Respectful Insolence

Crank argumentation

Arguing with cranks can be an extremely frustrating experience, which is why I don’t do it very often anymore except on my terms on this blog. Yes, I did cut my skeptical teeth, so to speak, for several years doing just that in the totally unmoderated and wild free-for-all known as Usenet before I dipped my toe into the blogosphere on a whim one cold December afternoon, but these days blogging has gotten me far more satisfaction, visibility, and influence than I could ever have dreamed possible. Consequently, I rarely visit my old stomping grounds anymore.

If you want to see the difference between how I handle dissent on my own blog and how cranks handle dissent on their forums, though, check out Andrew Mathis’ post on Holocaust Controversies about trying to debate on the Holocaust denier forum Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH), entitled The Typical CODOH Debate, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Idiots of the F├╝hrerbunker, a playlet by the Rev. Dr. Andrew E. Mathis, Ph.D., ULC, J.E.W.. (“J.E.W.”? Nice touch.) It’s a spot-on short demonstration of how a typical Holocaust denier “discussion forum” works.

Come to think of it, subtract the anti-Semitism and that’s just how alternative medicine advocates “win” such debates on CureZone, which has also been reported to censor and ban skeptics who have the temerity to persist in pointing out woo when they see it. You’ll note that here dissent is tolerated, even to the point of perhaps being tolerated too much, and only one commenter has ever been banned in the nearly three year history of this blog.

Andrew’s also written another good article that focuses on how Holocaust deniers abuse semantics in their attempts at denial. It’s eerie how much denier tactics can be generalized. I found myself thinking while reading this article about just how much these rhetorical devices resemble those of 9/11 Truthers, quacks, and “intelligent design” creationists.

Comments

  1. #1 TheProbe
    November 2, 2007

    The Curezone is the epitome of censorship in the e-world.

    I am proud to say that I have had the IP address of six computers blocked by them. They just cannot stand a simple question:

    Where are all the thousands of people the Hulda Clark cured of cancer?

    Questioning Ist Verbotten!

  2. #2 Joseph
    November 2, 2007

    I concur. No consistent policy on moderation, and messages disappearing without so much as an explanation, are strongly associated with crankery in my experience.

  3. #3 Jeb, FCD
    November 2, 2007

    CureZone sounds like Uncommon Descent.

  4. #4 tim gueguen
    November 2, 2007

    Matt Giwer was fond of semantic silliness when it came to Holocaust denial, like his claim there was no established definition for the term, and hence it didn’t happen. Or I think that’s what his argument was, ole Matty tended to get incoherent fairly regularly.

  5. #5 notmercury
    November 2, 2007

    I misread your title as Crank augmentation which conjures all sorts of mental images.

  6. #6 TheProbe
    November 2, 2007

    Matt Giwer, eh? I used to drive him nuttier (he was already nuts) back in the RelayNet and FIDO days. Got him so riled up once that he was censored by the moderators of several forums in the BBS world.

  7. #7 Dan
    November 3, 2007

    The problem with you is that crank = anyone whose opinion differs from yours. Most of the time I agree with what you say, but other times you label people as cranks simply because they disagree with you and you simply dismiss them. I call that an elitist’s attitude. I see that a lot at the lab that I work at with PhDs that are complete nerds (by that way I would consider nerd a compliment) with no real world experience (not so good). Those you simply dismiss as cranks probably find you just as thick headed to argue with.

  8. #8 Orac
    November 3, 2007

    The problem with you is that crank = anyone whose opinion differs from yours.

    That’s just bullshit, plain and simple.

    It takes a lot for me to dismiss someone as a crank, particularly a history of pseudoscientific bad reasoning that’s immune to correction. I tend to reserve the term for Holocaust deniers (who are dangerous cranks), quacks (who may or may not be dangerous depending upon the nature of their quackery), creationists, 9/11 Truthers, HIV/AIDS denialists, etc.; in other words, obvious cranks. I’ll grant you that there are times when the line may be a bit fuzzy, but you won’t find me calling people near that line “cranks.”

