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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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Merv - #61846

May 31st 2011

While conspiracy theorists no-doubt often promote destructive philosophies, they might still occupy a useful place in the world of science.  E.g.  would we have as much climate-change research being done if it weren’t for global-warming deniers?  While some will persist in that no matter what is brought to light, it still keeps the other side on their toes to try to build a strong case, knowing that they can have potentially well-funded adversaries.  Or the “establishment” gets hard—perhaps much needed—lessons on integrity and openness (recent email fracas?)  knowing that opponents will be looking for ammunition.

Also, rightly and wrongly, conspiracy enthusiasts can probably name all manner of historically established conspiracies that give good precedent that humanity in general (and especially when power and wealth is involved) is very untrustworthy.  What they (the enthusiasts) can probably be faulted for, however, is their own failure to extend that same cynical skepticism to themselves, their own motivations, and methods of (or lack of) reflection about some issue.

—Merv


Wyatt Roberts - #61847

May 31st 2011

This is an excellent article. Thank you!


Mike Gene - #61857

May 31st 2011

I doubt many would disagree with the point of this essay, as it is good.  But scientific conspiracies are a subset of all conspiracy theories.  For example, the NYT also has an article on conspiracy theories in France today (it must be a conspiracy between the NYT and BioLogos!):

And now we have the Dominique Strauss-Kahn….case, viewed, it seems, by close to 60 percent of French society as a conspiracy against the putative Socialist presidential candidate — a sting operation that somehow placed a West African immigrant maid in a $3,000 a night Sofitel suite whose number, 2806, corresponds to the date of the opening of the Socialist party primaries in France (06-28).


http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/opinion/31iht-edcohen31.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Furthermore, at the moment, many are arguing there is a conspiracy to bring down Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Like I said, scientific conspiracies are a mere subset of all conspiracy theories.  I think conspiracy theories usually arise either from the emotion of fear and/or from tribalism. 


bren - #61858

May 31st 2011

A very good article.  Also some very good points in the comments.

I do suspect that an element of tribalism comes to play, incubating both the thinking process and the subcultures that produce these ideas.  Scientific conspiracy theories tend to be especially detached from reality, as they continually fail to recognize that the scientific community is simply not a friendly place for large-scale conspiracies, unchecked bias or poorly supported conclusions.

Scientific method involves methodically applied skepticism, and while mistakes or self-serving scientific cliques can crop up and occasionally flourish, and bias will follow where humans go, there are few people as well trained in controversy and self-directed criticism as scientists, and most outlier ideas tend to die an ignominious death in this environment.  Still, I do agree that while the conspiracy theories are usually absurd and rarely self-critical, they perhaps do have a role in making sure that Scientists maintain the careful skepticism that they should be known for…


Mike Gene - #61861

May 31st 2011

Hi bren,

I don’t think there is any special training that makes scientists unlike the rest of the human race.  For example, one only need read the blogs of Coyne or Myers to see if their thinking is guided by “self-directed criticism.”  Instead, the key ingredient is the experiment.  Better yet, the well designed experiment with positive and negative controls.  It is the experiment that serves as the essential check on our biases.  


Bilbo - #61863

May 31st 2011

Ah, now is the time to reveal that I am one of the conspiracy whackos known as a 9/11 Truther, along with over 1,500 architects and engineers:

http://ae911truth.org/

What is interesting is the official agency responsible for providing a scientific explanation for the collapses of the World Trade Center buildings 1 and 2  and also of WTC7, the 47 story building that collapsed in demolition style later in the day, have never provided a scientific explanation for why the first two buildings collapsed, and have refused to release the data that supposedly supports their explanation for WTC7:



http://cryptome.org/nist070709.pdf

Now what are my motives for being a 9/11 Truther?  Many and varied.  However, if all that can be used to refute us 9/11 Truthers is an appeal to our faulty motives, I suggest that simply shows how weak the case for the official story must truly be.  When it comes to providing scientific evidence, I think the 1,500 architects and engineers have been more successful.  Of course, I only think this because of my “fear and tribalism.”


