Alas, Woo is popular, as Jezza shows

Facebook is putting children’s lives at risk by reviving spurious MMR claims, the UK’s top health chiefs have said.

The anti-vaccination sites which promote the fake science that caused a surge in measles cases as well as conspiracy theories about other vaccines appear at the top of searches when parents use Facebook to find information about the MMR vaccine or other vaccinations.

Andrew Wakefield, the discredited doctor behind the fraudulent research linking the MMR vaccine to autism, features prominently on the sites with his film Vaxxed in which he accuses the US government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of a cover-up over the risks.

Unlike Google, which filters out anti-vaccination sites to promote guidance from the NHS, government or World Health Organisation, Facebook’s searches appear to be based solely on their most popular and active sites irrespective of whether they are peddling false information. The biggest anti-vaccination sites have more than 100,000 followers.

The problem here is, well, who gets to decide what is Woo?

Proper examination of detailed claims would show that pretty much any economic plans to the left of Tony Blair are woo for example. Should that be filtered out of Facebook listings? One could go on with many other popular beliefs….

7 thoughts on “Alas, Woo is popular, as Jezza shows”

  1. The whole *POINT* of a search engine is to find what is most relevant by the fact that it is the thing that most other people have said is relevent by the simple fact of them actually using that site. If you want to make your site the top of the search results, make your site the recipient of more eyeballs than the other sites.

  2. There is a world of difference between opinion, belief and testable, provable facts. Comparing science with the opinions of Blair is not a credible comparison.

    It is not possible to prove a negative. If I accuse you of stealing my widget, you can NEVER prove your innocence.

    Science is no different. Which is why the claims made by Wakefield are so insidious. It makes no difference if lots of people are willing to believe him. Belief will never change reality.

    Proper scientists are willing to accept they may be wrong. Which is why they often use terms like “Scientific Theory”, Theory for short. This is not opinion.

    And the proof of this is literally staring you in the face. The monitor allowing you to read this text. The technology that allows us to communicate. The hardware hosting your website. The satellites orbiting the planet allowing your phone to calculate your current location. The hardware in your phone

    The “Scientific Theories” that keep satellites in space and make your phone work are the same “theories” that ensure the MRI scanner can create images of the cancer tumors inside your body, if you were unlucky enough to have some.

    Science, proper science is the study of reality. The only problem is when people think their opinion should trump reality

  3. Woo is about peoples buttons being pushed. Along comes someone / an article/ a video, if it pushes the right button they’re in, hook line and sinker.

    I’ve seen a GP take his ill son to a miracle psychic surgeon for godsake. I thought i was as skeptical as they come but i bloody well fell for something too, only realising (in the process of trying to explain it to someone else) a couple of years later that it was absolute bullshit. What was my button? it was treatment offered by the NHS.

    On the back of that I formulated the theory that only professional skeptics , i.e. scientists working in their field, cross the ts and dot the is. Everyone else has a shortcut to what they trust. And because it’s a shortcut it can be hacked and it can be quite wrong.

  4. Bloke in Costa Rica

    James Randi showed that scientists were among the worst people to test paranormal claims as they did not have the right toolkit to distinguish falsehood from reality (it’s rarely a useful hypothesis in the natural sciences to assume Nature is simply faking it). The best people to debunk charlatans like Uri Geller were stage magicians. Mutatis mutandis, the best people to debunk the climate alarmists are probably statisticians and behavioural psychologists rather than physicists.

  5. “On the back of that I formulated the theory that only professional skeptics , i.e. scientists working in their field, cross the ts and dot the is.”

    Scientists are less vulnerable than most, but they do it too. That’s why the scientific method relies not on ‘process’, but on systematic scepticism by critics. Everybody has their cognitive blindspots, but different people have different blindspots. You find someone motivated to look for your errors and omissions (because they disagree with your theory) and have them try to rip your work apart. If they fail, despite many determined and competent attempts that would be expected to succeed if there were indeed any obvious flaws, then your work gains scientific credibility. The *only* way science gains credibility is by surviving attack by knowledgeable and competent opponents. (That’s what publication in journals was originally for – to give other scientists the opportunity to attack your work.)

    To put it another way, good science evolves by survival of the fittest, not by intelligent design.

    “Mutatis mutandis, the best people to debunk the climate alarmists are probably statisticians and behavioural psychologists rather than physicists.”

    Most of the debunking arguments were physics and statistics, although geology, biology, chemistry, and history (archaology and paleontology particularly) all played major parts.

    From a scientific point of view, it wasn’t hard to debunk. The main scientific difficulty was the problem of trying to find the holes in a conclusion without any of the data and calculations it was based on. (They liked to do ‘science by press release’.) But really all the practical difficulties were institutional. Scientifically the case was fairly straightforward; but they weren’t playing ‘science’, they were playing ‘politics’. It was all about funding, and authority, and media presentation.

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