Scientific Conspiracy Theories: A Veneer for Irrational Beliefs

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May 31, 2011 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's entry was written by Rusty Pritchard. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Scientific Conspiracy Theories: A Veneer for Irrational Beliefs

This essay was originally written for Q Ideas, as part of a series connected to the new book Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society by Tim Willard and Jason Locy. They asked me to consider how the idea of “veneer” played out in the world of science.

My grandfather, a North Florida farmer, never believed that men had landed on the moon. He considered it an outrageous claim, plainly contradicted by common sense, and suspected that the whole project was an elaborate fiction to raise federal taxes. He held these beliefs privately for the most part, and never had the Internet to connect him with other similar-minded people. He held to a conspiracy theory, but it was fairly benign (believing it didn’t harm anyone), and it was not fed by an echo chamber of paranoid websites. He didn’t try to justify his belief with spurious evidence or distorted science. He knew what he knew.

In recent times, conspiracy theories have grown less benign, more prone to amplification, and more prone to take on the veneer of scientific respectability. Two cases illustrate the point:

CASE 1: Claims about the link between childhood vaccines and autism have circulated for some time, yet scientists have been unable to detect such a connection. In January of this year, a controversial study that had claimed to find a tentative link between childhood vaccines and autism, and which had given rise to conspiracy theories about the medical establishment, was shown to be the result of outright fraud and falsified data. Vaccines were (again) shown to be safe enough to warrant widespread use in immunizing children against childhood diseases, and highly-publicized claims that components of those vaccines cause autism in young children were conclusively debunked.

The discovery of fraud did not quell the fear-mongering of activist groups of parents, many of whom still refuse to get their youngsters vaccinated. That decision puts their own children, and other children, at increased risk of death from preventable diseases.

CASE 2: At the end of 1996, scientists were so certain that the HIV virus caused the condition called AIDS that they began giving patients anti-retroviral therapy (ART) intended to keep the HIV virus from replicating. The result came to be known as the “Lazarus effect”, as AIDS patients at death’s door began to come forth, and to go back to their jobs.

That didn’t convince South African President Thabo Mbeki, who refused to believe in the HIV/AIDS connection (he believed the science to reflect poorly on African morality and values). In the year 2000, his government invited dissenting scientists to sit on important government health panels. Those panels recommended against a large-scale national anti-AIDS campaign, despite an international scientific consensus that it would save lives. Recently, a study from the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes claims that at least 365,000 extra South African deaths can be blamed on the fallacious viewpoint Mbeki adopted.

It's classic conspiracy theory stuff. An article in the New Scientist describes what denialist movements have in common:

All set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people. This conspiracy is usually claimed to be promoting a sinister agenda: the nanny state, takeover of the world economy, government power over individuals, financial gain, atheism.

Neither the political right nor the left is free from conspiracy theories. On the right, for example, “birthers” (still) claim that Barak Obama's election was illegitimate because of a fraudulent birth certificate. On the left, conspiracy theories usually involve evil corporations colluding to take over the world economy, market unscrupulous products, kill children with high-fructose corn syrup, dump pollution on us all, or that religious elites are trying to institute an American theocracy. And “Truthers” believe the 9/11 terrorist attacks were masterminded by George W. Bush or a close associate.

Jigsaw Puzzles and Card Houses

Denialism (a word first used in connection with conspiracy theorists who tried to cast doubt on the historicity of the German genocides of WWII) tries to veneer over its irrationality with a paradoxical appeal to science, but without doing the hard work of convincing scientists of an argument. Conspiracy theorists and denialists short-cut the scientific process by relying on anecdote, and by cherry-picking the small number of contrarian scientists and dissenting scientific articles, or by creating their own “science.” They claim that a handful of doubters or a small number of published papers with contrary results undermine the validity of conclusions most scientists would agree with.

So HIV/AIDs denialists, like the vaccine alarmists, trumpet the work of a handful of dissenters, many of whom did real research in the past but whose recent, more ideological work fails to get published because it can’t pass peer review. They see this inability to get published as a sign of persecution and lockout orchestrated by the establishment, rather than a reflection of the quality of their work. They might even accuse the editors of “groupthink” for failing to recognize the brilliance of the dissenters.

Conspiracy theorists look at science as a post-modern exercise of power, instead of as society’s best-faith effort to find coherent explanations for natural observations. The Economist newspaper puts it this way:

In any complex scientific picture of the world there will be gaps, misperceptions and mistakes. Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down. …[A]cademic scientists are jigsaw types, dissenters from their view house-of-cards-ists.

