Posts tagged as:

junk science

WikimediaBeerCoasterDavid Gorski at Science-Based Medicine and Trevor Butterworth at Forbes take a dim view of Food Babe, “a young, telegenic, clever but scientifically ignorant blogger” who’s turned her campaign sights from Subway to beer makers.

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Don’t miss multiple posts by BoingBoing’s Maggie Koerth-Baker on the shoddy science behind a recent alarmist report. It’s all the more noteworthy because one of her BB colleagues was at first taken in by the report, requiring an awkward rowback that developed into a crusade of its own against bad activist science. Earlier on Prop 37 and the California political angle here, etc.

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It’s almost entirely off-topic for this site, but some readers may be interested in my new piece for Huffington Post (my first in that venue) poking some additional holes in an already much-criticized study by Mark Regnerus finding bad life outcomes among young adults who report that a parent had a same-sex relationship. Sample:

The Witherspoon Institute, discussing the study’s findings, adds another clue: “48% of the respondents with a GF [gay father], and 43% of the respondents with an LM [lesbian mother] indicated that they were either black or Hispanic.” Those numbers sound awfully high, and they are. They far exceed the roughly 30-percent black-plus-Hispanic share of the U.S. population. Why would young adults with minority backgrounds and a high rate of economic distress report having far more than their share of gay parents? Are they somehow more likely to grow up in homes with actual gay parents? Or are their parents somehow being overclassified as gay?

Putting together that with other anomalies in the study data, I conclude that the study does not come even close to measuring what it claims to be measuring. See also: Amy Davidson, New Yorker, among a whole mini-literature of responses.

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September 1 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 1, 2011

  • “Massage Parlor Mistrial Declared After Masseuse Recognizes Defense Lawyer as Client” [ABA Journal]
  • Paying opposing expert to leave country? “Drug company lawyer taped trying to foil lawsuit” [AP]
  • What anti-business crusades have in common with the War on Drugs [David Henderson] Some of those “oil and gas subsidies” aren’t [Coyote]
  • Nocera on NLRB v. Boeing [NYT] A contrary view [Hirsch]
  • Science finds no link between WTC dust, cancer? Then science will just have to give [Jeff Stier, Reason; but see later study on firefighters at the scene]
  • Per Maureen Orth at Vanity Fair, the widow of designer Oleg Cassini has been in at least 15 lawsuits. Guess who’s named in number 16? [AW]
  • Stop competing with us! Lawyers claim online-legal-form provider LegalZoom is engaged in unauthorized practice of law [WSJ, Dan Fisher, ABA Journal]

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A British Medical Journal editorial confirms that scientific misconduct by then-Dr. Andrew Wakefield was even worse than previously assumed. The resulting media-fueled panic led parents to refuse vaccination in large numbers, and childhood scourges such as measles soared as a result, with disability and even death resulting. Wakefield was being financed by lawyers hoping to sue the vaccine industry. [Respectful Insolence, CNN, AP, Adler]

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Accurate science, or Science For Your Own Good? [Michael Siegel]

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Years ago I promised myself that I’d stop wading into comments sections, but my breach of that promise today in a trial-lawyer blog attacking me for pointing out the truth about the bogus Toyota sudden acceleration claims might amuse some readers, and I might as well get a post out of it.

“Are not companies obligated to make the safest vehicle possible?”

The safest vehicle possible is a Sherman tank with a restrictor plate preventing it from exceeding 1 mph, so the answer to your question is “no”—though certainly trial lawyers have an interest in asking you to think manufacturers are doing something wrong when they don’t.

“Until Toyota can identify the exact cause of these accidents (besides the too-convenient driver error) anything and everything is in question and must be investigated.”

I look forward to you writing NHTSA and demanding they investigate if invisible vampires are causing elderly drivers to hit the wrong pedal. After all, anything and everything is in question, and you reject Occam’s Razor when it comes to an alleged electronic defect that simultaneously causes three separate systems to malfunction six times more often for elderly drivers than non-elderly drivers, so why not demand an investigation of the equally unlikely invisible-vampire problem as long as you’re rejecting science?

