And by faithing it, I mean using faith rather than critical analysis of the available information to make important decisions about what to regard as valid.

Let’s do a couple of informal experiments to explore this issue more closely. For the present discussion, I’m assuming that you are a non-scientist and non-medical person who self identifies as a skeptic.

Do you know the following terms, without looking them up (which you can do, in part, by clicking on them)? In some cases you may be able to guess meanings, in some cases you may have a vague idea from prior reading. But that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking if you know the following terms. Like a teacher would know the terms well enough to teach them, or a researcher would know the terms while using them in the Monday Lab Meeting, or a physician would know the term well enough to get what she is reading in the PDR or some medical journal article. Do you?

CpG DNA
Fibronectin
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
Haemagglutinin
Hemagglutinin Stalk Domain
Eosinophils
Mucociliary escalator
Treg cells
phagocytosis
Basophils
IgA, IgG, IgE, and IgM

For most of you, the honest answer is no, you don’t, even though these terms are not especially esoteric.

Next question: Had you children, would you get them vaccinated? If so, why?

I’m guessing that the answer is “yes,” and the reason is two fold: 1) For their health benefit; and 2) for the health benefit of society at large.

But wait, there is a controversy that indicates that vaccinating your children will cause autism and other bad effects. Yet, you say you are going to have your children vaccinated. That is the “why” I was actually getting at. Why did you decide to go with the pro-vaccination “side” of this issue rather than the anti-vaccination side?

I’m guessing that the answer is that the pro-vaccination side has the science right and the anti-vaccination side does not.

Which would be correct. However, since you didn’t know the meanings of any the terms above cold, teachably, usably, pragmatically, then how do you know the science is correct? Yes, this is just a vocabulary list, but these terms are to the immune system what “left and right” are to directions. A person who understands the immune system well enough to really evaluate the claims regarding vaccines would simply know these terms, just like a person understanding directions understands that “turn left at the barn and right at the old fence” will know which way to turn at those points in space.

There are different levels at which you can understand the topic of vaccination, or any other complex medical or, more broadly, scientific topic. As a biological anthropologist interested in certain aspects of evolution, I make it a point to “understand” the immune system at a much more detailed level than the average non-medical person. But I do not work with the immune system every day. Not even close. So, reading a scientific paper or sitting in on a lab meeting could be challenging for me, but quite doable. Less challenging if I’ve recently “worked with” the material, more so if I haven’t.

But what if you are a pipe fitter or an English literature professor? You may have less reason to encounter the technical details of vaccine science and the immune system on a day to day basis, so you would have to go out of your way to get up to speed to really evaluate research.

In fact, you may end up simply not being able to do it at all. You may have to rely on the good will of others who know about the topic at hand to summarize it for you, and to make the case so that you can get what they are saying even if you can’t reproduce what they are saying. Like when the mechanic is explaining all the expensive stuff that is about to happen to your car; You don’t need to be able to do the work yourself, but you want to understand it enough to convince yourself that you are not getting ripped off (or at least reach a state of plausible self-denial!).

Of course in either case, you could be getting ripped off. Your source for science info and argument may be wrong, or even intentionally misleading. Your mechanic may be … well, let’s not go there, I don’t want to get mechanics mad at me…

About six months ago I had occasion to ask myself this question: Is it true or not true that fluoride added to drinking water can have negative effects on babies if formula is mixed with said drinking water? There are various sources of fluoride, and it is said that adding the drinking water in the formula mix increases the dose of this element to a level that could have negative effects. I heard this, and became a bit suspicious of it because of the whole Dr. Strangelove thing, but I didn’t know. So I looked it up.

I googled it. I got results like this:

…Baby Formula and Fluoride Water. Because of the risk of fluorosis, or getting too much fluoride, which can lead to tooth staining, ……The Vermont Department of Health recommends mixing powdered or concentrated baby formula with water that is fluoride-free, or contains very low levels of fluoride, for feeding infants under 12 months of age….If you’re concerned about fluorosis, you can minimize your baby’s exposure to fluoride by using ready-to-feed formula. You can also alternate using tap …… Babies are sensitive to the fluoride that exists in tap water, reports the Fluoride Action Network. If you dilute your baby’s formula with…

Oh. The “fluoride action network.” Sounds important. Better Google that..

97% of western Europe has chosen fluoride-free water …. Fluoridated water is no longer recommended for babies…. Ingestion of fluoride has little benefit, but many risks…. Risk to the brain, the thyroid gland, the bones, cancer, kidney disease… Due to other sources, many people are being over-exposed to fluoride .

OH. OK, so the American Dental association says something about fluoride. I can click on that.

Page Not Found

Huh. A little more googling, and I get this whole page of videos on fluoride. Fluoride causes autism!!!11!!! Finally, a link!!! Elsewhere, I see this: “If you look up fluoride on the net, you will find many who feel that it contributes to children’s attention deficit reactions.” Wow, that’s some bad shit!

OK, that was my google experience. Then, I did the same thing with Google Scholar. Google Scholar is one of the options you have when you do a Google Search, and the results are quite different in where they come from and even how they are presented on the search results page. If you are unaware of it, do have a look.

Restricting results to the last few years, I find the Journal of the American Dental Association article. Regarding the issue at hand:

The ADA offers these recommendations to reduce fluoride intake from reconstituted infant formula.

– Breast milk is widely acknowledged as the most complete form of nutrition for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends human milk for all infants (except for the few for whom breast-feeding is determined to be harmful).
– For infants who get most of their nutrition from formula during their first 12 months, ready-to-feed formula is preferred to help ensure that their fluoride intake does not exceed the optimal amount.
– If liquid concentrate or powdered infant formula is the primary source of nutrition, it can be mixed with water that is fluoride-free or contains low levels of fluoride to reduce the risk of fluorosis. These include water labeled as purified, demineralized, deionized or distilled, as well as reverse-osmosis filtered water. Many stores sell these types of drinking water for less than $1 per gallon.

Parents and caregivers should consult with their dentist, pediatrician or family physician regarding the most appropriate water to use in their area to reconstitute infant formula. Ask your pediatrician or family physician whether water used in infant formula should be sterilized first (sterilization, however, will not remove fluoride).

Unless advised to do so by a dentist or other health care professional, parents should not use fluoride toothpaste in children younger than 2 years, because they may inadvertently swallow the toothpaste.

Children 2 years and older should use an appropriate-sized toothbrush with a small brushing surface and only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste at each brushing. They should always be supervised while brushing and taught to spit out, rather than swallow, toothpaste.

