An Interview with TheoryFail

By @TakeThatGMOs & @TheoryFail

A while ago we published an interview with @TakeThatDarwin which provided some interesting insight into the origins of the TakeThat™ Crowd and more details and information on @TakeThatDarwin and the whole TakeThat Family in general. 

This time, I’ll be asking @TheoryFail, a “handsome Brit” and the Prince of the TakeThat throne. 

Oh, and technically he is a TakeThat account even though he doesn’t have ‘TakeThat’ in his name as he runs the account with the same backbone of the other accounts. Here goes’

1) To start off I have to ask you about how you began with the account. When was it created and did it have anything to do with TTDarwin at first or did you discover him later? How did you know about TTD and what did you think of what he was doing? How did the relationship between you two grow and reach what it is today? 

I was one of TTDs very early followers. I think one of his tweets was RTd into my timeline by @anarchicteapot (who is wonderful, by the way. You should all go and follow,) and I started interacting with TTD at a very minor level, throwing him the odd specimen here and there. I followed as much for the comedy as the creationists. 

I had a bit of an idea to do a similar sort of thing pretty much as soon as I saw what TTD was doing, but it took me quite some time to figure out exactly what my spin would be. I finally had a eureka moment in January 2014 and the rest is history. 

2) What would you say is the ‘ultimate’ purpose of your account? How do you plan on achieving that? Why did you choose TheoryFail and did you have a different name at first? 

I’m not sure that I have an ultimate goal with regards to where I want to take @TheoryFail. It started of as a lighthearted way to shine some light on the dark world of creationism and science denialism, but now I like to think of it more as a way to highlight the need for good critical thinking skills. 

I’d like to expand into podcasting, and of course the TakeThats are doing that in general. Other than that, I’m open to suggestions. Some kind of large TakeThat gathering has been suggested, but that’s a while off!

I’ve always been @TheoryFail. The name came after a 2 minute brainstorming session, and eliminating other options because the Twitter usernames were either already taken, or too long. 

Having TakeThatSomething didn’t even cross my mind. This was before the upsurge of TakeThat accounts, and I think what TTD and I do is, albeit superficially similar, very different. TTD has regularly spoken about his unwillingness to engage, whereas I like to try and unpick the thinking behind the creationists accounts. 

3) How did you grow and become known. Did you TTD provide help to your account?

I think I sent an early tweet to TTD saying something along the lines of “Hey, I’m doing what you do, but for ‘only a theory'” Then I got a few mentions by TTD and a LOT of support from people like @tattoosandbones and I picked up 1000 followers in a short period of time. 

4) Why did you choose the specific fields of pseudoscience you chose? And generally, why did you stick with evolution instead of branching out? 

We all know that ‘The Question’ is ‘if we evolved from monkeys and apes, why are there still monkeys and apes?’ Well, I spent a bit of time looking at what other tropes creationists trotted out to try and hide away from scary evolutionists. The ‘evolution is ONLY a theory’ statement stuck out, partially because it’s so easy to discredit, but also because it was SO widespread. 

I tend to stick with evolution for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it’s important. Creationism is damaging to our advancement in many differing  ways, and we really should have moved on from it by now. Secondly, it’s really easy to research. There are great internet resources that anyone can use. I’m not special. I don’t have specific education in evolution, nor do I pretend to, but I do have a firm grip on the basics, which is all you really need to flummox most creationists. 

5) How do you interact with your specimens? How do you find them? Is there a group of people you generally always RT? 

As I’ve mentioned before, I really try not to be a dick. This doesn’t always work, but I figure that people are more likely to respond if you’re relatively nice to them. 

I don’t have a huge deal of time to manage what I’m going, believe it or not, so I don’t tend to be able to exercise my witty repartee in the same way TTD does. I think this leads me to have a different set of followers to some of the other TakeThats, who are often more willing to jump in and interact. 

As for finding them; I used to use a whole raft of search terms to try and weed all of them out, but now I tend to use just one. I RT enough mind bending ideas into my followers timelines that if I did much more, I think there’d be a revolt. 

