I think it’s pretty much a given that this post will be TL;DNR. If you don’t want to see people argue on-line, don’t feel bad, just skip it.
Modified to improve formatting and fix a couple of typos.
Modified to improve formatting and fix a couple of typos.
I recently received a comment on this blog post from a Norwegian student going by the nifty handle of “euqid”. Euqid took me to task for the harsh manner in which I treat the purveyors of junk science and those who defend them. Here's what he said:
I know better than to close my mind and think today's science has all the answers. I know better than to think nothing of the strong restrictions on unorthodox research. I know better than to piss o things I don't fully understand. I know better than to believe I own the truth...You don't Dave...Oh, and BTW, Im scientifically trained in chemistry and biology and also have some education on electricity. Wasn't it in 1959 the British Royal astronomer proclaimed that spaceflight was an impossiblity? And you undress yourself with personal attacks on every comment written here, which proves your rational arguments are clearly not very rational after all...Try to take the high road and show some humility next time, huh? I don't pretend to know anything, but I keep an open mind, and these alternative theories make a hell of a lot more sense to me than the orthodox view from a logial standpoint. But maybe you never studied logical thinking? Oh, and before you call me a moron - last time I checked my IQ with Mensa I scored 161, so I think I have sufficient intelligence to be able to think pretty clearly :) Have a good night, and try shaking off that hubris. It's a very unsympathetic personal trait ;)
I was so thoroughly entertained by this that I decided to respond here rather than in comments so that I might give it some proper response.
I should first explain a few of the ground rules of this blog, which are entirely non-negotiable and up to now, unpublished. This blog, “Ruminations”, is an outlet for my opinions, thoughts, and recommendations. It has been from it’s inception. There is no claim anywhere that I am revealing “the truth”, and this should be plain in context. For those who fail to get it from context, I display the purpose of this blog plainly and clearly in the banner that appears at the top of each and every page. It says: Ruminations Opinions, Thoughts, & Recommendations. However, as you can see, I do receive comments from the occasional Mensa candidate who has still not read or comprehended that plain statement despite an IQ of 161, so I am happy to rephrase it for the purpose of their enlightenment.
Plainly stated: this blog is an outlet for my unfiltered opinions. Furthermore, it exists for my amusement and thus exists for an audience of one. In it I discuss only those things that interest me. I have no obligation to discuss anything else. I have no obligation to please anyone. You may then wonder, "what's the point?" The answer to that is, "none of your business." You have no obligation to read it. As it is an outlet for my opinions, I will state those opinions however I please, in a way and using such language as effectively communicates not only the concepts, but the emotions that I wish to express. More on that in a bit.
It’s also a moderated blog. No comment is posted without my express permission. The prime reason is that I want to be alerted to the post so that I may craft a timely response, should I feel it appropriate. A second reason is to prevent certain people from embarrassing themselves (I sometime reply rather kindly in email to people who have the integrity to post their names. On the contrary, I am as harsh as I wish to be toward “Anonymous”, as there is no public stigma attached to them personally and it makes my responses shorter). A third is to prevent spam, thinly disguised product placement ads, etc. (of which I get a lot). But I do post comments even when they are not flattering to me, as you can see from this very example. But rest assured that this is my blog, for the expression of my opinions, and that holds true for the comments section. Exercise Article 100 or the First Amendment on your own blog.
Consider yourself enlightened.
GENESIS AND PURPOSE
Euqid is commenting on “More Junk Science on TV”, in which I express significant frustrations, in “The Pyramid Code”, a television show which eschews the scientific method for unsubstantiated speculative “woo”. I invite you to read it, and the comments.
When I come across junk science, I post my thoughts about it here. As they are my thoughts, they are displayed honestly, “as is”, and I offer no apologies for that whatsoever. I clearly label such posts with a logo I created for “Junk Science”. Note that it does not say “Junk Scientist”. I begin with the problems I have with the issues presented.
Now, IF the author of said junk science offers sufficient evidence of incompetence, laziness, shoddy methodology, or the repetition of previously disproven hypotheses, then I may conclude that this author is incompetent, lazy, a poor scientist. Should they claim training and expertise in subjects for which they display all of these traits, I may use derogatory terms impuning them in numerous ways… they should know better; they were taught better; and they didn’t comprehend it. In the study of Rhetoric, this usage is part of what is called “Pathos”, intended to communicate the emotion of the speaker. In this case, I am not the speaker, I’m the writer, and must communicate in my choice of words rather than inflection the disgust I feel for such slipshod thinking.
Imagine for a moment that you suffer from abdominal pain, and visit a new doctor. The doctor has a lot of diplomas, many of them from places of which you’ve never heard, and in subjects that simply don’t exist in most medical schools. Without a proper examination; without an X-ray, without a blood test, the doctor then declares that you have an invisible organ that you’ve never heard of and that its energy is in conflict with your body’s harmonies. This, despite the fact that your admittedly limited knowledge of human anatomy reveals that...