Fluoride mouthrinses have been shown to help prevent caries in both children and adults. Unless the child’s dentist advises otherwise, the ADA does not recommend the use of fluoride mouthrinses in children younger than 6 years, because they may be more likely to inadvertently swallow the mouthrinse.

Fluoride supplements are not recommended for children younger than 6 months. Children should receive only dietary supplemental fluoride tablets or drops as prescribed by their dentist or physician based on the supplement schedule approved by the ADA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (visit “www.ada.org”).

source

Huh. In looking further at the Google Scholar results, I could not find support for autism or ADD or other scary things being caused by fluoride, but clearly, there is a potential problem of over-dosing (as it were) with fluoride by mixing baby formula with standard (fluoridated) tap water.

This experiment was interesting for the following reason: When I was done with the standard Google search, I would have had a lot of bad information among which was one piece of good (and important) information, but no real way to tell the chaff from the wheat. Well, I suspected the talk about autism etc was a clue that some of this was crazy-talk, but that was a gut feeling, not “skeptical reasoning.” Indeed, I’d wager this to be true: As you were reading through the Google results, you were thinking that the whole fluoride thing was crazy, and all of it was made up, and there was no real issue here. You were using the received knowledge that is part of your skeptical culture to tell you what to believe and not believe. Right?

But you were wrong! You were ready to blow off all concerns regarding fluoride because those claims generally sound (and are) crazy, but in the end, the ADA is suggesting that caution is appropriate with infants.

Is the ADA being over cautious? Are they merely responding to public pressure from crazy anti-Fluoros? I don’t know. Read the article and let me know what you think. That is a real possibility, but one would think the ADA would be a primary go-to source for finding out what is scientifically supported and what is not. On the other hand, when I blogged about this topic a while back, the ADA seemed to be saying to not worry about this problem. But the link in my earlier post to the ADA document is now … dead. Did someone get to the ADA?

Or, had someone gotten tho the ADA before, as per this item: Suppression by medical journals of a warning about overdosing formula-fed infants with fluoride , link here and see full reference below. The abstract of that paper is as follows:

Abstract
In January 1990, a short letter was sent to the editor of the international medical journal, Pediatrics, to alert its readers that the standard, highly quoted paper by Singer and Ophaug on fluoride intake by infants, published in 1979 in the same journal, required revision/correction in order to protect one group of infants from receiving substantial overdoses of fluoride. This group comprises infants who are fed almost entirely on powdered formula which is reconstituted with fluoridated water.

The letter was based on the well-established pediatric guidelines of water intake by infants and the fundamental toxicological principle of protecting groups at highest risk. It did not question the fluoridation of public water supplies. Nevertheless, the letter, together with a response to it by Ophaug, was rejected by the editor of Pediatrics, “due to a large backlog of articles.”; Following a protest, the letter was reviewed by three referees, two of whom conceded its main point, but was still not published.

In the present paper, the original, previously unpublished letter on fluoride intake by infants is first reproduced verbatim, and then the comments of the referees and editors are reported and examined. It is concluded that the most plausible explanation for the rejection of the letter is that it might assist the anti-fluoridation movement. Another possible contributing explanation is that publication of the letter might reduce the status of the scholars who had defended the previous position and might be perceived to diminish the status of the journal.

Wow, this is getting complicated.

The point is: Knowing what is a valid argument for or against something, for the average person who wants to be a skeptic, is not easy. One must find sources one trusts and rely in part on those sources. And then, one must ask oneself, is “trust” just another five letter word. Like “faith”?

That it is hard, that it is work, is not a new idea, and you may be thinking “WTF did I just read this whole post for just to find out what I already know.” But you would be missing the point. My point is some “skeptical thinking” is faith based. Skeptics are not as skeptical as they think they are, or at least, they are not a skeptical as they claim. Very few skeptics like to hear this (see comments below for skeptics yelling at me for saying this apparent fact out loud). But it is true. And it is of concern. Indeed, what I would predict to be a standard faith-based skeptical conclusion regarding fluoride is to not worry about the extra dosing of the infant. And, that might be wrong. Wrong for bad, yet avoidable, reasons.

Getting back to the Vax vs. Antivax debate, I’d like to recommend the following items for you to read:

The Rise in Autism and the Role of Age at Diagnosis

Autism Study Examines Cause of Apparent Rise in Rate

Is the Rise In Autism Rates Real?

The MIND Institute’s Second Attempt: More of the Same Type of Reasoning

Mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs): A failed hypothesis

Still more evidence that it’s all about the vaccines

If you read through these sources, you’ll probably get a good idea of at least one aspect of the debate, and you’ll be skeptically prepared, in fact, to discuss it in some detail. But, this is a biased set of references. I’m not giving you sufficient anti-Vax material for you to really see their side of the issue. But you can Google it if you want. It’s pretty crazy stuff, much like the fluoride scare tactics, but with less of a history. The fluoride discussion goes back quite a ways, after all. Grand Rapids Michigan was the first US city to fluoridate its water (Janurary, 1945), according to the Caribou Coffee Trivia question of two days ago (it is important to cite one’s sources). And then there’s this, which if you do not know you are not properly enculturated:

Editors. 2007. “For the Dental Patient … Infants, Formula and Fluoride. JADA Vol. 138. Download here.

Diesendorf, M., & Diesendorf, A. (1997). Suppression by medical journals of a warning about overdosing formula-fed infants with fluoride Accountability in Research, 5 (1), 225-237 DOI: 10.1080/08989629708573911

Comments

  1. #1 Hank Fox
    June 30, 2010

    Greg, this is an interesting piece, but I hate the fact that you use the word “faith.” It tweaks the whole thing a little bit off into woo-woo land. AND it gives ammunition to the godders who want to conflate “faith” with any and all of the following: belief, conviction, trust, knowledge, fact-based understanding.

    There’s a hidden strategy in every debate between religion and science — one uses sharply-defined words that attempt to communicate more precisely, the other uses fuzzy verbal umbrellas that make it impossible to be definite about anything (atheism is a religion, all science is taken on faith, etc.).

    The word faith inevitably has that muddy nuance of “I know in my soul that Jesus exists.” I doubt you can use the word anywhere in the Christian world without that meaning cropping up in the listener’s head.

