Arrogance. It’s always about arrogance. Arrogance is the Great Distractor in science. It is a half-a-dozen logical/rhetorical fallacies rolled into one—argumentum ad ignorantium, non sequitur, tu quoque, ad hominem, straw man (yes, that’s not six yet, but I gotta give myself some flexibility here). These fallacies aren’t just rhetorical toys to play with in the blogosphere. They can be simple mistakes made when discussing an controversy, or they can be weapons used in place of a valid argument. They are particularly important when dealing with reality.

Reality. I’m not talking about a stoned, midnight bull session about whether dialectical materialism accurately describes the relationships between groups of people, or other such (sometimes interesting) nonsense. I’m talking about this table, this PC, this cup of coffee. Reality. Truth.

There’s a great blogger out there who is fond of repeating the fact that “the truth is consistent with itself.” Sure, we can argue the philosophy of reality, truth, perception all day and night, but in the end, in the real, practical world (the one doctors deal with), the truth is consistent with itself, and reality is that which we can observe. Reality is, by definition, everything.

Unless…

You see, once you wander off the reality reservation, you open up your mind to all kinds of narishkeit. Take Dr. Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon. He holds some fantastical beliefs about mind-body dualism and creationism. His big thing is “non-materialist neuroscience“—an idea that is prima facie ridiculous, especially for someone who plays with brains all day, and can quite literally change someone’s mind with a scalpel.

Fortunately, in his latest attack, Egnor eschews the scalpel for a cudgel. He blindly pummels logic and truth into figgy pudding (holiday reference!). He was kind enough to demonstrate how illogical thinking leads to the adoption of idiocy. You see, as a neurosurgeon he has some cachet when it comes to neuroscience—sure, he’s very, very wrong, but it’s at least his field. But once he abandoned logic in his own field, he reached out to the creationist cults. Apparently their brand of crazy wasn’t enough for him. Now he has focused his rage—rage that reality apparently doesn’t conform to his beliefs—on other doctors. His latest rant is aimed particularly at Orac and Steve Novella, although I like to think he gave us a shout-out (he mentions some form of the word “denialism” five times).

He bemoans the arrogance of doctors. As we’ve discussed in this space ad nauseum, this issue, while real, is a distractor. In a massive burst of logical fallacies, he writes of the faults of science-based medicine, while offering no real alternative. He loves the example of physicians failing to wash their hands, a real problem. But what is his solution? Providing hand washing stations outside patient rooms? Employing Keystone check lists? Prayer?

Nope. He’s just angry. He bemoans the dangers of modern medicine, while at the same time praising his own hospital for using evidence-based measures to reduce medical error. He makes the ridiculous claim that those of us interested in science-based medicine don’t care about medical error:

I believe that much of the motivation for the “pro-science” priesthood isn’t patient safety or a genuine respect for scientific method but ideological hegemony. What bothers materialist ideologues like Novella and Orac is that there are people who challenge their materialist scientific worldview. There is a deep arrogance to the commentary and tactics of these defenders of science.

Um. No. What motivates us is a search for truth, for evidence, for the care of our fellow human beings. What motivates us is improving the care we deliver, reducing the errors we commit, and facing down those who would throw out the scientific approach to reality in favor of a vague fantasy. What does Egnor’s approach (whatever it may be) have to offer patients? So he believes that the mind is not brain-dependent—so what? Has this helped him improve surgical techniques, reduce error rates, improve morbidity and mortality? Doe he make sure to use a Sharpie to demarcate the soul before putting steel to flesh?

His real problem is with reality, not with doctors. Once again, arrogance is a distrator:

What bothers materialist ideologues like Novella and Orac is that there are people who challenge their materialist scientific worldview. There is a deep arrogance to the commentary and tactics of these defenders of science.

Um. No. Again. What bothers non-materialist ideologues like Egnor is that reality consistently refuses to bend to meet their expectations and beliefs. What bothers Egnor is that no matter how much he kvetches about other scientists, other doctors, other meanies, he is still wrong. The truth is consistent with itself, and Egnor’s statements are inconsistent.*

________________________

*(For the uber-geeks: “What the Klingon has said is unimportant, and we do not hear his words.”)

