1. The Set-Up 🔨🔧
2. The Sting(s) 🐝
- vaccination 💉
- quackademics 🎓
3. Moving forward 🔭
The Set Up
The credibility problem of science
Civilization demands & is dependent upon scientiﬁc progress
so why are we surrounded by so much pseudoscience?
Is pseudoscience so bad anyway? Why should we trust
The outsider view:
Science is a shelf in a toy store or a Whiz Bang TV show
Scientists are elites/inaccessible/in pocket of big XYZ 👑💰
Scientists speak an obscure dialect of Klingon 👹
Science is hugely expensive 💰💰
Scientists disagree with one another and cheat 💔🎭
Scientiﬁc dogma changes all the time 🌒🌓🌔🌕🌖🌗🌘
The Education Gap
Trivialization of science (gee whiz)
Dropped from curriculum early
Oversimpliﬁed/exaggerated in MSM
Sound bite journalism (aiming at grade 10)
Didactic teaching rather than experience
But, it’s not all bad.
We are the Enemy (in part)
There is much scientiﬁc outreach in various forms but most
is driven by need for publicity - fund-raising 💰
As a consequence, we use language that competes for
attention (1st of media, then often ampliﬁed for public)📰🎥
Is this ethical? Does coating science in hype associate it in
the publics mind with skeptism and doubt? 😱
Co-association, Distrust & Fatigue
GMOs - Monsanto is evil therefore GMOs are evil
They put DNA in food!😈
There is fraud in science!🙈
Fund-raising for the Cure 🚑
We can’t afford science
Priorities - tough economic times💰
Return on investment 💵
Changing what science is done - we know enough, just
Why are we studying the sex habits of worms? 🐛❤️ 🐛
🔍 Science is Never Settled
A major problem for communication of science is that
science is a means or method, not an end. The fact that
science is a process that constantly hacks down its own
ideas is often exploited. 🔪
Despite massive volumes of evidence for a model, it can be
dissolved by a single new compelling discovery. 🔬💡
But, not all science is created equal & burden of
veracity is not quantitative, but qualitative.
Vulnerable to false balance, misinterpretation of
meaning of expert criticism; easily subverted by
pseudoscience that lacks structural rigour.
Case Study 1 - Complications of Vaccination
40% of Canadians believe science behind vaccinations is
unclear (Nat Post).
The Toronto Star piece was a major investigative piece by
some of the reporters who reported on Rob Ford, as well as
other health controversies. In this case, they blew it.
The story made the cardinal sin of correlation = causation
A series of heart-rending examples of children being
seriously ill or dying within a few weeks of being immunized
for HPV (Gardasil).
Coupled to survey of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting
The story was sprinkled with sentences pointing out no
direct cause had been established but this was buried
within the dramatic reporting.
The Star report was quickly condemned by researchers &
healthcare professionals but damage had been done.
The Star public editor spoke against the story & the EiC
admitted it was ﬂawed. Other staff were not convinced.
The Star retracted the article & withdrew it from its website 15
days after publication (Feb 5 to Feb 20)
This is a remarkable, albeit necessary response, given
newspapers rarely retract stories (even with threat of litigation)
So why was the story retracted?
Canada already lags in HPV vaccinations among girls compared to other
developed countries (50-75%).
The vaccine has been given over 4 million times (that have been
studied) & side-effects are equivalent to placebo.
HPV causes cervical, anal, penile, laryngeal cancers & genital warts (a
new version of the vaccine covers 9 HPV strains, Gardasil and Cervarix
cover the most comon 4).
Reduction in coverage due to erroneous linkage with adverse events
would lead to increased, preventable incidence. The Star realised.
Case Study 2 - Quackademics
Beth Landau-Halpern - a Toronto homeopath recently caught on camera by the CBC television show
Marketplace selling homepathic “nosodes” to a mother as a substitute for a real vaccine.
Jennifer Yun - naturopath: Drawing upon the disciplines of Traditional Chinese acupuncture,
sacred geometry, the qabbalastic tree of life, the ayurvedic nadi system, and high Qi nutrition,
esoteric acupuncture brings the subtle and ﬁner aspects of Qi (vital energy) into balance.
Bryce Wylde - homeopath and self-described “alternative medicine expert, philanthropist,
television host” who certainly gets signiﬁcant television exposure, whether it’s his own show or
guest appearances on The Dr. Oz Show.
There are other sources attempting to
dispell myths, especially those propagated
What is wrong with discussing integrative care?
Actually, nothing, but processes/procedures that have no scientiﬁc
basis should discussed in the same realm as personal beliefs, etc., not
Conventional medicine leaves much to be desired, but any attempt to
build on it must be subject to the same standards. Key elements of
holistic care are already incorporated into conventional medicine
(vaccines, social assistance, well being, etc) but are only allowed/paid
for on evidential basis.
When health clashes with faith. Extremely difﬁcult & sensitive topic -
e.g. aboriginal girl with leukaemia - treated at a Florida clinic with no
credentials; Gordie Howe’s miraculous stem cell treatment for stroke.
Education plus standards will help, but we’re fooling ourselves if we
think most vulnerable will not seek alternatives when desperate. 🙏 Hope
is powerful & easily exploited by unscrupulous or misguided.
What about academic freedom? 🎓
Universities should be vessels for discussion and debate without restriction*.
However, the playing ﬁeld must be fair & appropriate for the “sport”.
Must maintain line between fact (🔬 ) & ﬁction (🎅) (or content & advertising).
Diversity of opinion is essential but cannot give equal time to views of unequal
Must remember that providing unvetted forums confers legitimacy. Very easy
to hide under veil of FoE.
*Limits for abuse, incitement, etc.
What can we do? What are best practices in SciComm?
The internet has been a major factor in enabling quackery and false
information. It is also a powerful tool for neutrilizing.
We often behave as though we’re knights in shining armour. looking/
dumbing down. Don’t patronize! Risk of alienation.
Start young & carry on. Science is inherently interesting. Heck, it’s 😈
amazing (compared to 2 🐺🐺).
Social Media & Science
Inspired by @alexis_Verger:
To discover (other science) - e.g. TOCs
To promote your science (& that of others)
To connect with others (editors, journalists)
To seize the zeitgeist
To perceive other points of view (essential)
To build a record (diary) - I also use a clip ﬁler
To virtually attend conferences
To sense what is going on (but trends ⧣ importance)
To have fun (no right or wrong way)
Dip in but don’t linger (inherent echoes). Don’t obsess #followers
Content increasingly polarized - don’t get too comfortable
Don’t post if you can’t drive
@picardonhealth - Andre Picard
@carlyweeks - Carly Weeks
@juliaoftoronto - Julia Belluz
@katecallen - Kate Allen
@theresaboyle - Theresa Boyle
@helenbranswell - Helen Branswell
@margaretmunroe - Margaret Munroe
@edyong209 - Ed Yong
@ivanoransky - Retraction Watch
@cswa - Canadian Science Writers Association
@mbeisen - Michael Eisen
@dawnbazely - You know who
@timcaulﬁeld - Tom Caulﬁeld
@leonidkruglyak - Leonid Kruglyak
@m_m_campbell Malcolm Campell
There isn’t a time or place. Communicate constantly. As scientists,
there is no better investment of your time. If you cannot effectively
communicate what you do & why, you should not be a scientist.
We run an outreach program for K-12 which works with 5,000 kids a
year. Main beneﬁt, providing our own trainees with communications
We fund-raise by asking trainees to present their work to donors - like
Dragons Den (without O’Leary). Winners are usually those with ability
to effectively explain their work.