    For those of us lacking deep understanding of immunology, the approach of listening to whatever experts we can find, while waiting for better information, is not exactly “faith.” It’s more a matter of trust — or, at worst, something akin to placing a bet on the horse that has paid off in the past — which is not the same thing.

  2. #2 Ken
    June 30, 2010

    I would argue that much of my skepticism is trust-based rather than faith-based, and that trust is very different from faith.

    Various communities have gained my trust by being right about many things in the past. I also have a good understanding of the scientific method even if I’m not an expert in most fields. I trust that the mainstream scientists mainly stick with the proven scientific methods and that the mainstream reviewers are mainly vigilant.

    Good scientists, in fact, tell me to NOT just believe them. They encourage me and others to duplicate and check their work. When I am not capable of that, I trust others in the field to do it for me and clearly publish their results.

    When I’m asked to believe something on faith, I am told that it can’t be checked, duplicated, or validated even if I were to have expert knowledge.

    The primary distinction, though, is that the people I trust have an excellent past track record of being right. My computer seems to work as Quantum Mechanics says that it should and smallpox seems to have really been eradicated.

    Beyond all that I tend to stick with Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit and similar approaches to subjects I lack expertise in (which covers most subjects).

  3. #3 Russell
    June 30, 2010

    This is something I’ve thought about a bit, since the truth is that none of us have time to dive deep into more than a very few areas of science. But there is something the dive teaches, and that is how to distinguish substantive argument from nonsense. I don’t know, directly, that vaccines are safe. For that, I’m hoping that the scientists who research that do their job. That there is real research on the issue I can tell, even though I don’t understand much it. And I’m ignoring the critics who are spouting nonsense.

    That doesn’t mean I’m not a skeptic. It means I’m making a decision based on some set of information. And we do that, all the time. Very few of us have looked at the engineering for 737 or MD-80 jets, but we happily fly on them all the time.

  4. #4 Zach Voch
    June 30, 2010

    Excellent post!

    For most people, the issue is acceptance of scientific consensus (yes, accepting an authority) vs. science denialism, not what might be meaningfully called “skepticism.”

    For myself, I lacked most of the term knowledge you proposed. Whenever I come across terminology in an article I don’t understand (a very common experience), I look them up and make sure that I have an interpretation satisfactory at least for understanding the conclusions.

    On the vaccination issue, I’ve made up my mind with only a very passing understanding of any of the hard theory behind vaccinations. For the vaccine-autism link, for example, the results of the relevant studies themselves (and an understanding of statistics) was sufficient for me to hold the “no convincing evidence for a link” position. Further, studies on the efficacy of vaccines combined with the known consequences of the diseases gave me the “it is strongly preferable to vaccinate” position. Though not from studies, discussions of herd immunity and the basics of germ theory gave me the “vaccination is an ethical responsibility for other children as well as any children I might have” position. So, I can form positions based on pragmatic considerations, but I must admit that my positions are not based on a theoretical understanding of vaccinations.

    So, my position is “evidence based” as opposed to being fully “science based.”

    But still, I have very little working knowledge of the immune system. For the above conclusions, it isn’t necessary. However, if I were to form any positions concerning the plausibility of an untested hypothesis concerning vaccines, I would have to catch myself and do the research.

    Though I read Orac and SBM fairly regularly, I keep my mouth shut on these issues because I am very aware of my lack of knowledge. As it is, what I do know is sufficient for telling those who bring up vaccine-autism links in person that they are probably wrong, would be irresponsible to their children, and irresponsible to other children.

    That’s a start, but this post is a healthy reminder that I need to do more looking.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    Greg, this is an interesting piece, but I hate the fact that you use the word “faith.” I assure you, the word was carefully chosen.

    For those of us lacking deep understanding of immunology, the approach of listening to whatever experts we can find, while waiting for better information, is not exactly “faith.” It’s more a matter of trust

    Ideally, and this distinction between “faith” and “trust” is exactly what I want to see us talk about I do not think that skeptics automatically go with the trust thing.

    Recently, I challenged sketpics to consider two different absurd-sounding ideas and watched for the knee-jerk reaction and got it in mild but measurable form in both cases. Those skeptics were using a very very weak form of trust. They were thinking “An idea vaguely like that one has been ridiculed in the past, but in a different context, but skeptic-like people, so this sentence which uses similar words must also be false.”

    You could argue that this was trust, poorly executed. But if trust has a poorly executed version, we need to refine our mechanisms of developing that trust. What I’ve suggested here, in directly, is that we go ahead and consider a faith-trust scale and work to stay on the trust end of it and watch out for slipping to the faith-end of it.

    Regarding the political and strategic aspects, I agree with you but if we are in fact faithing it, we better stop before we insist that we are not.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    Various communities have gained my trust by being right about many things in the past. I also have a good understanding of the scientific method even if I’m not an expert in most fields. I trust that the mainstream scientists mainly stick with the proven scientific methods and that the mainstream reviewers are mainly vigilant.

    I think that is how most skeptics think about many of the issues that are important to them and mostly that is what works. I don’t agree (yet) that faith and trust are very far apart from each other. They may blend. But even so, one could say what you just said here and have it sound great, but be totally wrong because you didn’t do the trust part right. So, isn’t it worth trying to figure out how to make the trust thing work as well as it can?

    When I’m asked to believe something on faith, I am told that it can’t be checked, duplicated, or validated even if I were to have expert knowledge.

    That is a good piece of the definition of what can distinguish trust from faith. What about the white lie the scientists tells you, which is really a short hand for some complicated thing the details of which don’t seem important at the time? That is received knowledge, and it is accepted as trust, it is not questioned, and it ends up often being wrong, and that wrongness is part of the rethinking you have to do when you realize that the science on some issue has changed (which is common). That would be an illustration of the faith/trust boundary not being stark.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    But there is something the dive teaches, and that is how to distinguish substantive argument from nonsense.

    Russel, that is another important element of this. We can’t learn all the details of everything, but that does not merely hobble us because we don’t know the details: It hobbles us because we don’t know the processes that are both general to science and local to the more specific issue. Having the experience of diving in a few different ponds is essenial. More opportunities to do this are needed.

    Very few of us have looked at the engineering for 737 or MD-80 jets, but we happily fly on them all the time.

    That is an excellent example of faith impinging on trust. The average geeky reasonably well informed skeptic understand the basic principles of how planes fly, etc, but certainly not nearly enough to describe the engineering. And everything is fine because inductively we know it works and deductively we know those who tell us it works have a good track record. From the basic science through the engineering through the trimmings that tell you which airline owns the aircraft we have reasonable trust. And we know little bits and pieces of each of those things. The Bernoulli principle keeps the plane up. Combustion pushes it forward. The hull keeps the pressure in. The material that covers everything is fireproof, just in case.