Comments

  1. #1 MarkH
    December 24, 2008

    Also missing the basic fact that the reason we know about nosocomial infection as a risk is because we, unlike the arrogant ones, constantly re-evaluate and question our practices in order to find better ones. This is using the data of science-based medicine questioning itself to suggest that science-based medicine is to arrogant to question itself.

  2. #2 bob koepp
    December 24, 2008

    Pal – “Reality is that which we can observe.” Really? Have you ever observed an electron? Get real.

    This is not a defense of Egnor, just a plea for critical thinking.

    Happy Holidays!

  3. #3 PalMD
    December 24, 2008

    Bob, bob, bob—haven’t you ever watched tv, or plugged one in? We have more than eyes…

  4. #4 bob koepp
    December 24, 2008

    Pal – If you accidentally stuck your finger into the socket while trying to plug in a tv, then maybe, just maybe, there would be some (very questionable) basis for a claim that you’d observed electrons.

  5. #5 Frum Skeptic
    December 24, 2008

    “You see, once you wander off the reality reservation, you open up your mind to all kinds of narishkeit.”

    Hahaha. Sometimes Yiddish is just perfect.

  6. #6 Ramel
    December 24, 2008

    Bob, the old CRT TV’s, rather than the new flat screen ones, work by directing a stream of electrons at a fluorescent screen to produce light.

  7. #7 bob koepp
    December 24, 2008

    Ramel – I know how a cathode ray tube works. Observing the effects of electrons on a flourescent screen is not the same as observing electrons.

    I repeat my plea for critical thinking.

  8. #8 PalMD
    December 24, 2008

    Bob, that’s an absurd splitting of hairs. It’s like saying “I don’t know if I have hands or not because the image of my hand is really just light collected on my retina transmitted via my optic nerve to my visual cortex. It’s not real.”

    Oh, and check this out…

    http://www.whatsnextnetwork.com/technology/index.php/2007/06/06/p5285

  9. #9 Badger3k
    December 24, 2008

    Does this mean that Bob is skeptical of air? After all, we do not have direct observation of that, just a lot of circumstantial evidence. Observation includes a hell of a lot more than just our five senses. Or does Bob remain skeptical of outer space, extra-solar planets, all of quantum physics, MRI scans…and a lot of other things that make up our world.

  10. #10 bob koepp
    December 24, 2008

    Please… I haven’t said that I don’t know there are electrons — nor implied that I don’t know I have hands, that I’m skeptical about the reality of air, outer space, extra-solar planets, nor even all of quantum physics (though there certaintly are some features of quantum mechanics that are resistant to a realistic interpretation). I’ve simply noted an objection to Pal’s uncritical equation of observability with reality. That shouldn’t be controversial.

    Again, Happy Holidays!

  11. #11 Skeptico
    December 24, 2008

    bob koepp:

    Don’t be silly. “Observe” means, inter alia:

    to come to realize or know especially through consideration of noted facts

    Observation:

    an act of recognizing and noting a fact or occurrence often involving measurement with instruments

    Pal’s use of the word is totally consistent with critical thinking.  (And observing electrons.)

  12. #12 harebell
    December 25, 2008

    gotta agree with you with respect to Evangelical Realism. A blog with some seriously well thought out responses to some of the woo-meisters of the moment.
    The truth is consistent with itself – absolutely.
    Otherwise the latest idea pulled out your arse is as true as the next. In Egnor’s case it probably is, what a spiraling descent into oblivion. I wouldn’t want him shunting my grey matter that’s for sure.

  13. #13 David Canzi
    December 25, 2008

    At the risk of making an overstatement, all observation is observation of the effects of the things we observe. I am sitting in front of a CRT. By observing the effects of electrons on phosphors, I am observing electrons. On the desk in front of me there is a pair of headphones. By observing the effects of the headphones on the light that reaches my eyes, I am observing the headphones.

  14. #14 NP
    December 26, 2008

    Bob, you seem to have a very narrow definition of “observation”. Nobody can “see” individual electrons, but they have definitely been observed. We can also “observe” that the sun is made up vast quantities of hydrogen and that lifeforms evolve over a period of millions of years.