Nothing is more frustrating for a credentialed scientist to present their research to general non-academic audience, and then to find themselves facing off during the Q-and-A with a blogger who says "I've done a lot of research on the Internet about this question, and I think your science is a house of cards."

Deep Science

I’m not arguing that an appeal to scientific credentials should resolve debates (it shouldn’t). I’m saying that there are deep and shallow ways to answer questions with science.

To do scientific research is to study the world deeply, to understand the history of and relationships among scientific ideas, to develop questions and (crucially) to design experiments to uncover answers that satisfy not only yourself but a community of skeptical peers. To do science that is believable (or “credible”) one must generally have spent years in formal training and in the workplace demonstrating competence in gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data.

Scientific research is not “looking things up on the Internet,” considering "both sides" of a controversy, and then “forming an opinion.” Science is done by a community which trusts that open communication, decentralized testing of ideas, and relentless questioning will lead us to understand the world more accurately. Science makes progress on the strength of conflict and argument, not by seeking out compatible views.

Science involves a great deal of humility, because most new ideas, even clever ones, turn out to be wrong. Science is predisposed to disbelief. Just because someone says they have a new idea, or they've got a new result from an experiment, does not mean their peers believe them. Even so-called "peer reviewed" research must stand the test of time to be credible. The original study on vaccines and autism cited above (now known to be fraudulent) got through peer review, but it did not withstand subsequent challenges.

The paradoxical things about non-scientists who profess "skepticism" about whether HIV causes AIDS or about the safety of childhood vaccines is that they are so staggeringly unskeptical about the claims of people who agree with them. They are willing to believe that almost all the experts are being duped. It’s faux-skepticism.

In a society where science is highly respected, denialism and conspiracy theories of all kinds are attempts to get power for nothing. Without investing in the hard work of advancing credible, persuasive arguments, denialists of every stripe tend to use the rhetoric of science to convince non-experts of the validity of ideas that can't hold their own in the truly skeptical worlds of science. When we fail to take the scientific enterprise seriously, or when we misappropriate its language and (limited) authority for our own pet causes, we are covering our beliefs in veneer.


Rusty Pritchard is the CEO of Flourish, a ministry that equips Christians to engage the world of environmental science and action. He holds a Ph.D. in natural resource economics and a masters degree in systems ecology.


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Alan Fox - #62097

June 4th 2011

The spam filter took out the abbreviation for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei in my previous post


Mike Gene - #62103

June 4th 2011

Alan Fox:  

Ah, I also think you make a ridiculous accusation against Jerry Coyne.

LOL.  Of course you do.  There is no need for me to retract or apologize on the basis of two biased, confused, idiosyncractic opinions.  

You are entitled to your opinion, but why don’t you read the argument and make some attempt to address it?  Since you did not read it, here it is again:

For purposes of clarification, let me review.  I responded to bren by pointing out that just because someone is a scientist doesn’t mean we should expect them to approach all aspects of life as a scientist.  What’s important in science is the experiment.  I then mentioned Coyne and Myers in passing as an example of this, as their Gnu activism does not rise to the level of a scientific analysis or approach.  How can any reasonable person disagree? 

Perhaps I need a simpler example for you.

You quoted Coyne from that same blog posting as asserting, “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.”  Then, you asked me, “Why do you suppose everyone thinks that?”

I don’t believe everyone thinks that.  Why would you?  You seem oblivious to the fact that Coyne’s truth claim about the world is not only unsupported with any scientific evidence, but it is scientifically untrue that “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.”  For example, I myself, did not think Dennett coined the term “Brights.”  

So you have two choices.  Either acknowledge that Coyne’s truth claim on his blog does not have the same level of scientific rigour as his studies of fruit flies do, and thus concede my whole point, or come up with the scientific evidence that everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett to show that Coyne’s truth claim does indeed have the same level of scientific rigour as his studies of fruit flies.  


Mike Gene - #62104

June 4th 2011

Alan Fox:

It seems he pointed out Nick was wrong to claim “Well, I have seen Richard Dawkins address large general audiences and quite deliberately, but ridiculously, play the #### card against religion. It’s an instance of Godwin’s Law, and it’s no better when Dawkins does it than when anyone else does it.” How is asking Nick to either substantiate this claim (one might even say smear) a smear?

So Coyne politely requested that that Nick substantiate his claim?  Yeah, right.  People are encouraged to read this polite request here:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/another-tom-johnson-did-dawkins-call-religious-people-nazis/

You’ll see that Coyne publicly describes Nick as a “nasty piece of work.”  This attack sets the stage for gobs of personal, vitriolic attacks that he allows in the comments section of his blog. 

