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The high costs of scam science

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In the wake of COVID-19, the joes and jills out there who are paying those costs may be slowly beginning to catch on that a lab coat is not necessarily evidence of superior knowledge or confidence:

What was also not-so-novel about the COVID crisis was its origin in scam or junk science. John Ionnnidis, one of the leading critics of weak scientific work, jumped right in to alert people and policymakers about the many problems with various predictive models but he was largely ignored despite being one of the most highly-cited scientists alive. That is actually not unusual. Even before the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, Americans have been inundated with alarmist “scientific” claims that have not held up to close scrutiny. The problem is, they always hear about false claims but almost never hear about the retractions and whispered mea culpas (Latin for “my bad”). The net effect is undue pessimism about the state of the world.

Most scientific scares are rooted in the extrapolation of current trends to the point of disaster or desolation with no thought given to the possibility of cyclicality, natural limits, or behavioral changes. Ridley jokes about the nineteenth century prediction that by 1950 the streets of London would be ten feet deep in horse manure. Unfortunately, real scam science is no laughing matter. Here is a partial list: …

Robert E. Wright, “The Sordid History of Scam Science” at American Institute for Economic Research

It’s a list well worth perusing. Chances are, some of our neighbours are still screaming about a lot of stuff that no one takes seriously any more.

21 Replies to “The high costs of scam science

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    My questions are, what scam science, what knowledge isn’t science superior to and who benefits from undermining confidence in science? Why is the Trump administration diverting hospital data from the CDC to the White House? We are told that Dr Birx has problems with the CDC but does anyone really believe that this White House has a greater pool of medical expertise than the CDC?

  2. 2
    BobRyan says:

    To answer Seversky’s question about what scam science if, use distance and look at what Rachel Carson did to bring an end to DDT. She hated pesticides and did not care how unharmful DDT was and is to anything it was not designed to kill. Her initial results did not bring about any negative impacts on anything. Rather than question her belief, she altered what was involved to guarantee a result. She deprived birds of calcium, which weakened the shells and claimed it was DDT that was to blame. There is no calcium in DDT and the shells would have been weakened regardless of its use.

    DDT was the safest pesticide ever created for humans, mammals and birds. The person who invented DDT ate a spoonful of it with his cereal every morning just to prove how unharmful to humans it is. Scam science continues to make false claims about DDT to this day without any evidence to support what they believe.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev, scientism imagines that science dominates or even monopolises knowledge, and tends to equate such to effectively near certainty. First, despite being mislabelled in dictionaries that should know better, the key tool Mathematics is a disciplined study pivoting on logic of being linked to structure and quantity, not a science; it is not driven by empirical investigation, but by reasoning on quantity and structure. This extends even to the core of statistics, which applies Math to empirically observable contexts. Second, what is knowledge, how is it warranted to what degree of reliability etc are not scientific questions, even though they are prior to such. These are aspects of philosophy (here, epistemology), as is logic. Third, ethics, another branch of phil, is actually a governing prior of responsible rationality. Likewise, many important fields of study or practice or general life are simply not sciences, starting with history and law etc. Finally, there is low quality junk science, some of which is little more than a con game. There is also science caught up in politicised policy debates, which — as I know from our local experience of 25 years of the challenges of Volcanology — is definitely not science and is prone to all sorts of blunders or worse. When the dust settles, there are going to be some pretty pointed questions on the scientific and medical sides of the pandemic, I know that as I see some very familiar challenges. KF

  4. 4
    polistra says:

    Wright gets the key point. Fake emergencies are always based on linear or exponential “predictions”, while Nature always has limits. Natural patterns are sine or tanh or log. Rise quickly, then reach an asymptote, then fade. Real epidemics do this, and a lot of other patterns do the same, from populations of a species to neural pulses to speech syllables.

    I discussed this pattern:


    Unfortunately the linear extrapolation fake has a LONG history. Swift parodied it beautifully in the Laputa chapter of Gulliver, more than 200 years ago. The fakers are still using the same trick, and too many people are still fooled.

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Polistra, the dynamic is that of impulses spread out in a rough bell shape in most cases, with their accumulative effects showing a linked S-shaped curve. Growth sigmoids are called logistic curves and start as quasi-exponentials then slow and flatten as saturation effects occur. BTW, the exponential, especially in complex form, is an underlying function for much else including trig functions. Indeed, we can use Fourier analysis to replicate in effect just about any shape, indeed that is how we so commonly talk about sinusoidal spectra. KF

  6. 6
    Querius says:


    I’d assert that Bayesian inference should play a significant role in all of our scientific understandings–that we adopt a humble attitude toward what we think we know.

    Looking back in the history of science, one can just as easily see a succession of blunders and embarrassments as a triumphant march of discovery.