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And in timely news, a specious $18M sudden acceleration verdict (see our August 2006 coverage) was unanimously reversed by the South Carolina Supreme Court after they threw out junk-science testimony theorizing that electromagnetic interference with the cruise control caused the sudden acceleration. Passengers in the crash that wore their seatbelts were uninjured, but the unbelted driver was paralyzed. The plaintiff has the option of a new trial. (Sonya Watson v. Ford Motor Company, h/t L Nettles comment).

It only took twelve years, but Lancet, which oft publishes politically motivated papers masquerading as medicine, has conceded that the 1998 paper criticizing MMR vaccines was simply “false.” [Lancet; BBC]

No telling how many children died in the meantime, all so trial lawyers could line their pockets attacking vaccine manufacturers.

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December 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 23, 2009

  • AT&T sued for $1 billion for allegedly misclassifying managers [Hyman, American Lawyer]
  • Shaken-baby-syndrome angle deserved more attention in Baucus-girlfriend-for-U.S.-Attorney flap [Kos, Freeland, earlier]
  • Awful: “Holocaust Denier Sues Survivor” [South Florida Sun-Sentinel via Faces of Lawsuit Abuse "worst lawsuits of 2009" poll which you can take here]
  • Bizarre new twist in rogue Philly cop unit story [Balko, earlier here, here, etc.]
  • More on the first “Bruno” lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • False accusation as academic career booster: “The Rot at Duke” [Stuart Taylor, Jr., National Journal]
  • Claim: Netflix recommendation algorithm contest exposed a subscriber’s privacy to her detriment [Singel, Wired]
  • No “Continuing Duty to Investigate Accuracy” of Newspaper Article Posted on Web Site [Volokh on Jenzabar case, earlier here and here]

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It’s a cover story entitled “CSI Myths: The Shaky Science Behind Forensics“:

Forensic science was not developed by scientists. It was mostly created by cops, who were guided by little more than common sense. And as hundreds of criminal cases begin to unravel, many established forensic practices are coming under fire. PM takes an in-depth look at the shaky science that has put innocent people behind bars.

Via Radley Balko and Scott Greenfield.

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June 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 23, 2009

  • In case you were waiting for it: update on “toxic-bra” litigation [OnPoint News, Kashmir Hill, Above the Law (noting that rashes can have many different causes); earlier]
  • Parts 5 & 6 of White Coat’s malpractice-suit saga [opposition's expert witness; emotional support]
  • “Global Insurance Fraud by North Korea Outlined” [Washington Post]
  • British cops aren’t saying which famous buildings you can be stopped/searched for photographing [BoingBoing]
  • FBI said to probe whether construction-defect lawyers have improper ties to Nevada homeowner associations that give them business [Carter Wood at Point of Law]
  • With junk science in even criminal prosecutions, is there hope of keeping it out of civil cases? [Coyote]
  • “Remember when you could fight with a sibling and not face arrest?” [Obscure Store, 10-year-old Texas girl]
  • Australian man obtains patent on “circular transportation facilitation device”, otherwise known as “the wheel”, to make point about ease of obtaining weak patents [eight years ago on Overlawyered]

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German cops, however, got a surprise when they unmasked Ms. Moriarty.

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“Acoustic radiation”

by Walter Olson on February 16, 2009

Some opponents of wind turbine farms in Maine say they’re concerned not just about audible noise but “low-frequency noise, so soft you can’t hear it,” from the installations, which they claim is linked to a wide array of health problems, not to mention “the strobe effect created by the sun setting behind the spinning blades, which some say can lead to seizures”. On an anti-turbine website, a New York doctor describes “acoustic radiation” as a mix of “audible sound, infrasound and vibration, in a pulsating character, that appear to trigger serious reported health problems in those families living near wind turbine installations.” State officials in Maine, on the other hand, would prefer to keep the focus on sound levels loud enough to actually be noticed:

The state’s chief medical officer has her doubts about turbine-related health effects. When it comes to potential hazards, “If anything, there’s evidence to put a moratorium on fossil fuels not on wind turbines,” Dr. Dora Ann Mills said Friday.

[Kathryn Skelton, Lewiston Sun-Journal] (& Solicitr, UK)

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Welcome LA Weekly readers; this website is mentioned and I am quoted in a less-than-entirely-coherent story about mold litigation in this week’s LA Weekly. The story focuses on Sharon Kramer, who has given up a full-time career to pound the drums over her fight with her insurer alleging mold harms after a remediation; and an unfortunate lawsuit brought by scientist Bruce Kelman against Kramer. Kelman only wants an apology from Kramer for her issuing a press release that falsely claimed he lied under oath; Kramer has refused, and Kelman is still stuck in litigation where he will likely come up with a Pyrrhic victory. (Kelman’s work writing a layperson’s guide to the science of mold for the Manhattan Institute is central to the libel allegations.) Kramer, meanwhile, blames her aging on exposure to mold, rather than, say, turning 56. The story suffers for treating Erin Brockovich as the archetype of a justified plaintiff; Overlawyered readers know better.

The story is worthwhile for one new tidbit of information, the poetic justice facing Ed McMahon for his bogus mold lawsuit:

In 2003, another raft of huge mold news stories broke nationwide, and Kramer paid close attention. The most famous, and strangest, was that of Johnny Carson’s sidekick Ed McMahon, who took a $7.2 million settlement after suing for $20 million in his claim that mold made him and his wife sick — and killed his sheepdog, Muffin. …

In the McMahon case, some see the tragic unraveling of a popular public figure egged on by an attorney, Allan Browne. No hard, scientific evidence was ever made public proving that McMahon or his dog suffered the specific mold allergies and immune-system problems that, in rare cases, can be set off by household mold.

Since then, McMahon has become a sad figure, with a series of new troubles, including his default this year on his palatial 7,000-square-foot home on Mulholland Drive, involving a $4.8 million loan from the infamous lender Countrywide. And he just sued again, bizarrely accusing investment tycoon Robert Day of having in his mansion a poorly lit staircase on which McMahon says he fell during a party last year. McMahon is belatedly alleging he broke his neck but that doctors missed it.

The longtime TV pitchman spent years convincing the courts and the general public that his home contained rampant, poisonous, deadly mold strong enough to fell a large dog. McMahon talked it up for so long that he now faces the daunting task of selling a home he can no longer afford, that people believe is riddled with toxins.

Also interesting to me is the story’s quote of me. I gave an e-mail interview to the author, Daniel Heimpel in February. It’s interesting what gets used and what doesn’t get used, so I am going to attach the entire interview.

Here’s the full February 28 interview:

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Mark Lanier and other plaintiffs lawyers are giving a series of interviews where they complain that the Ernst v. Merck decision (discussed yesterday) is “judicial activism that reinterprets the evidence.” (E.g., in Texas Lawyer.) This is nonsense. Ernst follows well-stated precedent. Indeed, I predicted precisely this result and precisely the case the appellate court would use to strike down the decision the week of the jury’s verdict.

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AP reports a Texas court has thrown out the infamous Ernst $26 million judgment; a New Jersey court has tossed $9 million of the judgment in McDarby. More details on Point of Law as available.

Ernst was the first Vioxx suit to go to trial. A jury awarded $253 million. Mark Lanier waited months before asking for a final judgment; at the time, I suggested that this was because he knew the case would be reversed on appeal, and did not want the bad publicity. Indeed, the appellate decision perhaps comes too late for Merck: the number of lawsuits increased from 6000 to 60000 in the months following publicity over the jury verdict, costing Merck billions of dollars in the later extortionate settlement.

With these two decisions, only three plaintiffs’ verdicts in favor of Merck remain.

Update: I still haven’t seen the McDarby decision, but an updated AP story indicates that it upheld the compensatory damages of $4.5 million, overturned the $9 million punitive damages verdict, and overturned the consumer-fraud judgment (which also saves Merck millions of dollars in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees).

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November 8 roundup

by Ted Frank on November 8, 2007

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