Respectful Insolence

On teaching the controversy in medicine

The other day, I wrote to express my disappointment with Dr. Kevin Pho, of KevinMD, for posting credulous crap about alternative medicine. I noted in an addendum that he responded with a comment that in essence said that he posts things he “doesn’t necessarily agree with myself to promote discussion and debate”:

Orac,

I appreciate the critique. As readers of this blog know, I often post pieces here I don’t necessarily agree with myself to promote discussion and debate. Your concerns are certainly valid, and will be taken into consideration as I choose future pieces.

Best,
Kevin

My initial response was that I should take KevinMD off of my blogroll and cease to recommend his blog as a reliable source of medical information, so annoyed was I by Dr. Pho’s setting his foot onto the path that has led Dr. Oz to embrace “holistic healers,” quacks like Joe Mercola, and faith healers like Issam Nemeth. True, Dr. Pho’s offense was not nearly as grave as these, but his publication of credulous tripe about alternative medicine in the interests of ginning up controversy and page views is a baby step on the same road towards the Dark Side whose end Dr. Oz has apparently reached in his abdication of professional responsibility. That professional responsibility is to refuse to pass judgment on any treatment modality and to give the implication that pseudoscience is a reasonable scientific alternative to science-based medicine.

But maybe I’m too harsh. Maybe I should listen to Kevin. Maybe he’s shown me the way to more page views, more fame, and more glory! Maybe I should become like Kevin and teach the controversy! Heck, I could even become the Dr. Oz of the blogosphere! I can see it now; the possibilities for “promoting discussion and debate” are endless, and I’m obviously missing out. If I want to elevate my game to become the blogging powerhouse that Dr. Pho is or even surpass him, clearly I need to change my game plan! No more of this skepticism and critical thinking stuff! Sure, I reach the hard core skeptics, but that leaves out most of the population. And no more of that sarcasm and nastiness towards quacks, anti-vaccine loons, pseudoscientists, and woo-meisters of all stripes, either. That’s just too darned…negative! As I’ve been told time and time again, as entertaining as a good Orac-ian rant can be to read, it turns people off! It’s just too nasty, and nasty doesn’t change people’s minds. Even better, I wouldn’t have to worry any more about anti-vaccine loons trying to get me fired from my job through false accusations of undisclosed conflicts of interest. If I converted (or at least treated them as though there was a legitimate scientific controversy over whether vaccines cause autism), they’d flock to me the same way they did to Dr. Bernadine Healy.

Why try to change people’s minds anyway. Why try to educate people as to why quackery is quackery and pseudoscience is pseudoscience? Why not just embrace the woo and ride it to fame and fortune, just like Oprah and Dr. Oz? Or at least like Joe Mercola and Mike Adams? Yes, I think I’m beginning to see the error of my ways.

For instance, I could ask a neurosurgeon and Discovery Institute flack Michael Egnor to write a guest post or two about mind-body dualism and/or evolution in order to “promote discussion and debate.”

Teach the controversy!

Or I could invite Kim Stagliano, Ginger Taylor, Mark Blaxill, Jake Crosby, or even J.B. Handley himself to do a guest post about vaccines and autism, all in order to “promote discussion and debate.” Heck, I bet I could even get Andrew Wakefield if I really tried. He really has fallen so far; if a pseudonymous blogger like myself told him that I was starting to doubt my previous position that he is an unethical, despicable scientific fraud and would like to hear “his side,” I bet he’d go for it. Heck, I bet I could even get Boyd Haley or Mark Geier to expound about how mercury in vaccines is the cause of the “autism epidemic.”

Teach the controversy!

Or maybe I could get Dana Ullman to provide me with a guest post or two on the wonders of homeopathy for the purpose of promoting “debate and discussion.”

Teach the controversy!

Yes, the possibilities are endless, and I’m sure that you, my readers, could even provide me with even more suggestions of guest posters and potential topics that I could use to promote even more “debate and discussion” on this blog? Heck, let’s not forget moon hoaxers and 9/11 Truthers! A couple of posts that produced more comments than any other that I’ve done involved 9/11 Truthers. If I wanted to invoke the nuclear option in trying to promote “debate and discussion,” I bet I could even get David Irving to write a post or two about the Holocaust. He’s a shameless attention whore with an ego the size of the Third Reich at its maximum extent in 1942. I bet he’d do it if I stroked his ego sufficiently.

Teach the controversy!

I think you get my point. “Promoting discussion and debate” is all well and good when there is a legitimate scientific or medical controversy to “discuss and debate.” It’s even acceptable for a physician to do this if one of the positions being “discussed and debated” is on the fringes but still scientifically defensible; i.e., hasn’t devolved into pseudoscience. Let me put it this way. I’ve never seen Dr. Pho permit a post that questioned vaccine safety or in any way justified the pseudoscience behind the anti-vaccine movement, which is very, very good. I also note that he’s linked to me on multiple occasions when I have written posts deconstructing homeopathy. (Damn, I hate to give up those incoming links.) Clearly, allowing guest posters who are apologists for homeopathy or promote anti-vaccine views is a point beyond which Dr. Pho won’t go, either. This tells me that Dr. Pho is not too far gone. He still has limits.

But why not allow posts defending such positions? Think about it this way. Once you start allowing guest bloggers who justify acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, why not allow guest bloggers who justify homeopathy, reiki, therapeutic touch, or other modalities as pseudoscientific? Sure, you can justify leaving out anti-vaccine views because they are so obviously harmful and wrong, but leaving out the others is harder to justify. There’s no real scientific or ethical reason; you’ve already opened the door to pseudoscience and might as well get the full benefit in terms of increased traffic. You might as well go all the way.

Very likely, Dr. Pho will think I’m being too hard on him. When he sees this, however, he should be aware that the reason I’m being hard on him is that I know that he used to be much better than this and, more importantly, that he can be that good again. Perhaps a little shock therapy in the form of a post like this will make him think. Perhaps it will lead him to see that what he is doing is not so different from the outrageous examples I suggested above as ways that I could engender controversy (and page views) on my blog. Perhaps it will inspire him to pull back from the woo before he ends up like Dr. Oz. Perhaps he’ll realize that it doesn’t take much support for pseudoscience to taint an otherwise excellent blog.

I’ll be watching and hoping.

Comments

  1. #1 Nicolas
    March 3, 2011

    Most likely he has been uninformed in the concepts of woo, and believes there might be something out there worthy of scrutiny. Before I started reading skeptical blogs I never even thought about homeopathy or acupuncture, only after I actually read what they were about i realized they are total BS.

    I felt like a fool, since it was all pretty obvious. But I did change my mind, when thinking about if these therapies worked or not the answer was no longer “maybe” it was “Fuck no!”

  2. #2 Amy (T)
    March 3, 2011

    I love you. You’re like the kanye (sp?) west of science, keepin’ it real (except mr. West is delusional in that he thinks his opinion is fact, you have shown better). You are always open and honest with your post, it’s hard to imagine you holding back. even if fellow medical/skeptical bloggers may get offended, you never let us readers miss out, thank you! Keep the insolence coming!

  3. #3 Autism and Oughtisms
    March 3, 2011

    The “controversies” are shoved in our faces everyday, especially in poorly researched media stories and documentaries. Then there are all those forums and blogs and books determined to give time and space to ideas which are more dangerous and incorrect, than they are interesting or important. I enjoy that when I read this blog I get honesty. No game-playing, no hidden agendas (that I’m aware of, hell maybe they’re just really well hidden – bank account statements and a full audit will be required, and even if they show you’re not paid by big pharma I’ll just think you have a hidden bank account..). I read this blog because I like it just the way it is, it’s good to see you have no intention of changing that.

  4. #4 Boylucas
    March 3, 2011

    Only one word: FANTASTIC!

  5. #5 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 3, 2011

    Frankly, puff pieces on alt med are boring. They all present the same platitudes along with old and busted arguments.

    Different toilet, same old shit.

  6. #6 Scote
    March 3, 2011

    Over at KevinMD’s blog commenter LynneB argued:

    “And I don’t like the direction your posts have been going. “I just post them for discussion”, when there is no *embedded* discussion, no disclaimer, is a complete abdication of responsibility and just lets the nonsense wrap itself in supposed respectability from the more sane and well-reasoned posts; especially so since many people don’t read comments, just articles.”

    Kevin responded:

    “I agree with your criticism and they will be considered when I choose future posts.”

    Well, that sounded promising. Since the issue wasn’t so much that Kevin posted Peter J. Weiss’ credulous Alt Med article, but that Kevin posted it without comment or context–without which it can’t be said to be posted to promote **informed** debate. So, I commented that if Kevin really agrees with LynneB’s criticism then he should update the current post with a disclaimer or retract it. Instead, Kevin rejected my comment and closed the comments for the thread–so I don’t think he’s really taking LynneB’s criticism seriously, or Orac’s for that matter.