    So, rather than undermining a sense of confidence in science, what some people do is dare to question the intellectual edifices and arrogance of academic elitism. For example, consider Sabine Hossenfelder’s book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray. Dr. Hossenfelder is hardly an ID proponent by any stretch of the imagination!

    So, how do you justify your confidence of the superiority of science? Do you know that had we followed the scientists who were once confident that we were about to enter an ice age, we might have detonated nuclear devices to prevent their perception of a global threat?

    Quite honestly, would you say you have enough confidence in science to trust a major human intervention in global climate?

    Just asking.


  7. 7

    Scam Science?
    For openers, try the CDC.

    For months, up until March 31, they (and the esteemed Dr Fauci) told us
    “Listen up Peons, Ahem, Science says that face masks do more harm than good”
    The next day they told us the opposite.

    When confronted with this, and asked to justify the Science of their initial claim, they stated, (again backed up by the esteemed Dr Fauci), that they knew all along that the face masks did more good than harm but they were concerned that hoarding would prevent the limited supplies from going to First Responders. In other words, they lied to the public.

    Their lie probably resulted in the deaths of 10 t0 20 thousand people..

    In the event there was no material hoarding. Average Joes, the very peons they sneer at, made their own face masks. Myself, I had already figured our Scientists were BS’n, (because the Japanese Chinese and Koreans had used face masks for a dozen years). So I had already made mades for my family out of rubber bands and Dora the Explorer T-shirts. High Tech!!

    Our Scientist weren’t just arrogant liars, and mass murderers. Their prediction of hoarding was wrong.
    So they were also , surprise surprise, incompetent.
    Of course, nobody got fired, nobody got charged with manslaughter, nobody even admitted to a blunder, Certainly not Dr Fauci. or the CDC.

    Now does somebody want to tell me, again, why I should trust Scientists.

  8. 8
    asauber says:

    “what scam science”


    Klimate Cha Cha Change for starters.


  9. 9
    Seversky says:

    Kairosfocus @ 3
    The existence of scientism as an exaggerated or unwarranted level of confidence in the knowledge provided by science does not of itself undermine that knowledge. Good science is typically, although not always, assiduous in its avoidance of extravagant claims but has little or no control over how they are publicized and reported. Obviously, the scientific and medical responses to the pandemic will and should be scrupulously reviewed and hard-won lessons learned.

  10. 10
    Seversky says:

    BobRyan @ 2
    Just a few points:

    Concerns about DDT had been raised and regulations controlling it were already being tightened well before Rachel Carson wrote her book.

    The claims in her book were reviewed by President Kennedy’s Science Advisory Council and its report basically vindicated them according to Science magazine.

    There is evidence that bird shells were weakened by DDE which is a breakdown product of DDT.

    The inventor of DDT did not eat a spoonful of it with his breakfast cereal as far as we know. However, a British ecologist and entomologist called Kenneth Mellanby, who was a proponent of the use of DDT to eradicate insects that transmitted malaria to humans, would eat a pinch of DDT at each lecture he gave on the subject to demonstrate it was not harmful to humans.

    DDT and its breakdown products can persist in the environment for years and have been detected as far afield as the Arctic and Antarctic. While it may not be as harmful as some have claimed, it would be better if it was not there.

    It is reasonable to use it in situations where there is no better alternative but it should be used as sparingly as possible both to protect the environment and to minimize the resistance to it which does emerge over time.

  11. 11
    Seversky says:


    When confronted with this, and asked to justify the Science of their initial claim, they stated, (again backed up by the esteemed Dr Fauci), that they knew all along that the face masks did more good than harm but they were concerned that hoarding would prevent the limited supplies from going to First Responders. In other words, they lied to the public.

    Misleading the public about the effectiveness of face masks may not have been the best idea but it wasn’t a scam.

    And given the context of shelves stripped bare of toilet rolls by panic-buying when there was no actual shortage, relying on the public to act calmly and responsibly about face masks would not have been a good idea either.

    You could say they chose the lesser of two evils. What would you have done in their place?

    Their lie probably resulted in the deaths of 10 t0 20 thousand people..

    Or it may have saved the lives of thousands of medical staff and their patients in hospitals.

    But you do agree that wearing masks helps prevent the spread of the disease which means that those who choose not to may be recklessly endangering the lives of their fellow citizens for some misguided notion of personal freedom?

  12. 12
    Retired Physicist says:

    Seversky, yeah, public run on those masks production of which can’t be immediately infinitely ramped up, would have killed way more people. Leroy on his couch in Odessa could use a mask when he goes out for Milwaukee’s Best, but Marianne RN at Odessa General needs it way more when she’s around sick and old people most of her shift and may be contagious with it herself. Triage has been a part of health crises for ever.

