Respectful Insolence

Believe it or not, sometimes even Orac has a life. I know, I know, between the ridiculously logorrheic blogging here and other online activities, coupled with even more ridiculous long hours working at his day job, it’s hard to conceive. However, my wife and I had a whole passel of relatives over, several of whom spent the night. This puts a crimp in the blogging activity, but for once I don’t care that much. Fortunately, there’s a lot of good reading out there, of which I picked a few examples:

  • The “Gonzalez Trial” for Pancreatic Cancer: Outcome Revealed. Remember the Gonzalez trial? It was the trial of a “nutritional” and “detoxification” method for pancreatic cancer. The trial was stopped in 2005, but for unclear reasons its results were never reported or published. Now, Dr. Kimball Atwood IV makes a very reasonable speculation as to why the trial was published and why its results are being suppressed. (Hint: It wasn’t because the Gonzalez regimen was superior to the standard of care regimen for pancreatic cancer.)
  • Background reading on the unethical mess that was the Gonzalez trial. If you want to see just what an unethical and unscientific mess the Gonzalez trial was, read: The Ethics of “CAM” Trials: Gonzo (Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI).
  • Mathew Nisbet, Beneath Contempt. Fellow blog brother Mark Hoofnagle takes other fellow Science Blogger to task for his disingenuous criticism and use of straw man fallacies in his response to Mark, Mike, and me. Suffice it to say, he’s a bit more–shall we say?–vociferous in his criticism than I am. Equally suffice it to say that Matt’s mischaracterization of our argument as being “name calling is the best strategy” in refuting denialists is the most outrageous straw man I have ever seen from a fellow ScienceBlogger. Couple that with Matt’s unwillingness to publish criticism in the comments of his posts, and I’ve basically had it with him.

Come to think of it, that third one there irritated me enough, that I think I’ll expound upon it briefly. I’ll put my response below the fold, because I realize that a lot of people are tired of this, as am I, quite frankly, and to spare those who aren’t interested. However, I couldn’t let Matt’s straw man go unanswered. Click to continue if you’re interested. Don’t click if you’re not.

To my criticism of his post, Matt responded:

No one is constructing a straw man. I pointed readers to your reactions to the interview and linked to the pages long postings. Readers can judge those responses and then move on to the rest of my post.

I personally don’t have the motivation or the time to engage in an endless blog debate about these issues. I’ve linked my main post to a forthcoming 30 page book chapter that explains in detail my alternative strategy. I’ve also linked to video interviews and on my side bar there are links to other audio interviews and articles. I’m also giving a number of public talks this spring in New York, DC, and other cities where readers can turn out to listen, discuss, and debate.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend. Monday I get back to the office with teaching to wrap up and various research projects to finish. I think we’ve articulated our positions and discussed our differences. Time to move on!

Now that’s just lame.

If you “don’t have the motivation or the time to engage in an endless blog debate about these issues,” then you shouldn’t be blogging. It is clearly not the communication venue for you. Yes, I know that sometimes blog debates get long and tiresome. I’ve even contributed to such lengthy debates. But if you’re going to post a criticism like that, you should at least be willing to defend it through a couple of rounds. Matt instead says, “We’ve already hashed this over before; so read my book.” Until the next time he decides he wants to tweak people, of course. In reality Matt isn’t particularly interested in a real debate, as evidence by the way, like Brave Sir Robin, he bravely runs away, declaring, “Time to move on!” coupled with his use of a very blatant straw man argument. At least, he’s not interested in a debate with people who are more than mildly critical of him, a category in which I counted myself until last spring. However, Matt’s antics have turned me from a mildly enthusiastic fan to a puzzled and disappointed opponent, and he is utterly clueless about how he might have brought that about, not just with me, but with several other ScienceBloggers.

In any case, here was my response, which Matt has not yet approved as a comment. Since I’m not sure he ever will, I decided to post it here:

No, Matt, you are constructing a straw man, and your denying that it is a straw man is simply ludicrous. It was, in fact, an outrageously obvious and blatant straw man.