    Note what is missing from Kevin’s claim?: “I often post pieces here I don’t necessarily agree with myself to promote discussion and debate.” There is nothing about an *informed* debate. Kevin admits he just posts articles he doesn’t agree with, and he does so without comment or criticism. That may promote debate, but it doesn’t promote informed debate, science or the public good, IMO. Seems more like Drudge Report, MD.

    Anyway, I love RI for the exhaustive, critical, occasionally snarky essays. RI doesn’t just uncritically quote articles and link to them. I can get that from HuffPo. ( :-0 ). RI takes a strong, science-based position and argues forcefully for it–no dodging responsibility for editorial decisions. RI is a far, far better blog than KevinMD, which is why it is on my reading list and KevinMD isn’t.

  7. #7 Patrick
    March 3, 2011

    Well it turns out that all your rambling about WM being scientifically backed is a bunch of bull…

    MEDICINE’S DARK SIDE

    In a recent poll conducted by the Campaign for Effective Patient Care, a nonprofit advocacy group based in California, 65 percent of the 800 California voters surveyed said they thought that most or nearly all of the health care they receive is based on scientific evidence. The reality would probably shock them. A panel of experts convened in 2007 by the prestigious Institute of Medicine estimated that “well below half” of the procedures doctors perform and the decisions they make about surgeries, drugs, and tests have been adequately investigated and shown to be effective. The rest are based on a combination of guesswork, theory, and tradition, with a strong dose of marketing by drug and device companies…

  8. #8 Bromeliad
    March 3, 2011

    Outstanding! I haven’t been reading your blog for nearly long enough. Eventually, I will get through all your archived stuff.

    “That’s just too darned…negative! As I’ve been told time and time again, as entertaining as a good Orac-ian rant can be to read, it turns people off! It’s just too nasty, and nasty doesn’t change people’s minds.”

    Nothing wrong with negative if it’s honest, and nasty is highly entertaining. There are a number of woo-ists and woo-isms that I wouldn’t have been aware of if it weren’t for RI. You really do all the hard work reading their crap and writing about why they are *so* wrong. Thank you.

  9. #9 Mojo
    March 3, 2011

    @Patrick

    We regularly get similar figures from the BMJ cited by apologists for quackery who want their therapies to be given a free ride. But this is a reason for carrying out more and better research, not for allowing unfounded claims to stand.

  10. #10 attack_laurel
    March 3, 2011

    Nooooooo! Not you, too, precious blinking box of lights!

    Teach the contro…*slap*stuff*stuff*stuff* …truth! :)

    (Actually, I love your blog. It has been a font of wisdom on the busted-ass anti-vaxxer arguing points that never seem to die.)

    I wonder if it would help to point out to Dr. Pho that CAM is essentially racist in its ideology – “western” medicine is a misnomer, since last I looked, Japan, China, and India (among others) were pretty hep on this science thang, and “eastern” medicine is a herbal-infused concotion of colonialist tripe about the “mysterious orient”. Giving precedence to the mysterious eastern philosophies (I’m tired of using scare quotes; imagine them where you will) as somehow better doesn’t do away with the implicit racism of assuming that only western (i.e., white) countries are capable of following the scientific method, and eastern (i.e. those oh-so-mysterious brown and yellow people)countries still believe in magic.

    This is a thing that ticks me off something awful.

  11. #11 Jud
    March 3, 2011

    Patrick @6:

    Medicine’s Dark Side! Shocking reality! “Estimates” from a “prestigious panel of experts”! “Inadequate” investigation! “Strong dose” of marketing!

    Certainly sounds like a sober, statistically precise scientific study to me, on which I ought to base important decisions about my medical care in specific situations.

  12. #12 LW
    March 3, 2011

    Speaking of the wonders of traditional non-Western medicine … I wonder why all those traditional societies, with their terrific treatments that boost the immune system and infallibly protect against disease better than vaccination, suffered such devastating epidemics of smallpox, plague, measles, and like. Of course, Western societies suffered devastating epidemics too, but then we’d expect that since they weren’t in touch with the forces of nature and mind-body duality or something.

  13. #13 Brad
    March 3, 2011

    Tamiflu. Antidepressants. Antibiotic prescriptions for respiratory virus infections. Psychotherapy. Every once in a while you read about a metaanalysis that shows some prescription med is no better than placebo/got approved on the basis of *cough* questionable data. So it might be almost true, or some of the benefits are minimal.

    But there are procedures and medicines that are so successful that there ought to be no question about their benefit. Doctors washing their hands before, as well as after, conducting surgery or delivering a child. Taking the fucking handle off the pump. vaccines, heart surgery, antibiotics. We’ve come a long way, baby, and I’m not going back.

    Brad

  14. #14 L.F.File
    March 3, 2011

    Isn’t this just Oprah/Oz vs Donahue/Pho all over again?

    lff

  15. #15 SC (Salty Current)
    March 3, 2011

    Sure, you can justify leaving out anti-vaccine views because they are so obviously harmful and wrong, but leaving out the others is harder to justify. There’s no real scientific or ethical reason; you’ve already opened the door to pseudoscience and might as well get the full benefit in terms of increased traffic.

    The parallel that comes to mind is so blindingly obvious I won’t even bother to point it out.

  16. #16 Beamup
    March 3, 2011

    My feeling has always been that it’s OK to post information on positions one disagrees with, so long as it’s honestly done. “This person says this. I don’t endorse it. What do you readers think?” is legitimate to provoke discussion. Without that disclaimer, it’s not.

  17. #17 stripey_cat
    March 3, 2011

    I’m going to do my traditional jump-up-and-down routine again, because someone has said antidepressants are ineffective. They’re not very effective for most patients suffering mild-to-moderate symptoms, but for those of us at the severe end of the spectrum they sure beat a padded cell. And if you combine depression with anxiety (which is not at all a rare mix), they can be incredibly effective. I’ve just come off my old one and gone onto a new medication (with a week of nothing at all in between) and my god! the difference in my mood between nothing and now!

  18. #18 Vicki
    March 3, 2011

    Beamup:

    If you disagree with someone’s claims or theories, it’s somewhere between lazy and dishonest to just state the position you disagree with, and then throw it open to discussion.

    I can see an argument for something more like “There are a number of approaches to this problem. J. Random Person says we should do this. I disagree because $reasons. What do you think?” Or someone could do what Orac does, which is to make it very clear why he disagrees with the woo-sters, while linking to their own statements for those who want to see that side of things.

    Your “This person says this, I don’t endorse it, what do you think?” may be read as “nudge nudge wink wink I can’t actually endorse this here.” You might as well post “There are people who say that the moon landings were a hoax by the Trilateral Commission. Here is an article by one of them. I don’t endorse it, but I’m interested to see what my readers think.” If you present only one side of an argument, your readers are likely to either accept it, or part of it, or decide you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    That’s part of how people work. If they keep hearing claims, however nonsensical, without refutation, they will tend to accept them. (Sometimes even with refutation, but we’re talking about the audience of people who don’t believe that the president of the United States is a communist Muslim from Zeta Reticuli.)

  19. #19 Beamup
    March 3, 2011

    @ Vicki:

    Lazy, certainly. Not the most effective way to refute, absolutely (though refutation may not be the goal). But I can’t consider it dishonest.

    If you have a quibble with the exact phrasing chosen being potentially open to misinterpretation, then fine, maybe “I don’t agree” is superior. That’s not really related to the point, however.

  20. #20 KeithB
    March 3, 2011

    Patrick:
    I agree, and I am currently seeking subjects for a double blind study to prove the efficacy of using appendectomies for the treatment of appendicitis. Care to volunteer?

  21. #21 Scott Cunningham
    March 3, 2011

    I just had to stop by a former prof’s favourite website – http://www.ratbags.com – to find that one “controversy” so completely over the top, no one teaches it.

    Did you know that…

    EARTH HAS 4 CORNER SIMULTANEOUS 4-DAY TIME CUBE IN ONLY 24 HOUR ROTATION.
    4 CORNER DAYS, CUBES 4 QUAD EARTH- No 1 Day God.
    FREE SPEECH in AMERICA is “BULL SHIT”, EVIL EDUCATORS block and suppress http://www.timecube.com. You are educated evil, and might have to kill the evil ONE teaching educators before you can learn that 4 corner days actually exist -but all Cube Truth denied. Dumb ass educators fear me and hide from debate.

    Teach the controversy!

    (Wow. From the looks of it, the last few years have not been kind to Gene Ray. He’s sounding more vindictive and paranoid than I remember…)

    Holy guacamole, Batman. The Green Light has a pretty good list of resources, too.

  22. #22 Annika
    March 3, 2011

    Have you seen these t-shirts? I’m pretty sure you should get yourself one. I’ve got the earth/fire/air/water/aether periodic table. It’s important to promote all sides of every issue.

    http://controversy.wearscience.com/

  23. #23 Denice Walter
    March 3, 2011

    I try to accurately report woo, usually accompanied by derision, scorn, scare quotes, and prosody-markers, while directing others to the original source. I leave no doubt about my leanings : woo-meisters are not exactly being shut out of public discourse, I sincerely believe that rather than being given short-shrift, they’ve actually been given *carte blanche*- in both the commercial realm as well as the web. I can’t see why they need more.

