What happened to the dinosaurs?

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Did you ever wonder? And if you did wonder, did you Google it? And if you did google it, did you get the results shown above? And if you did, did you click “feedback” and do something like the following?

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No? Do so now, please.

This is important. Why? Because we have been hearing rumors lately that Google intends to change the way it produces searches to bias the search results in the direction of more reliable sites. But the number one search result for a key question that a lot of people ask about evolution is a bogus creationist site.

I’ve never, for one moment, gone along with the idea that Google can pull off a better, more reliable search based on the Google view of what sites are more reliable. My position on this has annoyed many of my colleagues. The promise of the Internet being less bogus and more educational is attractive. But it is a siren call. Regarding this particular issue I’ll claim the role of Galileo until proven otherwise.

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Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, set in the Congo.

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    Have you read the breakthrough novel of the year? When you are done with that, try:

    In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden, now in Kindle or Paperback
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    79 thoughts on “What happened to the dinosaurs?

    1. Google apparently looks slightly different in the UK, but the AIG site still comes up first (although Creationism – thankfully – is just a fringe opinion here). Feedback sent!

    2. Done.
      That little bit from answers in genesis seems to be the creationist electronic version of the stereotyped creep in the ice cream truck.

    3. AWESOM-O

      Anything that get’s Greg Laden ‘fired up’ is A-OK with me. I’m not quite sure who is doing the indoctrination though. It’s not like the word ‘indoctrinate’ isn’t even staring anyone right there in their own face even! I do think that the pre-fetus children of the would would look that one up though. It would appear to be a double edged knife though, as in it cuts BOTH ways.


      But, you know, go ahead, CENSOR the Internets, as we pre-fetus children of the world don’t have any brains whatsoever, don’t you know, we must have mind control or a BIG BROTHER, so as a stand in for a BIG BROTHER I’d suggest that Teh Google perform that duty.

      And in Teh Google so doing those duties, could Teh Google please purge all manner, way, shape and form of religious and secular ideologies?

      I’d suggest starting with economics, we really don’t understand economics anyways.


    4. Google is probably just giving you the link that it ‘thinks’ you are looking for. Did you really want to know what happened to the dinosaurs? I thought not.

    5. It is absolutely disgusting that people who think differently to us should be allowed a voice. They should be silenced at all costs as the fount of all wisdom and knowledge resides with us not with them.
      Next they will be wanting us to believe that the universe did not create itself from nothing! God help us all if such a concept excapes into the wild.

    6. initially i thought this was a joke article. so i googled it and low and behold, there it was. bogus creationalist CRAP as the first link. SHAME ON YOU GOOGLE. i sent my feedback accordingly.

      Thank you Greg for finding and pointing this out. BTW, found this article through slashdot (best news site on the web…)

      William J. Schilp, PhD

    7. Hey Everett, no one is talking about censoring the interwebs here, but rather correcting the results to be factual rather than some BS beliefs. These search results are patently ridiculous.

    8. I got these results from here in Oz :


      This very article was (kinda) the first one listed then the Kreationist one under “What really Happened to the Dinosaurs?” But above them under a thin gray line under the “In the news’ bit at the top was : “Why is Google giving a creationist answer to a question about dinosaurs?” Which lead stothis artcile :


      which notes the problem and concludes :

      It’s not clear if this is a Search algorithm error, or if someone has hijacked this particular query. We’ve reached out to Google, and will update this article when we hear back.

      For whatever use that is.

    9. @ Everett F Sargent : Huh? What a strange and hard to make sense of comment there, seriously, are you drunk or high or something?

      “Pre-fetus’ children? Um , you mean uncombined eggs and sperm do you? (Maybe you meant post-fetus children which is kinda the definition of children?)

      Censor the internet? Er, this is Google and not the whole internet – one admittedly dominant search engine and company. There’s plenty of uncensored material online some of which I gather is exceptionally nasty indeed. Especially on the so-called “dark web.”

      This isn’t incidentally “censorship” because as far as I know no one is suggesting banning ‘Answers in Genesis’ from it and removing their site and its misleading and scientifically inaccurate crap from it, tempting and beneficial as that may be. ( AiG, like everyone, have the right to their own opinions not their own facts and they do have the right to express themselves. They do NOT however have the right to be the first (or even 2nd, 3rd or 300th item found on the most popular search engine!)

      @ 7. Peter : See above. Also try to learn some cosmology and maybe research what science actually says on this because you seem from that one throwaway line to be woefully un~ or misinformed.

      I suggest you start with Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’ or Tim Ferris’es excellent and highly readable ‘The Whole Shebang’ or maybe some of Paul Davies books.

    10. @5.@ Everett F Sargent :“Pre-fetus’ children? Or embryoes? zygotes? Fused and newly impregnated egg? Is pharyngula the technical word or something? Besides possible relevance has this to do with the subject matter here and what point are you even trying to make?

    11. Never mind! Found it (right at the bottom was looking at top before) and sent them the following :

      What’s the deal with the search results for ‘What happened to the dinosaurs’ having as one of its first entries a misleading and inaccurate creationist page? This isn’t helpful or appropriate and needs to change so the Answers in Genesis misinformation is dropped wa-aay down the order behind relevant, accurate and worthwhile scientific studies and even probably also fictional accounts eg. what happened to the dinosaurs in Dr Who and other SF shows and novels.

      Apparently they appreciate our feedback. Guess we’ll soon see just how much ..

    12. Bit of a beat-up, don’t you think? Currently your blog gets top billing (I only wanted to know what happened to the dinosaurs – not what really happened). 2nd in the search was aig, and the next 5 were conventional science and stuff sites.
      Need to teach early on about quality of sources, and selecting more than one search result.

    13. This explain a lot. Are they doing this with CERN as well? When searching using you tube some incredible crack pot “religious” trash is in there.

    14. You DO realise that that’s not how search engines work, right? There isn’t someone at Google who’s pushing creationism by tinkering withe search results… Google could declare the site as ‘authoritative’ but that seems pretty unlikely.