[BTW, you can read what Prof. Orzel had to say about all this:
http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2011/04/support_the_national_center_fo.php]


So Coyne disagrees with Matzke’s perceptions.  He launches an ad hominem attack and creates an environment where Matzke can be brutally attacked.  Given that Alan Fox thinks my point is ridiculous, it follows that Alan Fox thinks this is how science is typically done.  

But Alan Fox is wrong.  As I noted above, there is very little scientific thinking, including self-directed criticism, when it comes to Gnu activism.  Apparently, a tribalistic allegiance to leaders of the Gnu movement prevents people from recognizing this simple truth.

So tell me, Alan.  Dawkins accused Matzke of being a liar.  I think Dawkins is wrong.  Do you agree with Dawkins?  In calling Matzke a liar (several times), was Dawkins taking a scientific approach?





Alan Fox - #62118

June 4th 2011

So Coyne politely requested that that Nick substantiate his claim?


Mike,

If you want to argue about tone rather than content, then, fine! I didn’t use the word “politely”. On the substantive point, Nick’s claim about Dawkins “playing the na-zi card” was wrong. He should never have made it in the first place (he appears to have based it on hearsay, yet implied personal experience - “I have seen…”) and when challenged, he neither attempted to justify his remark or withdraw it.

And you claimed (here at Biologos) that Richard Dawkins “hates Creationists” and have yet to substantiate the claim.

Mike Gene - #62119

June 4th 2011

If you want to argue about tone rather than content, then, fine!

It’s not tone, Alan.  It’s whether or not a truth claim has any substance.  Coyne made a truth claim about the world – Nick Matzke is a nasty piece of work.  Did Coyne have any scientific evidence to back up this truth claim?  Do you agree that Nick Matzke is a nasty piece of work?  Remember, the topic here is whether Coyne’s activism is science.  

On the substantive point, Nick’s claim about Dawkins “playing the na-zi card” was wrong.

So you are saying that being wrong makes Nick a “nasty piece of work.”

That’s your subjective opinion.  From a scientific point of view, it is well known that people who have such disputes often come to the table with different perspectives.  

He should never have made it in the first place (he appears to have based it on hearsay, yet implied personal experience - “I have seen…”) and when challenged, he neither attempted to justify his remark or withdraw it.

Now that is wrong.  Matzke did indeed attempt to justify his remark.  But given that Dawkins is your hero, I would not expect you to think it was good enough.  Your hero is never wrong.  

And you claimed (here at Biologos) that Richard Dawkins “hates Creationists” and have yet to substantiate the claim.


Are you opposed to free speech?  Are you saying that I am not allowed to have the opinion that Dawkins hates Creationists?  I never claimed it as some scientific truth.  

Speaking of Dawkins, that was one of the questions you evaded.  Let’s try again:

So tell me, Alan.  Dawkins accused Matzke of being a liar.  I think Dawkins is wrong.  Do you agree with Dawkins?  In calling Matzke a liar (several times), was Dawkins taking a scientific approach?


Alan Fox - #62122

June 4th 2011

So tell me, Alan.  Dawkins accused Matzke of being a liar.  I think Dawkins is wrong.  Do you agree with Dawkins?  In calling Matzke a liar (several times), was Dawkins taking a scientific approach?


The video of the talk Matzke was referring to does not show that Dawkins “played the Na-zi card” and this was clearly pointed out to Nick by several commenters at Pandas Thumb and WEIT. It is hard to avoid concluding that Nick was aware he was wrong about Dawkins’s talk and had every opportunity to correct his claim. To be fair, I haven’t seen him mention it since either to repeat or retract the claim. I don’t know if Nick really believed what he said about Dawkins when he said it so I can’t say it was a lie. In fact I think Dawkins reflected and said something similar later.

Regards science, my duck/rabbit view says accepting reality is scientific. Science can encompass all reality and no more. I allow Dawkins the occasional emotional outburst. We are all prone to them!

Regarding your claim “Dawkins hates Creationists”; if you had qualified your remark with something like “I believe without any evidence or this is my opinion which I have formed without reference to Dawkin’s actual statements” then I wouldn’t bother. But the flat assertion deserves to be challenged.

Mike Gene - #62124

June 4th 2011

Alan,

It is hard to avoid concluding that Nick was aware he was wrong about Dawkins’s talk and had every opportunity to correct his claim.

Nick’s perception was clearly colored by a slide he saw in one of Dawkins talks.  He asked Dawkins a question about that slide.  Three times.  Dawkins ignored it.  

I don’t know if Nick really believed what he said about Dawkins when he said it so I can’t say it was a lie.