- ...the human body has no such organ,
- ...no examination was accomplished that would demonstrate that your ...particular body violates this precedent,
- ...no accredited doctor agrees, and
- ...all of your symptoms are adequately explained by appendicitis.
I’d be interested in how you would respond to this. In such a situation I would demand the extraordinary evidence required by his extraordinary claims. Lacking such evidence I would declare the doctor a quack, for that is exactly what he is. I would do so despite his claims that “today’s science” doesn’t know everything about the human body, and despite his observation that once upon a time other orthodox doctors used leeches. I would do this despite his earnestly stated “theory” that prehistoric doctors were well acquainted with this invisible organ, though we have unfortunately lost all record of it. In other words, the man would still be a quack, despite assertions mirroring those made by New Age apologists.
Furthermore, I would declare the doctor a quack publicly, so that others aren’t damaged by his “treatment”. That is a social responsibility. And I would do so in language that clearly communicate the depths of my concern. I would not convince everyone to avoid him, because quacks, no matter how transparently incompetent, always manage to find patients. But I would convince enough.
How you would feel about that doctor is how I feel when faced with pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo in general. The more credentials a person has, the more I feel they should live up to those credentials. If they make extraordinary claims, that’s fine... so long as they provide the extraordinary evidence thus required. IN THAT VERY SAME POST, I demonstrate this. Here is my statement:
Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, Thomas Brophy does things strictly according to the scientific method. He has a hypothesis, calls it a hypothesis (knowing the difference between that and a theory), and does the math. Most importantly, he knows that science ain't horseshoes... close isn't good enough. So when his hypothesis is close, but not exact, he discards it and looks for a better one. Nice.
Note that my ire is not triggered by being simply wrong, or unproven. These things are true of all science at one point. “Unproven” is a very different thing from “disproven”, and a “theory” is a very different thing from baseless speculation. My problem is with the shoddy thought leading to shoddy conclusions.
Unorthodox thinkers who I have praised include
- Robert Schoch, who has used the weathering patterns in the Sphinx enclosure to suggest much earlier dates for its construction. I think that he was wrong in the details (such as the actual dating) but that his general methodology and thought process was sound.
- Jean-Pierre Houdin, who has proposed a very compelling method for building the Great Pyramid using an internal ramp which is not only logically sound, but which solves a great many logistic problems associated with the construction, and is a scientifically testable hypothesis as well. His explanation requires no magic… merely ingenuity.
- David Rohl, who has proposed a revision to Middle Eastern chronology that significantly improves the corroboration of dates between various regional histories.
- Thomas G. Brophy, who proposes that the stone alignments at Napta Playa represent very precise astronomical measurements of not only stellar configurations, but physical distances that could not possibly be known to the ancients in standard models. I went so far as to link to a video of Brophy discussing this subject on the very blog post where I'm being decried as being close minded by people who obviously weren't in the slightest bit observant of the facts.
I cannot compare these to Euqid’s “logical standpoints” because he offers exactly none of those. He makes not one single substantive argument, leaving the entire post to ad-hominem attack and fallacious thinking despite accusing me of that very thing. And this is despite the fact that I have listed quite specific problems I find with Dr. Boulter’s ideas as expressed in “The Pyramid Code”.
LOGIC AND FALLACIES
Again, as Euqid offers exactly nothing in the form of a logical argument, I can’t exactly refute the nothing he offered, except to point out that it was, in fact, nothing. But I can offer some general principles that are useful guides in determining whether a “scientific” hypothesis is generally scientific. Here are a few:
- Is it testable? Or does it just make a bold assertion of fact which is explained away with the excuse that “modern science doesn’t have all the answers”. This is most charitably described as a strawman argument. No one associated with modern science makes that claim. However, any new hypotheses MUST be either rooted in the science that has already been confirmed through observation and experimentation; OR it must provide extraordinary evidence to justify turning aside the laws of physics as we know them. This isn’t impossible… Einstein did that very thing. But guess what? Einstein identified the weaknesses of Newtonian physics and proposed a new theory that works where the Newtonian model works AND fixed the problems. It was testable. Several of its predictions have been confirmed by experimentation and observation. He provided the stellar quality of work necessary.
- Does it require something that has hasn’t been observed? If so, it’s unorthodox, but that’s not necessarily a problem, so long as the unobserved phenomenon conforms to the laws of physics. In fact, this sort of pre-supposition forms a testable hypothesis, and prediction is a requirement of a hypothesis. You say, “we should see this under these conditions”; then you find or create the conditions and observe. That’s commonplace, and it’s how science is done. But if your unobserved phenomenon contradicts many thousands of observations that have already been made, you’re looking at something that likely isn’t true… and if it were, would require extraordinary evidence. No claim in “The Pyramid Code” provided any inkling of such evidence.
- Is it based on logical fallacies? Of these, false dichotomies are the worst, to my mind. “Since we don’t know exactly how this stone was raised, it must have been done by space aliens (or ancient super-science)” is an example of such thought. Huge leaps into the fantastic without the trouble of eliminating the commonplace. Does the hypothesis confuse “science hasn’t explained” with “science can’t explain”? Too often pseudo-scientists offer false dichotomies rather than simply think the problem through. In the case of the pyramids, for example, in response to the problems of building and dismantling an external ramp, someone like von Daniken would assert that the blocks were placed with levitation by super-beings who are no longer here (an untestable hypothesis) when the problem is adequately solved by an internal ramp (a testable hypothesis, and a good engineering practice).
- Is it adequately explained by the standard model? If so, it’s unnecessary.
Though he offers no logical defense of the ideas that he is supporting, let’s look at the fallacies that Euqid uses. I’ve touched on a few, but it might be instructive to gather them in one place:
- He claims that “today’s science” doesn’t have all the answers. A straw man. That claim is never made.
- He offers a second straw man in stating, “I know better than to think nothing of the strong restrictions on unorthodox research.” That assertion was never made. On the contrary, I am VERY cognisant of the strong restrictions on orthodox research. Those restrictions are there to ensure that extraordinary claims are accompanied by the extraordinary evidence which are demanded of them. It’s to keep the quacks from running rampant.
- He makes false appeal to authority in his claim to being “scientifically trained in chemistry and biology” with a little education on electricity. “Scientifically trained” means nothing as opposed to “trained in the sciences of…” But that may be a linguistic issue. Nevertheless, it’s irrelevant. I point to problems that anyone can verify for themselves in this Information Age.
- Yet another straw man is offered with, “I know better than to believe I own the truth...You don't Dave.” As explained at length above, this assertion is never made. This isn’t a discussion of “truth” it’s a discussion of method. You want to discuss “truth”, then find some place they’re talking about religion.
- He makes a non-sequitur and a negative appeal to authority in stating “Wasn't it in 1959 the British Royal astronomer proclaimed that spaceflight was an impossiblity?” In other words, because A was wrong about B, C must be wrong about D. This is a transparent mistake easily avoided by anyone trained in logical thinking.
- He employs a non-sequitur and the fallacy fallacy in asserting that my use of ad-hominem comments “proves” that my rational comments are non-rational. The two are factually unrelated, and I don't employ ad-hominem as a logical tool, as I’ll explain when I discuss Rhetoric in a moment. Suffice to say for now that I employ ad-hominem as a rhetorical device unrelated to the validity of the logical arguments that are separately made. Again, this is a transparent mistake easily avoided by anyone trained in logical thinking.
- He makes another false appeal to authority by claiming an IQ of 161 and name-dropping Mensa. These are unsubstantiated claims that wouldn’t matter anyway. Bad ideas are bad ideas no matter what score their author made on an unrelated test. To clarify, there is the small issue of “domain” to address when appealing to authority in any logical argument. You learn this very early on in forensic debate. An expert is not an expert outside his field of expertise. Therefore any statement made by an expert outside of his field loses its implied weight and must be evaluated purely on the strength of the argument. For instance, I don’t expect you to take anything I say at face value. I invite you to check it all out.
Having discussed the lack of ideas and wealth of fallacies, let’s turn to the subject of...
Now, an ad-hominem attack, when used as a Logical device, is indeed a fallacy. However, I don’t use it that way. I don’t say the equivalent of, “So-and-so’s theory is wrong because he’s incompetent”. Rather, I use ad-hominem as a Rhetorical device to communicate my disgust at the sheer wealth of logically unsound arguments that have been proposed. In other words, “he’s wrong because he’s incompetent” is a fallacy; but “he’s incompetent because he’s consistently applying the wrong methodology” is completely sound. It’s not a subtle difference. I don't use ad-hominem to undermine their argument; I use it as a conclusion when the argument is already undermined by other means.