      Search results come from a number of factors, some of which can be biased by doing things like “does it actually have an exact match for the question on the page?” (which is why Ken Ham’s book comes up – the title is an exact match), or a page may match more words in the query.. or more people may click on that link after searching for that question.

      Google’s search engine – like most of them – is almost entirely automatic and driven by algorithms that really don’t know anything about the subject in question.

      Short version: it’s unlikely there’s much Google can do about one-offs like this. If you don’t like the answer, I recommend getting people to do the search and then click on the OTHER links to move them up.

    15. That site is also right below an Amazon Ad for a biblical children’s book, What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?, at the top of duckduckgo’s results. But at least no one tracked me.

      What really happened is that they found the great valley, lived happily ever after, but then were turned into petroleum so we could drive happily ever after.

    16. Done.

      Google needs to refine their algorithms to not be so easily hacked… or keep working on that whole “truth evaluation” thing they have talked about. Superstitious lies about a science question are not tolerable.

    17. Awesome, no, I just do this thing every night where I sleep for a couple of hours, so I can’t approve comments by new commenters! 🙂

    18. @The Werewolf:

      The entry in question is not from the usual list of search results, but displayed as a prominent authoritatively looking box, including a description of the site where the information is coming from. While much of this stuff seems to be auto-generated (e.g., “age of the universe” displays an excerpt from Slate, huh?), Google seems to maintain a list of what they consider as reliable sources.

      It’s not only happening with creationism, I’ve seen a physics crackpot site also being displayed there. I filed a complaint, and shortly afterwards Google removed the listing.

    19. Interestingly on google.de your blog post came up first, although it asked if I wanted to see results about the book. So I gave general feed back there.

      All other posts were reports about your blog post. Good job!

    20. #12, Astrostevo: “Science works. … enabling … so much … Why do some people hate it so?”

      1.) Because science cannot be manipulated to meet political agendas.

      2.) Because people fear what they do not understand; What people fear, they seek to avoid, disable, or destroy.

    21. Brainstorms – Science cannot be manipulated to meet political agendas?! Choke – cough – sorry, that one was a little hard to swallow.

      Naturally, the science that supports YOUR positions is just fine and not at all manipulated. However, I’m certain if you consider the political and social opinions you strongly oppose, especially those relating to the appropriate uses of various suites of technologies, you will quickly think of examples of published science supporting some of them that are weak at best, overtly biased at worst, and yet proffered by believers as definitive.

      I say this confidently without having looked up your past comments to know what your opinions are, because it happens in numerous fields. The mantle of Science is claimed to support both (or all) opposing extreme positions on a question, while it seems apparent to those who don’t hold those positions that their promoters, including professional scientists, are driven in large part by ideology or financial interests.

      If you want to look on the bright side, this manipulation of science shows that the public still does value science. Yes,some people do hate science because they glorify ignorance as such, while more people are just tired of being given fishy advice in authoritative tones. If most Americans fell into the first group, extremists would not need to generate crappy journal papers to support their positions, nor corporations to falsely claim scientific proof that their products were safe. They could just say “Ignore all that science-y stuff on the other side – you know science is Bad anyway!” As things are, they still know that they had better claim Science to be on their side, which means that even if the public doesn’t trust scientists, it still wants to trust science.

    22. Jane, I never said that science cannot be wrapped in political manipulation. Of course it can.

      We are not talking about the application of science (i.e., engineering and technology) — you’ve inserted that yourself.

      The science itself, a reflection of “What Nature Is”, will not alter its reality to suit a political agenda. This is why it is so frustrating to the wing-nuts: They see everything in the world as something that can be politically spun to their agenda, but “What Is” cannot be (unless they’ve somehow developed a technology that changes the laws of physics, chemistry, etc. — called “laws” for a good reason).

      Hence, science (itself) cannot be manipulated to to meet political agendas.

      What motivates scientists (again, your injection of an issue) is largely irrelevant to science itself. It doesn’t matter if a scientist discovers/characterizes physics truth ‘X’ because he’s being paid, because it’s his hobby, because of serendipity, or because he’s a radical and wants to destroy Western Civilization. Any other competent, motivated, equipped, etc. scientist can research the same issue and, if the first one did the work correctly, will come up with the same results/characteristics, etc. They or their employers may then spin and manipulate issues using (mis-using) the results, but that’s not science either.

      Again, your “manipulation of science” is not science. And this is what discombobulates the wing-nuts, who think that it is science — and therefore science can be denied, twisted, etc. But it doesn’t work. (No amount of wing-nut denierology is changing what AGW is doing to the planet.) Denial of science is not “engaging in science”. Neither is “fishy advice in authoritative tones”. That’s politics.

      So yes, the public can still trust science. These days, it may well be the ONLY thing they can trust!

    23. Just for fun I “googled” the question in the yahoo search engine and I got this:

      What Happened to the Dinosaurs?

      From Yahoo Answers

      None of what you say evolution says is actually what it describes. Evolution describes how species arise, via mutation and natural selection. That’s it. “Evolution” does not simply mean “science” or “all science that disagrees with the bible”.

      answers.yahoo.com More answers
      What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs? | Answers…

      The Bible gives us a framework for explaining dinosaurs in terms of thousands of years of history, including the mystery of when they lived and what happened to them.
      What Killed Dinosaurs: New Ideas About the Wipeout

      Feb 10, 2013 · An asteroid slamming into Earth 66 million years ago was a contributing factor but not the only culprit in the dinosaurs … eruptions happened two …
      Dinosaur – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade Dinosauria. They first appeared during the Triassic period, 231.4 million years ago, and were the dominant …
      What happened to the dinosaurs – Yahoo Answers Results

      What happened to the dinosaurs ?
      6 answers

      Evolutionists say the dinosaurs died out about 65-70 million years ago. How? Well, there are over 50 different theories. Let me just list a few: -Mammals eating dinosaur eggs. -New narcotic plants evolving. -Global cooling/global warming….
      What Happen to the dinosaurs ?
      8 answers

      Well, some dinosaurs seem to have evolved into our modern birds, but my feeling is tha the larger varieties have only become extrinct in recent times, perhaps several decades ago. Some may still have been roaming the Congo region as…
      What happened to the dinosaur ?
      4 answers

      They were wiped out by the effects of the Chicxulub impact 65.5 million years ago i.e. loss of photosynthesis and productivity from impact dust and smoke, leading to starvation–besides quicker mortality from falling debris and heat. We…

      7248 related questions
      Evolution: Extinction: What Killed the Dinosaurs?