    I believe that eventually “truth will out” – if I speak to a person who holds to rather dodgy science- I say that I disagree and “why” I disagree. I try to be polite. I really try. Remember, those who make money off pseudo-science often try to silence advocates of SBM ( see legal efforts against Dr. Barrett and Wiki-pedia @ Quackwatch). If someone’s livlihood, reputation, and wellspring of fame are challenged, they may become perturbed and require legal assistance (see Andy Wakefield). The truth may set you free but it can also land you in court.

    Over 100 years ago, Collier’s magazine exposed patent medicine fraud which led to federal regulation. Since the 1990′s, the internet blossomed forth while legal stop-gaps were loosened, removed, or ignored , allowing the mounting flood of woo that we experience now. What if we’re Collier’s 2.0?

  24. #24 Vicki
    March 3, 2011

    Beamup: You’re right, your answer isn’t really related to the point.

    The key point is, if you are going to present a controversy, you have to present both sides. Not “here’s some random thing I don’t agree with, and here are all the arguments in favor of it. Discuss.”

  25. #25 novalox
    March 3, 2011

    @6
    Yawn, another boring shtick by a troll.

  26. #26 Scott Cunningham
    March 3, 2011

    Actually, ratbags.com probably gets just the right balance of ridicule with a minimum of words. If you really wanted to leave it to the audience to tear into the nonsense, that’s probably a good example of how to do it. Giving over guest posts to woo apologists without a word, no. That sounds like fishing for page hits and hoping for a flame war.

    And thanks Annika. I had no idea they already had that in a t-shirt. Now i must buy one.

  27. #27 prn
    March 3, 2011

    Denice@22
    exposed patent medicine fraud
    No need to go back 100 years, seems we have had plenty this century…
    ————
    We could research a little more legit controversy if someone could fix that darn filter.

    What I see here is continued reflexive rejection and failure to investigate of legitimate biochemical controversies in nutrition, the failure to tease out the legit elements from the obsolete, oversimplified, and wild promotional from startling examples.

  28. #28 prn
    March 3, 2011

    Denice@22
    exposed patent medicine fraud
    No need to go back 100 years, seems we have had plenty this century…
    ————
    We could research a little more legit controversy if someone could fix that darn filter.

    What I see here is continued reflexive rejection and failure to investigate of legitimate biochemical controversies in nutrition, the failure to tease out the legit elements from the obsolete, oversimplified, and wild promotional, from startling examples.

  29. #29 TheAnalyst
    March 3, 2011

    Wah, wah, wah!

    Your rants are funny. Glad I never take you seriously. If you were my teacher, you would definitely hate me as a student. And I’d be proud.

    Proud to not be part of your club.

  30. #30 Adam_Y
    March 3, 2011

    Your rants are funny. Glad I never take you seriously. If you were my teacher, you would definitely hate me as a student. And I’d be proud.

    Proud to not be part of your club.

    So you are proud that you like to wallow in abject ignorance.

  31. #31 Adam C.
    March 3, 2011

    Guest blog posts by credulous thinkers are not the way to stir up debate. Such things never result in anything but them getting more credibility, and you losing yours. It is, however, possible to engage with credulous thinkers in ways that genuinely stir debate. For instance, the SGU has occasionally had people with strange ideas as interviewees, and the brilliant Righteous Indignation podcast shows that you can regularly have the most extreme people on and keep it educational – so long as you prepare for the interview with truly extensive research, and if educating people about how such proponents think is a known focus of your project. In a well-conducted interview, you stay in control, and, further, you control the final cut.

    However, the Righteous Indignation team are very, very good at what they do. Their format, done by less exceptional interviewers, would be appalling. And there’s a huge difference between an interview which challenges, questions, and elucidates the proponent’s beliefs, and simply allowing them time or space to say whatever they want.

    In particular, think of the problems caused whenever a peer-reviewed journal publishes something to stir debate. Wakefield, Benveniste, Behe. It *never* works, because noone bothers to link the rebuttals, but the original article will be passed around woo communities as proof of how wonderful their woo is forever.

    Pho messed up horribly here.

  32. #32 lilady
    March 3, 2011

    Fellow Posters: B-S alert over at Huffington Post-Health Section (I’ve been slumming again). See Charles Alexander’s Blog “Feeling Good? Don’t Let a Doctor Overdiagnose You!”

  33. #33 Antaeus Feldspar
    March 3, 2011

    If you were my teacher, you would definitely hate me as a student. And I’d be proud. Proud to not be part of your club.

    And boy, with the analytical skills that make possible such stunningly persuasive reasoned arguments as “Wah, wah, wah!” what a devastating loss that is.

  34. #34 ebohlman
    March 3, 2011

    attack_laurel: A couple years ago Ben Kavoussi wrote a piece at SBM, Oriental Medicine or Medical Orientalism that amplifies on what you said.

  35. #35 sadmar
    March 4, 2011

    I just stumbled here Googling something completely different – logical falacies I think. Have no kind words for quacks, but I’m seeing an overconfidence in ‘science.’ How about some skepticism against, say social psychology’s ‘scientific’ claims that media consumption causes violence – from Bandura to Anderson and Gentile (speaking of logical fallacies). Or calling out big Pharma for the shit they do pull, the rigged ‘scientific’ studies to get stuff past the FDA. But I digress… I’m actually posting because the phrase ‘teach the controversy’ has a history and a meaning, and it doesn’t mean some kind of faux liberal pluralism, ‘fair-and-balanced,’ let both sides speak, propagation of Golden Mean Fallacy. It means taking a step back, and examining the ideological foundations, the philosophies at work behind discursive conflicts. It means it is not enough to point out that your opponents are idiots, even if they are. It means asking why idiocy seems to have such purchase, while ‘rationality’ somehow fails to triumph. It’s, essentially, a call for rhetorical criticism. A guy I knew in grad school studies the 9/11 Truther crowd, and is sympathetic to their views himself. Actually running into him at a conference last year was the first I’d ever heard about that particular conspiracy theory, and I looked into it and decided it was indeed hokum. But he could tell you a lot about why people find this hokum compelling, why smart people who have nothing economically to gain are passionate about the cause. Maybe if Big Pharma were something less than corporate scum, and surgeons were sometimes more than narcissistic assholes people would would be less suckered by faith healers. I dunno. I do know that pretty much every scientist I’ve ever met just stammers when you challenge their empiricist first principles with a little Foucault, LaTour or Habermas. But I digress again. So what did y’all make of Jonah Lehrer’s essay on the Decline Effect in the 12/13/10 New Yorker?

  36. #36 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 4, 2011

    I’m actually posting because the phrase ‘teach the controversy’ has a history and a meaning, and it doesn’t mean some kind of faux liberal pluralism, ‘fair-and-balanced,’ let both sides speak, propagation of Golden Mean Fallacy. It means taking a step back, and examining the ideological foundations, the philosophies at work behind discursive conflicts.

    Whoo boy, are you off base. “Teach the Controversy” is the mantra of the so-called Intelligent Design movement, which is the latest shabby disguise of creationism. The “history” that you speak of has nothing to do with this discussion.

    Oh yes, your sneering condescension will not make you friends around here. Statements like:

    I do know that pretty much every scientist I’ve ever met just stammers when you challenge their empiricist first principles with a little Foucault, LaTour or Habermas.

    and

    (if) surgeons were sometimes more than narcissistic assholes

    reveal more about you than you might expect.

    I’m not surprised that all those scientists stammered. That’s a natural reaction to being confronted by an arrogant twit.

  37. #37 Chemmomo
    March 4, 2011

    sadman

    But I digress again. So what did y’all make of Jonah Lehrer’s essay on the Decline Effect in the 12/13/10 New Yorker?

    Try this: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/01/is_the_decline_effect_really_so_mysterio_1.php

    Next time you stumble upon something, you might want to try looking around a little bit before commenting.

  38. #38 Chemmomo
    March 4, 2011

    Ooops, sorry, I meant sadmar not sadman.

  39. #39 prn
    March 4, 2011

    (if) surgeons were sometimes more than narcissistic assholes
    Some surgeons are so charming, they can cut you a new asshole, smile, charge you for it, and you’ll say “thank you”. :)

  40. #40 sadmar
    March 4, 2011

    Chemmomo: thank you for the link. That wasn’t a rhetorical question. I did make a brief search for comments here, but didn’t find them.

    Sorry for my curmudgeonly bad attitude. IRL I have never confronted scientists with arrogant twittery, because I tend not to talk to them unless they are already my friends. I don’t follow the ‘Intelligent Design’ idiots, and wasn’t aware they had co-opted the ‘teach the controversy’ concept. Clearly my naievete, and clearly they have enough social force to make that the dominant meaning in circulation. But, also, I hope, clearly I was talking about something else. The position I most associate with ‘teach the controversy’ is the one advanced by literary critic Gerald Graff in response to attempts to ban ‘Huckleberry Finn’ from classrooms. Graff argued that while the book should be taught, it cannot simply be presented as a ‘literary classic.’ Instead students should be encouraged to think through and about the debates regarding the racial representation in the novel, etc. T. Bruce McNeely seems to think he can read my mind since he is SURE I mean to be sneeringly condescending, which I do not, and he is SURE I don’t know ANYTHING about the history of the phrase ‘teach the controversy’ while he seems to know all anyone needs to know. Clearly, he does not.