bren - #61865

May 31st 2011

Hi Mike,

I would agree with you that there is nothing that stops scientists from being any more or less than human, but my point does not extend indefinitely to scientist interacting with all areas of life or thought.  It is when dealing with their particular areas of study that they are constrained to deal rather carefully with the evidence and tentatively with conclusions.  A failure to incorporate positive or negative controls or a tendency to overstate their conclusions leads to a rejected paper and they know it, irrespective of their personal bias (as you said, the experimental check forces their hand).  I would suggest that the practice of anticipating the criticisms or possible rejection of other scientists leads inevitably to a habit of self-criticism, although this habit may not go any further than the doors of their lab.

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!

Anyway, your point is taken that it is the experiment and not the experimenter that keeps the train on the tracks, but this is perhaps the nice thing about science, as it is one of the few fields where appeals to authority fall largely on deaf ears (something which often bewilders unsuspecting interlopers!).


Mike Gene - #61897

June 1st 2011

Very nicely said!  We is in full agreement. 


Michael D. Weinreich - #61883

June 1st 2011

Hi Mike Gene,

Did you have a particular example in mind which
shows the presence or absence of “self-directed criticism” with regard
to Coyne? I’ll grant that PZ is hyperbolic and wacky (on purpose), but I
wonder what your Coyne reference is about.


Mike Gene - #61898

June 1st 2011

Hi Michael,

Did you have a particular example in mind which shows the presence or absence of “self-directed criticism” with regard to Coyne?

There is very little scientific thinking, including self-directed criticism, when it comes to his Gnu activism.  Here is an example from a couple of days ago:

The faithful and their running dogs delight in making fun of the term “brights” to prove the arrogance of atheists like Dawkins and Dennett, but let us not have any more accusations that those folks invented it. Nor is it used much these days, certainly not by any of the Four Horsemen.  I haven’t heard it in months.

Coyne fails to mention that although Dawkins and Dennett did not invent the term, they both cashed in on their public/academic reputations to promote the term.  Is it good scientific thinking to ignore relevant facts?  

The failure to address this fact is bad enough, but may also contribute to the embarrassing situation where Coyne goes on to imply none of the Gnu leaders have any use for the term these days, only to have Dawkins himself show up in the comments section to defend the term and criticize people who object to it as engaging in some “feeding frenzy.”

Another recent example from memory was the role he played in trying to publicly smear Nick Matzke.  Was that a good example of how scientists interact with the world?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #61894

June 1st 2011

I have learned to reject conspiracy theories a long time ago, because they involve demonizing or condemning a whole group of people, which is wrong.

That does not mean that there are no “cover ups” or that individuals or institutions or even cultures do not get some facts wrong, but I do not think that people deliberately conspire to deny the truth.  If I did I probably would think that conspiracy theorists are involved in a conspiracy.

While I do not think that this is a conspiracy per se, it does seem that some energy companies see it in their own self interest to cast doubt on global warming and are encouraging people to question scientific findings in this area.  Again people need to make up their own minds on the basis of the evidence, scientific and spiritual, as to what is true and good in terms of any area of life.    


Michael D. Weinreich - #61905

June 1st 2011

Mike, you said,

Coyne fails to mention that although Dawkins and Dennett did not invent the term, they both cashed in on their public/academic reputations to promote the term.  Is it good scientific thinking to ignore relevant facts?

In that blog post Coyne says,

Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.

Why do you suppose everyone thinks that? Is it because Dennett didn’t promote the term? Does that sound likely? Does it make sense to coin a term and then never talk about it or promote it? Clearly the implication is that Dennett promoted the term, which is why everyone thinks he coined it. Coyne says (as you quoted),

The faithful and their running dogs delight in making fun of the term “brights” to prove the arrogance of atheists like Dawkins and Dennett, but let us not have any more accusations that those folks invented it.