    Then, one day, someone tells us that the Bernoulli principle is NOT how flight works. We are reminded of the moment in aviation history when it was discovered that metals could fatigue, and thus hulls blow apart (because of this happening a few times in a row) and we see the Nova or whatever it was on a famous plane crash when the not-fire-proof insulation that the electrical wires overhead caught on fire and everybody died.

    Sometimes, perhaps, trust sets up the framework, but faith Spackles in the rough spots.

  8. #8 badrescher
    June 30, 2010

    Excellent piece, Greg. I’m not sure I agree with your use of the word “faith”, but not for definitional reasons. I used the word “polarization” to refer to these strong “hunches” which are further strengthened by the confirmation bias in a recent post. If you missed it: http://icbseverywhere.com/blog/2010/06/the-polarizing-nature-of-skepticism/

  9. #9 becca
    June 30, 2010

    1) Everytime you link a source that says “malaria is caused by one of the Plasmodium species of mosquitoes” a little lizard dies!
    2) No fair, NO ONE knows what Tregs are (technically, no one knows whether any particular paper that mentions Tregs is talking about a population of cells that truly overlaps with what any other paper is talking about, but the point is Tregs->MassConfusion). They’re almost as bad as Th17 cells…

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    Becca, that is an excellent point. I considered writing this into the post, but decided to do it later as science porn. Briefly: No one is truly a skeptic in a given area until they’ve experienced the conversation among fully embedded unique experts on a set of very very closely related topics. Five scientists each an expert on a different part of the same molecular system (say, actin/myosin), and diversified by discipline so one is a physisist, one is a biochemist, the others physiologists. One of them says something. It makes sense. If that one could get 20 minute time at a cocktail party, s/he could explain it to a group of averagely-smart people. But before the next word comes out, two of the others at the table explain how what was just said, what made so much sense, can’t be true because of something THEY know, and have only known since last night when they fixed that problem with the data analysis software.

    But then what they say, which made so much sense, turns out can’t be exactly right either because ….

    … and so on …

    That is what is acually happening out there on the ground in science. The bloggy/wiki/pretty-good-science-mag version and the press release versions have far less nail-biting detail and are more mythology (based on “a kernel of ‘truth’”)

    With that much mythology going on, yes, faith is a phenomenon.

    Barbara, thanks for that link. I’ll read it as soon as I get back from Target where I’m going on a pain killer and tee-shirt run.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    Oh, and the “nail” in “nail-biting” means steel nails like you hammer stuff together with. Which changes the metaphor considerably.

  12. #12 Ken
    June 30, 2010

    OK, sorry for the long posts, but it’s an interesting complex idea.

    Greg Laden:

    What about the white lie the scientists tells you, which is really a short hand for some complicated thing the details of which don’t seem important at the time?

    I didn’t realize that happens all that often. In fact, I seem to see other scientists who are knowledgeable jumping on such a statement pretty quickly.

    Still, the boundary between faith and trust is not all that fuzzy to me. Even such a such a “white lie” needs to be backed up with the expectation that it can be checked on in science. The trust is in more than the single scientist, it is in the system of science that will provide many of the checks and balances.

    If I were locked in a room with a scientist without access to any other information, I would only trust anything told to me conditionally until I could get out of the room and find out more information. If I’m not interested enough to find out more about the subject, then I don’t have trust or faith in any statement. It remains just a piece of trivia I’ve heard.

    String theory brings this issue into sharp relief for me. I find string theories interesting but have no trust in them yet. In large part this is because of the failure of the theories to be able to make testable predictions and have a track record to build upon.

    I do, however, trust the mathematics behind the theories even though I can’t replicate the math myself. I’ve attended lectures where the string theorist has been thoroughly grilled by other people with the mathematical competence to do so and I trust that the papers in physics journals have been reviewed for their mathematics. I trust that process which allows me to trust the math.

    But is string theory even proper science (beyond the mathematics) without being able to make a testable prediction? Perhaps there you might need some faith to “believe” in it. But even there, I tend to think that people who pursue string theory have “hope” rather than “faith” that it may lead somewhere useful for physics.

    OK, let me think some about the terminology some here.

    Faith. Trust.

    Blind faith. Blind trust.

    You should have faith. You should trust the evidence. You shouldn’t trust your senses.

    Is there such a thing as blind trust? I know there is such a thing as blind faith, but I’m not sure I would ever trust a person, sense, or system without having had past experience of that person sense or system to form my current level of trust.

    When I try to expand the sentences, I tend to use “trust” when talking about something specific that can be tested and verified. I suppose I could have “faith” in my senses, but that would seem to imply that I never needed to experience what my senses can do. I could have faith that my senses would allow me to see through a brick wall, but I don’t trust my senses to do that for me.

    …and we see the Nova or whatever it was on a famous plane crash when the not-fire-proof insulation that the electrical wires overhead caught on fire and everybody died.
    Sometimes, perhaps, trust sets up the framework, but faith Spackles in the rough spots.

    I trust the Boeing engineers in part because of the trust of the entire system including the FAA and the airlines. They have a remarkable track record of safety so they have earned my trust. If I had no knowledge of the airline industry and had never seen a plane before, and you pointed to one and said “That can fly with you in it without killing you” I would now have to trust you, and not the plane, engineer, FAA and airline. That trust,if it existed, would not be faith since I would only trust you if I already had some experience with you.

    One final game with semantics:

    Betrayal of faith. Betrayal of trust.

    Betrayal of faith implies I fell short of a goal and failed to have enough faith in something or someone. Betrayal of trust implies I was tricked.

    This issue does have a lot to do with semantics, and the differences between “faith” and “trust” may be fuzzier than I think, but clearer than you imply.

    But don’t trust me, check with linguists on this…

  13. #13 Paul
    June 30, 2010

    Digesting. There’s a lot to think about here.

    Not knowing the specific mechanisms for vaccine effectiveness does not preclude one from making an evidence-based decision on the suitability of vaccination, or indeed whether vaccination can be reasonably linked to autism. The literature can be used to trivially note the reduced incidence of diseases in vaccinated populations, and study after study have shown no link between vaccination and autism in populations. There are different levels to analyze, and you can look at he effect on a population without actually understanding the mechanisms that allow vaccines to function. But that is somewhat tangential to the point you’re making, I just thought it was something that was interesting to point out.