    I stand by my central points: 1) skeptics would do well to work on deconstructing the cultural apparatusses that support anti-rationalist thought, including diagnosing it’s appeal so that it might be more effectively countered. 2) skeptics would have more credibility if they were more ecumenical in their skepticism. FWIW, I had major surgery last year under the knife of a very arrogant physician – who also has a good sense of humor and who I quite like. He cut me a new digestive system, and I said ‘thank you.’ I have been treated with what I consider unconscionable disregard by other surgeons, but by and large I don’t have a problem with doctors or medical science. But it seems that a lot of people do, if any significant number of people are inclined to follow Jenny McCarthy rather than Orac here. I’m just saying there has to be a reasons for that, and some of them might have something to do with medical culture.

    In response to Lehrer, Orac wrote “the point is that science is self-correcting and that science does ultimately prevail over human bias.” Alas, the social science tradition on media and violence I cited does not support this contention. The same flawed hypotheses supported by the same flawed methodologies have been with us for 50 years, repeated ad nauseum to the point where academic psychologists have declared “The scientific debate is over,” despite the fact that their studies are built on manifest nonsense. These social ‘scientists’ live within their own little discourse community, where they all agree, and just ignore critiques from the outside. But there are reasons this particular mythology has persisted, going back to dubious ideas that began circulating in the Victorian era. Physical science is on far more firm footing, but the notion that science routinely overcomes human bias (which is continually reapplied) is simply not supported by the history of science. For shorthand, I will refer you to the episode of ‘The Ascent of Man’ where Jacob Bronowski mounts a well-deserved critique of the certainty with which the Nazis pursued their genocidal agenda — as a means of attempting to let scientists off the hook for the development of atomic weapons. Sorry. There are reasons some kinds of science gets done, and other kinds don’t, and scientific practice simply cannot escape the biases within the societies and cultures that support it.

  41. #41 Chris
    March 4, 2011

    sadmar:

    Chemmomo: thank you for the link. That wasn’t a rhetorical question. I did make a brief search for comments here, but didn’t find them.

    I believe Chemmomo meant that you should search the whole blog, not just the comments. There is a search box on the upper left hand side of this page. You are not the first new person to come in and ask in the comments about something not related to the article, but was covered in the recent past.

    Do stick around for some of the discussions. This is a lively place with some interesting characters.

  42. #42 Composer99
    March 4, 2011

    These social ‘scientists’ live within their own little discourse community, where they all agree, and just ignore critiques from the outside. But there are reasons this particular mythology has persisted, going back to dubious ideas that began circulating in the Victorian era.

    {citation needed}

  43. #43 Chris
    March 4, 2011

    Composer99:

    {citation needed}

    Sounds like it could be Sokal. ;-)

  44. #44 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 4, 2011

    T. Bruce McNeely seems to think he can read my mind since he is SURE I mean to be sneeringly condescending, which I do not, and he is SURE I don’t know ANYTHING about the history of the phrase ‘teach the controversy’ while he seems to know all anyone needs to know. Clearly, he does not.

    No, I can’t read your mind. I’m sure you don’t mean to be “sneeringly condescending”, but you sure as hell come across that way. That’s why I quoted those sentences of yours.
    Where did I say you didn’t know anything about the history of the phrase “teach the controversy”? The IDiots use of this phrase is the whole point behind Orac repeating it here. I accept that what you say about the history is correct (where did I say otherwise?), but, really, it is completely irrelevant to this discussion.
    Reading comprehension – it’s a good thing.

  45. #45 Chris
    March 4, 2011

    sadmar:

    I do know that pretty much every scientist I’ve ever met just stammers when you challenge their empiricist first principles with a little Foucault, LaTour or Habermas.

    Ooh, I missed that! It must of been the lack of paragraphs (white space is your friend).

    So, sadmar, how do you react when one of those science types tells you about the functions of Fourier, Euler and Dirac? How about Navier-Stokes and the Bernoulli family?

    Does it shake your world view to realize that there are areas of studies that you do not know about, and that there are some that many of us do not care about. I hate philosophy, I only care about René Descartes work on the analytic geometry and the very useful coordinate system.

  46. #46 herr doktor bimler
    March 4, 2011

    How about some skepticism against, say social psychology’s ‘scientific’ claims that media consumption causes violence – from Bandura to Anderson and Gentile (speaking of logical fallacies). Or calling out big Pharma for the shit they do pull, the rigged ‘scientific’ studies to get stuff past the FDA.

    Good idea. Start a blog.

  47. #47 Chris
    March 4, 2011

    herr doctor bimler quoting sadmar:

    Or calling out big Pharma for the shit they do pull, the rigged ‘scientific’ studies to get stuff past the FDA.

    Or actually read this blog! There are several articles here by Orac calling out Big Pharma.

    And I agree with herr doctor bimler; never tell a blogger what to write, start writing your own blog (and trust me, it takes a bit of work… though I got freeby quicky one when I learned Brain Awareness Week was coming!).

  48. #48 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    March 4, 2011

    I find that I only know enough of philosophy to understand really bad puns (“His throne was made of a single crystal of Hegel quartz shot through with pieces of dialectical material”) and The Philosopher’s Drinking Song. And that’s the way I like it.
    All together now: “Immanuel Kant was a real piss-ant who was very rarely stable.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QgCfnBtF7M

  49. #49 Chris
    March 4, 2011

    My philosophy:

    1- Pay your bills on time. It helps your credit rating.

    2- Food should be enjoyed, not endured. Learn to cook.

    3- Childhood is a journey, not a competition. Taught to me by having a disabled child.

    4- Math is fun, but you learn it in steps. Don’t try to swallow it all at once, and practice, practice, practice.

    5- Activity is calming. Swimming laps and walking is good for mental health.

    6- Gardens are both useful and full of wonder. I love weed and prune therapy, I also like seeing how sunlight, water, nutrients and air become fruits, vegetables, flowers and other lovely things.

    7- Reading rocks. I am going to turn off my laptop, put away dishes and go upstairs and read a book. It is one of the rare fiction books in my queue, Agatha H and the Airship City, and after that I have Proofiness!

    8- Sometimes there is serendipity. I don’t know why I am still married to the most wonderful man in the world.

  50. #50 Militant Agnostic
    March 5, 2011

    I do know that pretty much every scientist I’ve ever met just stammers when you challenge their empiricist first principles with a little Foucault, LaTour or Habermas.

    Oooh, a post modernist tough guy. You will find that fashionable nonsense doesn’t fly here.

  51. #51 herr doktor bimler
    March 5, 2011

    I do know that pretty much every scientist I’ve ever met just stammers when you challenge their empiricist first principles with a little Foucault, LaTour or Habermas.

    Consider the possibility that the ‘stammer’ was really stifled laughter.

  52. #52 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    March 5, 2011

    I was always taught:
    1. Smile and be pleasant.
    2. Always tell the truth.
    3. Life is unfair.

  53. #53 LW
    March 5, 2011

    Mephistopheles, I think it is evident that the majority of trolls on this site were not taught any of those principles.

  54. #54 sadmar
    March 5, 2011

    Well, I’ve apologized for the ‘tude of my first post, and admitted my ignorance of how the ID loons had co-opted what started as a worthy concept. Forgive me if I not seeing similar humility in reply.

    I wish I could write a blog. I won’t invite a pity party by explaining why I can’t. But my point seems to have been missed. I wasn’t ‘telling a blogger what to write.’ I was making a critique of a rhetorical weakness in what I’ve read here. I did do a scan through the archives, obviously not a thorough one. But I think my first impression is probably typical of any newcomers here who wander in from outside your circle of like minds. If Orac or others here have issues with pharmaceutical research or other research within the generally accepted scientific community, it would be to your rhetorical advantage to drop more reminders of that to frame your discourse as a campaign against BS everywhere, rather than a focused vendetta on the anti-vaccination crowd. Again, I’m not saying they don’t deserve it. I mean that as constructive criticism.

    I note there are no replies to my central point: the call for an analysis of WHY ‘woo’ (is that right? what’s the the etymology?) has the following it has.

    Believe me, I don’t think this is easy, nor do I have an answer. On a daily basis, I hear the lies spread by Fox News, especially the batshit crazy rantings of Glen Beck, and find myself astounded that anyone believes this BS. I get a certain relief by fact-checking the nonsense, and there’s a partial explanation in knowing that a powerful well-oiled propaganda machine is behind it all. But the money, the access, even the sophistic skills of the Roves and Hannitys do not explain why so many people are so open to this garbage. But it a puzzle I think progressives will need to crack to counter the growing fascism in this country…

    Let me just simplify it to “Know your enemy.”