    As for “elitism,” give me a frikkin’ break here. It’s not elitist to label a crank a crank when it’s appropriate. Crying “elitism” when science labels crankery is the last refuge of–you guessed it–cranks.

  9. #9 Bronze Dog
    November 3, 2007

    If you’d bother learning a thing or two about the scientific method, Dan, you’d know there are ways of establishing fact. Cranks are typically people who denounce the scientific method, logic, and open discussion. That’s why they resort to subject changes and censorship to cover up the fundamental fallacies in their arguments.

  10. #10 Orac
    November 3, 2007

    Matt Giwer, eh? I used to drive him nuttier (he was already nuts) back in the RelayNet and FIDO days. Got him so riled up once that he was censored by the moderators of several forums in the BBS world.

    Whatever happened to ol’ Matt, anyway? He was perhaps the most notorious Holocaust denier in the 1990s to early 2000s on Usenet and a variety of bulletin boards and discussion forums. He was everywhere. Due to the incoherence of his ramblings at times, many of us suspected that he used to get liquored up before plopping himself down in front of his computer.

  11. #11 Dan
    November 3, 2007

    Bronze Dog said: “If you’d bother learning a thing or two about the scientific method, Dan, you’d know there are ways of establishing fact.”

    Funny for you to say. As I am a government scientist who works for a major DoD research lab. Also I am published in numerous journals, conference proceedings, as well as serve as referee for journals. Yes I know the scientific method and as I said I agree with Most of Orac’s opinions, but not all. And at times when he does not agree with an opposing position he has been dismissive and simply labels the others as cranks. Where Orac and I disagree is how much weight to give the science of epidemiology. For example, he would dismiss me as a crank because I believe second hand smoke does not represent a significant health risk and that I believe much of the research and methods of tobacco control are junk science. He is being dismissive here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2007/07/blowing_smoke_over_second_hand_smoke_1.php

    See bottom of comments.

  12. #12 Orac
    November 3, 2007

    And at times when he does not agree with an opposing position he has been dismissive and simply labels the others as cranks.

    Repeating something over and over that simply isn’t true doesn’t make it so, Dan. The example you point out isn’t even an example of my labeling those who disagree with me as “cranks.” For example:

    That being said, there is a risk of going too far in legislating smoking bans. Certainly indoor smoking bans at workplaces and in restaurants and bars are defensible on a scientific and public health basis. However, outdoor smoking bans, such as I’ve heard about on many California beaches and a recent law passed by the Beverly Hills City Council to ban smoking in all outdoor eating areas, are just plain stupid and wrong-headed, at least if the rationale is to prevent SHS-caused health problems in the population. This is particularly true since such bans apply to sidewalk cafes, where, in my experience, the exhaust fumes from passing traffic tend to overwhelm any smoke that comes from cigarettes. It doesn’t help the reasonable and scientifically supported cause of indoor workplace smoking bans to overstep and impose bans in cases where the science doesn’t support it.

    Wow, that sure sounds like me utterly dismissing everyone who doesn’t think smoking bans are justified as “cranks.” In fact, in responding to Tim Slagle on this topic, I was simply answering his request, specifically that I explain the evidence to him supporting a link between SHS and health problems.

    You know what? Your latest comment leads me to get the feeling that you’re just annoyed that I ignored your last comment in that post.

  13. #13 Dan
    November 3, 2007

    Orac wrote: “You know what? Your latest comment leads me to get the feeling that you’re just annoyed that I ignored your last comment in that post.”

    I would agree with that.

  14. #14 HCN
    November 3, 2007

    I only encountered Matt Giwer when he was posted an obscure message on Usenet that said “For all your needs”. Since I was then on the alt.culture.military-brats newsgroup I replied that “I need a tree moved, the gutters cleaned and windows washed”. A bunch of other people responded with other chores.

    It was amusing… from then on he spammed with a slightly clearer message, something along the line of anti-holocaust or anti-semetic stuff.

    Who knows, he might have benefitted from doing some honest work like cleaning gutters, yardwork and fence repair.