Exactly.  And if Dawkins had approached this dispute as a scientist, he would have realized his accusation ran far ahead of the evidence.    

Regards science, my duck/rabbit view says accepting reality is scientific.

Yes, I know.  You think that when people blow their nose, they are doing science.  But your attempt to water down science to the level of nose blowing is not the issue here. Do you think Gnu activism is science?  

Science can encompass all reality and no more. I allow Dawkins the occasional emotional outburst. We are all prone to them!

But you never answered my questions.  

In calling Matzke a liar (several times), was Dawkins taking a scientific approach?

Coyne made a truth claim about the world – Nick Matzke is a “nasty piece of work.”  Did Coyne have any scientific evidence to back up this truth claim?

Was it scientifically accurate for Coyne to assert, “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett?”


Alan Fox - #62158

June 5th 2011

 You think that when people blow their nose, they are doing science.  


You are an inveterate mind reader aren’t you Mike. You have told me that is what I think. What I told you is that nose-blowing is eminently suitable for scientific study. Consider whether nose-blowing is innate or learned behaviour. My anecdotal opinion is that it is learned and the instinct is to sniff, propelling the mucus in the same direction that it is normally propelled by the cilia on the mucous membranes. I suspect there is an element of fluid retention that could be important in certain circumstances. The etiquette and cultural differences might be interesting to an anthropologist.

But your attempt to water down science to the level of nose blowing is not the issue here.

How am I watering down Science by pointing out the only limit to scientific endeavour is reality - the set of all observable phenomena. It’s you who wants to quibble about nose-blowing.

But you never answered my questions. 

Ah, but I asked first. Remember your unsupported assertion that Richard Dawkins “hates Creationists”. I would like you to tell me how you arrived at this conclusion, other than by application of your undoubtedly impressive mind-reading technique. In passing, let me reaffirm your absolute right to think what you like and, when you express a view publicly, for that statement to be challenged. Is there any difference between whether you are entitled to make any unsupported assertion that pops into your head and Coyne or Dawkins doing the same.

Anyway, let’s look at your questions.

(in following post)





Alan Fox - #62159

June 5th 2011

In calling Matzke a liar (several times), was Dawkins taking a scientific approach?

I am sure emotion clouded his better judgement as evinced by his later reflection. You seem very obsessed with what is scientific. It is like asking “what is life”? It seems a pointless question. Science works. Science is a method of studying reality that produces useful results. What is not useful (like ID concepts) is discarded.

Coyne made a truth claim about the world – Nick Matzke is a “nasty piece of work.”  Did Coyne have any scientific evidence to back up this truth claim?

I like and respect Nick Matzke. His contribution to the events at Harrisburg should not be forgotten. I thought his post at PT and the subsequent events very odd indeed. I, as an outsider, find the apparent capacity for Americans to become aggressive and confrontational at the drop of a hat fascinating. I think it is partly what fuels my obsession with sites like these. For the record, I don’t think anyone should be called a liar lightly. A lie for me is when someone states something they know at the time to be false. Thus without the ability to read minds, one has to give the benefit of doubt until repetition in the face of correction leaves no doubt. As to “nasty piece of work”, it is hardly specific enough to argue whether it is accurate. It is certainly insulting as it was meant to be.

Was it scientifically accurate for Coyne to assert, “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett?”

Probably not accurate in the sense of being incorrect. Coyne might have said ‘among the people I know and have discussed it with, the urban myth that Dennett coined the phrase “Brights” is prevalent.’ But “Everyone thinks” carries much the same meaning in everyday speech. If you think this is an important issue, feel free to continue to nitpick.

Mike Gene - #62172

June 5th 2011

Alan,

You are an inveterate mind reader aren’t you Mike. You have told me that is what I think.

It’s not mind reading.  It’s where your logic leads.  You assert that “accepting reality is scientific.”  When I blow my nose, I am accepting reality.  But I am not doing science.  The same thing with shopping.  The same with watching a football game.  The same with fighting in a war.  Just because science accepts reality does not mean that every instance of accepting reality is science.  

Remember your unsupported assertion that Richard Dawkins “hates Creationists”. I would like you to tell me how you arrived at this conclusion, other than by application of your undoubtedly impressive mind-reading technique.


Are you trying to get me to stray even further off topic??  If BioLogos posts a blog entry where Dawkins and his interaction with creationists are the subject, I’ll support my opinion there.

As for my questions, you wrote many sentences without really answering them.  They are easy to answer.  I’ll show you by answering my own questions.

In calling Matzke a liar (several times), was Dawkins taking a scientific approach?