    For a citation on the Victorian roots of media violence concerns: Czitrom: Media and the American Mind (chapter on movies). More indirectly, but also useful: Trachtenberg: The Incorporation of America (last chapter on the World’s Columbian Exhibition).

    Militant Agnostic: Habermas is not a postmodernist. I have the feeling you haven’t read any philosophy of science, or actual postmodernist philosophy, but only the sort of straw-man caricatures of same offered by Roger Kimball, Dinesh D’Souza and other conservatives. These are wildly inaccurate, masking among other things, the considerable disagreements and debates within “Critical Theory” (e.g. the difference between the various postmodernisms and poststructuralism). When you can show a basic familiarity with, say, Lyotard’s “The PostModern Condition”, which is specifically about science, or Jameson’s “Postmodernism: or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” then we can talk about PoMo. (Don’t read Baudrillard unless you have spare fuses for your head handy.)

    Chris, bimler, Meph… uh, you all just stammered. Not literally, of course, but I’m a figurative kind of guy. If you don’t do philosophy, then philosophy does you :-).

    But I do agree with Meph that the greatest joy of any knowledge of philosophy is the material it provides for jokes of all kinds, and the only thing that beats the Philosopher’s Song is the political theory in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (e.g. ‘How do you know he’s the King?’ ‘e’s the only one ‘asn’t got shit all over ‘im.’)

    As for Alan Sokol: the only ‘score’ made in that affair was the absolutely dismal response from Stanley Fish (typical), and other lame counters to Sokol’s essay in Lingua Franca (the essay was in LF, the counters various places). The argumentation in Sokol’s ‘expose’ and the whole discourse of the stunt was strikingly lame and contradictory, and I was quite upset at the time that I did not see this adequately explicated in print. I wrote a critique, and sent it off as a letter to the editor to some magazine that didn’t publish it. I could probably find it in my archives if anyone cares. But if you think ‘Sokol really showed ‘em.’ to quote Rob Halford: you got another thing coming.

    I would also point out that contemporary philosophy is firmly on the side of Reason. However loopy you may find the conclusions of the Frechies to be, their work stands or falls on their ability to create sustainable arguments. The people who actually DO that of which the academic conservatives accuse (falsely) ‘Theory,’ are the political right with their indefatigble Orwellianism.

    Again, sincere question and sorry I can’t manage the search myself (and I did try before). Anything here take on Glen Beck?

  55. #55 sadmar
    March 5, 2011

    Dunno if anyone is still following this thread, but here’s a little test for anyone who likes to play “spot the bullshit”:

    What’s wrong with this ‘scientific’ study?
    http://tinyurl.com/5suaw29

    (FYI: I doubt it can be reduced to the ‘bon mot’/soundbite length of a typical forum comment…)

  56. #56 Chris
    March 5, 2011

    Glenn Beck is an uneducated fool. How do you think he fits in the topics on this blog? Have you explored this blog at all? I don’t think I am the one doing the stammering.

    Really, you should hang around here a bit more and read how the issues are discussed. A long time ago when we first had a phone modem I read some advice on how to approach an online forum. The first thing was to lurk and get a feel for the place, with the added benefit of not repeating questions that were discussed earlier.

    Go and lurk for while, and comment when you have something constructive to contribute.

  57. #57 Chris
    March 5, 2011

    Or don’t lurk, it just brings us more laughter.

    Yes, we know art is subjective. Big deal. I actually stifled some laughter in an art gallery as a couple talked about the subtlety of a large canvas that was beige with two lines painted on it.

    Now back on topic: perhaps art history and appreciation could be included in a “teach the controversy” series of categories. Being an engineer I tend to value preciseness and technique. I prefer the quilts I’ve seen hung in the fabric store to the paintings of Jackson Pollack.

    But that is just opinion. And we should all have our own opinions, but not our own facts. Here are some facts that you cannot philosophize your way out of:
    astrology is bunk
    homeopathy is literally nothing
    vaccines are not perfect, but they are not dangerous
    germs do exist
    imaginary numbers are very useful
    you can’t make something from nothing
    you can’t even break even
    and you can’t even get out of the game

    and science is a whole lot more interesting than navel gazing.

  58. #58 augustine
    March 5, 2011

    Chris

    vaccines are not perfect, but they are not dangerous

    That’s not a fact. It’s an opinion and value statement. If you said vaccines are wonderful, great, or beautiful that would be on opinion also.

    Fact. Vaccines are unnecessary for many.

  59. #59 Antaeus Feldspar
    March 5, 2011

    Fact. Vaccines are unnecessary for many.

    Goofus’ statement is technically true, but vacuous. One might as well say that it’s “unnecessary” for “many” people to look both ways before they cross the street, because it’s only “necessary” for people who would otherwise be hit by cars, and “many” people who crossed without looking would be lucky enough that any cars coming towards them as they step out into the street would be able to swerve or screech to a halt in time.

    Of course, someone who presumes “oh, of course I’m going to be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t need to take precautions; things like that happen to other people and not to me!” is being quite foolish indeed.

  60. #60 lilady
    March 8, 2011

    I’ve been following this debate and confess my eyes glazed over, rolled to the back of my head and I fell off the chair…several times. I agree with Chris and other posters here that philosophy bores the b’jeez out of me; they were courses that I couldn’t avoid in college.

    The philosophy behind some contemporary politics including the sound bite twitterers and the willingness of gullible people to believe such drivel, makes for some lively conversation, but really isn’t germane to the content of this blog.

    Statements such as all surgeons are assholes and “Big Pharma” has their hooks into the medical profession raise my hackles as many of us are trained in the sciences…we are doctors and nurses and researchers working on the cutting edge of health care and health care research. Other posters are self taught in these disciplines and can interpret scientific data and have the ability to “sniff out” the junk science from the real deal.

    We all enjoy the posts here even those posted by the trolls with pseudo science backgrounds and agendas and then we don’t have to view the “latest” medical advice posted at the Huffington Post.

  61. #61 sadmar
    March 8, 2011

    I see no one has taken up my challenge on the psych study. Does this sort of ‘science’ NOT fall into the realm of this blog?

    I see no one has addressed the central points of my arguments, though the ad-hominem attacks and nit-picking over tangents continue.

    I see no one has bothered to address any flawed logic contained in the posts from folks who seem to be regulars here…

    So let me. I had said:

    I do know that pretty much every scientist I’ve ever met just stammers when you challenge their empiricist first principles with a little Foucault, LaTour or Habermas.

    And Chris replied:

    So, sadmar, how do you react when one of those science types tells you about the functions of Fourier, Euler and Dirac? How about Navier-Stokes and the Bernoulli family?

    The implication in this rhetorical question is that the two sets of discourses are somehow like things, but each proper to it’s own domain. Or ‘why should I know anything of philosophy when you know nothing of mathematics, quantum theory or fluid dynamics?’ Well, Chris, I wasn’t talking about philosophy sui generis. I was talking about the philosophy of knowledge generally, and the philosophy of science specifically. I was pointing out that strong arguments exist that challenge the first principles which scientists routinely take for granted, and that scientists are typically ill-equipped to respond to these critiques.

    The scientific achievements of Fourier, Euler, Dirac, Navier, Stokes and the Bernoullis do not challenge the first principles of my field (which is not philosophy, BTW). I received academic training from mentors who insisted that students have a working knowledge of the foundational ideas and philosophical debates surrounding our enquiry. Being in an interdisciplinary field that intersected the humanities, social sciences, and even the arts to some degree, these issues were naturally more foregrounded and contentious in our part of the academy than they would be in the natural sciences.

    But it’s reasonable to ask anyone to be able to look at their own assumptions, to know the philosophies OF THEIR OWN FIELD. Because scientists, do, for example, like to come out into the broader world and talk about stuff like crazy anti-vaccination conspiracies, or how weird they think cultural theory is. And, like Prof. Sokol, unless they do some homework they’re likely to make a complete botch of it.

    But then my suspicion would be that the regulars here hold Prof. Sokal in high regard, think he really scored a major triumph for Team Rationality against the crazies, and never really poked into the argument advanced in Sokol’s essay in Lingua Franca. You give rigorous scrutiny to claims that offend you (“woo”) and a pass to claims that comfort you. Fine. You get to do that.

    But then you DON’T get to pontificate about the neutrality of science and how it eventually overcomes all human bias.

    (As if ‘eventually’ was good enough. As I said, personally I don’t have major issues with physicians or medical science. But I was prescribed Serzone. Luckily for me, it didn’t help my depression and anxiety so I got switched to another med before my liver got screwed up. But, even before there were any inklings of problems, I was aware that my provider had chosen this med because it had been highly promoted by its manufacturer as the latest and greatest. This experience hardly makes me want to reject all medicine or medical science, but it strongly suggests the system is subject to biases stemming from an overly aggressive profit motive, and could be substantially improved.)