You explicitly said: “Most notably Orac, Mike the Mad Biologist, and Mark Hofnagle argue that their preferred brand of name calling remains the best communication strategy.” Nowhere did I say that name calling “remains the best communication strategy.” For one thing, what I was doing was not “name calling,” but rather choosing an appropriate label. Isn’t the selection of a good label important part of “framing”? For another thing, I never said it was the “best” strategy, only one effective strategy that it’s foolish to take off the table a priori, especially since you have failed to make your case that your way works better more often than that of successful science communicators who may be too blunt for your liking. I cited paragraphs from my post that clearly show that you misrepresented my argument. I also assert that you misrepresented Mark’s argument as well. Indeed, it’s also completely disingenuous of you to say that “people can go read for themselves” and decide after you misrepresented my point.

Think on this Matt. I was behind you when you first introduced your framing hypothesis back in April 2007. It made sense to me at the time. I wrote two long posts defending it shortly after the article by you and Chris was released. I still think the concept has value, but after having seen it in your hands I’m afraid you’ve lost me. How did you manage that? You did it through your actions, in which it appears that, to you at least, framing seems to mean sucking up to the opponents of science and trashing those who are too blunt for you at every turn. It also seems to mean hypocrisy. Yes, hypocrisy. You castigate me, Mark, and Mike for “name calling,” but you are not above some name calling yourself when it suits your purpose. The difference is that you direct it at those who would be your natural allies far more often than you direct it at those against whom we should be united.

For example, what on earth could have been your purpose with this post? In it you pick an intentionally unflattering picture of P.Z. Myers and portray him as the unwanted “face of atheism,” likening him to the shock-jock Don Imus and saying:

They’re usually angry, grumpy, uncharismatic male loners with a passion for attacking and ridiculing religious believers. Any fellow atheist who disagrees with their Don Imus rhetoric, they label as appeasers.

Now, believe it or not, I was probably in the minority around ScienceBlogs in that I was not down with P.Z. on the whole “cracker” incident at all. Indeed, I lost a huge measure of respect for him that day and viewed his stunt as childish and crass. I continue to view it as such. The only reason I never blogged about it is because other things were going on in my life at the time, and, quite frankly, the whole stunt disgusted me. However, your intentional use of his appearance in that picture, along with a few choice names, shows me that you are behaving hypocritically. You castigate those with whom you disagree for being too negative or calling people “names,” but when it suits your purpose you are perfectly happy to sling the mud yourself, “framing” be damned! You’re perfectly willing to cite a radical ideologue like Bill Donohue, if it suits you to attack P.Z.

In fact, your behavior seems to be an implicit admission that “framing” isn’t always the right tool for a given argument. Certainly you seem quite willing to abandon it either when you become angry or when you think you can gain some sort of tactical advantage by doing so. Why should it be that, when it comes to anti-evolutionists, antivaccinationists, global warming denialists, or various other opponents of established science and proponents of ideology-driven ideas that it’s never right to call bullshit bullshit?

I doubt any of this will make any difference to you. In fact, your response tells me that, having provoked the desired reaction from a few of us, you’re going to hide again behind the “I’m too busy” canard, coupled with the “look how many talks I’m giving to promote my idea–gee, aren’t I awesome?” bit. Indeed, I doubt you’ll even approve this comment. But at least I’ll know you’ve seen it.

Again, remember that I used to be down with your whole framing idea. I still see some potential value in it. However, you clearly don’t have the faith in your own idea to stick with it consistently, as your own penchant for name calling when it suits you to do so shows.

Consider this an open thread for anyone whose comments have not been approved my Matt. In fact, I don’t even care if you think I’m a complete idiot and that Matt is clearly right. Unlike him, I’ll publish those comments. Who knows? You might even change my mind on this matter back to where it was in April 2007.

Comments

  1. #1 bug_girl
    November 28, 2008

    I sort of see this like Garett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. It’s an important essay, and puts out some great ideas. Unfortunately, Hardin is a racist loony.

    I just try to separate the failings of the author from the useful bits he’s contributed.