No.  A scientific approach would not jump to conclusions like this.  

Coyne made a truth claim about the world – Nick Matzke is a “nasty piece of work.”  Did Coyne have any scientific evidence to back up this truth claim?

No.  A scientific approach would not reach such a vague, personal, emotional conclusion.  

Was it scientifically accurate for Coyne to assert, “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett?”

No. A scientific approach would not build on hyperbole.

Do you agree with my answers?

Perhaps we should cut to the chase and get to the core question:

Is Gnu activism science?  Yes or no?


Michael D. Weinreich - #62145

June 4th 2011

Mike Gene said,

<em>I ignored your reply simply because Jerry Coyne and myself are not the topics of this thread…</em>

You cited Coyne as evidence for the case you were making. I am allowed to challenge <em>the same example that you introduced</em>. This concept hardly needs more elucidation, but imagine the following exchange:

“Evolution is false because of mitochondrial DNA.”

“What? How does mitochondrial DNA show that?”

“Mitochondrial DNA isn’t the topic of this thread. You’re attempting to steer the conversation off topic, which is against the rules of this forum (did you ever bother to read them?).”

Note that in your last comment you engaged in personal attacks against me. Among them,

* You said that I have an “obsession” with you.

* You said that I have a “biased, confused, idiosyncractic [sic] opinion.”

* You called me a “Mondo” (which I think is an insult, but I can’t be sure).

In doing so, you have violated the rules of this forum, and the moderator should respond appropriately. Please read the forum rules and take care not to violate them again. Thank you.

Back to the Coyne example (originally introduced by you). You said,

<em>You quoted Coyne from that same blog posting as asserting, “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.”  Then, you asked me, “Why do you suppose everyone thinks that?”</em>

<em>I don’t believe everyone thinks that.  Why would you?  You seem oblivious to the fact that Coyne’s truth claim about the world is not only unsupported with any scientific evidence, but it is scientifically untrue that “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.”  For example, I myself, did not think Dennett coined the term “Brights.”</em>

I couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of my point. Thank you.

Previously I laid out a solid case that your assertion that Coyne was “ignoring relevant facts” was ridiculous. Please read it again, as you did not address it. The argument was very straightforward (indeed, obvious), and it really amounted to a misunderstanding on your part. I wondered: How could such an odd misunderstanding arise? I suspected it had something to do with your previous contention that Coyne is a crackpot.

However instead of answering my argument, you chose to simply focus on one of Coyne’s opening sentences:

<em>Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.</em>

You say that, here, Coyne is making a “truth claim about the world”. You then proceed as follows: since you don’t believe that claim, Coyne’s contention is false. Thus Coyne is making a claim that is “not only unsupported with any scientific evidence, but it is scientifically untrue”. Ergo, Coyne’s blog WEIT makes such claims.

Let’s think this one through. Is it plausible that Coyne really meant, literally, that <em>everyone in the world</em> believes Dennett invented the term “bright”? Is plausible that Coyne is asserting that every Tibetan monk, every Congolese person, every ten year old in the world believes it? In particular, is it plausible that Coyne is asserting that <em>Mike Gene</em> believes that Dennett invented the term?

Is that plausible, Mike? <b>Really?</b>

It’s not a personal attack to say that <em>your assertion is ridiculous</em>, as is your previous one.

It is nigh impossible for me to believe that you are acting in good faith here, Mike. Nonetheless for the sake of the forum rules I will refrain from stating my conclusion, and I apologize for stating it previously. In any case, it is better for people to draw their own conclusions from Mike Gene’s words here.


Michael D. Weinreich - #62146

June 4th 2011

[Looks like I messed up the formatting again. Sorry, reposting.]

Mike Gene said,

I ignored your reply simply because Jerry Coyne and myself are not the topics of this thread…

You cited Coyne as evidence for the case you were making. I am allowed to challenge the same example that you introduced. This concept hardly needs more elucidation, but imagine the following exchange:

“Evolution is false because of mitochondrial DNA.”

“What? How does mitochondrial DNA show that?”

“Mitochondrial DNA isn’t the topic of this thread. You’re attempting to steer the conversation off topic, which is against the rules of this forum (did you ever bother to read them?).”

Note that in your last comment you engaged in personal attacks against me. Among them,

* You said that I have an “obsession” with you.

* You said that I have a “biased, confused, idiosyncractic [sic] opinion.”

* You called me a “Mondo” (which I think is an insult, but I can’t be sure).

In doing so, you have violated the rules of this forum, and the moderator should respond appropriately. Please read the forum rules and take care not to violate them again. Thank you.