If Dawkins and Dennett were not promoting the term, then how could the faithful use it to prove the arrogance of Dawkins and Dennett? Clearly the quoted sentence is saying that Dawkins and Dennett did promote the term and consequently got ridiculed for it. Coyne’s point is just that they didn’t invent it.

Most of Coyne’s regular readers are familiar with Dawkins, Dennett, and the term “brights”. Your contention seems to be that Coyne intended to take advantage of readers who are unfamiliar with them, to instill in readers the idea that Dawkins and Dennett never promoted the term. Not only is that an unlikely claim in itself (a brief google reveals the connection), but it’s directly contradicted by the above quotes and the blog post as a whole.

Coyne’s post doesn’t even make sense under the presupposition that Dennett and Dawkins did not promote the term “bright”. The whole point of the post was that they promoted the term and got drubbed for it, but that it’s not correct to say they invented it.

Mike, I hope you’ll now retract your claim that Coyne was ignoring “relevant facts”. What is more important, however, is for you to understand how you came to such an odd misunderstanding. Perhaps it has something to do with your previous assertion that Coyne is a crackpot. You should also notice the irony that in trying to demonstrate Coyne’s lack of self-directed criticism, you only demonstrated your own.


Michael D. Weinreich - #61906

June 1st 2011

[Ugh, the italics got stripped. Sorry, reposting.]

Mike, you said,

Coyne fails to mention that although Dawkins and Dennett did not invent the term, they both cashed in on their public/academic reputations to promote the term.  Is it good scientific thinking to ignore relevant facts?

In that blog post Coyne says,

Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett.

Why do you suppose everyone thinks that? Is it because Dennett didn’t promote the term? Does that sound likely? Does it make sense to coin a term and then never talk about it or promote it? Clearly the implication is that Dennett promoted the term, which is why everyone thinks he coined it. Coyne says (as you quoted),

The faithful and their running dogs delight in making fun of the term “brights” to prove the arrogance of atheists like Dawkins and Dennett, but let us not have any more accusations that those folks invented it.

If Dawkins and Dennett were not promoting the term, then how could the faithful use it to prove the arrogance of Dawkins and Dennett? Clearly the quoted sentence is saying that Dawkins and Dennett did promote the term and consequently got ridiculed for it. Coyne’s point is just that they didn’t invent it.

Most of Coyne’s regular readers are familiar with Dawkins, Dennett, and the term “brights”. Your contention seems to be that Coyne intended to take advantage of readers who are unfamiliar with them, to instill in readers the idea that Dawkins and Dennett never promoted the term. Not only is that an unlikely claim in itself (a brief google reveals the connection), but it’s directly contradicted by the above quotes and the blog post as a whole.

Coyne’s post doesn’t even make sense under the presupposition that Dennett and Dawkins did not promote the term “bright”. The whole point of the post was that they promoted the term and got drubbed for it, but that it’s not correct to say they invented it.

Mike, I hope you’ll now retract your claim that Coyne was ignoring “relevant facts”. What is more important, however, is for you to understand how you came to such an odd misunderstanding. Perhaps it has something to do with your previous assertion that Coyne is a crackpot. You should also notice the irony that in trying to demonstrate Coyne’s lack of self-directed criticism, you only demonstrated your own.