  15. #15 Citizen_Jimserac
    December 27, 2008

    To Badger3k:

    It’s not that Bob is skeptical of quantum mechanics, its that he likes evidence, and finding the exact “evidence” to explain the EPR effect is hard to come by right now because the act of gathering the “evidence” mucks up the whole show, the exact evidence has not been discovered, and/or when it is, large portions of accepted “evidence” based science will have to be…. to put it politely, revised.

    Bob has trouble dealing with that – lots of people who selectively notice evidence as it suits them do. Look at “evidence” based medicine, a charming fictional construct, but then the “lack” (sic) of evidence in CAM.

    Seen any double blinded randomized placebo controlled tests for heart surgeries lately?

  16. #16 Jonathan Vos Post
    December 27, 2008

    IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer).
    TINLA (This Is Not Legal Advice).

    In my opinion, Dr. Michael Egnor is a very dangerous man. I consider him a Medical Malpractice suit waiting to happen. Because he teaches at a Medical School, I suspect that he could even be sued by the family of someone who dies because of certain types of Medical Malpractice by his former students. Remember that when you get called upon as an Expert Witness, Mark Hoofnagle or “PalMD.”

    Please, Chris Hoofnagle, correct me if I’m wrong on the Law.

  17. #17 GHitch
    January 3, 2009

    Imo, all this atheist/materialist sham passing off as ‘science’ sucks and so does the idiot who penned this post. What a load of crapola you people believe and practice. You’re tactics are pitiful and your constant bashing against Egnor, because he’s a lot smarter than you, is pathetic childishness. Being persistent sciolists does not promote any faith in your intellectual prowess.

    Grow up.

  18. #18 PalMD
    January 3, 2009

    ?

  19. #19 The Perky Skeptic
    January 3, 2009

    Awww, how cute, it’s a Get A Life troll! Guess that’s what the “G” stands for in “GHitch”.

  20. #20 t
    January 4, 2009

    given the rabid-dog foaming at the mouth response by the so-called ‘reality-based’ community..looks like the truth hurts..and egnor is right.

  21. #21 Bronze Dog
    January 4, 2009

    Ah, yes, the gadfly corollary and Doggerel #31. If your stupidity and logical fallacies annoy someone, it absolutely, positively must be because you’re right. It couldn’t possibly be because you’re repeating centuries-old canards and we’re sick and tired of the epistemological relativism.

  22. #22 t
    January 5, 2009

    such anger wouldn’t be directed at ‘centuries-old’ canards, they would be easily dismissed by such learned individuals. Sounds like your faith is being challenged, and you’re reacting like any good imam would! Egnor’s article was rather innocuous, but I would be willing to bet that the anger is not at the article, but at his refusal to bow at the alter of darwin.

  23. #23 Bronze Dog
    January 5, 2009

    such anger wouldn’t be directed at ‘centuries-old’ canards, they would be easily dismissed by such learned individuals.

    And they are. They have been, multiple times over those centuries. Wouldn’t you get tired of someone saying the same thing over and over and over and over again?

    Sounds like your faith is being challenged, and you’re reacting like any good imam would!

    Oh, yes, speaking in a harsh tone of voice is exactly the same as doing a suicide bomb run. Seriously, listen to yourself!

    Egnor’s article was rather innocuous, but I would be willing to bet that the anger is not at the article, but at his refusal to bow at the alter of darwin.

    Who cares about Darwin? He’s a historical footnote. The truth is what matters, and it’s on our side. That’s why he’s so frustrated that he has to rely on the Chewbacca Defense he did in response to this article: He couldn’t rebut anything, so he whined and ad hom’d like a coward on the poster’s pseudonym, rather than any sort of content.

    Egnor doesn’t even have any grasp of evolution. He’s stupid enough he thought evolution says cancer should improve the person with it. Uh, no. That’s idiotic on so many levels. We have, however, applied evolutionary principles to cancer treatment.

  24. #24 grkn
    March 10, 2009

    Bob, the old CRT TV’s, rather than the new flat screen ones, work by directing a stream of electrons at a fluorescent screen to produce light.

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