Bad Science Watch Criticises Patient Safety Act for Neglecting Natural Health Product Users

Reprinted from Bad Science Watch.

Bad Science Watch Criticizes Patient Safety Act for Neglecting Natural Health Product Users

Bowing to lobbyists the Harper Government has excluded Natural Health Products from newly tabled “Vanessa’s Law”, sacrificing consumer safety for political expediency

Toronto, ON – December 6, 2013 – Bad Science Watch has criticized the newly tabled Patient Safety Act, known as “Vanessa’s Law”, for explicitly excluding Natural Health Products from the regulations to appease lobbyists.

The consumer protection organization claims that the already insufficient regulation of NHPs will be weakened as a result, neglecting the safety of NHP users and practitioners and compromising informed healthcare choice.

“What is otherwise an excellent proposal is horribly undermined by this glaring omission,” said Jamie Williams, Executive Director of Bad Science Watch. “The exclusion of Natural Health Products from the definition of ‘therapeutic products’ means the government would be able to issue a recall for a bad batch of lip balm, but not for herbal remedies adulterated with pseudoephedrine or tainted with toxic heavy metals.”

Bad Science Watch believes Canadians deserve robust safety and enforcement regulations for all health care products, and will be fighting to have the Act’s definition of “therapeutic products” amended to include NHPs.

Bad Science Watch is an independent consumer protection organization dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians by advocating for good science in public policy. More information can be found at

For More Information Contact:
Jamie Williams
Executive Director
1-888-742-3299 ext. 102


Bad Science Watch Launches Investigation of Anti-WiFi Activism

Reprinted from Bad Science Watch.


Critical Investigation of Anti-WiFi Activism Launched by Independent Watchdog

Toronto, ON, August 13 2012 – Bad Science Watch has announced the launch of a critical investigation of the state of anti-WiFi activism in Canada. The independent non-profit plans to document the motivations, funding sources, agendas, and any conflicts of interest for those groups and individuals promoting misinformation about wireless networking technology (WiFi). These activists claim WiFi and related technologies can cause a variety of adverse health effects, and are attempting to convince city councils, libraries, and school districts across the country to remove or restrict the deployment of WiFi networks.

“While many of these activists are well-meaning yet misinformed, others are profiting from the uncertainty and doubt that has been manufactured.” said Jamie Williams, Executive Director of Bad Science Watch. “Some of the most prominent anti-WiFi scaremongers are tied to the sale and promotion of bogus products to ‘block’ WiFi, or promote sham medical diagnoses and treatments for false illnesses.”

Many activists blame WiFi’s low level radio signals for a broad variety of medical problems, from mild headaches and fatigue to chest pain and heart palpitations. When someone using or living near WiFi networks experiences these or other symptoms, they are told they have ‘Electromagnetic-Hypersensitivity’, or EHS. The existence of EHS is not supported by rigorous science, and has not been accepted by the medical and scientific community as a real condition. This distraction can lead to greater anxiety for parents who are worried about the well-being of their children, and may instead serve to delay the diagnosis of more serious and treatable medical problems like anxiety disorders or heart defects.

Bad Science Watch will use the findings of this investigation as a starting point to counter misinformation in the public sphere, and represent sound science to public officials who are confronted every day with requests to act on it.

Individuals who would like to support this and similar projects are invited to visit, subscribe to the mailing list, and make a donation to Bad Science Watch.

For media enquiries, or additional information, please contact:

Jamie Williams
Executive Director
Bad Science Watch
1-888-742-3299 x 102

Bad Science Watch
180 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M3K 3P5
Tel: 1-888-742-3299
Fax: 1-888-813-3569

Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit activist organization that provides analysis of dubious scientific claims to Canadians, our government, and the media, promotes objective critical thinking and advocates for the enforcement and strengthening of consumer protection regulation.

Bad Science Watch relies largely on individual donations from the public for its operational funding, and is committed to organizational transparency.

Bad Science Watch to Health Canada: De-register Homeopathic Vaccines

Reprinted from Bad Science Watch.


Bad Science Watch to Health Canada: De-register Homeopathic Vaccines

Toronto, ON – Wednesday August 1st, 2012 – Today, the new Canadian science advocacy group Bad Science Watch announced plans to convince Health Canada to de-register homeopathic health products that are offered as unproven replacements for childhood vaccinations. This project will combat the anti-vaccine camps within homeopathy that offer these so-called “nosodes”; the sale of which directly contradicts Health Canada’s own efforts to promote childhood vaccinations.