Merv - #61908

June 1st 2011

Glad you’re here, Bilbo—even if you feel the label “whacko” thrust on you.  As Roger notes above, I don’t think we can assume that all conspiracy theories are always wrong.  We wouldn’t have any concept of “conspiracy” if such things hadn’t happened for real in the past.  And real ones are exactly what lend fuel to the fires of not-so-real ones.  I think such things could happen at different levels, though:  ‘tighter’ and ‘looser’.  By ‘tighter’ I mean ones where some small leadership group actually plans engineers the conspiracy—this is probably what is in mind in our discussions here.  But I think ‘looser’ conspiracies could exist too that aren’t even deliberate, but just part of a wider system which by its processes tends to stifle dissent and/or promote some ‘party-line dogma’.  Those who resonate with movies like ‘Expelled’ would probably see conspiracy in this sense.  I can’t imagine very many anti-evolutionists actually think that some small band of intellectuals is holding secret meetings somewhere to dupe us all into believing evolutionary science while they themselves have ‘secret knowledge’ that evolution has all been dis-proven.  Most anti-evolutionists would subscribe to the much more credible ‘looser’ kind of conspiracy (and for global-warming as well.)  I’m sure the more extreme ones exist, though, and it’s probably hard to get statistics on that.  Can you imagine a holocaust-denier honestly filling out a poll to help the government (or anybody) get accurate information?   But here is what IS easy to imagine.  Holocaust deniers gathering together in darkened rooms conspiring about how they can get the rest of us to believe as they do.  Those most likely to see conspiracy in everything are also the most likely to be perpetrators should they ever get into positions of power.  It takes one to imagine one.

—Merv
(I may not be a ‘truther’ Bilbo, but I don’t automatically dismiss such notions, either.  I’m fairly prone to accept defense establishment conspiracies myself—hearing Eisenhower’s warnings loud and clear today.)


Kenneth Taylor - #61925

June 1st 2011

Excellent article.  Something to add: I think a parallel can be observed here between denialism and at least some strains of atheism.  Skepticism about God can come from the same source as skepticism about science: resistance to absolute claims.  There can be such a sense of helplessness when we are confronted with the idea that something we really think SHOULD be true actually isn’t, or vice versa, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  In the face of such a crisis, it’s a bit easier to see why we might sometimes just outright deny the evidence. 


Robert Byers - #61941

June 2nd 2011

In biblical creationism we have our foundation on the word of God called the bible. This is the witness . Attack its integrity or accuracy but in doing so one is attacking historical christianity especially for Protestantism.

In fact the great denialists are those denying the historic, well received , popular, faith of our fathers,  in biblical creationism.
I always find evolutionists smear creationists as denialists because we don’t accept their ideas origins.
We have intelligent , articulate, and well researched contrary answers to the evolution stuff .
Its just poor form to smear ones opponent with a special motivation other then fair and square disagreement.
They are doing grade school criticism though they deny it loudly.

bren - #61976

June 2nd 2011

H Robert, I’m not sure how much of a smear it really is to call creationists “denialists”.  Creationists certainly fit the denialist pattern of being a group that are outside of the so-called establishment and that denies the overwhelmingly majority opinion of that establishment.  Not always a bad thing at all, even something to be proud of in some cases.  I would take that label and run with it if I were you.

Scientists do indeed, at the very least, openly disagree with you for the fact that you reject the well studied scientific account that the vast majority of scientists think best explains the enormous wealth of evidence.  For those who have studied the evidence in depth, they are certainly in a position to hold such an opinion.

If on the other hand, these same individuals have not looked at, for example, the historicity of the bible, then it would seem odd to me if, for example, they would assume its truth or falsehood as the default assumption.  You make a statement that forces me to conclude that you have invested yourself deeply in critiquing the bible in order to determine its truth or falsehood.  That said “well received” also applies well to big macs and barbie dolls, so it strikes me as a poor argument, and “popular, faith of our fathers” fall prey to rather similar doubts (my ancestors believed in all sorts of wacky stuff that I consider patently absurd).

If, for example, being a scientist, and having a good sense for the evidence, I find that most of the other scientists are in disagreement with me, I will seriously question both positions (especially my own) and will be very careful with my conclusions, but if instead I find the evidence overwhelming, and I find that most other scientists in my field agree with this (having similarly critiqued their own assumptions), then it is a good reason for viewing a divergent view as being denialist.  This is the case, and you are therefore (you can be proud of it if you choose) considered a denialist.