Back to the Coyne example (originally introduced by you). You said,

You quoted Coyne from that same blog posting as asserting, “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.”  Then, you asked me, “Why do you suppose everyone thinks that?”

I don’t believe everyone thinks that.  Why would you?  You seem oblivious to the fact that Coyne’s truth claim about the world is not only unsupported with any scientific evidence, but it is scientifically untrue that “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.”  For example, I myself, did not think Dennett coined the term “Brights.”


I couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of my point. Thank you.

Previously I laid out a solid case that your assertion that Coyne was “ignoring relevant facts” was ridiculous. Please read it again, as you did not address it. The argument was very straightforward (indeed, obvious), and it really amounted to a misunderstanding on your part. I wondered: How could such an odd misunderstanding arise? I suspected it had something to do with your previous contention that Coyne is a crackpot.

However instead of answering my argument, you chose to simply focus on one of Coyne’s opening sentences:

Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.

You say that, here, Coyne is making a “truth claim about the world”. You then proceed as follows: since you don’t believe that claim, Coyne’s contention is false. Thus Coyne is making a claim that is “not only unsupported with any scientific evidence, but it is scientifically untrue”. Ergo, Coyne’s blog WEIT makes such claims.

Let’s think this one through. Is it plausible that Coyne really meant, literally, that everyone in the world believes Dennett invented the term “bright”? Is plausible that Coyne is asserting that every Tibetan monk, every Congolese person, every ten year old in the world believes it? In particular, is it plausible that Coyne is asserting that Mike Gene believes that Dennett invented the term?

Is that plausible, Mike? Really?

It’s not a personal attack to say that your assertion is ridiculous, as is your previous one.

It is nigh impossible for me to believe that you are acting in good faith here, Mike. Nonetheless for the sake of the forum rules I will refrain from stating my conclusion, and I apologize for stating it previously. In any case, it is better for people to draw their own conclusions from Mike Gene’s words here.


bren - #62152

June 5th 2011

Not to but in here, but the subject of your controversy has become rather arcane and the reason for it generating this amount of friction is frankly mystifying.  Anyone accidentally stumbling over this series of posts could only conclude that the actual source of the scrum is entirely personal in nature and has very little to do with the subject you appear to be discussing.  I simply cannot believe that the subject itself would give off that much heat.

Michael, I read your earlier post before it was removed.  I was pretty astonished to find such a post on a site like this, where the whole point is reconciling often opposing points of view, and I was frankly pretty happy to see it removed.  I’ve always liked the rationale behind the creation of this site, I thought that the present article was very thoughtful (I was looking forward to the discussion it would generate) and I hate to see the pH drop so quickly in the comments section.  Yours was clearly a very personal and it seemed to me, malicious, attack.  I’m sure it has its background.  I’m sure that you are justifiably frustrated about something in your previous interactions with Mike.   I’m sure you felt he had it coming.  But I’m also sure that if you have a personal, private problem with someone, then a public forum made for constructive dialogue is a poor place to deal with it.

Hope I’m not out of line, and I do apologize if I’m stepping on your toes, but I generally love much of what comes from these interactions and I suspect I would find it easier to follow your points if I wasn’t being distracted by your tone.


Michael D. Weinreich - #62155

June 5th 2011

bren, I appreciate feedback, though I am a little mystified about why you are mystified.

This
thread alone contains what you need to know. Look at what Mike initially claims in #61898. Really the most charitable way I can
describe it is absurd. See my rebuttal in #61906. Then, instead of
actually interacting with what I said, he picks a single sentence and
builds another absurd argument on top of the previous absurd one (latter part of #62146).

Don’t take my word for it. If you want to step in, then please examine what Mike is actually proposing here. I find it simply amazing that he is proposing it. I welcome your reaction to it.



Again I apologize for previously voicing my conclusions, however the pattern upon
which my conclusions are based is right here, on this thread. Please,
just look at what Mike is saying.


Michael D. Weinreich - #62156

June 5th 2011

[Well, biologos hates me. Formatting has gone haywire with every post. Retry:]

bren, I appreciate feedback, though I am a little mystified about why you are mystified.

This thread alone contains what you need to know. Look at what Mike initially claims in #61898. Really the most charitable way I can describe it is absurd. See my rebuttal in #61906. Then, instead of actually interacting with what I said, he picks a single sentence and builds another absurd argument on top of the previous absurd one (latter part of #62146).

Don’t take my word for it. If you want to step in, then please examine what Mike is actually proposing here. I find it simply amazing that he is proposing it. I welcome your reaction to it.