Nosodes are ultra-dilute homeopathic remedies prepared using diseased tissue, such as blood, pus, and saliva, that are based on the unsupportable “like-cures-like” hypothesis where you give someone a very low dose of the offending substance to then cure or prevent the disease in question.

Homeopaths in Canada are offering these nosodes for a variety of childhood diseases, like pertussis, or whooping cough, a deadly disease that is currently afflicting more Canadian children, mostly infants, than it has in the past 50 years. The anti-vaccine messages spread by homeopaths have caused parents to needlessly question the usefulness and safety of vaccines and as a result the level of vaccination in Canadian communities has dropped to as low as 62%. A level of 80% or higher is needed to have proper protection from pertussis in the community.

“The un-scientific approach of homeopaths is a real threat to parents who just want their child to be healthy and safe,” said Jamie Williams the Executive Director of Bad Science Watch, “and Health Canada, through their approval of these products, is complicit in this message. We will show that the policy of approving nosodes is working against the best interest of public health and we demand that Health Canada review these products and have them pulled from the shelves.”

Even a cursory search of the Natural Health Products Directorate, the agency that oversees the approval of non-orthodox alternative medicine products, brings up remedies purporting to prevent or treat such diseases as measles, polio, and mumps, three diseases that can be life-threatening in children and that vaccines have been effectively suppressing for decades.

“These nosodes may not directly injure a child, as they are so dilute as to contain none of the original substance,” said Michael Kruse, chair of the board of Bad Science Watch, “but they can give a very false sense of security. The basic tenets of homeopathy contradict basic chemistry and physics and there is no good evidence for its use in the prevention or treatment of disease.”

To get involved in the promotion of good science and help stop the spread of the anti-vaccine message, please contact

Further Reference:

Evidence for Homeopathic Medicines Guidance Document – Health Canada

Pertussis Outbreak in Alberta

Nosodes for Major Communicable Diseases Approved for Sale by Health Canada

For media enquiries, or additional information, please contact:

Jamie Williams
Executive Director
Bad Science Watch
1-888-742-3299 x 102

Bad Science Watch
180 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M3K 3P5
Tel: 1-888-742-3299
Fax: 1-888-813-3569

Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit activist organization that provides analysis of dubious scientific claims to Canadians, our government, and the media, promotes objective critical thinking and advocates for the enforcement and strengthening of consumer protection regulation.

Bad Science Watch is funded by individual donations, and is committed to organizational transparency.

Episode 26: “Thrive”

Episode 26: “Thrive”

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman, Gary Barbon, and Mark Forkheim discuss the online conspiracy film “Thrive” with Robert Shindler, Richelle McCullough, and Greg Christensen.

This episode was recorded over Google+, so the audio quality is occasionally inconsistent. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, Greg, Richelle, and Robert had to drop out of the show early, but Mark, Gary, and Gem soldiered on!

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

News Items: Bad Science Watch | Students at Quebec School Have Adverse Reaction to Hypnotist Act | Hypnosis (Wikipedia, The Skeptic’s Dictionary) | Obese Father Loses Custody of His Children | Do Atheists Have a Sexual Harassment Problem? | Freethought Blogs Roundtable (Harassment at Conferences, Why Talk About Social Justice?) | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg | Winnipeg Skeptics Anti-Harassment Policy | New NSA Docs Contradict 9/11 Claims (Salon, National Security Archive) | Prometheus: It Sucked

Addressing Some of Thrive’s Claims: Thrive | Entropy and Life | Graphical (Linear) Projection | The Flower of Life | Skeptoid on UFOs | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg: Perpetual Motion and Free Energy | The Hutchison “Effect” | The Death of Eugene Mallove (Suspects Arrested, Schaffer Enters Guilty Plea) | Interviewees Repudiate Thrive (Interviewees Distance Themselves from the Film, John Robbins Speaks Out Against Thrive) | Thrive Debunked (Index, Ancient Astronauts, Crop Circles, “False Flag” Attacks, Global Domination)

What Are You Reading? Hitch-22 | Against Intellectual Monopoly | Hegemony or Survival | Fundamentals of Computational Neuroscience | Going Solo | Singlism | Dying of the Light | John Dies at the End | Redshirts | I Am Legend | Why Are You Atheists So Angry? | Before Watchmen

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Episode 25: Curiosity and the Love of Science

Episode 25: Curiosity and the Love of Science

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, the LUEE hosts take the day off to enjoy a wonderful Canada Day, which allows hosts Robert Shindler, Richelle McCullough, and Gem Newman a chance to look back at the past year to share with you a couple of presentations from our vault.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Drinking Skeptically | Science and Media: A Love Story | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg | | Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat | TEDxManitoba | TEDx | TEDx Talks on YouTube

The recording of Gem Newman’s TEDxManitoba talk is owned by TED, and was released by TEDxTalks under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Correction: July’s Drinking Skeptically will take place at Smitty’s Lounge, 1017 St. James Street, instead of the usual location at the Norwood Hotel.