      What Killed the Dinosaurs? Introduction … What happened 65 million … A dinosaur extinction hypothesis is a testable statement describing factors that …
      Dinosaur extinction: Was an asteroid the only…

      May 24, 2015 · Over the past few years, paleontologists have been revising their view of what actually happened during one of the five worst extinctions of Earth’s history.

    24. From here, the top search result is your blog post, followed by nearly a page of results talking about Google’s misstep. Plus there were a couple of articles on new legitimate challenges to the impact theory.

    25. Brainstorms – Sorry, I disagree that either your epistemology or your personal response are definitive (I prefer to smoke rather than inject issues, personally).

      There are layers and layers of what may be termed Science. There are ‘facts’ observed in the lab or field, which perhaps cannot be twisted, but also have no special standing relative to observations made by non-experts. There are interpretations of those facts: what causes them, do they support my hypothesis, should my hypothesis be labeled True? There are limitations regarding what questions can be asked, but also cultural and ideological strictures on what questions should be asked and which studies’ results will be accepted.

      Science often becomes controversial when there are conflicting data, or conflicting claims or hypotheses, that are relevant to average human beings’ real lives. That means things we do or have done to us, i.e., technologies. There is no public debate, for example, about the details of the Krebs cycle. You might term this Science Itself, as opposed to an Issue or an Application. The public don’t care about it, but they also don’t suspect that well-paid experts are pushing it down their throats to serve a hidden agenda.

      Now, take the situation where one group is saying science proves endocrine-disrupting chemicals or neonicotinoids are harmful, and another group says no, science says they are not, so shut up and keep eating them. Both have publications to wave around, which are presumably based on data. Where is the Science Itself as separated from the manipulation?

    26. Greg Laden

      Yeah, well have to address the impact theory soon

      I’ve been trying to explain this to my 8yo son 😉

      Tectonically-forced climate change as the fundamental driver of the Big Five (and the lesser ones). Chixalub as a punch to an already broken nose etc.

    27. To be clear, I wasn’t talking to him about broken noses, rather that science evolves, that the big impact hypothesis might not be the full story etc.

      I didn’t discuss modern warming either. The unpleasant stuff can wait a while. He’s only eight.

    28. Jane, you’re likely not surprised that I, too, disagree that neither your epistemology nor your personal response are definitive. (And I don’t smoke or inject anything.)

      That you see “layers and layers” of what your or anyone else wishes to define science as being does not define science (except in their minds), though you’re certainly free to think that way, as many likely do already. “Use of science” and its results is not science (the oxymoronic term “political science” notwithstanding).

      Stating that “there are ‘facts’ observed in the lab or field, which perhaps cannot be twisted, but also have no special standing” comes across as a bit self-serving. What justification do you offer to discredit relevant scientific results in a discussion of what constitutes science?

      As far as interpreting and deciding questions of fact, no one person in the realm of science is charged with the authority to make such pronouncements. They are arrived at by the general consensus of the community — and always with the understanding that future research and discoveries may change the accepted views. (Which does not, of course, render all views of all topics as being equally probable or improbable of eventually being disproved.)

      And as science is not about any individual’s ego or personal interpretation, bias, or agenda, it is also not about cultural restrictions on asking questions or about ideological strictures regarding research or results interpretations. That’s politics again.

      Similarly, science is not defined by what the general public is interested in, or not interested in, what they can grasp, or what confuses them. Nor is it “the latest technology” or what’s described in popular media.

      Your example, the Krebs Cycle, is a theory arrived at by years of research by experts in its field and agreed to by consensus. It differs little (fundamentally) from, say, climate science, where theories are also arrived at by years of research by experts in its field and agreed to by consensus, even when both fields are being studied by the so-called well-paid experts.

      The observation that “the public” appears not to care about the consequences of the Krebs Cycle, but may be stirred up (by politically-motivated groups) to think certain things about climate science does not change this.

      Just because a scientific group and subject are being accused in overly-publicized ways of pushing an agenda, and its results are being distorted by politically-motivated groups seeking to profit from, or protect profit sources related to, such distortion, does not change this.

      Suppose the fast-food industry felt its profits being threatened from implications of our understanding of the Krebs Cycle, and then sought to distort and accuse the consensus regarding that subject, whipping public sentiment against KC-related predictions and consequences regarding public health by preying on people’s fears of losing their cherished Big Gulps and munchies. Would you be arguing that suddenly KC studies are pulled into question because the public is now aware & interested?

      “Science” (scientists) are not going to hold public forums to announce “such-and-such is not harmful, keep eating”. We can find corporate media staff and industry spokespersons who *will*, however. Yet the only “science” they are involved in is marketing demographics and the psychology of manipulating public opinion and behavior.

      Public interest, corporate interest, self-interest, etc., is not science, and does not define science, determine its relevance, pass judgment on its results, or determine “truth”. It does, however, impact policy development regarding such, and that, as I’ve been pointing out, is politics, not science.

      Where is the science itself? Being conducted in laboratories, being written up for publication, being reviewed by groups of expert peers in the subjects at hand, and having their experiments and study results reproduced and further examined. It is that examination, review, re-producing of results by many scientists, converging on agreed-upon results, conclusions, consequences, etc. that turns hypotheses into theories, theories being “agreed upon truths of how things are, to the best of mankind’s knowledge”.