  15. #15 Joe
    November 3, 2007

    Dan wrote “As I am a government scientist who works for a major DoD research lab. {snip}”

    Dan, it does not matter if you have the trappings of a scientist (even if what you say is true) if your posts betray your (claimed) knowledge.

  16. #16 Dan
    November 3, 2007

    &pJoe wrote: “Dan, it does not matter if you have the trappings of a scientist (even if what you say is true) if your posts betray your (claimed) knowledge.”

    Ok.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V3K-4GCX0BH-2&_user=10&_coverDate=12%2F31%2F2005&_alid=642155137&_rdoc=3&_fmt=summary&_orig=search&_cdi=5733&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=20&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=add07eb83ed6415e89289287c1068742
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VJS-42JHMDN-3&_user=10&_coverDate=05%2F31%2F2001&_alid=642155137&_rdoc=7&_fmt=summary&_orig=search&_cdi=6102&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=20&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=fed91926b6d0f9a202bed3f01c3dfb5e
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL;_udi=B6V3K-40GJ4JY-5&_user=10&_coverDate=09%2F30%2F2000&_alid=642155137&_rdoc=10&_fmt=summary&_orig=search&_cdi=5733&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=20&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=71992e3e62c25bedd4326e9f9e7550e4
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V3K-40MT3VW-4&_user=10&_coverDate=10%2F01%2F2000&_alid=642155137&_rdoc=9&_fmt=summary&_orig=search&_cdi=5733&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=20&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=1300bbbb6e1ecd92ccadb99cc7734ea2

    I am D R Scheffler. The D is Daniel. There is another that posts on this site who uses the name Dan. We are not the same. The difference is that my posts includes a link to my business web site (picture of me and all) as I am also a business owner. Hopefully you are not confusing me with the other Dan. That said, I was attacking Orac for blowing off my previous posts with regard to SHS. Note, I am not a medical scientist as most here seem to be. My apologies if I offended anyone. The above is just a sampling of papers I wrote. I am a also a referee for the journals and the papers give away my complete identity. That said, I am concerned that the medical sciences are having a credibility problem base on the junk one hears on the news every day. And yes I would be proud if Orac thinks that I am crank for saying that. I view the medical sciences with much skepticism. As we say in the lab where I work, the medical people only practice science and we do the real science. That is a joke by the way, one we use allot. Orac, however, has a PhD, I cannot say the same about him. But being an MD, PhD is rare and just having an MD, coming from my German heritage, does not give one the title of doctor. To get that you actually have to have a PhD.

  17. #17 Joe
    November 3, 2007

    On that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

  18. #18 Rjaye
    November 4, 2007

    You get let out of the lab much, Dan? Bless your heart, you just go right ahead and disagree all you want, and maybe you will learn what kind of degrees Orac has, and what is really involved in a medical degree, and the world will be a better place.

    I have learned lots just reading Orac’s blog, and what people post here have given me much food for thought. However, I would hate to compare my PhD with anyone else’s here, especially since it’s in Lit.

    But if you’re going to throw your credentials around, find out what kind of company you’re throwing them around in.

    Yeah, slam dunk, Joe.

  19. #19 Dan
    November 4, 2007

    I rest my case too. You guys are eating me alive. Goes crawling back into his hole.

  20. #20 Joseph T Major
    November 4, 2007

    Matt Giwer is still going. He still pops up on some Usenet groups, I notice him on soc.history.what-if. He apparently has figured out how to vary his signature file to include a varied selection of anti-Semitic comments.
    He also can be found Liberty Forum (libertyforum.org), the last I noticed as “FerricWebcaesar”.

    Never did answer the question of what was that high school textbook that had the proof that the Zimmermann Telegram was a forgery (one of the questions that he evaded answering just before he evacuated alt.revisionism).

  21. #21 anonimouse
    November 4, 2007

    Dealing with cranks is an exercise in futility. I tried it for years, and then realized most of the woos were at best deluded and at worst deliberately evil. Thus why I now greatly limit my contributions to the discourse and only contribute the occasional snarky remark.

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