I have a list of particularly odd accounts that I’ve RT’d in the past and I occasionally dip into that, if it’s a quiet day, but unfortunately, it barely gets touched at the moment. 

6) How do you think your account is generally helping towards stopping people from getting scientific theories confused with mainstream theories? How is your account contributing to stamping out pseudoscience in general?

I’m not sure that it does, or that it can. Again, from my point of view, it’s more about pointing out bad *thinking* rather than factual inaccuracies. Most of the people I RT have no interest in what evolution is, for example. But if I can help point out errors in that way of thinking, the onlookers can learn. Hopefully. 

I’m under no pretence that the ‘specimens,’ as TTD likes to call them, will suddenly open their eyes to good science, but I think the best we can hope is to both show why they’re wrong, and get people interested in science and critical thinking. 

7) Is there anything specific you want to say to your followers?

Surely they hear enough from me already‽ 

More seriously, I really appreciate the interaction with my followers. I *try* to engage with as many of them as possible. Do say hello.  

8) What do you have in mind for the future? Do you have things in preparation? What do you treat your account as, ie a hobby or a task, etc.? 

As I said, I’d like to branch out – possibly into podcasting, maybe a double act with TTD. Nothing is being planned right yet, but I’m open to suggestions – maybe getting some of my flowers involved in a project. I tend to attract some really interesting people. 

My account falls somewhere in between a hobby and a task. I tend to think of it as ‘outreach.’ Something with a vague-ish definition that can’t really be pinned down. A bit like ‘kind.’

9) Finally, what is the best type of gin? 

Hendricks. With a decent tonic and a decent slice of cucumber. 

Failing that, Bombay Sapphire, tonic and a decent squeeze of lime. The lime’s important. It’s for taste, not a garnish. 


What’s the Next Battle Against Pseudoscience on GMOs? 

By @TakeThatGMOs

  The ‘War on Science’ as it is called, is an endless ‘war’ that will last with us humans however ling we live. The main objectives, should they exist, can never be fully fulfilled. As Steven Novella puts it – and as some wars go – when it comes to the War on Science, the only focus should be on the next battle, and not the whole war, as this is one of the most unpredictable and unstable wars. When it comes to GMOs, what should that next battle be?

First up: politics

The current political battleground hangs mostly on labelling GMOs in the USA and the current delays in the EU. Things in either side are going very slowly. The anti-GMO movement certainly  hasn’t persuaded everyone to join in and label, and it appears that quite the opposite is happening, with celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and many others using their fame, in a way, to help push for the pro-GMO side. The public is getting to hear more of the pro-GMO side and the pro-GMO side is louder than ever, as it showed during the March Against Myths (counter protesters against the March Against Monsanto) campaign. 

Another side here is the Republicans, who tend to be more pro-corporate and so may support GMOs more. This however may be shaken up with Bernie Sanders, who gets the case about labelling wrong. As I’ve discussed in a previous article, labelling GMOs is the wrong side to take here, and won’t be the most helpful choice. It is also important to remember that labelling is only the first step, and making labelling a federal mandate will only open up the doors for more action against GMOs. If GMOs do get down that very unlikely path, the end for biotech would be near. 

Which gets me to my point. Many, many scientific organisations, biotech companies (including drug manufacturers) and millions of people would stand against such a law. Monsanto would probably take it to the SCOTUS and scientific organisations would stand against such a thing in either way. Since GMOs are under no real threat right now, considering Obama’s very scientific agenda, we can try avoiding all of this by furthering science to the public. 

Most common myths

GMOs are practically enshrined in myths. So much information and, therefore, misinformation exists about GMOs. It is arguably the biggest pseudoscience topic, as I’ve argued before.

The existence of so many fronts to battle on and the lack of a public consensus as well as the education system being littered with such misinformation and the general image of ‘natural is better’ makes this a very tough battle. To summarise previous statements from this article, the consensus on vaccines and evolution is far, far bigger in the scientific community, and those denying evolution are the minority of the US population. Likewise, a big scientific consensus exists on vaccines and most of the population is vaccinated or is pro-vaccines. It is true that GMOs have a big scientific consensus, beating climate change and standing at 88%, however this is no good as the public has the worst scientific record on GMOs, with the pro-science side only being a major minority. 