    And it turns out now that Leroy in Odessa can get the masks he’s refusing to wear them anyway, because his Constitutional Rights. It’s in there somewhere. He has the right to do whatever he wants regardless of the consequences to anyone else. The right to be a selfish toddler is somewhere in Article 2, probably. Gibbons v. Ogden? Don’t know that fella.

  13. 13
    BobRyan says:

    Why did Sri Lanka not notice any damage to birds, or any animals not intended to kill with heavy use of DDT. In 1946, Sri Lanka had 3,000,000 cases of malaria. After DDT was used in great quantity, malaria cases dropped to 29 in 1964. India went from 75,000,000 cases in 1946 to 50,000 in 1964. India saw no damage to any animal not intended to be killed by DDT.

    DDT saved millions of lives throughout the world and is still used today in many parts of the world. There is no safer product on the market and none as cost effective. It is more environmentally friendly than anything else today.

    Those who want to get rid of DDT throughout the world have the singular goal of reduction of the human population. Just as they did when they first started to attack DDT.

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev, when we actually deal with well warranted knowledge, the result is just that, knowledge. But when ideological impositions lead to question-begging etc, the result is a groupthink that imagines it is duly anointed knowledge but it isn’t. That becomes dangerous when we see domineering narrative dominance and ideological lockout. Which, is exactly the problem we have long seen with so-called methodological naturalism, which is little more than atheistical evolutionary materialistic scientism dressed up in a lab coat. Then, when that sort of thing gets embedded in the media and policy making circles it becomes truly dangerous, cf case in point here and onward with the long since passed its greatness BBC. Wikipedia, is a byword. KF

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    Seversky & RP, after the lies as noted, I simply cannot trust these authorities in anything they say onward; as at now, we don’t have any reason to give any credibility to CDC, NIH and similar bodies because with lives on the line they violated a first duty to truth. And, attempts to justify such are simply enabling behaviour, inadvertently revealing enabling, partyline recitation behaviour. KF

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    RP, there are many ways to commandeer production and stocks of strategic supplies in the face of emergency. Public lying is not one of them. KF

  17. 17
    Seversky says:

    BobRyan @ 13

    Why did Sri Lanka not notice any damage to birds, or any animals not intended to kill with heavy use of DDT. In 1946, Sri Lanka had 3,000,000 cases of malaria. After DDT was used in great quantity, malaria cases dropped to 29 in 1964. India went from 75,000,000 cases in 1946 to 50,000 in 1964. India saw no damage to any animal not intended to be killed by DDT.

    There is no question that the widespread use of DDT was initially enormously successful against malaria although some of the ground gained was lost when resistant strains of the mosquito emerged.

    As for environmental consequences, as usual, the story is not so simple

    Indoor residual spraying also led to completely unforeseen events with negative consequences. For example, during early use of DDT as part of an indoor residual spraying program in British Guiana between 1946 and 1950, the Anopheles darlingi mosquito responsible for transmission of malaria was successfully exterminated. However, two other species of mosquito, A. aquasalis and A. albitarsis, which fed primarily on animals, survived the spraying. The subsequent reduction in the malaria rate contributed to a 68% increase in the human population by 1964, which in turn led to a corresponding increase in land used for rice cultivation, making less land available for cattle. With the loss of cattle, A. aquasalis changed to drawing blood from humans, with a resulting increase in the prevalence of malaria.17

    Another incident occurred after the indoor residual spraying campaigns in Sarawak and the adjoining state of North Borneo (now called Sabah). During a local conference on malaria, the local people complained that the spraying was causing the deterioration of the thatched roofs of their buildings.18 The WHO team sent to investigate determined that moth larvae (caterpillars) living in the thatch were able to distinguish the presence of DDT and so avoided eating thatch sprayed with the chemical, whereas their parasites, small chalcid wasps that injected their larvae into the caterpillars, were highly susceptible to DDT, causing their decline and the subsequent increase in caterpillar numbers. A caterpillar population study in villages of Sabah determined that DDT spraying caused a 50% increase in the number of caterpillars per roof area, but when huts were sprayed with the more toxic insecticide, dieldrin, almost all caterpillars were killed and there was no roof decay. (Ironically, then, there would have been no complaints had the more toxic insecticide been used everywhere, thus killing both moth caterpillar and wasp.)

    One of the most controversial side effects of indoor residual spraying of DDT was the deaths of domestic cats reported in a variety of areas throughout the world. These deaths were invariably associated with an increase in rodents and the additional negative effects they caused. A 1962 article in the New York Times began, “American DDT spray killed the cats that ate the rats that devoured the crops that were the main props against Communist agitation in the central lowlands.”19 The author went on to say that “this highly oversimplified explanation of the disaster in six provinces overrun by field rats is believed by many Vietnamese.” He conceded that some cats were killed after huts were sprayed with DDT, but added that experts believed the explosion in the rat population was more likely caused by a combination of factors, such as moisture, climate, availability of food, and primarily “the Government’s failure to insure adequate supplies of rat poison.”