    This is all very disappointing.

  2. #2 llewelly
    November 28, 2008

    I sort of see this like Garett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. It’s an important essay, and puts out some great ideas. Unfortunately, Hardin is a racist loony.

    I somewhat agree. Of course the analogy only goes so far; Nisbet, for all his faults, is not comparable to a racist loony.

  3. #3 awh
    November 28, 2008

    Orac, I also posted a very critical comment after I saw that last response from him. I’ve never read any of his stuff (besides the last few exchanges), and frankly, I don’t want to! The fact that he can’t recognize the obvious strawman, or refuses to, has driven me away from any of his material.

    My response never was published, but it had a cuss word in it, so I doubt it will be published!

    What an idiot.

  4. #4 Patrick
    November 28, 2008

    The valuable bits of the whole ‘framing’ thing are blatantly obvious to anyone with half a brain. Everyone does it. It’s silly to brand it as some novel idea.

    Matt is only interested in self promotion and sticking his finger in the eye of other science bloggers furthers that.

    We should just ignore him.

  5. #5 kevinj
    November 28, 2008

    It might just be he is deliberately giving a practical example of just because you are an expert in the theory of a particular subject it doesnt necessarily mean you are good at communicating it.

    or maybe not.

  6. #6 Phoenix Woman
    November 28, 2008

    Here’s my take on the situation:

    There are a number of commenters at ScienceBlogs who I’ve filtered because they regularly, if not almost invariably, offer up violent prescriptions for dealing with believers. I’ve found that DNFTEC is the best course of action with them; So I understand the worry that the words of some of the commenters (or the bloggers) might be choice ammo for the cherry-pickers in the anti-science contingents.

    But I remember the situation that set off PZ: It was the deliberate attempt to ruin a student’s career, and very likely his life, before it was properly started, simply because he didn’t eat a foodstuff that was given to him.

    By the way: Because of the stink PZ raised, that student’s college (and future) career was saved. He wasn’t expelled, as had been threatened early on before PZ’s involvement, and the bogus impeachment that resulted in his losing his student senate position was overturned (though not in time to restore him to that position). Which was the whole point of PZ’s exercise.

  7. #7 I am so wise
    November 28, 2008

    For all the people who allege that easy treatment regiments for cancer are being suppressed by Orac and his fellow members of the Oncology Mafia need to realize that other medical specialties have come and gone when easier treatments have been created or cure developed without conspiracy or incident.

    Take syphilis. Syphilis was once treated by syphologists (Am I spelling that right?) a specialty that developed because treatments for syphilis were difficult to use and contained arsenic which made your average doctor leering of dealing with it. Then came easy to use antibiotics and *poof* syphologists were a thing of the past. There is no reason to suspect that Orac and his fellow oncologists would not experience a similar fate if the same thing occurred to them. After all, insurance companies did not became massively wealthy by being bad with money or math.

  8. #8 Pierce R. Butler
    November 28, 2008

    … a radical ideologue like Bill Donohue …

    “Radical” means literally “of the root”, and is appropriate namecalling/labeling for those pursuing major structural changes regarding any given agenda (whether or not one approves of what’s advocated).

    Donohue, while a hardcore partisan of the more reactionary and totalitarian sides of the Roman Catholic Church, is much too shallow for such a term. Call him an extremist ideologue, please!

    /”framing”

  9. #9 Michael Ralston
    November 28, 2008

    The problem with the whole framing mess is this: Framing is absolutely useful and works (and is reasonably honest, when used to promote honest viewpoints)… but Matt is downright terrible at it.

  10. #10 Rev Matt
    November 28, 2008

    “I personally don’t have the motivation or the time to engage in an endless blog debate about these issues.”

    Hasn’t it become clear at this point that he only has time to engage in discussions where it at least appears that he’s winning?

  11. #11 cm
    November 28, 2008

    I’m surprised at how much hoopla is generated by this point.

    Well, I guess that’s what bloggers do.

  12. #12 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 28, 2008

    I disagree with you on the PZ “cracker” characterization, but I agree with you on this.