    They were thinking “An idea vaguely like that one has been ridiculed in the past, but in a different context, but skeptic-like people, so this sentence which uses similar words must also be false.”

    I have seen this as well in other locations. It’s one of the largest issues I have when it comes to commenters in the atheist blogosphere.

    That is a good piece of the definition of what can distinguish trust from faith. What about the white lie the scientists tells you, which is really a short hand for some complicated thing the details of which don’t seem important at the time?

    I don’t think that is an issue for the definition being riffed on. Yes, it does interfere with truly understanding the phenomenon being discussed. However, it is something that is in principle still understandable by anyone that dabbles deeply enough in the pool. This does not at all muddy the faith/trust dichotomy if we’re looking at faith as “[something that] can’t be checked, duplicated, or validated even if I were to have expert knowledge”. The white lie still does not approach that category, it is simply provisional understanding which you will leave behind if you choose to dive more deeply into the pool.

  14. #14 Stacy
    June 30, 2010

    I would have stopped at the ADA. I’m impressed that you took it a step further. It’s like that game where a story is repeated 20 times. It never ends up being the same.

    As for my son … yes, he’s had all of his shots. :-)

  15. #15 Rich Wilson
    June 30, 2010

    No. I’m not a skeptic. It’s too much work.

  16. #16 JohnV
    June 30, 2010

    “What about the white lie the scientists tells you, which is really a short hand for some complicated thing the details of which don’t seem important at the time?”

    It’s tedious, but I go to great pains to throw out disclaimers when I’m talking about microbiology to my non-microbiologist friends and family when I get to those white lie/glossing over details parts of a story.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    I didn’t realize that happens all that often. In fact, I seem to see other scientists who are knowledgeable jumping on such a statement pretty quickly.

    Where? In the weekly lab meeting that most labs have? at conferences? Yes. But in the public arena? For many fields the embedded uniquely expert researchers required for that are not part of the conversation.

    Yes, it does happen to an important degree, but I’m pretty sure the non-specialist severely underestimates how much this happens.

    If I were locked in a room with a scientist without access to any other information, I would only trust anything told to me conditionally until I could get out of the room and find out more information.

    Good for you, and I believe you think you would do this, and you often might do that. And, that puts the “trust” you have while locked in that room in the trust category but not in the faith category.

    I’m pretty sure, though, that this is not what happens fairly often.

    This issue does have a lot to do with semantics, and the differences between “faith” and “trust” may be fuzzier than I think, but clearer than you imply.

    Probably. My main point is to insist that I’ve seen with my own eyes (and I trust my eyes) groups of skeptics shifting from trust to faith and not even knowing they are doing it. Mainly this happens in smallish relatively unimportant ways, but for members of a movement that so fetishizes purity, it is … well, kinda funny, actually.

  18. #18 Ken
    June 30, 2010

    This seems to sum up the semantics for me, including introducing some additional words.

    From “Kinship, contract, and trust: The economic organization of migrants in an African city slum”

    http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.22.2556&rep=rep1&type=pdf

    The notion of reliance expresses complete confidence, a presumptively objective state where belief is no longer necessary. To rely on something is to be tied to it, bound (compare with religion), as to an objective condition of existence. When there is no choice, reliance become dependence. Belief, by contrast, connotes freedom of the subject to make commitments in the absence of full knowledge. Belief is a feeling that a person or thing will not fail in performance. Feeling varies inversely with evidence or proof. Thus faith is an emotionally charged, unquestioning acceptance. Trust implies depth and assurance of such feeling, with inconclusive evidence or proof. Confidence involves less intensity of feeling, being based often on good evidence for being sure. Trust thus stands in the middle of a continuum of words for belief mixing extremes of blind faith and open-eyed confidence. Its etymology shows trust to be true like a tree, firm, steadfast, and loyal; not impervious to the evidence of the senses, but founded on a willingness to endure risk and uncertainty.

    Yes, it does happen to an important degree, but I’m pretty sure the non-specialist severely underestimates how much this happens.

    I’ll trust you on that one. Actually, yes, the more I think about what even I say about my area of expertise I think this does happen far too often. Perhaps intent plays an important role here.

    I’ve seen with my own eyes (and I trust my eyes) groups of skeptics shifting from trust to faith and not even knowing they are doing it.

    Then this is a warning to be more vigilant and to continue to strive to educate people about skepticism and science, including (perhaps especially) skeptics. I’ve often been accused of not being skeptical enough about mainstream science. I’ve always assumed the accuser misunderstood the difference between trust and faith (or belief).

    I’ve never called myself a “skeptic,” but that may just be a semantic difference again.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    Barbara: Yes, we are totally in tune here.

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    Ken, what I particularly like about your comment is that is does an excellent job demonstrating that there is a cultural or anthropological (or sociological) aspect to this issue. We humans are not vulcans, or even half vulcans.

  21. #21 Stephanie Z
    June 30, 2010

    There is definitely a sociological aspect to the way I look at this. Part of deciding what information sources to trust, for me, is to look at them as systems that produce particular, characteristic types of errors. Knowing how a source tends to simplify (spherical cows, no sex differences sought, measuring only what happens in nonpathological situations) shapes which information I trust from what sources.

  22. #22 Stephen Downes
    June 30, 2010

    Taking advice from a reliable and good authority is not the same as faith. So the article is to a certain degree misrepresentative of scepticism.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    Stephen, you are correct that taking advice from a reliable and good authority is not the same as faith. But that is certainly not the point of my post.

    Stephanie, good point, but I think it is even more anthropological than that, if I may use the terms anthropological and sociological sort of like how one might use a screwdriver to open a can of paint.

    For instance, at last year’s skepchiCON, there was a conversation in one of the sessions during which an audience member lept to his feat and produced a short tyrade on how the educational system is doing it wrong becuase it tries to teach facts and not process. Several people openly agreed. Members of the panel agreed.

    But, while it might be true in some states (South Carolina?) the simple truth is that you can’t read the literature on educational methods, attend a meeting about it, converse with teachers, or develop programs for teaching teachers where this idea … that the system currently focuses on teaching facts not process … is anything but an antiquated bit of history. And this has been true for years and years. In fact, I’d wager that a person claiming today that they were only taught facts and not process in a US based public school (not in S.C.) who is under ca 30 years old was not getting it; S/he was being exposed to process, not facts. Indeed, there is a science to what happens in schools, there is data, there is information, there are measurements, etc. etc. etc. But that group of sketpics (and I’ve seen exactly the same thing, same topic, same statements, in other groups) was repeating Kool-aid drenched fetishized mantras and nothing more. If their beliefs were based on trust, it was poorly done trust. Rather, I think they took their “beliefs” from their own cultural contexts, and in a sense, accepted those ideas because of an essential faith in their own cynicism.