    But I digress. Back to the main subjects. I shall check back here in a week or so. I invite anyone to engage in a debate about the rhetorical strengths and weaknesses of the anti-woo crusade. I double-dog-dare the rationalists to critique the methodology of the psych study about art students. And I invite any genuine analytical discussion of the Sokal Hoax.

    Should these fail to be forthcoming (as, at this point, I sadly expect), then let these posts stand as a pebble in Orac’s sock, a muted testimony waiting for whoever else might stumble into this thread, that someone else once wandered here, lobbed a knuckleball to the heavy hitters, and they didn’t even take the bat off their shoulders.

  62. #62 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 8, 2011

    Quick reply to sadmar:

    This tells me most of what I want to know about Science Studies.

    The rest can be summed up as: “Science. It works, bitches!”

  63. #63 sadmar
    March 8, 2011

    T. “Bruce here teaches Logical Positivism and is also in charge of the sheep dip.” He also, apparently, can’t read. I asked for genuine discussion of the Sokol hoax, and he posted a link to a superficial, utterly uncritical recap in which the whole thing is posited as a res ipsa loquitor.

    I know you don’t WANT to know anything about Science Studies, dude. That’s not my point. And “Science, it works, bitches,” also misses the point (since it is the not the claim of Science Studies that ‘Science does not work.’) The question is “What work does science do, and why?”

    Aledged scientist Martin Gardner ends his pathetic recap of the Sokol affair by stating the co-editors of Social Text published an article “in which they do their best to justify accepting Sokol’s brilliant prank. Their reasons fail to mention the real one — their ignorance of physics.”

    Er, excuse me Mr. Gardner but you have pulled this assertion out of your ass with no empirical evidence whatsoever — unless Gardner has mastered the science of Madame Blavatsky and can see into Andrew Ross’s head. Well, a lot of heads actually, since Social Text was edited by a collective and a lot of people had to assent to accepting Sokol’s essay before it was published. And Gardner clearly has NO CLUE WHATSOEVER about why they would do that – beyond his own utterly false assumptions of how scholarship works in the humanities.

    So let’s elevate this to a double-dog-dare, too. Can you spot any of the utterly unscientific fallacies in Sokol’s article” in Lingua Franca? Anybody? Bueller?

  64. #64 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 8, 2011

    sadmar:

    I asked for genuine discussion of the Sokol hoax, and he posted a link to a superficial, utterly uncritical recap in which the whole thing is posited as a res ipsa loquitor.

    You know, I’m not particularly interested in doing a research study of the Sokal hoax – that’s why I deferred to someone, Martin Gardner, whose opinion I respect. You don’t respect him, fine. I will state, however, that I find his arguments far more convincing than anything you have written so far. If that means I’m ignorant of all the nuances of Science Studies, so be it. I’ll concentrate on things I find more interesting.
    Garndner is not an “alleged scientist”. His education, IIRC, is in philosophy. However, he does not have to look into anyone’s head to see that the editors of Social Text were ignorant of physics. It’s a logical deduction. They were presented with an article full of utter nonsense (to anyone NOT ignorant of physics) and accepted it. What other conclusion would you draw?

  65. #65 nsib
    March 9, 2011

    sadmar,

    I see no one has taken up my challenge on the psych study. Does this sort of ‘science’ NOT fall into the realm of this blog?

    Psychology is a whole ‘nother can o’ worms. It was a pre-scientific discipline until recently, starting with the behaviorists IIRC. Also, considering this is a blog on “MEDICINE, QUACKERY, SCIENCE, PSEUDOSCIENCE, HISTORY, AND PSEUDOHISTORY”, as it says on the top, psychology isn’t a big focus here.

    I was pointing out that strong arguments exist that challenge the first principles which scientists routinely take for granted, and that scientists are typically ill-equipped to respond to these critiques.

    You would have gotten a better reception if you had pointed out some of those “critiques” rather than just vaguely asserting that the scientific method is flawed in some way.

    And finally, one of the reasons for the popularity of woo is actually fairly simple. Woo promises cures that medicine does not, so even if someone thinks woo is unlikely to work, they may try it anyways if it’s the only option. And a lot of people take disclaimers or conditionals as a sign of weakness, so woo has a leg up on that aspect too.

  66. #66 sadmar
    March 9, 2011

    Thanks nsib, for a courteous reply. Yes, I realize the blog’s primary focus is on medicine and quakery. But social science certainly falls into the Science (and/or) Pseudoscience realm. I actually have pointed out a couple of specific critiques, and I cited LaTour and Habermas, so it’s more than just a vague assertion.

    I’m completely capable of articulating a number of more specific critiques. However, my ‘challenges’ are intended to be the opposite of snotty condescension. Before I would presume to school anyone on the flaws of social science, or the flaws of Sokol’s Lingua Franca article, it is only fair to give them the opportunity to take a crack at it. It’s the folks here who have taken the mantel of skeptical debunkers of hokum, and it seems due respect to ask them if they can apply that skill to claims other than those they find offensive.

    As for all the people telling me how I could have gotten a better reception… You seem to be missing (again) one of my main points.

    Can you not tell that I too have no use for Intelligent Design, Christian Science, Scientology, faith healing, pseudoscience and quakery of all kinds? I would love to see this nonsense squashed like a bug. Do you not realize that broadly speaking I’m ON YOUR SIDE?

    I may have offered my comments with a certain acidity, but on substance they are constructive criticism. I have suggested that it is not enough for the opponents of woo to be correct, but rather they must devise more effective discursive strategies to persuade a broader public.

    Yet the commenters have reacted to a potential ally (me), primarily with hostility and dismissal. It’s not my job to suck up to you all. It’s your duty, if you believe you are acting in the public interest, to try to win me over. Not to mention that it’s the responsibilty of self-identified champions of reason to engage in actual reason.

    I did not pull the statement “the point is that science is self-correcting and that science does ultimately prevail over human bias” out of the blue. I found it here, in a post by Orac, as part of one of his anti-anti-vaccine arguments. So how then is a challenge to that assertion off-topic for this site?

    Really, I intended to hold of posting here for awhile, to see if anyone would respond to my ‘double-dog-dares.’ But I couldn’t get T. Bruce McLueless’s ‘quick reply’ out of my head. I was too nice in my earlier post. Here’s the thing: in post #61 I referenced Serzone. In reply to that post T. Bruce exclaimed, “Science. It works, bitches!” Well, T. Bruce:

    In the US alone, 55 cases of Serzone-related liver failure were reported, including at least 21 that resulted in death…
    The rate of liver failure among those using Serzone was estimated at about three to four times the rate of those not using the drug, although these figures are generally considered to be lower than the actual rate of liver damages attributable to Serzone, due to underreporting.

    Not to mention that this is an totally unnecessary risk, since no other common antidepressant has physically life-threatening side-effects.

    So 21 people who were somebody’s Dad or Mom or Son or Daughter or Husband or Wife are DEAD. And all the people who watched their loved ones fall mysteriously ill, then suffer through extended periods of hepatic encephalopathy before slipping into a coma and passing away have been lumped by T. Bruce into the category of ‘bitches.’ And you wonder why people are susceptable to woo? Really?

    Oh, by the way, the Philosopher’s Song is an extension of Monty Python’s ‘Bruces’ sketch, which does not so much make fun of philosophers, as of Australians, including for their inability to comprehend philosophy and propensity to reduce everything to a drinking song.

  67. #67 Vicki, Chief Assistant to the Assistant Chief
    March 9, 2011

    Sadmar,

    If you’re on our side, we shouldn’t need to win you over. You should be noting (as you have) that we need better ways to convince or communicate with certain groups people, and making suggestions.

    You’re the one who has brought in Foucault et al. That tells me that you think there are useful things in their writing: useful for this purpose, that is.

    You’re also the one who has read those writers. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask you to pass along some of those ideas, or make suggestions. As is, it comes across as “there are some interesting ideas here, and the fact that you aren’t already using them tells me that you’re ignorant.” Fine. I don’t claim to be omniscient, and neither does Orac. Telling me I’m ignorant, on a topic that I have never claimed expertise on or even much familiarity with, doesn’t teach me anything.

  68. #68 Chris
    March 9, 2011

    I am not going to discuss anything with sadmar anymore, it is pointless. It doesn’t help that I have not been able to connect to ScienceBlogs for almost two days, and was finally able to see what was going on from the public library WiFi.

    Sadmar is a rather pompous example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and has become very boring.

    Okay, back to catching up to what I have been missing… and then go pick up the book I have on hold, The Emperor of All Maladies, which I will read when I finish Proofiness by Charles Seife (his book Zero was great). Both of which are far more interesting than sadmar’s naval gazine.

  69. #69 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 9, 2011

    Yet the commenters have reacted to a potential ally (me), primarily with hostility and dismissal.

    You might want to reflect on why that is so.

  70. #70 sadmar
    March 9, 2011

    Hi Vicki:

    You should be noting (as you have) that we need better ways to convince or communicate with certain groups people, and making suggestions.

    Well I have made suggestions, including the ideas that a little more humility and sensitivity might be in order, and that one’s credentials as a more or less objective debunker are improved by demonstrating a wider range of debunking.

