There are over sixty blogs under the Scienceblogs umbrella. There is an impression we are all “progressives” (aka left-leaning) and must agree on matters social and political. While we probably are more to the left than the average (we are reality-based and rational, after all) there is a wide spectrum of views amongst ourselves. While I have no hesitation declaring myself a Person of the Left (whatever that means), I am also a scientist and put a premium on critical thinking and rationality, values I share with other Sciencebloggers. This tends to reduce differences between us. But there are real and sometimes big differences nonetheless.
Readers of Scienceblogs know this. The debates sometimes become acrimonious (I won’t link to the posts and wasn’t involved, but suffice to say the word “asshole” was used). More often those differences poke their head above water in more moderate form, and so it is with a personal attack on me by my esteemed Scibling, Orac at Respectful Insolence. Today he responded to this mention of his name in one of my posts a couple of days ago:
ScienceBlogs likes to take on quacks. Orac, over at Respectful Insolence, does it every Friday and does it well. It’s a good project and I’m not against it. But there are a lot of quacks around that aren’t called quacks. They have corporate suits and research departments. And advertising and marketing departments. Big companies. Like Nestle. (Effect Measure, “Quacks in business suits“)
That’s it. My only mention of Orac (although in explanation of his reaction, he seems to think my whole post was about him). One sentence. If that’s his idea of a criticism, I should be so lucky about my critics. In response to my withering critique, he posted an 1800 plus word straw man, implying I am akin to a smear artist:
I’ve written before about how one of the favorite tactics of those who do not like my insistence on applying skepticism, science, and critical thinking to the claims of alternative medicine or my refusal to accept a dichotomy between “alternative” and “conventional” medicine is to try to smear me as some sort of “pharma shill.”
There’s a more subtle form of the pharma shill gambit. Indeed, it’s so subtle that it’s likely that the person using it will not admit that, at its heart, that’s what it is. I may well be that I might get a fairly vociferous reaction to making this statement. So be it. I’m a bit tired of and more than a little annoyed by this sort of insinuation. Basically, this subtle variation on the pharma shill gambit takes the form of asking me why I spend so much time deconstructing woo and so little time taking on the abuses of science by big pharma and the corporate world.
[snip, after saying I’m an example]
Note the obvious implication: That I am somehow insufficiently vocal about corporate malfeasance (“quacks with business suits”) compared to those poor, little picked upon quacks whose woo I take such delight in deconstructing–you know, the little guys (or “little quacks,” if you will). And what’s the further insinuation behind that, I wonder? I’ll leave that one for you to contemplate for a moment. Decide for yourself if I’m reading too much into Revere’s criticism and leave a comment if you think I am. In the meantime, let’s continue.
Wow. And continue he does:
When faced with such a criticism, I can’t help but notice how much it resembles the infamous “concern troll” of progressive politics. In essence, I’m being told that I’m not sufficiently interested in or vocal about what the person complaining thinks that I should be interested in or vocal about. I will concede that it’s not a perfect analogy. For one thing, if you buy the usual definition of the term, concern trolls are actively working to undermine the cause that they express “concern” about, and I don’t think for a minute think that’s what’s going on here. I do, however, think that the end result can be the same: Fostering divisions in skeptics and critical thinkers who should in fact be of one piece on the question of assaults on evidence-based medicine, regardless of whether they come from quacks with or without business suits. There’s no reason that one should be condemned for choosing to emphasize one over the other, as long as one is not consistently defending one while attacking the other. The only reason for making such an attack is, as far as I can tell, to question the motivations of the one at whom the attack is directed and suggest hypocrisy.
Again, Orac (incorrectly and without basis) assumes my motivation was to attack him and call him a hypocrite. I have never suggested, nor do I believe, he is a hypocrite. A bit hypersensitive and hypercompetitive, maybe, not a hypocrite. However after conceding his analogy with a “concern troll” is imperfect, he proceeds to apply it to me:
When faced with a concern troll-like complaint like this, my first reaction is often to point out that the person making the complaint clearly isn’t a regular reader of this blog.
Since I am not a troll on his blog, I don’t know what this has to do with anything. I don’t read his blog regularly, not because it isn’t good, but because he doesn’t write about things that interest me. I have limited time and I don’t read many blogs. So what? His subsequent recitation of all the times he wrote about quacks in business suits is irrelevant. Again his assumption it was all about him. Not everything is.
After saying that “anti-corporate” types (moi?) like to beat up on Big Pharma but won’t call out the “altie” infiltration of medical schools, he goes on to associate himself with the idea my complaint is akin to alternative medicine defenders who criticize quack busters by saying they don’t equally condemn Big Pharma. Orac acknowledges that’s not my position. But he feels free to associate me with it anyway.
Orac concludes by predicting the teaching of alternative medicine viewpoints in medical school will make future physicians helpless before the blandishments of the quacks in business suits. He is trying to stop this nonsense. This is hyperbole and it’s ridiculous. Our profession and the general public have been falling for quacks both in business suits and jester costumes for a long time. We will undoubtedly continue to do so, independently of and not influenced by what happens in medical school education. Scientific medicine won’t come a cropper because medical students learn about acupuncture or whatever.
Finally, let me state what the post was about. It was about recognizing, and even using, the word quackery for things more pervasive (and in my view more harmful) than the “alties” that quack busters like to write about. It was a point about misplaced priorities, as Blake Stacey of Sunclipse wrote in a comment to Orac’s post. Given the amount of corporate quackery compared to other kinds, I felt there was insufficient attention by scientists to it. The post was actually about a group of young scientists in the UK who felt the same and were acting on it. I approved. If it’s not where your passion lies, that’s OK with me. But I think it is a legitimate topic of conversation and it should be possible to voice such an opinion without being accused of being like a smear artist or a concern troll.
Even though Orac may see himself as a noble Don Quixote (“seemingly increasingly quixotic crusade”), I suggest he view himself more realistically: A blogger, like me, who has a platform to rant about what interests him and what he cares about. One of the few things I agreed with in his petulant post is this:
In the meantime, with all due respect, I’ll rant about what I want to rant about, not what anyone else thinks I should rant about.