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    June 30, 2010

    Greg, I wasn’t speaking for anyone but me. I have a fair sense of how I “do skepticism.” I haven’t studied it in others.

  25. #25 Susannah
    June 30, 2010

    However, since you didn’t know the meanings of any the terms above cold, teachably, usably, pragmatically, then how do you know the science is correct?

    Anyone with a minimal science education (like me), or even a careful reader, should have noticed that we really don’t know enough about anything. And that most scientists are conscientious about using qualifiers, like “possibly”, “many”, etc.

    When I hear someone, scientist or not, making absolute, confident statements (“X causes autism!” “… in every case …!”), my skeptical antennae vibrate madly.

    As JohnV said, (#15)

    It’s tedious, but I go to great pains to throw out disclaimers when I’m talking about microbiology to my non-microbiologist friends and family when I get to those white lie/glossing over details parts of a story.

    I look for those disclaimers. Without them I can’t trust the science.

    I know that I don’t know when the science is correct without the relevant, up-to-date education and experience, so there is an element of trust involved, but that trust is not automatic, nor, once given, is it permanent. Science moves on; some scientists do not.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    June 30, 2010

    I do want to add to my comment above: Part of this has to do with what is meant by “facts” and “process” in the science classroom. And that can get quite complicated.

  27. #27 Rogue Medic
    June 30, 2010

    Reading a scientific article requires an amount of trust that the people involved in approving the research were thorough in assessing for good study design, for protection of research subjects, for something worthwhile to be investigated to justify whatever risks are involved, for enough control of variables that the study can be expected to add something to the understanding of what is being studied.

    There is also trust that the researchers are honest in carrying out the study and in documenting everything.

    Then there is the trust that the reviewers understand what is being studied well enough to be able to spot problems.

    Finally, there is the possibility to recreate the study to see if it is reproducible, although not all studies are reproducible.

    I read through the study to determine if the authors have actually considered, and discussed, all of the relevant limitations. It is disappointingly common to find studies that have been published that have been through all of the preceding steps, yet have obvious flaws that appear not to have been addressed by the IRB, the authors, or the reviewers.

    There is a lot of trust in the good faith of those involved in the research. There is also the expectation that there will be few studies that are as well done as all research is supposed to be done. Occasionally, there is fraud in research. Wakefield and Reuben have been receiving most of the recent attention. People can get away with it for a while, but I think that the scientific method will eventually find that some results are incompatible with the later research.

    The most important part of scientific research is the approach. The researcher(s) publishes the paper essentially challenging the readers to find fault with the paper, realizing that this is the way that science makes progress. This is a part of the scientific set of checks and balances.

    I do not look at the research on the cellular level, but the studies that look at outcomes. There are many studies that show improvements in surrogate endpoints, but I do not think that they are valuable for much more than creating hypotheses for other research and for basic research.

    Surrogate end points are the anecdotes of medical research. They can look impressive, but if they do not lead to a significant improvement in outcomes, they are nothing more than interesting.

    I do not completely ignore the mechanism, but I rarely trust the explanations given for the results of any study. Even then, I have a lot of reservations until it is confirmed. Our understanding seems to dramatically lag behind our results. We put too much trust in narrative, while ignoring the tendency toward narrative fallacy. The narratives we create are not any better than what we now recognize as myths used to explain the workings of the world. They are just more informed myths, although they are far from being completely informed. These are the stories that are misrepresented by the media, sometimes in spite of the objections of the researchers.

    I think that requiring publication of all studies will go a long way to showing the objectivity of those engaged in research. Not so appealing to journals, but very important for those interested in the research. When all of these negative studies are available, the objectivity of the scientific method should be much more clear. Science is much more about falsification, than about confirmation.

    Yes, we do require a lot of trust. We trust other people to follow the rules, even though we are aware that people are fallible and may attempt to take shortcuts and may have conflicts of interest (of which money may not be the most important).

    This is different from faith. A part of this trust is the active review of the work at all stages. We do not trust everything, only that which we cannot confirm independently, or that which we choose not to verify independently.

    The amount of knowledge attributable to any one study is generally small, but adds incrementally to the rest of the research on that topic. The studies that add a lot will be ones that people will want to repeat most often. Even with a leap forward in knowledge, we will go back and address areas that may appear to be overlooked.

    This is not faith.

    Looking at one study, there may be a lot of trust involved, but when looking at all of the research on a topic, there is repeated testing in different ways of what the study shows. With all of the checks on research, there is not even a lot of trust necessary – unless you believe in conspiracy theories.

    The research on vaccines is extensive. It builds on the germ theory of disease. It depends on artificially stimulating the body to produce antibodies to prevent/minimize infection. Vaccination has been shown to be effective, over and over.

    What about the side effects? Everything has side effects, but there do not appear to be any that are serious and occur frequently. Millions of children immunized every year with a fatality rate that is essentially zero.

    Vaccine safety has been studied in a variety of places and in a variety of ways. Different governments with different methods of government, different universities, different non-profit organizations, and different companies have consistently failed to find any link between vaccination and autism, increases in allergies, and other proposed vaccine side effects.

    I trust that the many levels of review make it extremely unlikely that these results are due to chance, or conspiracy, or some combination.

    Rather than faith or trust, this is a result of the rationality of the scientific method.

    The scientific method is built on distrust.

    I have no reason to have faith in the conspiracy theorist approach.

    I have no reason to have faith in the mad scientist/science is bad/scientism approach.

    There is not good evidence to support these beliefs.

    Sorry for the length, but I don’t think this is something with a simple easy answer, unless you are acting on faith.

    Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation … Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way:

    Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. – Richard Feynman.

    and

    Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman.

    .

  28. #28 Rogue Medic
    June 30, 2010

    They were thinking “An idea vaguely like that one has been ridiculed in the past, but in a different context, but skeptic-like people, so this sentence which uses similar words must also be false.”

    This happens, but it may be an area that produces fruitful, even revolutionary, research exactly because the idea is presumed to be false/ridiculous/taboo.

    It is when we take something for granted so much that we do not examine the basis for that belief that we may find we have to go back and correct where we used myth and narrative to compensate for error.

    When someone reports studying this, many people will dismiss it as a waste of time, but at least a few will say, That’s a good idea for study. When results are published contradicting much that had been assumed, a lot more will say, Why didn’t I think of that?

    In retrospect almost everything can appear obvious, because knowing changes the way we perceive the information. Nassim Taleb writes a lot about this in The Black Swan. Black Swans being things that were not predictable before the fact, but are explained as being predictable after the fact by people who never saw the unpredictable event coming.

    That is a good piece of the definition of what can distinguish trust from faith. What about the white lie the scientists tells you, which is really a short hand for some complicated thing the details of which don’t seem important at the time?

    Isn’t telling lies relying on faith?

    I think Ken made it clear how we should deal with simplifications. We explain that we are using metaphor, or an oversimplification, or whatever.

    When we present a lie as truth, why should that be seen as representative of any group? Even non-troll creationists are probably not comfortable with the idea of intentionally presenting a falsehood as the truth.

    We should separate the lie and the liar from what is being explained with the lie. This is a problem for science and for skeptics, but it is a problem that is due to a lack of application of skepticism or the scientific method. It is not a problem with skepticism or with the scientific method.

  29. #29 Michael Slezak
    July 1, 2010

    Being a skeptic is necessarily about trusting certain people/groups. What makes you a skeptic rather than someone who proceeds on faith is the basis on which you decide who to trust.

    Being truly skeptical, and trusting things based purely on evidence is probably impossible for humans, I think. Kuhn’s discussion of the way science progresses shows that even among scientists, it’s almost impossible to doubt your centrally held beliefs as a true skeptic should be able to. Thus, as Kuhn shows, the only way that major theory change happens in science, is through the newer generation of scientists accepting the new theory and the old ones dieing — Even scientists aren’t able to judge their own beliefs (about the things that they are expert on) on the basis of the available evidence.

  30. #30 nyscof
    July 1, 2010

    Thank you for calling out your fellow “skeptics” on fluoridation. As someone who is often on the receiving end of knee-jerk reactions to the word fluoride or fluoridation within seconds of posting something, I’m glad you took the time to research the issue. I’m no fan of the ADA. However, they recently re-vamped their entire website and things have been moved around. The infant formula advisory is still there if you poke around a bit.

    It appears the the ADA is covering themselves legally because they are not making any real effort to get this information out to the public even though research since 2000 (Mascarenhas) and probably before has linked dental fluorosis to infant formula mixed with fluoridated water.

    We’ve published several news releases on the science behind this at http://tinyurl.com/NewsReleases

  31. #31 DuWayne
    July 1, 2010

    I have to rather disagree with you on the necessity of understanding the immune system particularly well, to make particularly informed decisions about the vax “debate.”

    I don’t understand the technical details of a lot of the science that I am interested in (and vaccines are of more than a little interest to me), but I don’t have to. I have spent my time focusing on a relatively universal tool for evaluating evidence, rather than trying to understand all the technical details of everything that I want to know about. I have taken the time to learn how to critically evaluate studies. While it is not always possible to evaluate the methodology, without the technical details, I have found that most of the time it is. Or more to the point, bullshit generally shines through – whether you understand the technical aspects or not.

    And even when I don’t understand as much as I would like, given that ability to critically evaluate methodology and conclusions drawn, it is often as easy as reading what someone who understands it better to fill in what it missing. Orac has been an invaluable resource for vaccines, in that he is very good at not just telling people that bullshit is bullshit and valid information is valid, but also of explaining why. The same is true of a lot of other sci-bloggers in a lot of other fields. Combine their analysis with a reasonable grasp of how to evaluate studies and papers, and you don’t have to take anything on faith, to any significant degree. You too can have and understand the best evidence well enough.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    July 1, 2010

    I have to rather disagree with you on the necessity of understanding the immune system particularly well, to make particularly informed decisions about the vax “debate.”

    I don’t think you need to. But I do think one must realize that one is using “trust” and one must have a method for using trust.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    July 1, 2010

    nyscof: Well, I haven’t really “exposed my fellow skeptics” … rather, I’ve pointed out that the situation has some unrecognized complexity. In fact, I’m pretty sure skeptics are more able to handle that complexity than the pure forms of “pro” and “anti” fluoride camps. Most skeptics, once faced with the need to evaluate the fluoride situation, would probably figure it out and come to similar conclusions.

  34. #34 DuWayne
    July 1, 2010

    Sure we have to trust, to some degree or another. We have to trust that the methodology was what is claimed in the paper. We have to trust that the data wasn’t fudged to produce the desired result. There are all sorts of things that we need to trust. That doesn’t mean that such trust is an act of faith.

    Faith is belief unsupported by evidence. Depending on the importance of a given statement, I don’t trust people without evidence that I should. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe them, it just means that I won’t take action based on what that person has claimed.

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    July 1, 2010

    DuWayne, when a self-described “skeptic” hears “fluoride is bad” and reacts to that with the assumption that such a statement must be wrong because there are crazy fluoride-conspiracy-theorists (see movie above), that is neither rational nor trust-based thinking. I like the word “faith” here because it, well, fits.

  36. #36 meh
    July 1, 2010

    Interesting example, but I found the premise of this argument absurd. It all seems designed to point out that people that consider themselves skeptics don’t meet a standard of skepticism which winds up equivalent to solipsism.

    Arguing that because someone doesn’t know what fibronectin is, that the decision to vaccinate is faith-based and non-skeptical, is the heart of the absurdity. Is a cutting edge researcher or doctor aware of the medical facets which will be used 100 years in the future to describe the immune system? Definitely not, but then, since they are missing probably fundamental pieces of the puzzle, they should also be considered fundamentally faith-based rather than skeptical (since you consider average even 4 year college-educated adults faith-based, when they know far more than experts from hundreds of years in the past).

    No knowledge stands apart from axiomatic truths, and by your standards no one could be considered a skeptic.

    Once you make the practical concession that only currently knowable (not future) and non-axiomatic should be subjected to skepticism, you still open the doors wide. It’s impossible that any single human could research all existing knowledge of every belief they have… and so you once again have defined skeptic in such a way as to eliminate everyone from consideration… not due to uncovering any novel facet of human personality or insight, but just a matter of course based on finite human comprehension.