    You’re the one who has brought in Foucault et al. That tells me that you think there are useful things in their writing: useful for this purpose, that is. You’re also the one who has read those writers. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask you to pass along some of those ideas, or make suggestions.

    It’s not at all unreasonable. To be clear, I don’t think the philosophy of science stuff is that directly useful for the purpose here. Rather, going back to the idea of rhetoric (which Aristotle defined as “the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion”) I think some insights from ‘critical studies’ might be useful in curbing excess hubris which may be damaging your cause. A limited utility, but not a trivial one.

    I still don’t think I am being unreasonable in asking scientists to be willing to think through their foundational principles. And no, I wouldn’t at all say ‘the fact that you aren’t already using [any give philosophical discourse] tells me that you’re ignorant.’ Because, first, as I’ve already noted, I understand that this is not part of the culture of science. I also acknowledge that much of this stuff is unnecessarily difficult to read, and off-putting in other ways.

    For the most part scientists get along quite well doing science without thinking about this stuff. But this blog is not about doing science. It is about the resistance to scientific insights, the outright rejection of science among significant segments of our society. That’s a cultural issue. If you want to enter that turf (and, of course, you should), then some of the theory stuff is a good thing to know. If anyone (even just one person) here genuinely wants some details from my perspective, I’ll be happy to offer, though it’ll take me some time to draw something up as I’ll want it to be well expressed and (relatively) concise.

    While I really don’t expect anyone here to know much about the philosophy of inquiry, etc. I would expect scientists to be more open-minded. Also, I’m quite sincere about the Sokal and Social Psych analyses. I honestly think anyone with a good grasp of the scientific method should be able to look at those things and mount a critique of the ‘reasoning’ therein. I really do think some folks here would ‘get’ some of the problems if they took a skeptical look at these things. I don’t want to be so presumptive as to try to “teach you things” you already know. I do suspect that people trained in the physical sciences would miss some of the key issues, but I would find no fault with that among anyone open to entertaining the ideas that maybe they don’t know everything, and someone in the arts and humanities might actually be able to help them learn something.

    Anyway, Vicki, I do not think you are at all ignorant, and I appreciate the reasonable tone of your post.

    As I want to leave Sokol and the Art Student study open for now, I shall work on a critique of the Martin Gardner essay T.B. linked to, focused on what little Gardner added to the discussion besides simply recapping Sokol’s Lingua Franca piece. It will probably take me awhile. But it will contain some of the things Vicki has requested.

    Having argued that this discussion IS relevant to the purpose of this blog, I also acknowledge that this relevance is limited. More practical suggestions or discussion points about the rhetorical battle between skeptics and woo no doubt deserve a higher place on the agenda. I shall try to think of some.

    Chris:

    I am not going to discuss anything with sadmar anymore

    That’s a non-sequitor. You never entered a discussion with me. Monty Python reference here.

    T.B.:
    I HAVE reflected on the reasons for your hostility and dismissal. I have concluded that you are an arrogant jerk and an intellectual lightweight. If you had had anything substantive to say, you would have said it.

    ciao,

    s.

  71. #71 Antaeus Feldspar
    March 9, 2011

    I HAVE reflected on the reasons for your hostility and dismissal. I have concluded that you are an arrogant jerk and an intellectual lightweight. If you had had anything substantive to say, you would have said it.

    Funny, sadmar, that’s pretty much what I was thinking about you!

  72. #72 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 9, 2011

    T.B.:
    I HAVE reflected on the reasons for your hostility and dismissal. I have concluded that you are an arrogant jerk and an intellectual lightweight. If you had had anything substantive to say, you would have said it.

    ciao,

    s.

    I was suggesting that you reflect on the commenterS (note the plural) reaction. That’s me you’ve taken care of. What about the others?

    You consider me an “intellectual lightweight”. You appear to have a similar opinion of Martin Gardner. That’s cool, I’m in good company.

  73. #73 Vera
    March 9, 2011

    An iPhone app that can save your life? That’s right! The Breast Health GPS can locate the nearest mammogram screening center AND connect you to all the social networking sites of the Breast Health and Healing Foundation. It’s the # 1 breast cancer app on iTunes! Take a look: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/breast-health-gps/id361840350?mt=8

  74. #74 Forbidden Snowflake
    March 10, 2011

    I wish I could write a blog. I won’t invite a pity party by explaining why I can’t.

    My guess: because nobody would read it, and pontificating to a readership a better writer than you has amassed is much easier?

    I call bullshit. If you can write comments this long, you can write a blog.

    Do you not realize that broadly speaking I’m ON YOUR SIDE?

    “I’m on your side here, really! So be good little monkeys, do the spurious, arbitrary homework I hereby assign you and discuss what I order you to discuss!”

    For someone who presumes his input on winning over the public valuable, you sure are effective at antagonizing people.

    And since you obviously have a bug up your ass about the man, might as well learn to spell his name, all five letters of it. It’s Sokal, god damn it, not Sokol.

    And I join the ones who suggest that your statement to T. Bruce McNeely:

    If you had had anything substantive to say, you would have said it.

    applies first and foremost to yourself.

  75. #75 herr doktor bimler
    March 10, 2011

    I see no one has addressed the central points of my arguments, though the ad-hominem attacks and nit-picking over tangents continue.

    Three days of silence on a thread is not “continuing ad-hominem attacks and nit-picking over tangents.” It is lack of interest. Perhaps no-one is interested in “showing a basic familiarity” with various authors, in order to meet minimal standards of intellectual weight.

    Critical studies is one of those “your mileage may vary” things. Me, I am old school, and find Latakos and Feyerabend challenging and useful. Habermas, not so much. Foucault, bullshit artist. LaTour has done some interesting work, though as Steven Rose suggested somewhere, it would be more interesting if he had applied his anthropology of science to the research program known as “anthropology of science”.

  76. #76 Chris
    March 10, 2011

    sad(and boring)mar:

    That’s a non-sequitor. You never entered a discussion with me.

    And you show your lack of reading comprehension. Did you notice I had to comment from the public library because my IP address was blocked due to the DDoS attack? I have just now been unblocked. The cached version of this page dates back to March 5th. Did you miss where I said you were boring and uninteresting, and I really really hate navel gazing?

    herr doktor bimler:

    Three days of silence on a thread is not “continuing ad-hominem attacks and nit-picking over tangents.” It is lack of interest.

    He must have missed the part where more than one of said we hate philosophy and navel gazing. I have better things to do with my time. Like chauffeuring teenage daughter.

  77. #77 sadmar
    March 12, 2011

    herr doktor bimler:

    In post 70 I clearly stated I don’t expect folks here to have ‘a basic familiarity’ with this author or that. Intellectual weight has NOTHING to do with what any of us have read or haven’t read. It has exactly to do with our abilities and willingness to engage in debates. (As such, see apology to T. Bruce McNeely below.)

    To that end, hdb, I agree that critical studies, like any speculative inquiry, is a YMMV proposition. I have a lot of respect for the ‘old school,’ and certainly Steven Rose is correct that any ‘anthropology of inquiry’ (not just ‘science’) that actually rises to the level of a research program is itself a proper subject for scrutiny. Not that people doing actual work in the physical sciences ought to be devoted to an active program of self-reflexive ‘navel gazing,’ but rather just open to the notion that a useful idea might pop out of some meta-think by whoever from time to time.

    I can certainly understand someone finding Habermas not so useful. I’ve never been able to make anything of his actual writing, and have had to rely on secondary sources to glean a few valuable bits from his ideas (which remain fairly murky to me overall, I must admit). He is certainly one the worst writers for a smart person that ever lived. I once asked my PhD advisor, a German immigrant and a scholar of the Frankfurt School, “this has to make more sense in German, right.” And he said, “No, it’s much worse. The translators help him out a lot.”

    I also have to note that the fact I find some of Foucault’s writing quite useful is not mutually exclusive with the assertion that he’s a “bullshit artist.” It’s a YMMV field for those of us who do it, too.

    What is interesting me right now, as an amateur anthropologist of this thread, is the fact that it keeps going back to this ‘critical studies – love it or hate it’ stuff, and what I really want to talk about is the rhetoric of the “scientific counter-attack on pseudo-science” or whatever else one would call the purpose of this blog. Why does nobody else want to go there?

    Part of what draws ME away from that is the utterly un-science-like nature of so many of the posts here. Take the invective from Forbidden Snowflake above. Now, this being the Internet, I have no idea whether Forbidden Snow has any training in science, or is just some flake. So it would be wrong to characterize his/her comments as coming from the ‘science’ side, but they seem pretty typical of the thread. But I’m still going to assume that not everyone here is a poser.

    Now, what I’ve just done is called ‘qualification.’ It is an essential aspect of the scientific approach, yes, to be careful about what one claims, not to overstep, to qualify results : ‘these are our findings which are based on these assumptions and these conditions, and under other variables they might or might not apply.’

