Here’s a fun parlour game suggested by reader Evan Harris aged 11½.
“It would be fun to Google John Wyatt and find all the references to his 23 week data in the national newspapers, BBC on-line, MPs etc. You could also find other people’s references to it (ie where you can’t pick it up via searching “Wyatt”, searching on 23 weeks perhaps, or “42%+abortion”, especially where MPs refer to it). Comparing that to the exposure that the proper Epicure references got would be helpful and interesting.”
Don’t let me distract you from the parlour game but Evan Harris (probably the best MP in parliament on badscience issues) has recently been subjected to a bizarre onslaught of very personal attacks from the Christian posse, whilst himself being rather restrained and factual (eg this produced this followed by this and then the baffling this in return).
I find it endlessly fascinating how the same rhetorical cultures show up time and again in pseudoscience, whether it’s quack cures, anti-vaccination campaigners, or anti-abortion christians: it’s always dodgy unpublished data, unreferenced claims, ideology masquerading as evidence, anecdote, and then, when they’re questioned on the data, the ad hominem attacks and the hissy fit.
Realistically, the anti-abortion campaign’s position has little to do with science or evidence: this talk of elevated risks of subsequent obstetric problems, or nonsense about abortion and breast cancer, is a distraction. Their stance is built on morality, faith, and gut feeling, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But just like homeopaths, the Christian campaigners now seem to be using science as window dressing, instead of playing to their strengths. Ho hum.
The interesting question is, how much did the media play along with that, how much did they use the iffy 42% figure, against the proper Epicure data, and what efforts did they go through to check that figure?
Good work on this from JDC here: