The War Against Fake News and Pseudoscience on YouTube: What Constitutes Evidence for Claims (Prequel to ‘Potholer54’ vs. ‘Suspicious0bservers’)

While a debate between the science journalist Peter Hadfield (Potholer54) and YouTuber Ben Davidson (Suspicious0bservers) has been set for Wednesday March 28th, 2018, their current “misunderstanding” is going to be the topic of my next blog post.

My previous blog article pointed out the illegitimacy of Ben Davidson’s (Suspicious0bservers) claims of having a “peer-reviewed publication” to his name. This was done by emphasizing the criticisms made by the solar physicist behind the YouTube channel, Space Weather, about how “what Ben has done is he’s given his paper to a poor journal with no quality peers and as a result ended up with poor results and bad research” (Space Weather 2017).

This blog post is going to expand that focus to a couple of Ben Davidson’s other claims. But first, it’s important to sledge-hammer this nail on the head: there is a big difference between publishing a paper in a reputable peer-reviewed journal and publishing one in a predatory journal that is meant to mimic the peer-review process; the latter of which is pseudoscience that anyone can do, while the former is what constitutes evidence for the scientific claims made by experts.

What is a Predatory Journal?

The concept of predatory journals, is something that was mentioned briefly in the first installment of this blog series, “The War Against Fake News and Pseudoscience: Space Weather vs. Suspicious0bservers.”

The website PredatoryJournals.com contains a comprehensive list of some of the predatory journals out there, and defines the entire issue at hand:

“Journals that publish work without proper peer review and which charge scholars sometimes huge fees to submit should not be allowed to share space with legitimate journals and publishers, whether open access or not. These journals and publishers cheapen intellectual work by misleading scholars, preying particularly early career researchers trying to gain an edge. The credibility of scholars duped into publishing in these journals can be seriously damaged by doing so. It is important that as a scholarly community we help to protect each other from being taken advantage of in this way” (Stop Predatory Journals 2018).

It is never easy to point out the flaws that another person is making in public; however, when they are newsworthy and in the public’s best interest it is obvious that criticism needs to be levelled. Tom Nichols addressed this rather poignantly in his book, The Death of Expertise:

“Whether about science or policy, however, they all share the same disturbing characteristic: a solipsistic and thin-skinned insistence that every opinion be treated as truth. Americans no longer distinguish the phrases ‘you’re wrong’ from the phrase ‘you’re stupid.’ To disagree is to disrespect. To correct another is to insult. And to refuse to acknowledge all views as worthy of consideration, no matter how fantastic or inane they are, is to be close-minded” (Nichols 2017).

With that in mind, Ben Davidson’s persistent claims to his audience, and the general public, of having gone through a peer-review for his paper, “The Relationship Between M8+ Earthquake Occurrences and the Solar Polar Magnetic Fields,” need to be scrutinized further as they are not true in the sense of his paper having made it through a proper peer-review by experts in the relevant fields and published in a reputable scientific journal.

Again, Ben Davidson published his paper in the predatory journal, New Concepts in Global Tectonics (NCGT), which has a quote of how, “What is today’s contrarian science, may become tomorrow’s established science,” on their homepage. May become. Even by this journals own quotation it’s admitting to catering to the contrarian “science” crowd by giving them fake credentials in the form of phony “papers” to cite in the creation of false belief systems. The quote also points out that what’s in the NCGT Journal isn’t “established” science today, but it could be tomorrow; but it’s not established science today, got it!

This is not how science works, the NCGT is not a reputable scientific journal and it’s clear why anything published in this journal could be regarded as pseudoscience; this becomes increasingly problematic when other researchers reference this kind of pseudoscience research in their own papers, which also have trouble passing a proper peer-review process, as it shows slipshod research methodology at the very least and academic/scientific misconduct at worst.

Ben Davidson Publishes USGS Email Correspondence

In Ben Davidson’s “Letter to Dr. Blanpied,” Ben reveals that he was reading the emails that had been exchanged between Dr. Jeffrey Love and his boss, Dr. Michael Blanpied (both of the USGS) due to the release of their email correspondence by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The letter also, displays Ben Davidson’s inability to do his own “due diligence” when it came to finding a reputable, peer-reviewed publisher for his research papers. Ben even went so far as to admonish Dr. Blanpied for this:

“It would appear you have been somewhat disingenuous. Three weeks before our interactions last summer you were emailing with Dr. Love about 1) me, 2) some of my more-insane followers who SHOULD have been ignored, and 3) the journal in which I expressly told you I was going to publish – ‘a silly (I think) compendium of vanity papers on bizarre Earth theories, that appear to have no independent peer review…’ those were your words to Dr. Love. You remember that email, right?

A) NCGT wasn’t my first choice, but they the only ones who would even send twitter-based forecasts to reviewers. I will not be publishing papers with them going forward due to 1) my understanding of your utter distaste for their journal (and apparently, the fact that publishing there means nothing – thanks for leaving that out, by the way, and wasting my time)” (Davidson 2017).

The rest of Ben Davidson’s “open letter” to Dr. Blanpied can be found in PDF form, here, as Ben has since made the links to this document require permission in order for it to be opened; nevertheless, the links still appear beneath videos like “How to Predict Earthquakes | Ben Davidson (OTF2017 w/Conference Opening).

The pull-quote from Ben Davidson’s letter (shown above) speaks for itself. Ben Davidson admits in his own words that publishing his paper, “The Relationship Between M8+ Earthquake Occurrences and the Solar Polar Magnetic Fields,” in the NCGT Journal “means nothing.”

To this very day (March 22, 2018) Ben Davidson is still using his NCGT paper as evidence and claiming it’s been peer-reviewed, when it has NOT been properly peer-reviewed with Ben even admitting to, “the fact that publishing there [NCGT] means nothing” (Davidson 2017).

To give proper context to the exchange, read the email exchange between Ben Davidson and Dr. Jeffrey Love from August of 2016, which can be found via PDF, here, or is still available on one of Ben’s websitesunder “click here.”

The exchange can be summed up in one of the responses from Dr. Jeffrey Love:

“Again, if you think you can predict earthquakes, then I say predict them. Then, after you predict them, show that your results are statistically significant, and, then, after you scrutinize your own results (and even try as hard as you can to disprove them), after all that, write it up, submit it to a peer-reviewed journal, and then you will get the attention of the scientific community. As you note, this has never been done, and this is the challenge for earthquake prediction. Retrospective ‘predictions’ are not how you show your method to be useful. It is normal that scientist scrutinize their own results. It is not normal for scientists to ask others to do it for them” (Davidson-Love 2016).

Dr. Love also suggested that, “There are many journals where you might submit well written results. Consider those of the AGU,” so it’s obvious that Dr. Love was telling Ben as early as August of 2016 that the AGU has some reputable, peer-reviewed journals that Ben could submit his results to.

While Ben Davidson’s claims of earthquake prediction/forecast are a topic for another blog; suffice it to say that Ben has never done what Dr. Love suggests with his daily Twitter earthquake forecasts. Dr. Love said that, in order “For your predictions to gather serious attention, you will need to both show statistical significance and publish in a peer-reviewed journal. I’m trying to help you by emphasizing those facts” (Davidson-Love 2016).

Daily YouTube videos and tweets of “forecasts” do not constitute evidence, especially if claims of statistical significance and accuracy have not passed proper peer-review. Papers published in predatory journals do not count as evidence as they have not been peer-reviewed. Papers published in predatory journals that reference other studies that are not properly peer-reviewed are not evidence of anything other than sloppy research methodology and an inability to vet the sources they’re citing.

So, what constitutes evidence?

In this case, scientific evidence can take the form of a hypothesis that has been tested with the scientific method and then submitted as a paper for peer-review by experts in the relevant fields before it’s published in a reputable scientific journal; this is what constitutes a paper, study, or any other bit of research as being able to be used as credible evidence for a claim.

When a paper or study does not make it through a proper peer-review process, then it is not science; furthermore, when this fake science is presented to the public with disregard for scientific fact it becomes pseudoscience.

What doesn’t constitute evidence?

Repeating a claim, no matter how many times, does not necessarily make it true. Ben Davidson has a habit of repeating claims (even when those claims have been corrected by professionals) to his audience and the general public. For instance:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Several of these comments are fantastic examples of a sort of pseudoscientific “Gish Gallop” in which Ben Davidson really exudes “crank magnetism,” which is:

the condition where people become attracted to multiple crank ideas at the same time. Crank magnetism also denotes the tendency — even for otherwise “lone issue” cranks — to accumulate more crank beliefs over time. You know that old saying about not being so open-minded that your brain falls out? People with crank magnetism didn’t pay attention to that. Crank magnetism is an important stepping stone on the path towards being wrong all of the time” (RationalWiki 2018).

In addition to that, Ben Davidson (Suspicious0bservers) has posted variations of these comments several times in different threads and has even made a video called “How to Introduce the Observer Community,” which highlights a few of them to round out the slide show shown above.

So, again, it’s important to point out that just repeating the same demonstrably false statement over and over again doesn’t make it true. What Ben’s doing in these comments is presenting multiple self-identified accolades, and anecdotes, about himself as proof of the veracity of his work in an argument about why someone should believe or “bet” on him in a verbose manner.

According to RationalWiki, this is what’s know as:

“The Gish Gallop (also known as proof by verbosity[1]) is the fallacious debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort. The Gish Gallop is a belt-fed version of the on the spot fallacy, as it’s unreasonable for anyone to have a well-composed answer immediately available to every argument present in the Gallop. The Gish Gallop is named after creationist Duane Gish, who often abused it” (RationalWiki 2017).

Commenters on YouTube who aren’t steeped in Ben Davidson’s content, which is often overflowing with scientific misinterpretations and logical leaps, are typically over-whelmed when hit with such a wordy, hydra of an argument.

I’ve already addressed Ben Davidson’s overuse of lines like “I can do your homework for you if you admit you can’t do it yourself” in my previous blog post, “The War Against Fake News and Pseudoscience on YouTube: Space Weather vs. Suspicious0bservers” as being a variation of the popular internet logical fallacy of “do your own research.” 

Plus, as Tom Nichols pointed out in The Death of Expertise, it’s necessary to cross-check the sources of anyone who uses a lot of self-identifications since, “A lot of people declare that they’re experts or intellectuals, and sometimes they are. On the other hand, self-identification can be worse than misleading” (Nichols 2017). Fact-checking someone who claims to have “predicted” earthquakes seems like a no-brainer, and the best way to do that is to look at the credibility and authenticity of the sources for their claims.

While I’m not terribly interested in Ben Davidson’s unconvincing non sequitur into a “manufactroversy” about dark matter at the end of his posts, I think it’s important to point out exactly what a manufactroversy is, because according to RationalWiki it is:

“a manufactured controversy. A manufactroversy can be a form of denialism: pretending that a controversy exists over something which is, in fact, not in debate by anyone who has the slightest grasp of the facts, but which a number of people wish to deny for religious, political, or other reasons. The usual motive for this is to attempt to give the appearance that the facts are still up for debate, à la anti-environmentalism…Often related to the “tell both sides” method of reporting, where only one side has any evidence, so the reporter searches out a crank just so they can tell another side” (RationalWiki 2018).

Ben Davidson monetizes pseudoscience, and one of the ways that he does this is by putting out videos on various scientific manufactroversies on topics like climate change, dark matter, earthquake prediction, vaccinations, GMOs, and so on, in order to pander to the beliefs of a contrarian science crowd.

One of Ben Davidson’s claims in the comments section (shown in the slide show above) of his YouTube video goes against his own disclaimer of “ALL THAT IS SAID AND SHOWN IS CITED WITH A HYPERLINK OR PROPER CITATION IN THE ABOUT TAB OF THE VIDEOS OR ON THIS WEBSITE” (Davidson 2018) as he provided no source, hyperlink or proper citation for the assertion:

“One of the guys on the China team for that satellite PR’ed my quake paper with U-Yen and Holloman, they are all on board with our observations and math…If you can’t find the China/Italy thing I can’t help you” (Davidson 2018).

As always, the burden of proof is on the one who is making the claim, not the other way around; no amount of insisting that someone “do their own research” removes the burden of proof.

Tracking down one of the origins of Ben Davidson’s “China team” claim leads to a video titled, “Electric Earthquake Prediction | A Major New Player.” This video references the article, “Italy and China together to monitor seismic activity from space,” which is about the recent launch of the China Seismo Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES) as proof of Ben’s claims, which are echoed in the comments he made (shown in the slide show above).

It’s interesting to note, even if it’s inconsequential, that headline of the article, “Italy and China together to monitor seismic activity from space,” when juxtaposed with some of the titles of his YouTube videos: “Energy from Space | The Shift Has Begun,” and “Energy from Space.”

The headline of the article obviously reads as: Italy/China are monitoring seismic activity with a satellite from space; as opposed to a ground based measurement device on earth. What the CSES spacecraft is actually measuring is the “electromagnetic disturbances associated with the seismic activity that can produce ionospheric perturbations as well as the precipitation of particles from the Van Allen belts, observed before, during and after earthquakes of medium and strong magnitude” (CSES 2017).

Read that very carefully: “seismic activity that can produce ionospheric perturbations,” it does not say that ionospheric perturbations produce seismic activity. Not to mention, the end of that paragraph goes on to explain the importance of distinguishing that phenomenon from other background noise:

“induced by sources external to the geomagnetic cavity and by atmospheric events. In fact, an important role in controlling the dynamic of the topside ionosphere is played by the Sun – that generates (regular and irregular) variations of the lithosphere-ionosphere-magnetosphere parameters by impulsive events as solar Coronal Mass Ejections and Solar Flares – as well as by tropospheric activity (lightning, TLE, etc.)” (CSES 2017).

This is very clearly stating that seismic activity produces ionospheric perturbations, which the researchers are studying, but that the phenomena they’re studying needs to be separated from the phenomenon that are induced by external sources through the controlling dynamic of the sun on the ionosphere NOT the lithosphere. So what Ben Davidson (Suspicious0bservers) says in his “Electric Earthquake Prediction” video at around the 1:30 mark is an extrapolation of what’s not being said by the researchers in that article or even claimed publicly under the scientific objectives on the CSES website.

The expert behind the YouTube channel, Space Weather, made a very apt observation and criticism of Ben’s claims about the CSES spacecraft:

“As usual, Ben is confused. The CSES spacecraft launched by China is trying to determine if there are high energy particle bursts (mostly > 4 MeV electron bursts) preceding seismic activity. There is some unproven evidence of such bursts. But if there is a link, the source is tectonic in origin, not solar in origin. So this spacecraft DOES NOT in ANY WAY support Ben’s hypothesis and it can’t be extrapolated to be true” (Space Weather 2018).

For Ben Davidson to make such claims in the comment section below his own video and offer no evidence (especially when Ben knows the links to the sources and refuses to reveal them while employing his version of a “Gish Gallop”) is exactly the kind of argumentation that journalist/writer Christopher Hitchens was talking about in his Slate article from 2003, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

The bottom line is that…

Many times the sources that Ben Davidson (Suspicious0bservers) references as evidence of his arguments are not saying what he claims they’re saying and the conclusions he reaches are based on erroneous misinterpretations, and extrapolations, as he has no formal education or training in science. Sometimes, these extrapolations are based off of his own “bad research” (none of which has passed a proper peer-review), which does not constitute evidence for his public claims of “Suns/Electricity & Earthquakes” being “Peer-Reviewed, Real World Success.”

As several of Ben Davidson’s claims fall into the realm of pseudoscience has been established by multiple experts, it’s not surprising that Ben’s paper, “The Relationship Between M8+ Earthquake Occurrences and the Solar Polar Magnetic Fields,” is not considered as actual evidence by the scientific community. Therefore, it would be unethical for any news organization to present a paper to the public as newsworthy science when it never even passed a proper-peer review process.

The evidence that’s used in scientific journalism is supposed to be based on the peer-reviewed publications that come from reputable scientific journals, but that is a topic for another blog post! In the meantime, just going to leave this here:


References:

Asi, Redazione. “Italy and China together to monitor seismic activity from space.” ASI – News: September 25, 2013. Website: https://www.asi.it/en/news/italy-and-china-together-monitor-seismic-activity-space

CSES. “Scientific Objectives.” CSES.it: February 02, 2018. Website: http://cses.roma2.infn.it/node/19

Davidson, Ben. “Electric Earthquake Prediction | New Major Player.” YouTube: February 02, 2018. Website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPcXBcfXqGs&t=89s

Davidson, Ben. “How to Introduce the Observers Community.” YouTube: November 13, 2017. Website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-YnnPN6Rts&t=92s

Davidson, Ben. “Letter to Dr. Blanpied.” Published 2017: https://docs.google.com/document/d/11-UH_kI2pdkJiZnYQbON-06EB1Duk6XRcZtuvD7DaaU/edit?usp=sharing

Davidson, Ben. “Top Science News | News, Conference, More News.” YouTube: March 05, 2018. Website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDtdM5-ksXU&t=1s

Davidson, Ben & Love, Jeffrey. “Copy of Email Correspondence between Dr. Jeffrey Love and Ben Davidson.” Published: 2016. Website: http://spaceweathernews.com/challenge/  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OLIUt05koTgvPL4wYaj9NKcLf1qp28xzi8K5JrEj9ag/edit?usp=sharing

Nichols, Tom. “The Death of Expertise.” Oxford University Press: March 01, 2017. Website: https://www.amazon.com/Death-Expertise-Campaign-Established-Knowledge/dp/0190469412/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1521833181&sr=8-1&keywords=the+death+of+expertise

Stop Predatory Journals. “About.” PredatoryJournals.com: March 22, 2018. Website: https://predatoryjournals.com/about/

The Rational Media Foundation, Inc. “Manufactroversy.” RationalWiki: January 23, 2018. Website: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Manufactroversy

The Rational Media Foundation, Inc. “Crank Magnetism.” RationalWiki: March 16, 2018. Website: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Crank_magnetism

The Rational Media Foundation, Inc. “Gish Gallop.” RationalWiki: November 11, 2017. Website: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop

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Author: Reality Challenged

I have created this blog to record, analyze, investigate and report on the ideas, events, and people that would otherwise mislead you and waste your time.

7 thoughts on “The War Against Fake News and Pseudoscience on YouTube: What Constitutes Evidence for Claims (Prequel to ‘Potholer54’ vs. ‘Suspicious0bservers’)”

  1. People such as yourself, potholer54 and others who have the patience, resources, time and especially the scientific acumen to tackle the pseudo-scientific fringe elements on YouTube and elsewhere are a real bonus to those of us with only a rudimentary grasp of most climate related topics. I, for one, think I have a fairly good general knowledge of the topics and how they interrelate but being able to express my thoughts coherently and objectively is not part of makeup. So a heartfelt “Thank you” to you and your debunking gang of compatriots!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey EllBee,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, I appreciate your kind words and support!

      The fringe pseudoscience being promoted on YouTube, and sold to the public as “science,” is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed even further; and as many have already pointed out, debunking this nonsense would be a full-time job.

      Just trying to do my part! Thanks for reading,

      -RC

      Like

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