Episode 23: Justice and Hate Crimes

Episode 23: Justice and Hate Crimes

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Ali Ashtari, and Jeffrey Olsson talk about Canadian hate crime legislation and freedom of thought, conscience, and expression.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Bill C-10 & Minimum Sentences | Iranian Rapper Facing Death Threats | Atheist Murdered in Texas | Ernst Zundel | David Ahenakew | Summary of Hate Crime Definition | Criminal Code of Canada | Statistics on Canadian Hate Crimes | Effect of Hate Crime on Victims | References to Notable Canadian Hate Crime Convictions | Hate Crime in Canada: An Overview of Issues and Data Sources

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Episode 22: Skepticism in Fiction

Episode 22: Skepticism in Fiction

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman is joined by panellists Richelle McCullough, Javier Hernandez-Melgar, and Ashlyn Noble to discuss the way scientists, skeptics, and atheists are portrayed in fiction.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: TEDxManitoba: Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat (Gem Newman) | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg: Science & Media: A Love Story (Richelle McCullough) | Pediatricians in Canada Discharging Unvaccinated Children | Quebec Woman Sues Osteopath After Arm Amputated | Osteopathy | Osteopathic Medicine | Osteology | Highly Religious People Are Less Motivated by Compassion | Dinosaurs Roar to Life at the Manitoba Museum | The Transit of Venus on June 5th at the University of Manitoba | The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (Oliver Sacks) | The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan) | The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Robert A. Heinlein) | My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Feeling Pinkie Keen” | The Hollywood Atheist | The Flat-Earth Atheist | Agent Scully | Straw Vulcan | Skepticon 4: The Straw Vulcan (Julia Galef)

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Correction: Near the end of the episode, I mention that the main character in Cosmos is an atheist. While I suppose that may technically be true, I meant to refer to Contact.

Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown

The Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown is back… and this year more cities are participating than ever before!

The Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown is a British-style pub quiz that occurs every year on or around Pi-Day (the fourteenth of March) in multiple locations across Canada, with local and national bragging rights at stake. Teams of four(-ish) will compete in a series of five rounds of questions to see whose knowledge of all things skeptical will reign supreme!

If you want to participate, form a team of up to four players and come down to the closest event near you. And if you don’t have a team, don’t worry about it! Single players will be placed into new or existing teams upon arrival. If you decide to come down, I will personally guarantee you’ll have a great time!

Our event in Winnipeg will be held at the Norwood Hotel (112 Marion Street) on 14 March 2012 at 7:00 pm. You can RSVP at our Meetup site, or you can just show up!

But if you’re not in Winnipeg, you can attend one of the four other events across Canada this year.

City Venue Date Time
Niagara Region Mahtay Café TBA TBA
Ottawa Foolish Chicken 14 March 2012 TBA
Vancouver Billy Bishop Legion 14 March 2012 7:30
Winnipeg Norwood Hotel 14 March 2012 7:00

Participation is free!

The champion team for the past two years running is missing a core member. Come on out and give it your best. Have fun, and maybe walk away as the new national skeptical champion!

For more information on the other locations across Canada, this post will be updated as information becomes available. You can also email for more info.

TEDxManitoba Favourites

All of the talks from TEDxManitoba have been uploaded and are now available for your viewing pleasure!

First, the obligatory self-promotion. As the Sirius Cybernetics Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser might put it: Share and enjoy!

Remember: The “Like” button is your friend! The full text (along with references and annotations) can be found here!

Now that that’s done with, here are a few of my favourite TEDxManitoba talks, in no particular order. The event itself was amazing, the speakers were awesome, and I got useful ideas out of every single talk, whether I agreed with the core premise or not. So watch them all!

But if you don’t have time to watch them all, at least watch these ones!