The problem is, while the “contrary answers” you refer to are sometimes quite intelligent and generally articulate, they are generally not all that well researched (aside from rather impressive efforts to find quotes from scientific “authorities” that support them), and for anyone who has actually studied in the scientific discipline as opposed to googling their way to expertise, they are generally found to be filled with error!  I’ve monitored some of these sites for a long time, and yet I’m still waiting for an article that doesn’t fall apart at the seams as soon as you do a little background research.  I am sympathetic with their efforts and would love to see the Biblical account supported in detail, but I’m afraid that what they are putting out there only superficially resembles science.  Go ahead, try it; pick five of the most impressive creationist articles you can find and give them to university professors who study in the fields in question and see what happens; they will fall apart as soon as the references are checked, and the reasoning is critiqued.  They are made for those who don’t, won’t or can’t do the necessary research and they usually only convince this same crowd.


Robert Byers - #62022

June 3rd 2011

Well you said a lot but the point to take on here is the old point always made.

SCIENTISTS SAY THUS AND THUS.
First to be a scientist with authority on a origin subject one must demonstrate they have studied the subject and then practiced the scientific methodology in coming to conclusions.
You seem to invoke scientists of any study has having a opinions relevant to origins just because they have degrees on the wall saying they are scientists.
Rocket scients opinions are irrelevant as plumbers unless they prove they know the origin subjects and did science. Very unlikely.
Very few people get paid to do subjects on origins.
there is no industries willing to give them a 9-5 job.
In fact taking on conclusions in origins is taking on few people and often not that smart.
It doesn’t draw the top folks. Whether lack of prestige, boring, a or not paying I don’t know.

Bilbo - #61981

June 2nd 2011

Hi Merv,

I appreciate your comments.  With regards to the 9/11 Truther question, I’ve been convinced by the arguments of the architects and engineers at ae911truth.org that all three WTC buildings were brought down by controlled demolitions.  They rely upon physical evidence for their arguments, which seem rather cogent to me.  If the buildings were brought down by controlled demolitions, then we should try to figure out who planted the explosives and how.  My own guess (I stress <b>guess</b>) is that our military was behind it, and I would bet that the military/industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about provided one of the motives. 


bren - #62052

June 3rd 2011

Hi Robert,

Yes I suppose it is the same old point, only it isn’t quite the point you make it out to be.  The one correction I agree with is the fact that I generally used the word “scientist” instead of repeating “scientist who has studied in the appropriate field” (which I found a bit cumbersome).  Yes I am aware that sciences are highly specialized and that the opinion of biochemist on astrophysics is highly suspect.  No I don’t think that because “scientists say thus and thus” or are an “authority” or “have degrees on their walls” we should buy what they’re selling at discount prices.

What I actually said; “for those who have studied the evidence in depth, they are certainly in a position to hold such an opinion”, and “but if instead I find the evidence overwhelming, and I find that most other scientists in my field agree with this (having similarly critiqued their own assumptions)” (to find the evidence overwhelming, you need to know enough evidence to have it overwhelm you) and “for anyone who has actually studied in the scientific discipline as opposed to googling their way to expertise”.  Does it sound like I’m saying “just listen to people with degrees on their wall because these nifty little framed scraps guarantee that you are listening to wellsprings of truth on all issues scientific”?  Not quite?  (Sorry if that sounded a little snarky!  It’s not directed against you, but I do want to be quite clear that use of authority instead of evidence as the final say has no place in topics like this)