      Politicians, then, are best guided by these understandings, rather than by corporate short-term interests, political agendas, ideologies, fickle & manipulated public opinion, etc.

      Reading between the lines: We are best served by forging policy on the basis of sound science. Even in the face of disapproval. And that is a tall order when dealing with the likes of politicians and other self-interested entities.

      BTW, I did not state that my opinions as definitive; you asserted that. It may read that way, but that’s not my intent (to shove anything down anyone’s throat). And I’ll state this clearly: Your opinions & my opinions carry no more weight in the scheme of things than those of others. (Such is life.)

      “Truth”, as Science reveals it, is an emergent property of the consensus and collective work of many researchers, and is disinterested and detached from political, ideological, ego, or other “needs” of human individuals or institutions. Many have foolishly thought they could override that (as with other subjects mankind deals with), yet later got their come-uppance.

      Nature will not be anyone’s fool. And many find that to be interminably frustrating.

    29. I feel I must respond in my Devil’s Advocate persona.

      Were you promised truth? Google delivers popular results, not truth.

      They have to be extremely careful about this. Google is defending against numerous lawsuits by stating they do not choose the order of search results. The order arises “organically” — their own term in legal briefs.

      What should Google do?

      In your answer, consider::
      The European “Right to be Forgotten”
      Defamation laws
      Laws in repressive countries
      The “santorum” problem.

    30. Brainstorms – Capital-T Truth, to the extent that such exists, may be detached from political, ideological, and ego needs. However, the practice of science is not. If you are a practicing scientist, the questions you choose to study and the methods you use depend upon your (or your employer’s, or your peers’) interests and beliefs and upon what kinds of funding are available. These things are always culturally influenced and are never value-neutral.

      Unusable abstract knowledge is nice, I suppose, but we are usually told that science is important because it expands the range of things we know how to do for human benefit. That means science that facilitates the development of new technologies or helps us to use existing technologies wisely. These things also are not value-neutral.

      On another issue, your straw man regarding “discredit[ing] relevant scientific results” is not helpful. Suppose we stipulate that only observations made by professional scientists qualify as Facts. You still have many complex and difficult questions – the types that are often most relevant to the public – for which different sets of publications present data (i.e., facts!) that seem to support opposite opinions. If the public is supposed to take its beliefs from Science, which set of data/facts is to be trusted and which rejected? How is the public to know?

      In discussions like this, I keep trying to make the point that the public has legitimate reason not to automatically adopt any opinion said to be scientific. They have seen scientists assert as fact things that were later shown to be wrong or questionable, from the abstruse (phlogiston, fixed continents, supersymmetry) to the immediately relevant (one unwise twiddle of the Western diet after another). They have seen shills for a dozen industries assert that science proved their products or pollutants were safe, when they were not. They have seen science held up as a behind-the-curtain arbiter of values, so that “scientific advice” proffered by experts may be based not just on factual knowledge but on associated value judgments that the public are not encouraged to influence or even consider.

      Now, many professional scientists may like to say, as you are saying, that this is not their problem. Even when the televised Experts explicitly whack their audiences over the head with the club of science, that is mere “application” or “politics,” which has nothing to do with true Science. The public should understand the difference without being told, ignore the former [or submit to it, if you prefer], and keep believing in and funding the latter.

      Unfortunately, that may not be a reasonable expectation, if you define that as “one that has much chance of coming true.” Most taxpayers still have some regard for science, which is why every pressure group still feels obliged to find or fake scientific data supporting their position. But nobody wants to hear: “If you don’t trust our factual claims or accept our values, that’s ’cause you’re stupid. Now hurry up and give us more money.” Maybe they “should” accept that; human nature says they won’t. If they don’t, some other approach to the relationship between science and the public had better be found soon; otherwise institutional science runs a real risk of collapse.

    31. jane

      In discussions like this, I keep trying to make the point that the public has legitimate reason not to automatically adopt any opinion said to be scientific.

      Which is where the scientific consensus becomes a useful guide for the layman. Of course it is provisional and of course it can be wrong, but it arises from incessant competition that whittles away weak arguments.

    32. Jane,

      I appreciate that your responses are well-considered and eloquent… And I agree with many of your points as well.

      For example, that the practice of science is not detached from politics, ideologies, and egos. What I would like to get across to those who are reading these comments is the important difference between what Science is and what it is not. That is, its mis-characterizations, misuse, etc. to push agendas, confuse, mislead and manipulate the public — the situations that you just pointed out.

      Science *is* important because it expands the range of things we know how to do for human benefit. And it’s not just the development of new technologies (although for most people, that’s what they see it as). It’s also to learn about the world (at various scales of time and size) and how it “works” — because that information is also not value-neutral.

      Your points about “different sets of publications present data that seem to support opposite opinions”, “How is the public to know?”, and “the public has legitimate reason not to automatically adopt any opinion said to be scientific” are all very good ones and what I seek to address. BBD, in #38 has much of the answer: No one should be taking any one opinion as “the answer” on any topic, for that would not be scientific; that’s not science.

      The key thing about science, and perhaps contrasts it with most other human endeavors, is that it embraces a self-correcting methodology that operates successfully without (and in some cases, in spite of) the people & politics that seems to taint so much of everything else we are involved with (the politics, the marketing, the manipulation, etc.).

      It’s more than just “you can’t take only one source’s word for it”, nor is it as simple as the quasi-democratic consensus that implies that “truth is up for a vote”. It’s closer to “after everyone has put forth their hypotheses, and struggled to prove everyone else incorrect on theirs, what emerges as the dust settles that has the strongest de facto support going for it?” — not the support of personalities, moneyed interests, or ideologies, as in votes or propaganda campaigns, but something much more trustworthy: What is the *emergent* characteristics of the results of studies and research and reviews and confirmatory experiments and disproving experiments done over & over, here & there, time & again, and by disconnected/independent people & teams of all persuasions and motivations?