    Likewise, a 1959 annual report on conditions in Sabah contained the remark, “Field rats were a greater menace than usual, partly as a result of antimalarial spraying which accidentally killed many cats.”20 Furthermore, in his text on malaria, Robert Desowitz mentioned that cats died in villages in Thailand after homes were sprayed with DDT, which also resulted in an increase in the rat population.21 Desowitz further commented, without reference, that there were “numerous reports of village cats dying within one week after malaria-control teams sprayed DDT onto household walls.”21

    In one case, the deaths of cats as a result of antimalarial spraying resulted in the creation of another human disease problem. An investigation conducted in 1965 by Karl Johnson determined that an outbreak of Bolivian hemorrhagic fever was “due to invasion of houses by rodents” as a consequence of cat deaths after the spraying of DDT.22 During the investigation, the villagers remarked that the cats “would have the shakes, get sick, linger for a few days, and die.”23 Johnson had one dead cat analyzed by a toxicologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta after noting that other malaria experts had commented on cats ingesting a lethal dose of DDT by licking the insecticide from their fur. The DDT concentrations found were determined to be high enough to kill cats.

    A 1977 Time article also reported on cats dying from ingesting DDT on their fur. In a footnote to an article on the resurgence of malaria in many parts of the world, the author mentioned that exterminators in Oaxaca, Mexico, were called los matagatos, “the cat killers,” because “the cats lick the DDT residue off their paws and die of a disease of the nervous system.”24 Two anthropologists who worked in the southwest Pacific when malaria spraying occurred there also observed cat deaths caused by the animals licking DDT off their fur; one stated that her own cat had probably died in that manner within 2 weeks of spraying, because the cat was otherwise fed pet food (Susan Montague and Gene Ogan, written communications, May 16, 2007).

  18. 18
    asauber says:

    “Misleading the public about the effectiveness of face masks”


    Write this on the chalkboard 1000 times.


  19. 19
    GCS says:

    Back in mid March I started advocating for mask use. The response from the State of Vermont and our local paper was a deafening silence. Then, a magic reversal.

    Pure corruption because they did not wish to admit that they were not prepared. I agree that nationwide probably a lot of people died unnecessarily. At a minimum many people would have been exposed to a much smaller viral load with a higher survival rate.
    Out of curiosity I have followed Czech Rep (one of 1st masks), US, and Sweden since April 2.
    Current deaths as percent of population:
    Czech Rep – .034%
    US – .433% (12.7 times higher)
    Sweden – .553% (16 times higher)
    Masks probably played some part in that.

    Actually I sympathize with anti-mask people. After being lied to from the very beginning I do not blame them for being skeptical. I think they are wrong, but I do not blame them – I blame the “authorities” for lying to us.

    God Bless and please stay safe.

  20. 20

    Dear Severski

    Dr Fauci and the CDC were liars, and fools.
    You can take that to the bank.

    But you seem to say that what he did was right. You could say they chose the lesser of two evils., and you ask what would you have done in their place? (instead of lying that face masks “do more harm than good”)

    I would have told the truth
    And I would have urged the public to make their own face masks, to save supplies for first responders.. Which the public did, witth no guidance from the CDC, when the public was belatedly urged (several weeks too late) to wear masks.

    So the lies did NOT save ” thousands of medical staff and their patients in hospitals.” The lies saved nobody. The hospials did not run short. Instead the lies killed thousands of average Joes who would have been wearing masks . Dr Fauci and the CDC didn’t “choose the lesser of two evils”. They chose the worst of both evils.

    That is why Dr. Fauci and the CDC were not just liars, but also incompetent.
    If you’re going to lie to the public, to save the public from themselves, get it right. Because If you turn out to be wrong, as the CDC and Dr Fauci were, all you accomplished is to be proven liars. And fools. And all for nothing.

    Three thoughts:
    1) People in China Korea Japan have been wearing masks for decades. After spending about 10 billion a year, and sounding the alarm on the public health dangers of racism and legal firearms, alarming The CDC never evaluated face masks for their effectiveness in controlling disease
    2) The name on their building is “Center for DISEASE CONTROL”
    3) As usual, for Government Scientists, there are no consequences when they lie and kill thousands. No criminal charges. Nobody fired. No apology. No reprimand.

  21. 21
    polistra says:

    This is a new effort, launched today by James Todaro and associates, who recently exposed the Digisphere fraud. Omnijournal is an attempt to organize open and broad peer review. I’m not sure how it will escape the kind of capture we’ve seen in Wikipedia. It sounds like they’re aware of the pitfalls, but they may not be able to control things well enough.

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