 to be continued…


bren - #62053

June 3rd 2011

...continued…

There are places at which I pointed out that whether or not the scientific community generally agrees with me is relevant to how I assess my own researched conclusions.  The simple reason for this is that if there truly is a scientific controversy, and there are therefore scientists releasing data that strongly refutes the current consensus, then the issue becomes controversial and should have a minimal impact on your own review of the subject.  If on the other hand, a review of the recent technical journals reveals no disagreement what-so-ever on the truth or falsehood of a theory (common descent for instance; though there are disagreements on the pathways, they are not on the subject of whether or not the current understanding is generally true) for which there are many regular publications, then given that the whole field thrives on criticism, controversy and opposing hypotheses, it is good grounds for letting the consensus confirm or cause you to carefully reassess your own opinion. Either that or it’s all a vast and impressively well maintained conspiracy for which I am unwittingly on the payroll.  I don’t think this is even remotely sustainable, but if that seems like a good excuse not to test your own views, then you are welcomed to it.

And no, you are quite correct, very few people are paid to do subjects on origins.  I’m not even aware of “origins” being a recognized subject of study (at least not under that name).  I’m not sure I fully understood the end of your last post.

Please note, by the way that bias has a big part to play here.  All of those who take the creationist position, so far as I can tell (I would love to hear of exceptions) have an identifiable religious motive of some kind.  If it were the case that all of those who take the evolutionary stance had an identifiable atheistic bias, then we would be back at square one, but I’m afraid you get all types in that field, from the committed pious to the brazen anti-God.  So there is a clear bias on one side and despite the clamoring of some, no clear bias on the other (this site should clarify that may view evolution as a rather impressive confirmation that God actually works through his own laws to create instead of doing it ad hoc).  This is one more very good reason to double check your own views, trusting that if you are on the right track, then an effort to critique your own views could only strengthen them.  Visit all of the opposing views, ask all the hard questions to which you know you want to hear a certain answer and trust that God will protect and strengthen your faith…  If your opinion on the subject reflects reality, then there is nothing to lose.

 


Mike Gene - #62086

June 4th 2011

Mondo,

You write,

You have been called out many times for making ridiculous accusations such as the one above regarding Coyne. I have never seen you make a retraction or apologize.

No.  You, and you alone, are the only person who believes I made a “ridiculous accusation” against Coyne above.   There is no need for me to retract or apologize on the basis of one biased, confused, idiosyncractic opinion.  

Look, judging from your tone, your accusations, and level of obsession with me, I think you have misjudged me.  I ignored your reply simply because Jerry Coyne and myself are not the topics of this thread and, as a guest here, and unlike you, I do make some effort to respect the rules. Here are the rules (did you ever bother to read them?):

While the anonymity of the internet can sometimes lead us to say things we wouldn’t in everyday courteous conversation, we ask that you view our comment section like a coffee house, where you can have stimulating but polite conversations with those who may see things differently than you. We reserve the right to remove any comments that we feel are outside the boundaries of civil conversation, and these include comments that attack other commenters, use profanity or other harsh language, steer conversations off topic, or take a hostile or aggressive tone.

If you find other commenters acting rudely or aggressively towards you, please don’t respond in turn, as tempting as that may be.


Clearly, you are engaged in an attack on me.  But you would deny this.   What cannot be denied is that your obsession with me is off topic.  For me to respond in turn would be to take this thread even further off topic.  So why are you trying to get me to join you in breaking the rules of this blog?

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.  


Alan Fox - #62094

June 4th 2011

Mike Gene:


No.  You, and you alone, are the only person who believes I made a “ridiculous accusation” against Coyne above.   There is no need for me to retract or apologize on the basis of one biased, confused, idiosyncractic opinion.

Ah, I also think you make a ridiculous accusation against Jerry Coyne. It reminds me of another ridiculous accusation you made here quite a while ago, claiming that Richard Dawkins “hates creationists”. You never substantiated or retracted that accusation, either.

Alan Fox - #62096

June 4th 2011

Mike,


Also re Coyne and Matzke.

What was “the role he played in trying to publicly smear Nick Matzke”? 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 Nazi 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?

Alan Fox - #62098

June 4th 2011

Oops, missed out “or retract and apologise for” above.


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