      The key thing to understand is that it is not any one person, group, university, pubic relations campaign, award ceremony, publication, television show, propaganda strategy, advice column, or “panel of experts” that makes the definitive decision on anything scientific. Similarly, none of them can single-handedly disprove and discredit anything that has scientific weight behind it: Any research/experiment result that seemingly *disproves* scientific consensus on a subject would also be subject to scrutiny and have to be independently reproduced and reviewed before it could be accepted to change current theories, just as new results must go through a similar gauntlet to be accepted “as fact” (as the layman puts it).

      In this way, science is self-correcting, even though in some cases this correction takes longer than some of us would wish. But it does take place. No one can succeed in maintaining that the Emperor is finely attired, as eventually a little boy will appear to announce that he has no clothes. And if not a little boy, a little girl will do the same. There have been several foolish attempts in the past many years of researchers attempting to pull the wool over the world’s collective eyes by falsifying what they purported to be scientific evidence of one thing or another, only to be humiliated and discredited, careers aflame, when they were found out and their results discredited.

      So your “shills” may indeed have their day in sun (their “15 minutes of fame”), but that’s all they’ll get before they’ll be discredited. Their assertions notwithstanding — for as I pointed out, the assertions of any one person, group, publication, etc. are not to be taken as gospel science; if a thing’s true, it will be reported & repeated by peer-reviewed publications that have undergone review and reached consensus by corroboration and the agreement of experts who can — and will — conduct corroborating studies so that we can be sure of what’s claimed.

      And I’ll disagree with you on one point: That professional scientists DO consider these issues as “their problem”. We are all aware of these kinds of attempts to distort, deny, and manipulate for political, financial, and ideological ends. Our reputations and the importance of our work and its results DO cause us to want an effective means of countering this phenomena so that “The Truth” (as best we understand it) will be known, understood, and used to inform smart political policies. We do not operate in a societal/political vacuum of impassioned disinterest (so to speak). And no professional seeks to whack their audiences over the head with either pronouncements nor some sort of superiority complex; we really *want* to be understood — our work is important to mankind.

      Yes, the public should understand — all of this — but it’s difficult. “You can lead a man to data, but you can’t make him think.” Add to that the continuing abysmal slide of public education towards “Idiocracy” and our job is made all the more difficult.

      If anyone should hear any person or group saying, “If you don’t trust our factual claims or accept our values, that’s ’cause you’re stupid” or “hurry up and give us more money”, look closer (follow the money) or run — but run to a place where you can look things up — from multiple sources — and educate yourself on the issues as the scientific community understands and accepts them. “Real scientists” don’t push issues that way — but I’ve heard pseudo-scientists and anti-scientists do so. Caveat emptor!

      So, the science community would do well, IMHO, to work on how well they are communicating “what science is” vs “what it’s not” and *why* the processes and methodologies that they’ve developed result in something that is trustworthy — and how to discern this when others try to leverage that trustworthiness in their distortions aimed at hijacking it to give their false propheteering credibility that it lacks. Or attack science’s trustworthiness with self-serving denialism that preys on fears, biases, and doubts.. and ultimately leads us to choose paths that lead to our own harm and those of others.

    33. Brainstorms – Thanks for your response. I find myself agreeing with most of it, but I think that the lofty ideal of science rising above cultural and personal interests – though certainly something we should all strive for – is not achievable in real life. There really are working professionals, for example, who try to use the imprimatur of “science” or “sound science” to shut down debate, even to the point of labeling opposing scientific data “pseudoscience”, and so long as science is a set of enterprises conducted by bald apes, I see no likelihood that such practices will ever vanish altogether.

      To clarify my own position, I am a professional scientist, and I do seek opportunities to engage in respectful public outreach and education and to speak up for my own opinions while acknowledging the values that they rely upon. Some of my colleagues simply don’t. I know people who act like being asked to talk to some local business club, say, is as thrilling as an invitation to a chickenpox party – and then they sit around grousing about the sad state of funding and how ignorant and stupid the taxpayers must be not to care.

      In effect, though they’re certainly not shills, they would be happy to be part of a priestly elite that receives endless support for its abstruse activities without having to put much effort into explaining why those activities merit public support. Instead, I guess, the public is supposed to conclude that if they don’t (“can’t”) understand the activity, the very fact that it’s over their heads proves that it’s special and important. The public has a finite tolerance for this attitude.

      I like to use auto mechanics as an example of the attitude and role we should be trying to adopt. They know far more about their subject than the rest of us, and some of them use it to deceive and exploit – lookin’ at you, local Honda dealership – but by and large the public isn’t suspicious of and hostile to mechanics. In my opinion this is because (a) a good one will not conflate facts with value judgements and expect you to accept the latter, and (b) their legitimate services are self-evidently beneficial.

      The latter understanding is hard for scientists to achieve because there are usually multiple stages between the scientist’s work and the benefit to the public. That’s why we need to make those connections more visible. There are some avenues of research that don’t have much evident relevance to public well-being, and in tough times the public might very well choose not to support those.

    34. Jane, I didn’t mean to imply that Science rises above those interests and succeeds in smiting them. I agree with you that such is not achievable — as long as the bald apes are involved.

      What I meant that Science has an ability to eventually overcome those who seek to use & abuse it to further political or financial shenanigans. And sometimes that makes for a lot of drama in the media, and sometimes that takes a while to achieve. However, even the public at large is smart enough to realize that if you have a number of experts in a field looking at an issue, it’s just not realistic to assume that most of them will (somehow) collude amongst themselves to perpetrate and perpetuate a scientific fraud — especially when there’s no obvious gain for those involved.