    I am often left wondering why Seed includes Matt in the roster of ScienceBlogs, as he really only uses it to announce his presentations and such. To be fair, he lets some of my comments through, but he never actually “responds” directly to criticisms, except to level new charges.

    I don’t like him personally, either, but that has nothing to do with this.

    Finally, in regards to using terminology. I don’t see what his point is with using the term “denier” is, it’s only an insult directed specifically at people who want to wear the mantle “skeptic,” when in fact they are doing skepticism wrong. In fact, they are denialists because they refuse to accept demonstrable facts.

  13. #13 Orac
    November 28, 2008

    But I remember the situation that set off PZ: It was the deliberate attempt to ruin a student’s career, and very likely his life, before it was properly started, simply because he didn’t eat a foodstuff that was given to him.

    And, actually, I think a good case can be made that PZ’s desecration of the Host and the hoopla PZ intentionally provoked might actually have worsened that student’s position. Remember, PZ was looking for an excuse to do something like this. He even later admitted as much. This student was as much used by PZ as an excuse to do what he had been wanting to do for a while as PZ and this student were used by Bill Donohue–as an excuse to do what they do anyway.

    In any case, I suspect that the nastiness engendered by PZ’s action might well have made the student senate more predisposed to impeach him, if it did anything at all.

  14. #14 Graculus
    November 29, 2008

    Orac, by the time PZ made his first post Cook had already recieved death threats, and was getting flack from the powers that be at the university. I think that you are wrong, that it was the spotlight that PZ, and others, shone on the incident made reasonable people aware of what was happening, and shamed the university/student government into pretending to be normal.

    Oh, and Nisbet is a tool.

  15. #15 DLC
    November 29, 2008

    I don’t read Nisbet’s blog, and the recent bit of business would not attract me to it.

  16. #16 usagi
    November 30, 2008

    And, actually, I think a good case can be made that PZ’s desecration of the Host and the hoopla PZ intentionally provoked might actually have worsened that student’s position.

    I’ve heard this argument before, Orac. It’s incorrect. It’s 180 degrees incorrect. The school was well on the way to ‘disappearing’ the student before the blogswarm PZ triggered kicked in. There was too much attention focused on them after that to do anything but scrupulously comply with their internal review process.

    That to the side, Nisbet is a complete tool. I’m delighted the rest of Sciencebloggers who were defending him back in the original kerfuffle have finally grokked that.

  17. #17 Stagyar zil Doggo
    November 30, 2008

    Perhaps Nisbet discrediting himself through namecalling is an exercise in proving his thesis that “namecalling is bad” ?

  18. #18 J. J. Ramsey
    November 30, 2008

    I’d say that the main problem with what PZ Myers did is it changed the story from the sympathetic “Guy accidentally triggers wingnut fury from far-right Catholics” (that is, Webster Cook) to “Atheist with a reputation for insulting the religious insults the religious” (that is, Myers).

  19. #19 mk
    November 30, 2008

    The fellow named Patrick above is absolutely correct. The best remark yet on this whole “framing” silliness:

    “The valuable bits of the whole ‘framing’ thing are blatantly obvious to anyone with half a brain. Everyone does it. It’s silly to brand it as some novel idea.”

    Well said! And yes, Nisbet should be ignored from now on.

  20. #20 geolith
    November 30, 2008

    “…After all, insurance companies did not became massively wealthy by being bad with money or math….”

    Ummm, perhaps not the best supporting line for the thesis these days?..

  21. #21 Joey
    December 1, 2008

    Nutritional therapy is only good for preventing, after that it’s in the hand of science. Detox is still unproven, as is the safety of most food/pesticides we digest over the long term. A large one time dose is not the same as tiny doses over long periods of time, nor does it give the effects that may be down the road.

    Remember the thymus irradiation that was considered “safe.” Tests were done, and not thorough enough, as we deal with other crap we eat now.

    But once you have it, your Doctor knows best. He’s seen thousands of treatments, people on the internet spouting some miracule cure, maybe one, maybe a few, maybe none at all.