé, Barack Obama, along with other carriers of the deadly diseases of political correctness and liberal ideology, would actually be the ones guilty of spreading not only HIV but other plagues.

Political correctness is loose conservative code for anti-discriminatory language or tolerance or something like that. It developed to make racists aware of how ignorant and discriminatory they were. Liberal ideology is as nebulous a term. For conservatives, it can stand in for anything found objectionable. And the reference to Jeremiah Wright is a great starter for Stanek's like-minded readers who know exactly were the article is going without reading it. Wright's paranoid accusation that HIV was unleashed to kill blacks, perfectly linked to the left and the sitting president, is taking a (black) exception as representative of all thought on the left regarding disease - not credible.

Stanek cites three news reports about resistant strains of disease, the first on resistant strains of tuberculosis, the second about the rise of sexually transmitted diseases, and the third about the ban lifted on HIV positive travelers into the US. She claims that while these three stories have nothing in common - and they don't - that she will prove they do.

Her non-argument:

To begin connecting the dots, Homeland Security Today on Dec. 29 reported on the scale of diseases resistant to drug treatment:

[P]hysicians and researchers around the world are expressing growing alarm over the disturbing escalation of a variety of antibiotic-resistant diseases they say are rapidly mutating. Some … fear these diseases will evolve into dominate strains for which we have no new antibiotics to treat the level of resistance that we are now witnessing.

Why is this happening? The Associated Press reported in the aforementioned Juarez piece:

Today, all the leading killer infectious diseases on the planet – TB, malaria and HIV among them – are mutating at an alarming rate, hitchhiking their way in and out of countries. The reason: Overuse and misuse of the very drugs that were supposed to save us.

Just as the drugs were a manmade solution to dangerous illness, the problem with them is also manmade. It is fueled worldwide by everything from counterfeit drugmakers to the unintended consequences of giving drugs to the poor without properly monitoring their treatment.

Then she throws in scary reports of drug-resistant malaria in Cambodia and Africa (as if it's one country) and the rise of animal-to-human cross-over diseases. Scared yet? If any recent report mentions disease or drug-resistance, apparently she's determined to cobble them together to prove that the Obama administration is working to perpetuate policy that aids the spread of these diseases.Then Stanek breaks into the nether realm of illogic:

So states legislating the distribution of antibiotics for unverified cases of sexually transmitted diseases are only making matters worse.

Speaking of, England's Venereal Diseases Act of 1917 defined three: chancroid, gonorrhea andsyphilis, all bacterial.

Today there are over 25 viral (incurable) and bacterial (with hundreds of strains, many antibiotic resistant) STDs.

Interestingly, widespread use of the birth-control pill beginning in the 1960s is being partially blamed for the spread of STDs for two reasons, the increased number of sexual partners and decreased use of condoms.

Today contraceptive advocates suggest using condoms in conjunction with birth-control pills. They also recommend stocking morning-after pills in the medicine cabinet for feared failure of the first two as well as keeping a dental dam (don't ask) in the night stand to guard against infections caught from oral sex.

Meanwhile, they call abstinence education stupid.

Get it? Birth control is the cause of new strains of drug-resistant diseases around the world! From Malaria to TB, from gonorrhea to syphillis. Stanek concludes the poorly-strung piece with a quote from Homeland Security Today that reports on the spread of drug-resistant TB. The report, by Anthony Kimerly, states only that those with HIV are more susceptible to TB because their immune system is weakened by the former. She concludes with:

Political correctness and liberal ideology both cause and aggravate the spread of communicable and sexually transmitted diseases.

And these people want to take over the American health-care system.

According to Susan Jacoby, there are five primary characteristics of Junk Thought. There are:

1. Confusion of coincidence and causation:

Stanek comes to the information with an already-formed premise: that the Obama administration's policies are bad for the health of the nation and lethal to quality health care. Running the conservative screed, she also wants to show that current foreign policy is deadly. The information she gathers to make this point has only tangential applicability to the rise of TB in the world (the 1917 British Venereal Disease Act? Health Care Reform? The birth control pill?)

Her assertion that the advent of the birth control pill caused an increase in venereal disease infections (nobody in Westernized countries loses a nose to siphillis today), more sexual partners (actually a change in social mores, divorce rates and women's equality since the sixties - and by the way, alone not a bad thing), and decreased use of condoms (the use of which has been hampered by abstinence teaching and funding here and around the world) are all conjecture. She doesn't have a single fact to back any of it up and she confuses advent of the pill with these issues, ignoring that other factors had an impact as well.

2. Appropriation of scientific-sounding language for emotional stories that are used as representative of fact but are unreasoned:

Citing credible sources but using faulty logic to string them together, she throws out the AP (not always credible, I should note), the World Health Organization, Homeland Security Today as though provide her premise with legitimacy. But her effort is to cause an emotional reaction of fear and anger in her readers that masquerades as science. The peppering of numbers and dates make it look like she knows what she's talking about.

3. Innumeracy, or sloppy numbers:

Despite a plethora of credible studies that conclusively show that abstinence education causes increased spread of sexually transmitted disease in the US, she makes her own conclusions based on ideology - because she does not want to believe in the facts. She prefers to cling to unproven but "pure" ideas of abstinence and human behavior.

4. Definitions so broad as to be meaningless:

Disease, sexually transmitted viruses, global politics, abstinence education (quite different in the US than in Uganda, Kenya or Cambodia): Stanek neglects to differentiate between sexually transmitted and air-born viruses, global travel issues (she's got no facts on how many HIV travelers will come to the US, nor on how many of those have drug-resistant TB but uses fear of infection to make the possibilities credible). And she conflates STDs and HIV infection.

5. Expert-bashing which keeps the public confused on the legitimacy of science and facts and prevents clear distinction between pseudo science and good, tested, provable science:

By criticizing policies unpopular among conservatives, health care reform and immigration, she has an audience ready to take her assertions at face value. That the smart people in government can't see the facts plays into existing fear of a black president, terrorism, and health concerns. Never mind that she's got no way to prove that all these disparate factors - coincidence of HIV and TB infection, the lifting of the ban on HIV travel, the revision of health care, and abstinence education - are in any way related.

We're not encouraged to logically or scientifically analyze news information. We live in an environment that runs on outrage, fear and conjecture. Were common readers able or willing to assess the information that passes their way on it's scientific and factual merit, they would better grasp the ideological motives behind such "reports." But in a culture where intelligent design is taught in schools and man is considered to be made in God's image, proof too seldom plays a role in how we govern our actions and our country country.

For all the science that have proven abstinence education doesn't work, Stanek and her contingency cling to the belief that it will solve social problems like teenage pregnancy, the spread of STDs - and sadly, the move to treat women with equality in society. But facts and current human behavior prove otherwise.

If her objective is to reduce these challenges in society (STD infection, teenage pregnancy, HIV), logically Stanek would be the greatest proponent of birth control on the planet. Condoms again and again have been proven to work. But, sadly, that's not her objective. And sadly, she's still spreading unfounded ideology far and wide.

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