      And it’s not just the fact that “there may be many ways to spin a lie, but there’s only one way to spin the truth” (i.e., if you’re going to perpetrate a fraud, which of the many possible untruths do you pick? And will all your collaborators also pick & follow the same untruth over time? Making a set of lies achieve plausible consistency is REALLY HARD to do…) — but it’s also a matter of the bald apes involved in keeping their dishonesty a secret while they push their story to the public. We both know how impossibly difficult it is for bald apes to keep secrets…

      Nothing of the sort has emerged in the case of an issue such as, say, AGW, except (ironically?) to indict the side of the professional pseudo-skeptic deniers. They’ve picked too many false accusations to push, they can’t get their accomplices to stay on track with the “objection du jour”, and their fraudulent argumentation unravels constantly under the merest scrutiny.

      In a way, that’s the scientific method working to rout the untruths and incompetence from its midst. This will all shake out, eventually. It’s just that we don’t really have the luxury of time to get this settled in the minds of the public, the politicians they vote for, and the policy-setting groups who influence legislation needed to effectively deal with something like AGW. Of course, those with hidden self-serving agendas are well aware of this and play it to the hilt. (Ironically, to their own eventual detriment, but there’s profit to be made today — so why worry about tomorrow?)

      While my employer likes the idea of engaging in public outreach, they keep me tied down frequently with impossible deadlines and expectations that tie me to my desk for more hours than is reasonable. I’m otherwise not against public speaking, but I do have my share of those colleagues you mention, who also seem to have a hard time even showing up for an internal training session or professional group meeting.

      I don’t share the attitude about being an intellectual elite or that the public should live by the attitude “you can’t understand this, but you should fund it anyway because we told you it’s important”. The organization I work for is VERY oriented towards helping the public understand what we’re engaged in, and strives to bring as much as possible down to earth for public consumption.

      I’ve had my share of experiences with dishonest service centers, and known good & competent mechanics as well as those were shady or weren’t skilled at their trade. No, they don’t tend to mix issues, but that’s likely because they provide beneficial services — those that people seek out and pay them for directly.

      And that’s quite a different scheme from those who are researching more of the “basic science” issues. I’m talking about the things that benefit us, but indirectly. Those are cases where it’s much harder for the public to understand how they benefit, and harder for them to fund the work directly. Hence, the need for researchers to compete as they can for grants and other funding sources. Little wonder that there’s temptations to fraud in these areas; people gotta eat. Too much short-term thinking gets in the way… but that makes for human drama, I suppose.

      Scientific fraud eventually gets uncovered. I know of no area so esoteric that there is only one person (or group, even) who “corners the market” in a field and can dominate it in a way that significant fraud (for graft or policy manipulation) can persist. Can you? AGW certainly does not qualify — there are experts all over the world that can (and will) shoot down the incompetents & dishonest sorts. It really makes it quite laughable that there are denialists who whip up this issue — if it weren’t a sad fact that they only need to inject FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) to stall wise & needed policy implementation in order to gain their short-term/short-sighted “benefits” that simultaneously set us up for coming tragedies.

      Perhaps we need to let the process run its course, as there is little else that can be done. I hope not, for if this is the actual way it must go, it may imply that it is Humanity that must go.

    35. It’s true that large-scale fraud involving numerous competing labs is virtually impossible, so any favored hypothesis that’s said to enjoy overwhelming supporting evidence must really do so. On the other hand, in a system dependent upon centralized and corporate funding sources, it’s relatively easy to make sure that disfavored hypotheses don’t ever get the money to generate overwhelming evidence, even if they are true. This often happens through unconscious reviewer bias, but funding agencies are also subject to deliberate pressure. Sometimes proponents of a specific hypothesis gain such influence that no other hypotheses, even if otherwise culturally and ideologically acceptable, get tested – e.g., for a long time proposed research on Alzheimer’s had very little chance of funding if it didn’t accept the amyloid hypothesis. If the disfavored hypotheses are in fact true, then failing to test them often leaves us either believing in inferior hypotheses or behaving as if we did.

    36. A much better example of this is the problematic currently favored hypotheses regarding cholesterol & cardio-vascular diseases. Same situation: If proposed research on cholesterol failed to suggest the party line of “cholesterol causes heart disease” it would have a hard time getting funded.

      This led to the incredible perversion of having researchers present conclusions in their papers that directly contradicted what their data and their own analyses indicated — that there is no correlation (let alone causation) of CVD by cholesterol. But they felt that to keep getting funding, they had to say what was expected/accepted.

      Of course, this couldn’t last. Aside from additional independent research that contradicted the cholesterol party line, other researchers conducted meta-studies to study the published research at the level of their own data — and “outed” them. (See Uffe Ravnskov’s publications.)

      The point is, the deck may be stacked in the favor of Big Interests to maintain that the Emperor has Beautiful Clothes, but there will eventually come along the little boy who bursts the bubble. The Truth often has too many ways to “leak out” and the deck is in fact stacked *against* those who try to suppress the truth for their own self-interests. It may take time, it may take an “angel investor” of sorts, but it only takes one to kick over the house of cards that is built up.

      And it gets worse as time goes on. It’s like a “scientific fraud Ponzi scam” — how long can you hold it together before it’s exposed? It may be a short time (Cold Fusion, anyone?), or it may be a long time (Cholesterol and Alzheimers).. The more “interesting” the issue and the more eyeballs around the globe that swivel to examine an issue, the sooner it’s likely to get outed.

      My current favorite: “Too much Vitamin D is not good for you! It’s fat-soluble, so you’ll get a toxic overdose if you take more than 1000 IU (or pick your favorite amount).” coupled with the all-too-popular “You get enough vitamins in the food you eat.” And what has recent research started to inform us? That “everything we though we know about Vitamin D” turns out to be wrong, it’s involved in a surprisingly large number of processes in the body, that we’re all walking around anywhere from deficient to extremely deficient, and that supplementation has shown to help a great number of disease states.

      I’m not worried about Science. It has this long historical streak of winning in the end. Regardless of who’s trying to manipulate it for political ends. It always ends up frustrating them. It’s like the proverbial “dishonest politician: doesn’t know how to stay bought”.