  I always use this picture to demonstrate my points. I’m tired of doing that. 

To obviously win the battle on the public front (a very strategic front as it affects legislation as well) we need to go in one bit by another. We don’t have the huge majority of scientists that quickly come through and debunk creationism. We have a lot of scientists worrying about the GMOs, yet it’s just as much of a pseudoscience as creationism. To be fair the most concerns aren’t about safety but wrong information is wrong information. This is bad (obviously). To make problems worse, the GMOs campaign also (similarly to the vaccines and climate change campaigns) opens up to economics and ethics. Those things don’t make the issue here any easier. Evolution v creationism only focuses on science. That’s it. But the extent of the aspects affecting GMOs here is one of the reasons the pseudoscience on GMOs hasn’t been stopped. The above things mentioned makes this THE worst issue to deal with. 

To slowly and gradually win over public support, what’s the next battle that should be fought over GMOs? The scientific bit. That may, unhelpfully, sound a bit vague. Currently the debated health impacts and environmental impacts are what inspire people to join. These are the false ideas that make people passionate and want to spread their messege. Thankfully as well, more and more of the public knows not to fall for this and instead picks on Monsanto, ethics and economics (upcoming article). Getting people in the ‘pro-GMO; anti-Monsanto’ area is a great success on our part and can get us to be able to drive home the labelling question and solve the larger problem on the small, meaningless details. 

Here’s the thing, the issue over safety is not only the backbone of the anti-GMO movement but also it’s heart. Taking out that heart will kill the rest of the body. 

It is also the most useful battle as we’re already winning it. I see many people, for example in SciShow’s recent video about GMOs, accepting the facts over safety but jumping on the patents and contamination issues. In this way, the issue starts to move over from public VS GMOs and labelling to the public VS Monsanto, which has less to do with legislation and laws and science and GMOs and more to do with corporations and ethics. GMOs that are helpful would be widely accepted.

Maybe the end is in sight for the anti-GMO movement. 

Wait, what’s that ringing sound. Oh, Dr Mercola just published his latest article and people are already retweeting. Crap. 

On engaging with the specimens, or the laws of interaction. 

By @TheoryFail

I’ve been doing this for a little while now, and along the way I’ve established some unwritten rules on how to engage with what @TakeThatDarwin would called ‘the ‘specimens.’

Unwritten, that is, until now…

I present you with @TheoryFail’s Laws of Interaction*.

1. Don’t be a dick

A.k.a Wheatons Law, and the first rule of the Internet, and ideally, of life. This was modified by Mitch Benn at QEDcon 2015 to be ‘Don’t be a dick… first’ and while Benn’s law has merit, try and stick with the original if you can. It’s good to be nice.

2. Really… don’t be a dick

Of course, the problem with not being a dick, is that what constitutes ‘being a dick’ is subjective. It takes quite a lot to piss me off – I consider myself to have quite a high ‘Dick Threshold,’ (DT) while some people you’re likely to be engaging with have a teeny tiny DT.

Sometimes you’ll be crossing their DT just by suggesting that their holy book may not be the epitome of accuracy, of that macro evolution is just evolution over a long timescale. Whatever the case, if you can stay on the right side of that DT, then you’ll make life easier for everyone.

3. Ok, if you really must… be a dick

Sometimes dickishness just can’t be avoided.

Maybe your specimen has a non existent DT, or maybe he’s called your mother a whore. Usually it’s a combination of both. Here’s when Benn’s law comes into effect. It’s impossible NOT to be a dick – simply because the act of interacting is seen as dickish (Of course, not interacting is an option.)

However, please be dickish with some style. I know that most aren’t blessed with a Wildean grasp of the English language, but try not to go down the Ad Hom route.

4. Who are you trying to educate? Choose your target

Ok, this one’s important.

Face facts – it’s HIGHLY unlikely that you’re going to change someone’s viewpoint by reason alone. Most of the specimens are so deeply entrenched in their erroneous world view (wether it’s that God created everything from nothing in 6 days, or that ultra-diluting, shaking and banging makes good medicine etc.) that to go back on this would see their whole life fall apart around them. Science deniers have an unimaginable capacity for cognitive dissonance, and you’re not going to get through that. So why do it?