Robert J. Sawyer: To Live Forever – or Die Trying

TJ Dawe: An Experiment in Collective Intelligence

Kale Bonham: Bridging Cultures Through Community Provoked Art

Matt Henderson: Teaching Ourselves to Last Forever

Hazel Borys: Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict

Brad Tyler-West: Opposites Distract

Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat

This is a talk that I gave at TEDxManitoba on 9 February 2012. Below the video you can find the full text of the talk, with annotations and sources provided. Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

As a kid, I loved playing Monopoly. I was great at it, too! I was very nearly unbeatable.

I remember one game, looking down at the board and wondering how I was ever going to win. My mother had just pulled a $500 bill out from where she’d hid it between the couch cushions, my stepfather’s hotels were crowding two sides of the board, and my houses on Mediterranean and Baltic just weren’t paying off. How could this be? I thought to myself. I’m a smart kid. I’m great at Monopoly! But the odds were stacked against me, and the situation seemed impossible.

But that’s what made me such a great Monopoly player, I guess. Somehow, I’d always pull out a win in the end. Thinking back, I don’t remember losing a single game!

At some point, we all need to come to terms with the fact that maybe things didn’t happen quite the way we remember them. As humans, we’re just not that great at telling what’s true from what we want to be true. Let’s be frank: I was ten. I probably sucked at Monopoly. But I remember being awesome.

As Yale neurologist Dr. Steven Novella notes, “Our memories are not an accurate recording of the past. They are constructed from imperfect perception filtered through our beliefs and biases… Our memories serve more to support our beliefs rather than inform them.”[Reference 1]

We’re not great observers, we humans, and we tend to pay much more attention to data that confirm our preconceived notions than to details that don’t fit our theories. We have a marked tendency to remember the hits and forget the misses; presumably why people like Sylvia Browne and John Edward remain so popular.

It’s for this reason that independent confirmation is one of the cornerstones of science.

I’m not a scientist, but I do think of myself as a “science cheerleader”. And science needs cheerleaders, for a couple of reasons.

First, because it’s important for everyone to have a basic scientific understanding. Professor Art Hobson put it this way: “the most crucial decisions [in industrialized nations] concern science and technology, and in democracies, citizens decide.”[Reference 2]

The second reason that science needs cheerleaders is that it is so oft maligned. Scientific skepticism is often portrayed as cold, unfeeling; antithetical to compassion or human emotion. Those with a penchant for whimsical nostalgia stubbornly insist that life was better and that times were simpler before science got all muddled up in society.[Note 1]

Could it be that they’re right?

Science is the quest to understand ourselves, our universe, and our place in it. Science is curious by nature, for its goal is to figure out what’s really true—but for that reason, science must also be skeptical. It insists that we shouldn’t simply take claims at face value, but instead we should proportion our belief in a proposition to the evidence supporting it.

A series of studies conducted in the 1980s found that roughly 80% of people consider themselves above average drivers.[Reference 3][Reference 4] A 1987 study of Australian workers found that only 1% of them rated their workplace performance as below average.[Reference 5] Unless I badly misremember how numbers are meant to work, it seems to me that something very near to half of them are mistaken.

The way that we see the world is coloured by many things, our own egos foremost among them. Perhaps when it comes to Monopoly games we can be forgiven if we see ourselves through rose-coloured glasses. Concern may become warranted when our callous assumption that we outperform our contemporaries affects the quality of our work or the safety of our driving.

But what about when it really counts? What if your child is sick? There are clearly many cases where we simply cannot afford to let our petty biases influence the way we see the world. And that’s where science comes in.

While it’s true that public support for science has remained generally high over the last several decades, and scientific literacy has been increasing more-or-less steadily, there have been some troubling developments in the popular media and in culture at large.[Note 2]

The image of the “mad scientist” is deeply ingrained in our culture, and probably dates to Mary Shelley’s celebrated Frankenstein, in which the relentless pursuit of knowledge leads inexorably to unspeakable horrors. This idea is not a new one. Anti-science messages have been with us for hundreds of years.

Here’s the problem: science is seen by many as unnatural, inaccessible, or even sinister. Scientists are widely regarded as arrogant, superior, or closed-minded.

What’s the common thread here? Aside from being totally awesome, that is. Any guesses?

As unbelievable as it might seem, all of these stories are riddled with anti-science or anti-reason messages. Even in science fiction, the genre that inspired so many of the technologies and conveniences that we take for granted today, it is common to see science portrayed as sinister and destructive.

In Star Trek, a series that celebrates human ingenuity, Spock is set up as a straw man, his much lauded Vulcan logic inevitably knocked down by Kirk’s emotionally driven human pluck. When it comes time to choose between thinking with your head and thinking with your heart, the message is clear: human emotion wins every time.[Note 3]

In Jurassic Park, the audience is shown the consequence of scientists “playing God”. As in Frankenstein, disaster is the inevitable result of scientific excess.