    37. To evolutionists: You asked it, you got it. You are applying the wrong method and this is the opportunity that creationists are using against you.Inserting into the scholar curriculum that dinossaurs were extinct due a meteor is not Science, it is a sensacionalist theory. It is like an appeal to magics, to supernatural, which permits that others inserts their magical thinking into the curriculum.

      I don~t know who did it because it was not necessary. There is an evolutionary process by which any species that grows in the wrong natural way, that acomodates in a kind of super-speciation, becomes a closed system in itself, closing the door to evolution, then, natural selection take it from the trunk of the evolutionay tree and make it as a branch that is a dead end. This was what happened with dinossaurs and with all big but extreme predator animals it is happening just now with lions, Eagles, wales, gorillas, etc.
      So, Nature has a good lesson for our children – not going in the wrong evolutionary way – but, who wrote the scholar curriculum preferred a fantastic hypothesis instead. Earth has 4,5 billion years, and just na unique event never saw anymore happened falling just on the head of dinossaurs !!! Oh… cam’on… you got the trobble with creationists because you deservs it.

    38. @ ^ Louis Morelli :

      To evolutionists: You asked it, you got it. You are applying the wrong method and this is the opportunity that creationists are using against you.Inserting into the scholar curriculum that dinossaurs were extinct due a meteor is not Science, it is a sensacionalist theory. It is like an appeal to magics, to supernatural, which permits that others inserts their magical thinking into the curriculum.

      Guess you’ve never heard of the iridium layer of peer reviewed and examined papers based on evidence and suchlike eh?

      See : http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/sl9/back3.html

      Also evolutionists? Really? I think the word you are looking for is scientists.

    39. PS. “You are applying the wrong method.. “

      What alternative method do you suggest we apply instead Louis Morelli?

    40. Brainstorms – Those are a couple of really good examples, thanks! And I think they shed some light on the rational reasons for public suspicion of scientific pronouncements.

      Before the errors you cite were devised and gained popularity, ordinary people had been eating eggs and being out of doors for millennia. Suddenly, they were told that eggs and sunlight were Bad. What’s worse, those who thought they might benefit from maintaining vitamin D levels similar to those all of their ancestors had had were too often told that they were ignorant, unscientific faddists. Sunlight is dangerous in any dose and supplements a waste of money, and if you don’t understand that, why, you must be stupid.

      Well, now indeed science is correcting its prior errors, and these folks are being told that yes, it probably is a good thing to have evolutionarily “normal” vitamin D levels, and eating eggs won’t kill you. But, they hear the current crop of experts say, if they are now thinking they might benefit from [avoiding X, doing Y – I don’t want to sidetrack the discussion by supplying an example], they are ignorant and unscientific. And they say to themselves: “Hey, that’s exactly what you said last time, and you were dead wrong then!”

    41. Jane, I’ve long maintained that the surest sign that the “science pundits” (I refuse to call them “experts”, as they fail to demonstrate expertise) don’t know what they’re talking about as regards the cholesterol issues is the frequency at which they flip-flopped on their “expert opinions” over the years regarding what was safe to eat vs what wasn’t.

      Part of the overall problem, I think, is that those who are suffering from Dunning-Kruger disorder are the outspoken ones that end up in the media. And the controversies they stir up are more than welcomed by the media outlets, who love fanning the flames to draw eyeballs.

      But (broken record warning!) these guys aren’t really scientists and they’re misrepresenting science to the public at large — and giving real science and real scientists a black eye in the process. It seems only the media outlets win in these cases…

      I don’t have a magic bullet suggestion on what to do about this. Conscientious individuals with the motivation (such as myself) can and will dig out scholarly publications to read about “the real stuff” and see through this circus. But I hardly expect the general public to do so. It’s another case of “no one is there to advocate for the little guy — only moneyed special interests get air time”.

      Perhaps we first educate the masses with the insight that the majority of what they’re being served up labeled as “science” isn’t being given to them as a public service announcement; it’s being paid for by some group that stands to profit from what they’re telling you… Beware!

      If an “expert” is on TV telling you something, he’s likely NOT an expert, but a paid shill. If he’s on the news, looking uncomfortable and doing a so-so job at best explaining himself and his research, that’s a much better sign that you’re getting something real. Nevertheless, media outlets are known to edit presentations in ways that draw their ethics/competence into question…

    42. Good advice. Even without such education, the public is starting to assume that all experts promulgating value judgments are shills of some type. Too often that’s treated simply as cynicism, paranoia or a love of ignorance. Those who aren’t paid shills are reasonably offended by the suggestion, but some fail to notice that in their attitude of arrogant certainty they are indistinguishable from the shills. Lacking the training to evaluate a mechanic on his technical skills, I will rationally have more suspicion of one who sounds exactly like the last guy who ripped me off.

      The trouble is, there are a VERY few disputes in which the question is about facts rather than values and the truth is clear. (For example, measles vaccination is not a significant cause of autism, period.) You want experts to be free to tell the public with confidence that there really is one right answer to these questions, and to be believed. But when these experts are surrounded by a sea of experts making weaker claims with equal fervor, whom the public has already learned to mistrust, how is a person uninformed about the specific issue involved supposed to tell the difference?

      Thus it’s a wise step to advise honest scientists to display humility and acknowledge doubt, but as long as they are outnumbered by shills and bloviators busy undercutting the public image of science, it won’t be enough. I fear that there is no simple or easy solution for this predicament. It is like trying to recruit members for a church by displaying its good works while there is a molestation scandal in progress. Institutions that lose the faith of their supporters tend to collapse. I think we underestimate the potential gravity of the situation.

