Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Naked Skeptic

The Naked Skeptic column

Darwin’s Aussie Epiphany

By Peter Bowditch

Long before he struck upon his theory of natural selection, Charles Darwin experienced a revelation while exploring the Blue Mountains.

I live about 900 metres above sea level. Beneath me are layers of sandstone, coal and shale built up over hundreds of millions of years of erosion, sedimentation and compression.

About 150 million years ago an enormous slab of this was forced upwards by tectonic forces, and this was followed by a period of volcanic activity caused by the movement, with volcanoes pouring a layer of basalt over the top. Weather, water and gravity then conspired to create great cavities in the rock formation – the valleys we see today.

Right to Read Denied by Deniers

By Peter Bowditch

A research paper about the people who are drawn to conspiracy theories has been permanently retracted due to the threat of litigation by climate change deniers rather than a flaw in the science.

In September last year I wrote about a paper that had been published in the online journal Frontiers of Psychology – “Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation” – but had subsequently been removed except for the abstract and the following statement:

A TKO for Anti-Vax Network

By Peter Bowditch

Australia’s anti-vaccination lobby group has been dealt a body blow – and a few jabs.

March was a very good month for supporters of vaccination as the Australian Vaccination Network, Australia’s most visible and virulent critic of vaccines, ran out of any sympathy it had from public health and regulatory authorities.

The Best Research Money Can Buy

By Peter Bowditch

Why is Swisse funding research into the effectiveness of its vitamins when the TGA requires it to have such evidence prior to their listing?

Imagine you are a university administrator and someone approaches you with an offer of $15 million for your research budget. You would leap at it, because that amount of money can fund a lot of resources. I worked in a very sophisticated laboratory once that cost $8 million to build on an empty block of land, so even if you were to create the facilities from scratch there would still be money left over for running costs.

Philosophy Versus Science, and Vice Versa

By Peter Bowditch

Has philosophy outlived its usefulness or does it still provide a framework enabling trust in science?

I am not a scientist. What I mean by that statement is that I don’t do science for a living. My academic background, however, is in epistemology, philosophy of science and other more mundane areas such as statistics and research methodologies.

I am therefore understandably concerned about statements such as one made recently by Professor Lawrence Krauss, and echoed by others, that philosophy has outlived its usefulness and has nothing more to do with science.

What You See Might Not Be What You Get

By Peter Bowditch

DNA barcoding has revealed considerable product substitution in herbal remedies.

I often hear a criticism coming from the alternative medicine industry that pharmaceutical drugs are not tested properly because all possible interactions of all drugs at all concentrations are not done. This is a true statement, much like the statement that car safety can not be fully evaluated unless an example of every make and model is tested by crashing it into all possible examples of cars on Australian roads at all possible speeds. Just because something is impossible doesn’t mean it can’t be done, apparently.

Filtering Science through Conspiracy

By Peter Bowditch

A new study finds that people who tend to believe in conspiracies are also likely to reject a consensus of scientific opinion on issues like climate change and vaccination.

A supposed journalist once exposed me as a member of the Illuminati, the world’s most secret secret society. The revelation was made on the website of noted kook David Icke – the man who thinks the British Royal Family are lizards. Another journalist, the editor of a high-circulation Australian “alternative” magazine, disputed the claim, not on the basis that the Illuminati doesn’t exist but because he didn’t think I was smart enough to be a member. I told him that setting membership qualifications was above my pay grade and in any case I couldn’t discuss it.

It’s All Happening, and It’s All Connected

By Peter Bowditch

This spring sees the decadal anniversaries of two favourites among conspiracy theorists.

By pure coincidence I started to write this article on September 11 and almost everywhere I looked on the internet there were people regurgitating old and generating new theories about what really went on in Manhattan on that date in 2001.

There was competition for the hearts and minds of the population, though, as the “debate” about water fluoridation was also raging following an announcement that the NSW government might take back the responsibility for fluoridation from local councils and mandate this forced medication and mass poisoning over the wishes of the locals.

Fides et Ratio – Faith and Reason

By Peter Bowditch

Are reports of a negative correlation between intelligence and religious belief a tabloid beat-up?

A Conspiracy of Conspiracists

By Peter Bowditch

Research into the psychology of conspiracy theorists has been withdrawn from publication following complaints that the research is itself a conspiracy.

The cover story in the June edition of Australasian Science, “Lies, Damn Lies, and Science”, described research into the psychology of conspiracy theorists by three academics: Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles Gignac and Klaus Oberauer.

I’ve had an interest in this area for a long time, so it was nice to apply a bit of confirmation bias when I saw that their research had confirmed one of the things I had noticed over the years – that people rarely if believe in only one conspiracy, and that belief in one conspiracy theory can be a useful predictor of the person’s position on others.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).