Free science literacy course launched

Posted 27 October 2020

The University of Alberta is offering a free online course in Science Literacy intended to enable learners to “understand and use scientific evidence to challenge claims based on misinformation, and engage the process of science to ask questions to build our knowledge.” The course has no prerequisites, features a variety of guest lecturers, and can be completed at the learner’s own pace—roughly five weeks with five to seven hours per week of study.

Reference: Lyle A. UAlberta launches free online Science Literacy course. University of Alberta Faculty of Science, Oct 13, 2020

The modules of the course are: Introduction to Science; Pseudoscience; Critical Thinking; Scientific Methods; and Interpreting Evidence

About the Course

We are often told not to believe everything we read online or see on TV—but how do we tell the difference between sensationalized statistics and a real scientific study? Learn how to spot

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How to avoid becoming a super spreader of fake news on social media – Top tips

Posted 02 April 2020

10 ways to spot online misinformation

By H. Colleen Sinclair* The Conversation

Propagandists are already working to sow disinformation and social discord in the run-up to the November elections.

Many of their efforts have focused on social media, where people’s limited attention spans push them to share items before even reading them – in part because people react emotionally, not logically, to information they come across. That’s especially true when the topic confirms what a person already believes.

It’s tempting to blame bots and trolls for these problems. But really it’s our own fault for sharing so widely.
Research has confirmed that lies spread faster than truth – mainly because lies are not bound to the same rules as truth.

As a psychological scientist who studies propaganda, here is what I tell my friends, students and colleagues about what to watch out for. Read the rest

Are medical errors really the third most common cause of death in the U.S.?

Posted 19 February 2020

Promoters of “alternative medicine” have exploited previous estimates of hospital deaths “due to medical error” to undermine the public confidence in medicine. Dr David Gorski has assessed the most recent Yale study and has provided an analysis of the study, below.

The claim that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US has always rested on very shaky evidence; yet it has become common wisdom that is cited as though everyone accepts it. But if estimates of 250,000 to 400,000 deaths due to medical error are way too high, what is the real number? A recently published study suggests that it’s almost certainly a lot lower.

David Gorski on February 3, 2020

I say this at the beginning of nearly every post that I write on this topic, but it bears repeating. It is an unquestioned belief among believers in alternative medicine

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Belle Gibson mimicked countless fake healers

Posted 05 April 2017

This article published in the Guardian, reports on Belle Gibson, a young Australian who claimed to have been cured of cancer following a ‘natural’ path, and in the process building a thriving career based on what in fact turned out to be a lie. She never had cancer.

[quote] Gibson’s public excoriation did nothing to temper her enthusiasm for peddling cures. No reflection on the damage she wreaked on vulnerable people. No self-imposed exile from being a wellness guru to her admiring followers. No, she simply moved on to Facebook under a pseudonym and continued to champion worm-releasing enemas, iris-altering tinctures, and tonsil-shrinking teas. While many people shake their head at this nonsense, she is not short of admirers who hold her in even higher estimation as a rebuke to the naysayers.[/quote]

There are lessons to be learnt here – South Africans are constantly being … Read the rest

Unreason, like the poor, will always be with us. But why does quackery survive when science is making life better?

Posted 03 March 2015

This thought provoking article, titled “Beyond belief” by Michael Hanlon, was published some years ago, but we only became aware of this recently.

“Unreason, like the poor, will always be with us. But why does quackery survive when science is making life better?”

It is reproduced below in the event that the Aeon website is not accessible.

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Dutch Society Against Quackery dates back to 1880

Posted 19 January 2015

The Dutch Society Against Quackery dates back to 1880 and is probably the oldest as well as the largest of its kind in the world.

Discontentment with the massive violations of the influential Dutch prime minister’s (Johan Rudolf Thorbecke) health laws led to the foundation in 1880 of the Dutch Society against Quackery. Within a few years the Society had over 1100 members. Initially quackery mostly consisted of the unauthorized practice of medicine and the peddling of industrially manufactured ‘secret remedies.’ After World War II, however, the energy of the Society focused mainly on magnetizers, especially after they gained support from the field of parapsychology, lay-manipulators of the back and herb doctors. 

Continue reading . . .

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The Fine Art of Baloney Detection

Posted 16 January 2015

“The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” is an essay by Carl Sagan in his seminal work against pseudoscience, The Demon-Haunted World.

In this essay, he gives advice for devising conclusions, as well as advice for avoiding logical and rhetorical fallacies. Together, the set of warning signs for common fallacies constitutes what Sagan calls a “Baloney Detection Kit.” Sagan categorizes the logical and rhetorical fallacies as below. Here is given the type of fallacy, a definition of each, and an example from the current internet.

The RationalWiki page includes What to look out for, and The Bullshit Detection Kit

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Skeptics will always face an uphill struggle against pseudoscience

Posted 07 January 2015

Vulnerable people fall for the claims of psychics and their ilk because irrationality is ingrained in the human psyche

A great article from the Guardian

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A Rought Guide to Spotting Bad Science

07 December 2014

From the website,, 12 pointers to spotting abuse of science to make claims:

  1. Sensationalised headlines
  2. Misinterpreted results
  3. Conflict of interests
  4. Correlation & causation
  5. Speculative language
  6. Sample size too small
  7. Unrepresentative samples
  8. No control group used
  9. No blind testing used
  10. ‘Cherry-picked’ results
  11. Unreplicable results
  12. Journals & citations

Read the original pdf for elaboration!

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The portrayal of slimness through design

Posted 25 March 2014

This research article, titled “The portrayal of slimness through design : an analysis of a misleading weight loss advertisement : research article” written by Rudi De Lange, Tshwane University of Technology, was published in the South African Journal of Art History (2013;28(2):72-84. 

The abstract reads:

The portrayal of the ultra-thin ideal model in the media contributes to body discontent amongst some viewers of the intended target groups. This in its turn may lead to excessive weight concerns and so create a vulnerable group that is primed for commercial exploitation. Advertising designers exploit this vulnerable population through the use of visceral imagery and text in misleading weight loss advertisements in order to better market their products. The ultra-thin models used in weight loss advertisements act as strong emotional cues and enable advertisers to influence even wary consumers to respond to these cues. This case study Read the rest