In Lost, John Locke constantly admonishes the other characters to have faith, that they are all on the island for some mysterious purpose. And, because it’s a fictional story, it turns out that he’s right.

Oh, and then there was that episode of The X-Files that showed faith in the supernatural triumphing over the skeptic… Which one was that again…? Oh, right: all of them. Don’t get me wrong: I loved The X-Files, but seriously—it was always a monster? Every time?

And even Scooby-Doo, a longtime favourite among skeptics of the paranormal, isn’t blameless. Recent adaptations are much more likely to feature real monsters than grumpy old groundskeepers who would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!

But perhaps the most egregious example of anti-science rhetoric in popular fiction is found in Ronald Moore’s 2003 reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

While dramatically enjoyable, the emphasis of faith over reason was a thread that wound its way through the entire series. What’s worse, the final episodes first hinted then proclaimed that in a society that embraces science and technology, a technologically driven holocaust is inevitable. This has all happened before, we are told, and it will all happen again.

The series culminates (spoiler alert) with the entire human race abandoning all technology in favour of founding a nomadic hunter-gatherer society. Science fiction becomes luddite fantasy—famine, disease, and the concomitant contraction of the human lifespan be damned.

This message is getting through to the public, loud and clear. A 2001 NSF survey found that 50 percent of Americans believe “We depend too much on science and not enough on faith”.[Reference 6] I find this distressing.

From The Terminator to The Matrix to 28 Days Later, the idea that science will lead to some sort of technopocalypse is ubiquitous these days. And after all, why not? Isn’t there a grain of truth to the idea?

Perhaps you might rightly scoff at Ben Stein’s contention in the pseudo-documentary Expelled that the science of evolution led to the Nazi holocaust…[Note 4]

…but what say you when the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are laid at scientists’ feet? Who can help but shiver upon hearing Oppenheimer’s words? “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” How can we answer such a charge?

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were forbidden the knowledge of good and evil, but their curiosity got the better of them. According to this story, it was our thirst for knowledge that led to the fall.

Curiosity, we’re told, is what killed the cat.

Knowledge can, of course, be used for good or for ill. Scientists invented the bomb—but it was politicians who called for it, taxpayers who funded it, and the military who saw it deployed. If you want to lay death and destruction solely at the feet of scientists, I don’t think that you’re playing fair.[Note 5]

“Curiosity killed the cat.” How unjust!

That we should be incurious is perhaps the single most damaging message that our children receive from popular culture. Curiosity is one of the greatest assets that we as a species possess. It fuels free inquiry! It fuels innovation! Without nurturing our curiosity we risk retarding our progress as a civilisation.

Knowledge is not evil, nor is the pursuit of it. Knowledge of the way this wondrous world really works equips us to better our own situation and that of every other living being with whom we share this planet.

“Curiosity killed the cat.” You would be hard pressed to find an idiom that irritates me more.

You want to know what probably didn’t kill the cat? Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, intestinal parasites! For every cat killed by curiosity, I would wager that there are hundreds who have been saved by veterinary practices unknown a century ago.

Curiosity cured the cat!

Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, is credited with saving one billion people from starvation. We have indoor plumbing and flush toilets, and hand-washing, and the germ theory of disease, all of which save countless lives every day. These victories aren’t just victories for science; they are victories for humanity. Science wins this fight.

As for the arrogance and closed-mindedness of scientists: I find this charge frankly startling, for in the process of skeptical inquiry I see the most amazing intellectual humility. The success of the scientific endeavour requires us to admit to our human foibles and failings, our petty biases and conceits. It is only in accounting for these human weaknesses that we make progress. Science is rooted in curiosity, and one cannot be curious without being humble. To wonder how something works, first you must admit that you don’t know.

So if science is so successful in improving our lives, why does science still have such an image problem? Why do people fail to understand that science isn’t the enemy of nature, but merely the study of it?

It probably isn’t news to you that the media has a huge effect on how we think and behave. That’s what advertising is all about, after all, and study after study shows that it works, even when we think that it doesn’t.

In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan laments that “Scepticism does not sell well. A bright and curious person who relies entirely on popular culture to be informed about something like Atlantis is hundreds or thousands of times more likely to come upon a fable treated uncritically than a sober and balanced assessment.”[Reference 7]

In a culture so steeped in irrationality, a culture that prizes faith over evidence, it can be difficult to make progress in promoting science. Right now, the greatest obstacle to the public understanding of science is the way it’s presented in the media.