I like to think that what I, and the TakeThats do has two main purposes. Firstly, it exposes poor critical thinking, and the consequences thereof.

Secondly, if we’re careful, we can reach out to the person who is genuinely questioning. And if we DO manage to connect with one of these people, it’s important that we refer back to the First Law, because if you’re being a dick, they’re likely not to listen.

5. Try not to link to Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia. It’s a great resource for just about everything imaginable. It’s open access structure and well cited articles have improved our access to knowledge unimaginably over the last few years.

But don’t provide Wikipedia links, unless you absolutely have to.

It’s a creationist rallying call ‘Oh, ANYONE can edit Wikipedia,’ or ‘that Atheist/Liberal/Satanic website is useless.’

Instead, try and link directly to scientific sites, and try to tailor these to your specimen. If you have a fully grown specimen, who appears to understand those tricky words like ‘peer reviewed’ and ‘journal’ then Google Scholar or PubMed are great places to start.

If you have a more immature specimen, or on that seems slow to grasp facts, then you may be better off with a more straightforward overview. I tend to talk to creationists about evolution, so my go to sites are the Understanding Evolution site from Berkeley or the wonderful ‘Troubles In Paradise’ from James Downard. In fact, these two contain pretty much everything anyone needs to know about evolution.

6. Go easy on the kids

Once upon a time, there was @UpsetStudents whose sole aim in life was to retweet school kids who were disgruntled that they had to learn evolution in class.

These were the heady days where myself and @TakeThatDarwin ruled the land, and the likes of @TakeThatScience and @TakeThatSalk were simply twinkles in our eyes.

Then people were dicks. Specifically, people were dicks to the kids that @UpsetStudents was retweeting. This WAS NOT COOL.

Soon, @UpsetStudents became upset themselves and decided to leave. I miss @UpsetStudents.

Being nasty to kids is a dick move. Yes, they’re likely to be dickish to you, but we’ve all been young, and we all knew EVERYTHING at the age of 16.

Go easy on the kids.

7. Don’t get drawn into their game – stay on message

Remember that I said that the specimens have an unusually high capacity for cognitive dissonance? They’ll try to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge out of every argument you throw at them, often by using logical fallacies or serving up a word salad.
Don’t let this put you off. Stay strong and stay on message. Eventually they’ll run out of steam and show their hand. Either that or they’ll block you.

So that’s about it. Theory Fail’s Laws of Interaction. These might change in the future as new experimental evidence comes to light, but for now they’ll do nicely.

* Unlike many laws, these ones can be broken fairly easily, and I do it occasionally – some would say often. These aren’t to be taken as gospel, but I think that, as rules of thumb, they’re pretty good. Of course, this all needs to be taken in context, and I’m a white middle-class English bloke with massive privilege. You Yankee-Doodles or Kiwis may choose to do things differently, and that’s fine. Feel free to suggest additions/amendments in the comments. But don’t be a dick. 

The best of homeopathy on the web – at either end of the spectrum

Folks, Amedeo here. Now, being a ghost, I am not one for big words. I therefore present you here the best and the rest from my link collection – enjoy!

Top Ten

  1. How does Homeopathy work?– basically, you need look no further. But if you care to, here are the folks behind it:
  3. Should you feel a need to go deeper, why not head over to the recent, large scale evidence review done by the Aussies.
  4. Or revisit last month’s US FDA hearing on homeopathy – webcast recordings now available. Transcripts should be out some time in the future.
  5. Now this, folks, is how it should NOT be done.
  6. And certainly, this is some of the most important things that should NOT be done (similar folks are all over the place – Haiti and most recently, Nepal):
  7. Whatstheharm (they’re on twitter, too: @WhatsTheHarm) do a great job presenting exactly how fraudulent quacks are dangerous.
  8. Now to lighten things up a bit, I leave you with: “Towards a Quantum Mechanical Interpretation of Homeopathy
  9. A bit of poesy
  10. and… a game: Homeopathic Battleship! Yay!