Again I apologize for previously voicing my conclusions, however the pattern upon which my conclusions are based is right here, on this thread. Please, just look at what Mike is saying.


Mike Gene - #62163

June 5th 2011

Mondo,

Then, instead of actually interacting with what I said, he picks a single sentence and builds another absurd argument on top of the previous absurd one (latter part of #62146).

Whether or not you think the argument absurd is not justification for attacking me as being dishonest.  I tried to clarify for you, but you did not engage the clarification.  My point was that Coyne’s Gnu activism does not rise to the level of science. In this particular example,  a scientific approach to the question of the relationship between Dawkins/Dennett and the term “Bright” would not ignore the fact that the term entered the wider public discourse because these two men promoted it and simply excuse them for not inventing it.  Why was there no discussion of the fact that they both promoted it?  Why was that not considered relevant?  Furthermore, it is not scientifically accurate to propose that “Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.”  As you note, it is not even plausible.  Scientists do not build their scientific hypotheses on hyperbole.  I can also add a third example.  Coyne makes this claim without attempt to support it or reference it.  A scientific approach would at least attempt to link to multiple sites where this misconception was in play to justify there being a real problem.

Yet you are overreacting to my point.  You seem to think Coyne is being attacked, when I am simply pointing out that his Gnu activism is not a scientific approach: “Coyne’s truth claim on his blog does not have the same level of scientific rigour as his studies of fruit flies do.”  Just because someone is a scientist doesn’t mean we should expect them to approach all aspects of life as a scientist.  I think it ridiculous and absurd to deny this and try to posture as if that blog posting would rise to the level of science. Do you really think it could be published in a scientific journal?  


Alan Fox - #62166

June 5th 2011

Just to clarify, what does Mike Gene mean by the phrase “Gnu activism”? Specifically, what is Jerry Coyne supposed to be doing when indulging in “Gnu activism”? Other than frankly espousing his views on atheism and religion on his personal blog, that is.


Alan Fox - #62168

June 5th 2011

And just out of curiosity, Mike, why are you referring to Michael D. Weinreich as “Mondo”?


Mike Gene - #62165

June 5th 2011

As for me not engaging your arguments at the level of detail that you demand, it’s not me being dishonest, it’s me concluding that you have an obsession with me.  That obsession warns me that attempts to argue with you will always somehow turn myself into the topic and that is off topic.  And as we can see how things have developed, my foresight was correct.

Now, you think that when I note your obsession, it is a personal attack on you.  No, it’s what the evidence tells me.  Consider the following:

*You joined this blog on June 1.  You posted your first comment on June 1.  Your first comment was directed at……me.  

*Thus, it is quite reasonable to hypothesize that you joined this blog….because of me.

*If we omit your three duplicates, you have posted a grand total of five comments to this blog.  Four of the five are directed…...at me.

*In the single post where you reply to bren…..it’s about me.

*All of your comments are….directed to me or about me.  
.
*You are here to insist I am a bad person – the common theme that ties all your comments together (it got so bad that one of your five comments was deleted by the moderator).   

*Bren earlier made a point very similar to mine:

What you are referring to is scientists straying outside of their domain and into a territory where there is no peer review (admittedly an imperfect process) and very little in the way of tangible checks and balances.  I’m not sure Coyne or Myers are particularly good examples in this respect, having rather frivolously created forums where scientific consensus fades rather imperceptibly (or blatantly) into personal opinion, often on subjects in which they have no real grounding.  I have no doubt that any foray of a narrow-minded but successful scientist into theology, philosophy or sweater knitting will lead to equally embarrassing results!

You never asked him about it or challenged him about it.  Why is that?

 Because he is not…. me.  

*You mistakenly think you shared a private joke with me in your comment that was deleted.  That you think you and I would share such a “private joke” suggests your obsession level is actually quite high and old.  

*Oh, and how did your last reply to me conclude?  

It is nigh impossible for me to believe that you are acting in good faith here, Mike.

Surprise.  Who would have thunk it?  It’s about….me.  And what a bad person I am.  

Is there more?  

In any case, it is better for people to draw their own conclusions from Mike Gene’s words here.

Well, I’ll be.   It was all about…me.  Of course, you didn’t think it better for people to draw their own conclusions in your deleted comment.

*And how does your last reply conclude?

Please, just look at what Mike is saying.

It’s about…..me.  You want it to be all about….me.   Please, everyone, make it….about me.

So ya see, it’s not a personal attack to point out your obsession….with me.

Given your obsession with me, and your determination to smear me, we can predict that your 6th posting to this blog will be about…..me.  Of course.