    43. Thanks, Brain & Jane, for an interesting and civilized back and forth. At another site I ran across these two articles as examples of conflicts between profit and science:
      The Lancet’s Richard Horton writes (pdf),
      “The case against science is straightforward: much of the
      scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.”
      In the NY Review of Book, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine reviews three books about corruption in drug companies:
      “In view of this control and the conflicts of interest that permeate the enterprise, it is not surprising that industry-sponsored trials published in medical journals consistently favor sponsors’ drugs—largely because negative results are not published, positive results are repeatedly published in slightly different forms, and a positive spin is put on even negative results. …”

    44. fixed it:

      the bible is used more than almost anything else to indoctrinate children and adults in the idea of thousands of years of earth history. However, science gives us a framework for explaining dinosaurs in terms of millions of years of history, including the mystery of when they lived and what happened to them.

    45. That’s a very interesting editorial in the Lancet. Of course there are levels of “truth”. I don’t doubt that in the vast majority of studies, the data presented were what they were said to be (though in medical studies, deliberate failure to collect or present relevant data is routine). The hypothesis those data are said to support then might be wholly wrong, or just incomplete, or it might be technically right, yet if all the facts were known it would still be viewed very differently.

      In a way I think Ioannidis’ theoretical argument for believing that most published results are “wrong” has done a disservice. Some people have gotten so attached to it that whenever you cite a study whose results they don’t like they trot it out: Well, that’s probably wrong; the very fact that a study found [something I don’t believe in] to be effective means it probably isn’t. Okay, can we turn that against their pet studies: five out of seven trials support [thing you like], so since most studies are wrong, it probably doesn’t work? Don’t be silly.

    46. One of the interesting things that Uffe Ravnskov discovered in performing meta-analyses on cholesterol research was that researchers were not failing to collect, hiding, or falsifying their data…

      They were merely writing conclusions & summaries that did not reflect what their data was showing!

      (Ravnskov points out that many in the medical community “don’t have time to read studies” to educate themselves and rely instead on reading just the summaries & conclusions — and apparently their grant sources resort to the same strategies.)

    47. Greg, Done! Wow… just Wow!

      I personally fear the idea that the someone at Google will be the arbiter of “truthiness”. Goodness knows that there have a number of very good scientists that been actively working for years trying to overcome science denialism in my little corner of the scientific world, where a number have been vilified, not merely contested, by those that disagree.

      Brainstorms, AMEN, I’ve read quite a few paper over the past five years where the abstract and conclusions were absolutely not supported by the data presented, even directly contradicted in fact. In those cases, I wonder about the intelligence, rationality, or the ethics of someone on the team… or at least of the lab management? I’ve had fun show casing these silly results, such as this one:


    48. Yes indeed, abstracts that actively seek to deceive readers about a study’s results seem to be a particular problem in medical science.

    49. Where are you finding that feedback link? I clicked the article, but the only Feedback link at the bottom of it didn’t lead me to a feedback page such as you have above. Rather I got something at Olark.com (which claimed I needed to have Javascript enabled, which I do).

    50. It shows up for me in small print at the bottom right of the “answer box” that shows the aig stuff.

      1. Thanks, found it. And I discovered that Yahoo Search is even worse in this regard!

    51. It still comes up for me, today (June 5, 2015) and I will duly report it.
      This evening I heard a great explanation of how the creationist group was able to pull this off with Google. I’m going to have to go back and listen again to understand the technicality of how it was done, but my point is that they were able to circumvent the usual Ggogle algorithms, and then subsequently use the regular search algorithm to position themselves in the first few spots. One suggested solution was for legitimate scientists to use the same workaround to move truthful answers to the top. The concern about Google doing the moving themselves, the show pointed out that there was also a certain unease with having Google become the gatekeeper of what is considered to be correct or even the ‘best’ answere to certain hot button topics. Ultimately, the solution will have to come as a technical one that prevents this kind of silliness in the first place.
      Thanks for dedicating an entry to this. Quite an interesting discussion.

    52. Sorry, I forgot to name the show. It was, of course, Science Friday, on NPR. And there is a podcast, website, etc. where you can check out the story for yourselves.

    53. I have no problems at all with the Answers in Genesis site coming up first. Not sure why it’s such a big deal to some people. If you don’t agree, click on another site. Last time I checked, we had freedom of speech in America. People can post whatever they want online. Why are the naysayers so upset about this? When I see a site I disagree with, I go to another one and ignore it. I don’t get angry and defensive and become a self-righteous blowhard abort it. I think we are all aware (or should be) that the majority of what’s on the internet is not exactly true. And we should react accordingly and not automatically accept what we find there as truth. And if we do, than we’re idiots. For those who are making a stink about this I say “methinks thou doth protest too much”.

    54. Rosebrock, if one reads your response realizing that “the naysayers” are the anti-evolutionists, it makes some sense…

    55. The interesting thing is, I get different results depending on which browser I use and whether I’m logged in or not. Sometimes the evolutionists win, sometimes the creationists win. I can’t get too excited about this. Gaming Google with SEO is both an art and a science, and apparently the creationists are quite good at it.

    56. Where do I find that “feedback” option? I’d like to comment but can’t seem to find the place you show. Is it hidden?

    57. I tried googling that exact question, because it was mentioned on Science Friday. This blog was the top result. The rest of the page was filled with similar stories. At the top of the next page, there was a story about how dinosaurs had BEEN ON NOAH’S ARK.

      I have to say you’ve won this round.

    58. I want to respond to Peter, comment #7. Normally I don’t waste my time responding or commenting on ignorant people’s comments. However, I find your post offensive. I know that you will probably not see this nor will anyone else most likely, but I felt like I should voice this. You say that it is absolutely disgusting that people with opinions that are different than yours are allowed to voice them. Why not? One could argue that because you don’t agree with what the creationists say that you shouldn’t be allowed to voice your opinion. Maybe you should be silenced for being ignorant. So I think that it is “absolutely disgusting” that you say that others don’t have the right to say what they think. Now, I’m not saying that I agree that this creationist site should be the first one that comes up on Google, but Google also needs to show sites that support all view points on the issue. If you’re going to argue an issue you should know what the other side is saying.

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