So what if our stories had skeptical, pro-science messages? What if they encouraged the audience to think critically, rather than just nodding along? What if the heroes of our stories weren’t those who simply fought for what they believed in, but those who had the courage to ask themselves why it was that they believed it?

We have the power to reignite the public passion for learning new things. We need to teach everyone (everyone) what science is, at its core. That may sound daunting, but it’s really a very simple idea: Beliefs should be supported by good evidence.

None of us are perfect, and so if we’re serious about figuring out what’s really true we need to understand our own biases and apply a basic skepticism to all claims to knowledge. We need to avoid the temptation to look only for the evidence that confirms what we already believe. Or, as Randall Munroe put it, “You don’t use science to show that you’re right, you use science to become right.”[Reference 8]

And we already have allies in the popular media.

On the front lines, I see novelists like the excellent Robert Sawyer (from whom you heard only a moment ago) and the unbelievably popular J.K. Rowling.

Sawyer is famous for stories that show rationalism triumphing over superstition. In the Harry Potter series, Rowling provides an excellent role-model in Hermione Granger, whose success is due not to some innate talent, but to hard work and a willingness to question popular wisdom.

There are musicians like George Hrab and the inimitable Tim Minchin who encourage us to be skeptical of extraordinary claims. Sara Mayhew infuses her manga with a love of science. Randall Munroe and Zach Weiner pen comics that make us laugh and make us think. We have Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson working to communicate science to people of all ages. Adam Savage, Jaimie Hyneman, and rest of the gang at MythBusters remind us how exciting it can be to figure out what’s really true.

At this point, you might be wondering what you can do to help.

Be curious. Question everything. Prize learning over simply knowing, because even things that we think we know can turn out to be wrong. As Carl Sagan said, “it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”[Reference 9]

With everything that science has done for us, it deserves our support. So when you hear someone complain that science is arrogant, closed-minded, or dangerous: speak up. Because you know better.


[1] Steven Novella, “More Evidence Our Memory Stinks”,

[2] Art Hobson, “Physics literacy, energy and the environment”,

[3] Ola Svenson, “Are we all less risky and more skillful than our fellow drivers?”,

[4] Iain A. McCormick, Frank H. Walkey, Dianne E. Green, “Comparative perceptions of driver ability – a confirmation and expansion”,

[5] Bruce Headey, Alex Wearing, “The Sense of Relative Superiority – Central to Well-Being”,

[6] National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2002, “Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding”,

[7] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, page 9

[8] Randall Munroe, xkcd, “Science Valentine”, (image alt text)

[9] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, page 16


[1] They set science and rationalism here and they set mystery and compassion there and demand that you choose between them, even though such a choice makes no sense. Science is no more a cold, unfeeling monstrosity than is a screwdriver or a pair of spectacles. Science is a tool that helps us overcome some of our inherent limitations. And yet, the idea that life was somehow better, humbler, and more existentially satisfying in some misty, bygone age is pervasive in our society.

[2] In our culture, the scientifically illiterate can get on by saying that they’re just not “science people”. Basic scientific literacy is very important, but ScienceDaily reports that in North America it sits around 30%. It’s perfectly acceptable in our culture for a person to be scientifically illiterate, but just imagine what it would be like to have a similar attitude toward those who can’t read or write.

[3] To learn more about the Straw Vulcan, I refer you to the TVTropes page that coined the term. I also highly recommend Julia Galef’s talk from Skepticon 4, The Straw Vulcan.

[4] For more about the absurdity that is Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, I refer you to Expelled Exposed, a site created and maintained by the National Center for Science Education. This site cheerfully exposes the anti-science propaganda behind this so-called documentary, while managing at the same time to be an enjoyable read! I doff my proverbial hat to Eugenie Scott and the rest of the folks at the NCSE for their tireless work in combating creationism masquerading as science.

[5] Neil deGrasse Tyson expressed this sentiment well. “Scientists don’t lead marching armies!” he said. “Scientists don’t invade other nations! Yes, we had scientists who invented the bomb, but somebody had to pay for the bomb, and that was taxpayers, that was war bonds. There was a political action that called for it. But everyone blames the scientists! … At the end of the day, a discovery itself is not ‘moral’, it’s the application of it that has to pass that test.” (This quotation is taken from an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy. The interivew was conducted by a rare out-of-character Stephen Colbert, and is fantastic. You can watch it here.)