Ad-hominem is often used as a device of rebuke. Even those who publicly profess to dislike it show amazing facility with its use. Often they are far better at it than the people they rebuke. Let’s look at the examples that Euqid provides for us (with translations as they apply to me):
|EUQID'S AD-HOMINEM||HOW IT APPLIES|
|“I know better than to piss o things I don't fully understand.”||I don’t understand.|
|"I know better than to believe I own the truth...You don't Dave…"||I don’t know better, and I’m bossy, too.|
|"And you undress yourself with personal attacks on every comment written here, which proves your rational arguments are clearly not very rational after all…"||I live in a glass house. No argument there, but it would beg the question of what Euqid’s ad-hominems do to his own arguments, but for two things. 1. I’m not espousing the logical fallacy he is and 2. he made no logical argument to disprove|
|"Try to take the high road"||I fight dirty.|
|"and show some humility next time, huh?"||I’m far too uppity. I should let Euqid’s authorities think for me. They do science. Ooooh!|
|"But maybe you never studied logical thinking?"||I’m illogical. However, if Euqid had studied logic he might have crafted a competent rant. Ironic, no?|
|"Oh, and before you call me a moron - last time I checked my IQ with Mensa I scored 161, so I think I have sufficient intelligence to be able to think pretty clearly :) Have a good night, and try shaking off that hubris."||I’m so proud and mean I’m going to call him stupid, but he’s really smart, so I shouldn’t. Obviously intended as the coup de gras. Sadly, I don't take your word for it that you're intelligent... you must demonstrate it.|
|"It's a very unsympathetic personal trait"||Oh, and people don’t like me. If I agree with people who like junk science, they’ll think better of me.|
I skipped over mere implications, such as my having a closed mind, and listed only the explicit attacks. As you can see, every part of the post that is not logical fallacy is devoted to ad-hominem attack, with no room whatsoever left over to the actual discussion of ideas. Again, I cannot adequately express what a virtuoso performance this was, and why I am so completely, thoroughly entertained by the comment.
But Euqid has a point… I’m REALLY harsh to some commenters. For instance, there was my response to this comment, the first one I received (reproduced in its entirety):
“Wow, you are a complete fool!!! How sad of a person you are, and how lonely it must feel. You article is ridiculous and shameful....what a load of crap you write. Get some brains and really look at the evidence, which obviously you have not.”
I called Anonymous “a brain-dead anti-intellectual without the cognitive ability to include even the most vague and inept reasoning as to WHY this post is "ridiculous and shameful"?” And that’s bad because ad-hominem attacks are bad when I do them. They’re perfectly fine for anonymous trolls, though. Responses like Anonymous’ aren’t worth further consideration. So why did I respond in kind? Because Anonymous earned it, and because Anonymous was anonymous. I derive a certain perverse pleasure from being able to take down a really stupid argument (and I make no apologies for that characterization… read it) without the restrictions imposed by polite conversation. But mostly it was to show Anonymous how it’s done. I don’t mind being insulted unless you’re really bad at it. If you’re going to insult my intelligence, at least make yourself sound genuinely smart.
I can’t post anonymously here… I also initiate the topics. On my blog, I am the one most exposed to ridicule, because of course you aren’t obliged to post here. You could just disagree with me from a distance, or post your own thoughts in your own space. So if you’re going to take me to task, and do such a poor job of it, and then insulate yourself from responses with anonymity, don’t even pretend that I should give you a fair shake.
Then there was Pepep, who began with
“you obviously have no connection to your own spirit at all and are so stuck inside your mechanical little brain box that you dont know what is real. “
and went on to stuff two logical fallacies into a post that concluded with “that everything you are thinking is bs. have fun livin life as a piece of rock hahahaha”. I was admittedly mean to Pepep, who was so eloquent and so nice to me. I know she was nice, because New Agers are always nice, because they’re New Agers. And that proves it. So Pepep got a “response in kind”, that rhetorical device used in this case to reflect a commenter’s arguments back on them. Again, this was mostly because the insults were so astonishingly poor. However, Pepep received an additional response focusing purely on the substance of Pepep’s arguments with only a hint of ad-hominem. That’s because there was a hint of logic there, and I found something worth commenting on seriously.
Then there was After, who posted just prior to Euqid. After actually “got” the fact that I’m emoting in this blog. After also displayed facility with the concepts and language. Also, I’m a sucker for a great analogy, and the “selling cars” comment was exactly on point. That doesn’t stop me from expressing my thoughts, of course, because that’s what the blog is for. It’s certainly not here to further the study of Egyptology, as that’s what Egyptologists do… the good ones). But it got After a polite response and the chance to air his or her views unmolested.
Euqid gets this entire blog post because it pleased me to write it, because I’m a dick.
Contrary to all you may hold dear, all opinions are not created equal. This is the natural consequence of living in an objective reality. Science was created to help us sort out which ideas are better than the others. So if your ideas are not scientific I really have no problem treating them with less respect.
- My blog is here so I can express my opinions,
- I have no interest in convincing you to agree with me
- I have even less interest in giving you equal time. You already have that opportunity. The World Wide Web.is big enough for you to do that in your own space.
- If you promote junk science, I’ll call you names and I’ll belittle your work if you don’t up your game. I don’t have to do it. I don’t care if you feel angry or hurt having read it. I’m posting my opinion. If you don’t like it, do better work.
- I’m a dick.