So congrats, you succeeded in getting me to break the rules and veer off topic.  Why?  Because you can’t stop talking about…..me.


Mike Gene - #62175

June 5th 2011

Alan: Just to clarify, what does Mike Gene mean by the phrase “Gnu activism”? Specifically, what is Jerry Coyne supposed to be doing when indulging in “Gnu activism”? Other than frankly espousing his views on atheism and religion on his personal blog, that is.

Okay, I’ll make it easier for you.  When Coyne is frankly espousing his views on atheism and religion on his personal blog, is he doing science?  Yes or no?


Alan Fox - #62176

June 5th 2011

The two aren’t mutually exclusive, are they? Yes or No! For example you could discuss the results of tests on validity of religious claims (the power of prayer to manifest physical effects, for example). You can certainly discuss matters from a scientific viewpoint, excluding the supernatural.


What do you mean by “Gnu activism”? Give me an illustrative example of Jerry Coyne performing “Gnu activism” so I can better understand. Sorry for being obtuse.

Mike Gene - #62182

June 5th 2011

Alan,

 I asked a simple question:

When Coyne is frankly espousing his views on atheism and religion on his personal blog, is he doing science?  Yes or no?

You replied:

The two aren’t mutually exclusive, are they? Yes or No!

Whoa!  You don’t seem to understand science, Alan.  First of all, Coyne’s scientific training is with speciation and evolution using fruit flies as a model system.  It is not in studying atheism and religion.  Has he ever published a peer-reviewed research article on these subjects?  Second, science is focused on data, not personal views.  Third, Coyne posts no data from his experiments on atheism and religion on his blog.  Fourth, and most importantly, you don’t do science by espousing views on a personal blog.  To do science, you publish your data in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

Coyne is certainly entitled to frankly espouse his views on atheism and religion on his personal blog.  Sometime he may have a good point.  Sometimes he may not.  But in all cases, he is not doing science on his blog.  

But I think you disagree with that last sentence.    


Alan Fox - #62184

June 5th 2011

Fourth, and most importantly, you don’t do science by espousing views on a personal blog. To do science, you publish your data in a peer reviewed scientific journal.


Science is done in the lab and the field. The scientific method applied to research and experiment. It may be a more effective way of promulgating your findings to publish in a journal but the science is not the publication. If that’s your most important point I’ll let the others drop.


Michael D. Weinreich - #62196

June 5th 2011

bren directed a comment toward me regarding Mike Gene, and in response I provided a brief explanation and apologized for violating the forum rules on personal attacks. My response was addressed to bren.

Mike Gene took my response, stripped my explanation, stripped my apology, and used the remainder to continue his personal attacks against me, claiming that I am “obsessed” with him. He continues to call me a “mondo”. He then blames me for making him violate the rules. He does these things following his previous personal attack against me, after which I asked him to obey the forum rules by refraining from personal attacks.

I leave the implications of that behavior to the reader.

On the subject of the Dennett quote, Mike spins again. To review, in an article explaining the origin of the term “bright” (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/blackford-new-atheists-didnt-coin-brights/), Mike latched onto this quote from Coyne,

Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett, but…

It’s clear what this means in the context of the article. Coyne is directing attention to a common misperception, and then stating what the reality is. That is the purpose of the article.

As I remarked earlier, it’s not reasonable to assert that Coyne meant that literally every person in the world—every Tibetan monk, every Congolese person, every ten year old—believes that “bright” was coined by Dennett. That doesn’t make sense at face value; it’s absurd.

Yet Mike continues to assert exactly that, and he hasn’t backed off it. Mike asserts that Coyne is making a “truth claim about the world” here. Mike says that Coyne is putting forth the proposition that, literally, every person in the world believes that Dennett invented the term “bright”. Since this is “scientifically untrue”, Mike believes he has shown that Coyne demonstrates a lack of “scientific thinking”.

I’ve been using the term “absurd” to describe Mike’s assertion here, however there’s a more appropriate term (with legal meaning) for it. But again, I leave the implications of Mike’s behavior to the reader.


Alan Fox - #62197

June 5th 2011

Michael D. Weinreich:

I leave the implications of Mike’s behavior to the reader.

The readership here is pretty discerning, Michael. I think you can safely do that



PCarter - #62404

June 9th 2011

If I may presume to mediate here:

Mike Gene is right: Michael Weinreich shows some obsession. Indeed Weinreich has chosen to call himself Weinreich simply to annoy Mike Gene, who is known as Weinreich on the intelligent design forums.

That said, Mike Gene is clearly quote-mining Coyne. Gene seems unable to concede the point to someone so hostile, however.


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