 Bottom Ten

  1. Let’s start with the man himself, old Sam H, and his bible: The Organon of Medicine.
  2. Now how do our diluted friends go about evidence gathering? While they stubbornly keep at RCTs, here’s how they’re all wrong: why RCTs are not at tool for assessing efficacy (has maths!)
  3. But wait, beyond Evidence THAT it works, can they also figure out HOW it works? Well, this is what’s being taught to BHMS students in India – and they do one hell of a job absorbing the gospel.  I present to you – “Nanotech in Homoeopathy” – by Ms. Haripriya, 2nd Year BHMS student.
  4. And if you haven’t seen enough yet, the memory of water is certainly one of the most beloved ideas to woosters.
  5. So the gold standard for evidence gathering is not the RCT, but the “proving”, as laid out by Sam H.: here’s an exposé by Clever homeopathy – they now call it the homeopathic pathogenic trial. Very sciency.
  6. But can homeopathistas actually agree on how to go about it?
  7. There’s really an amazing breadth of remedies, and you can look into the respective provings here: an extensive database of the whackery (literally) being done.
  8. But my absolute HEROES are these guys.
  9. Now sadly, there are parallel universes on Twitter in which homeopathistas lock themselves into echo chambers – blocking left, right and preventatively. So, I won’t even name names but here’s one of the Twisted Sisters.
  10. and if that was not enough, here’s the absolute, rock bottom, last link I present to you – the Placebo song.

Why Twitter?

by @TakeThatDarwin

The year: 1981. The place: UCLA’s secret underground laboratories. Professor Heinrich Rudolf von Internet has just put the finishing touches on his masterwork. “At last, I have done it,” he muses, basking in the glow of accomplishment. “I have created the Internet. Soon, perhaps within my lifetime, people around the world will be able to exchange rage comics, half-baked political views, cat photos with captions written on them in the Impact typeface, conspiracy theories, animated gifs of Gary Busey, and pornography. So very, very much pornography.”

Professor von Internet was righter than he knew. Almost immediately after its inception the invention that bore his name was a cesspool. And then, in 2006, Twitter arrived, and the Internet made cesspools look like crystal-clear mountain streams.

Now, Twitter wasn’t the first social networking site to gain traction. Facebook predated it by two years, and its immense popularity made it very useful for discovering just how racist your grandpa is. But Twitter raised the bar. Twitter is anonymous and virtually unmoderated, allowing people to reveal their true feelings about The Gay Menace without having their grandchildren show up and make sure they’re taking their medicine. And while people might not have the perseverance necessary to write multiple sentences full of grotesque, misshapen ideas, the strict 140 character limit on tweets ensures that they’ll be able to share their thoughts even if they don’t have any thoughts to share.

Twitter feels more ephemeral than any other social networking site. It’s the Internet equivalent of shouting in a packed auditorium. It’s not the best format for meaningful interpersonal communication, but something about it impels people to share their innermost thoughts. Even if they’re stupid.

Especially if they’re stupid.

ISIS uses Twitter as a recruiting tool. White nationalists use it to call for apartheid and warn of the dangers of White Genocide. Gamergate uses it to threaten feminists. Creationists use it to promote their frankly hilarious ideas about science. Basically, people use Twitter the same way someone who ate six bean burritos for lunch uses a crowded elevator. And any idea with enough supporters, no matter how ill-conceived it is, gets its signal boosted through retweets. Here, go and do a search for “white genocide” on Twitter right now. Go on. I’ll wait. I’ll even make it easy on you. Go ahead. Give it a click.

Chilling, innit.

So we’ve established that Twitter has some very stupid stuff on it. We need to be aware of what’s happening in the world of the stupid – not because we can cure stupidity, necessarily, but because there’s no hope of curing it if we don’t pay attention. Someone needs to be there to point at a section of the Internet and say, “Huh, you should probably get that mole checked out.”

That’s why we make our home on Twitter: not because it’s the best format for science communication, but because it might actually be the worst. It’s the frontier, baby, lawless and untamed. Saddle up.