    If your personal definition is in line with that reasoning, I suggest you reconsider your understanding of the word. Accept that other people predominantly do not have this definition in mind, and look for another more reasonable one.

    It’s far more reasonable to consider a skeptic to be someone who is WILLING to question any of their beliefs (provided it’s worth their time). To consider a skeptic as someone who actually HAS questioned and obtained proof for all of their beliefs, is useless as it’s trivially easy to the impossibility of such a skeptic.

    Sorry if this is rude, but the article really just shows poor comprehension of skepticism.

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    July 1, 2010

    that because someone doesn’t know what fibronectin is, that the decision to vaccinate is faith-based and non-skeptical, is the heart of the absurdity

    Yes, that would be absurd, It is not what I’ve argued. I’ve argued that when you don’t know the detailed science you need to find a way to come to a reasonable conclusion. Then, I talked about trust, trusting sources, and so on, as well as inappropriate acceptance of a conclusion based on something more like faith.

    Your comment is not based on rational argument or trust. It is based on faith, in a way, because you saw a few keywords and made a guess about the argument I was making.

    There really is no substitute for good reading comprehension. Now, go back and re-read the post and feel free to comment again.

    Of course, since you mention sophistry, that will not be allowed as part of your comments. Understand? That’s not rational. That’s just me being mildly offended that you are making me spend time on this.

    Meh indeed.

  38. #38 Alan
    July 2, 2010

    It’s a good article, but dangerous in some ways. This line of reasoning is already being used in a deft bit of casuistry by pedlars of hogwash.

    The difference between this confusion of which you write and faith, is that we can get to the bottom of this if we wish. I recently had to start digging into climate change with a heavy sigh because a friend sent me some denialist nonsense. It was way outside my field and a lot of work. You can’t do it with everything.

    But when it becomes important enough, you can follow the trail that leads to the best evidence-based theory. The word “faith” is inappropriate for what we do the rest of the time, because it equates it with the faith that people have in things that they already know are contradicted by evidence – or for which no evidence is known to exist. That is what people mean by “faith,” and I feel it does no service whatsoever to muddy the definitions.

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    July 2, 2010

    The difference between this confusion of which you write and faith, is that we can get to the bottom of this if we wish.

    Actually, you an and should get to the bottom of both. That is not a distinction. What you are describing is not a difference in how one is wrong, but a difference in the motivations of the person being wrong.

  40. #40 DuWayne
    July 3, 2010

    Greg -

    Ok, I see what you are getting at. Interestingly enough, we actually discussed this last night at Cafe Inquiry (I was woefully ill prepared this month – we also discussed why people attribute stuff to gods) and I totally riffed off of your comment at 35.

    I guess I never really considered dismissing something, just because quacks are raising the same concern. Having some friends who are hardcore quacks, I am well aware that such folks aren’t always wrong. That, and I take logic rather seriously (which isn’t to say that I always manage to be logical), trying hard not to engage is such obvious logical fallacies.

    As far as the actual example you use, when it was relevant to youngest, I just figured there was no point in risking it. I don’t generally drink city water anyways, because I think chlorine tastes for crap. And refilling jugs for thirty cents a gallon wasn’t all that unreasonable. If it had been something that was more of a challenge to manage, I probably would have investigated more thoroughly. But to me it just wasn’t worth the time. The same was/is true of BPA in plastic. I am still rather skeptical of the claims, as I have seen conflicting reports. But I figure that it isn’t worth the risk when it is something that is easy enough to avoid.

    Alan -

    It’s a good article, but dangerous in some ways. This line of reasoning is already being used in a deft bit of casuistry by pedlars of hogwash.

    Oh, I don’t think it is any more dangerous than being honest about a host of things that bolster the arguments of loons. Seeing what Greg is getting at, I have to agree with him and ultimately think that faith is exactly the word for it. I mean we are talking about a rather serious logical fallacy that uses much the same reason that goes into the claim that everything we don’t understand about the world and our universe, must be some god’s doing.*

    The difference between this confusion of which you write and faith, is that we can get to the bottom of this if we wish.

    But the point is that they don’t. The point is that they are making an assumption without evidence to support it – the fact that some quacks believe it is not any more evidence, than the claim that Darwin was particularly clever would be evidence for evolution. Without adding a whole lot of evidence of things actually discovered, that statement would assume that smart people are never wrong. The point here being that as you parse it down, the assumption becomes more evidently a faith statement.

    It was way outside my field and a lot of work. You can’t do it with everything.

    No you can’t. What you can do, is make statements that indicate your level of understanding and why you accept it. I know very little about climate change, excepting some parsing of studies that I have read. I could respond to arguments that attack methodology and I can explain exactly what my level of expertise is. If that is not enough, I have resources that I can send someone to. I can, of course, also point out overt evidence of global warning – but given the response to that is generally overt dishonesty, I generally don’t.

    The word “faith” is inappropriate for what we do the rest of the time, because it equates it with the faith that people have in things that they already know are contradicted by evidence – or for which no evidence is known to exist.

    You have this quite wrong. Faith is a belief in something that the person who is making a faith claim cannot provide concrete evidence to support. (many) Christians for example, believe that they have plenty of evidence to support the existence of and intervention of, in their lives. Likewise, the skeptic who decides something must be bullshit, merely because a quack also makes the claim, believes they have evidence to support their faith statement.

    That is not the only way to define “faith,” but in the context of this discussion this needed some clarification.

    That is what people mean by “faith,” and I feel it does no service whatsoever to muddy the definitions.

    Ok, now you have hit on one of my huge fucking pet peeves. Who are these “people” you speak of and why the fuck should I care what they mean when they say faith? Language is not static, though some words are less fluid than others. Different people mean a host of different things when they use verbal language. This means that the more important a given conversation is, the more important it is to clearly define one’s terms. But as a general rule it also means that it is really fucking obnoxious to make claims about “what people mean” when they use a given term.

    *Please forgive the runon from hell, I hope you catch your breath*

  41. #41 Jim Lippard
    November 29, 2010

    A good taxonomy of levels of trust and understanding can be found in Harry Collins & Robert Evans’ book, _Rethinking Expertise_.

    Most of us are at the lowest level of scientific knowledge on most subjects, the level of “beer mat knowledge”–we know some trivial facts that we can bring up. Some of us are at the level of “interactional expertise,” where we can communicate with experts in a field in their own jargon. And a very few of us are at the level of “contributory expertise,” actually participating in a particular field and making new contributions to it.

    Very rare is the person with contributory expertise in many fields.