    Yet, F. Flake presumes to make categorical statements about me, without any qualifications or any knowledge of me beyond my posts. He assumes that I don’t know what it takes to generate a blog. Sorry. I do. I received my PhD in a School of Journalism, at one point in my life was a professional journalist (not in news reporting fwiw) having to generate x amount of copy on deadline on a regular basis, and I’ve taught New Media production at the college level. And no, Snow, the fact that I can write long comments now and then does NOT mean I can write a blog. In post 54 I wrote “I won’t invite a pity party by explaining why I can’t [write a blog].” There IS a reason. And for Flake to assume, without ever having met me IRL, that I must be ‘bullshit’ is utterly unwarranted under any approach that would resemble science more than it resembles, say, fascism.

    Speaking of warrants, I must issue an apology to T. Bruce McNeely, as I missed seeing post 64, which I DO take to be a overture toward genuine discussion, now that I’ve read and processed it. I’m sorry. I still still feel you have been inappropriately hostile overall, but that post is reasonable. What drew my anger, sir, as I noted, was your apparent insensitivity to the victims of Serzone, and what drew my assesment of lightweight-ness was the fact that when called on that, you offered no apology, no qualification, no defense, just more smack (post 69). But by then, I had failed to respond to post 64, so perhaps that was a mitigating factor. In post 64, you wrote:

    [Martin Gardner} does not have to look into anyone's head to see that the editors of Social Text were ignorant of physics. It's a logical deduction. They were presented with an article full of utter nonsense (to anyone NOT ignorant of physics) and accepted it. What other conclusion would you draw?"

    Even if you meant that as a rhetorical question, it’s still more open, it invites me (or dares me) to reply. As I noted earlier, I intend to post something about the Sokal hoax (sorry for the mis-spelling, just sloppy on my part.) It’s just a lot harder to write something like that than to compose these replies, and, well, I’ve got impediments to that that don’t apply to just posting off the cuff at whatever length.

    First, I must note that in my youth I was quite a fan of Martin Gardner. I read his books on mathematical diversions, and his explications of Lewis Carrol with great enjoyment. I followed his column in Scientific American for years. Inspired by one of Gardner’s columns, I spent a large chunk of my Freshman year in college (71-72) trying to write a program in BASIC that would play John Conway’s Life on a small grid as a printout from the campus mainframe. Never got it to work. So, I do not consider Gardner a lightweight, though I do consider that particular article to be extraordinarily lame.

    Second, not only are you correct that it is logical to deduce that the Social Text group was ignorant of physics, they have admitted as such. Where Gardner errs is assuming that the ‘real reason’ Social Text accepted the article is because they believed the physics in it to be valid. Again, I can’t create a thorough discussion of this right now, but I will say this:

    If I had been a member of the Social Text group considering Sokal’s essay I would have supported it’s publication, even though I’m sure I would have found it utterly wacky. (Since, as it happened, I read the article about the hoax before looking at the hoax essay itself, I can only imagine how I would have reacted to it in innocence). Had somebody said, ‘We should run this by a physicist,” I would probably have concurred. Had the physicist replied, ‘The physics in this is total BS, folks,” I STILL would have supported its publication. And I would have done so even if I had somehow acquired definitive knowledge that it was a hoax. Why anyone would do that is what Gardner does not understand, and which I SHALL endeavor to explain, later.

    I am not going to go away until I have finished what I started.

    HOWEVER:

    I came to this page this evening to write about something else, but the posts from herr bimler and Flake led me back to what I’d missed in post 64… yada yada. All I had intended was to note that after a bit of thought I realized that venturing critique with more or less practical suggestions regarding “the rhetoric of the scientific counter-attack on pseudo-science” was going to be easier than I had imagined… among other things because a lot of it is implicit (though I’m sure far from obvious) in some of the things I’ve written here already. I had thought it would be hard, and so I had imagined doing a rebuttal of some things Gardner had presented first. But I’d much rather do something I would hope to be both more constructive and more important.

    So, while I have no intention of backing down from the Sokal question, what I will be working on in what time I can devote to ‘Respectful Insolence’ is that analysis, which BTW will have very little contemporary Critical Studies, and mostly reference principles of argumentation going back to Aristotle.

    Coda: as upset as I may be about dismissive pejoratives like ‘navel-gazing,’ in post 64, T. Bruce McNeely expressed his disinterest in a less hostile manner:

    You know, I’m not particularly interested in doing a research study of the Sokal hoax – that’s why I deferred to someone, Martin Gardner, whose opinion I respect.

    Fair enough. Put that way, I find that a wholly acceptable position. So TBM gets a pass from the double-dog-dares (which means of course, everybody does, though I’ve already gathered that double-dog-dares don’t have the force here they had in Jean Shepard’s Milwaukee… sigh).

    I just wish someone here would take a pass at the Lingua Franca article (just that, not the whole affair) or the article about the art student study, because, again I honestly think that if you did that with your skeptics cap on (pretend it’s woo), you’d find at least some little something worth a “hold on there, pardner.”

    Anyway, I’ll be back when I get something hammered out on the rhetoric stuff. In the meantime, you can all keep aiming the stream of ad hominem gas at the bunson burner if it makes you feel better, but I already have enough examples of how not to stage an argument (and just so you know, that would include my own – I’ll be talkin’ ‘do as I say not as I do’ for the most part…)

    auf weidersehen, herr doktor et. al.

  78. #78 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 12, 2011

    Mea Culpa Time:

    Sadmar, I regret the “Science – it works, bitches!” slogan. It was a flip-off on my part. The Serzone affair, however, is a lot more involved than a “failure” of science. It raises the questions of ‘me-too” drugs and their marketing, possible shady practices by the industry and the limitations of our current drug-testing protocols. The liver problems, although serious, were found in a very small percentage of people – not likely to emerge until general use of the drug by a large population. The risks of this happening versus the benefits of new drugs is an open question. So, I apologize for that.

    Your explanation of the Sokal affair does baffle me. Your conclusion that the Social Text editors knew that the article was a load of nonsense, but decided to run it anyway, puts the editors of Social Text in a much worse light than Gardner does. AFAIK, they didn’t append a disclaimer or an explanation with the article. There are a number of examples of writers slipping nonsense into a scientific journal. When this happens, the author (and often the editor) gets stomped ruthlessly and his or her reputation is in shreds.

    Why anyone would do that is what #69 does not understand, and which I SHALL endeavor to explain, later.

    Why anyone would do that is something I, and I’ll bet most other readers here, also do not understand. I await your explanation with interest.

    Finally, my snark in #69:
    An observation from me, you can take it or leave it. Your “hostile” reception is no accident, and it is not because you stepped into a den of cobras. Maybe gila monsters, they don’t bite unless severely provoked. Some of your statements really pushed some buttons here. For instance, the one that concluded:

    …challenge their empiricist first principles with a little Foucault, LaTour or Habermas.

    struck me as irritatingly patronizing. Of course we don’t know about these guys! We’re too busy doing stuff we feel passionate about to try to wade through impenetrable bad writing (disclaimer – this is my opinion, but shared by many others).
    I could give you more examples, but I hope you get my drift. Please remember, it’s not just me who responded in a derisive manner. Enough said.

    Anyway, I will tone down the snark. The past few weeks have been bad for me at work, since we have been at half our required staff with a significant increase in workload. I am stressed and tired. This isn’t meant as an excuse, but an explanation. I need to look after myself better.

    Adios, amigo

  79. #79 sadmar
    March 14, 2011

    Hi T. Bruce:

    Thanks for the reply.

    First, for clarity. I didn’t say the ST collective knew the Sokal piece was nonsense. AFAIK, they were inclined to buy into it to a agree, but ultimately didn’t really care. I was saying (hypothetically) that if _I_ had been one of the reviewers, and even had I known it was loony, I would have supported its publication anyway. I speak only for myself. I will be back with an explication later. I just dropped by this evening to get that Martin Gardner link for future reference.

    FWIW despite the Serzone thing, and despite having been dangerously misdiagnosed when taken to the ER last April, I still have an overall positive view of physicians. I’m sorry to hear about your work problems, and I appreciate both the explanation and (I think) the situation. I’m sure my own snark was amplified by some of my own IRL challenges. I really don’t like communicating via text exchanges because you can’t read tone out of prose: see a smile or get a tongue-in-cheek inflection.

    I actually didn’t mean to imply that anyone here should have read any of that Theory stuff at all. To try for a more clear statement of what I was trying to say: on those occassions where I have discussed first principles with scientist friends, I have introduced questions or issues that I have gleaned from critical studies. I have expressed these in my own words, without citing sources at all, especially in a ‘well so and so said so, so it must be valid’ kind of way. I’ve just borrowed some ideas, cobbled them together, and offered them in our (friendly) debates and discussions. And, on these occassions, I’ve been somewhat surprised at my friends’ difficulties in discussing/defending/debating first principles. (That’s all.)

    The specific people I was thinking of when I referred to ‘sputtering’ are people I have known, who are both smart and good human beings. So, I was, in my own mind, intending to tease rather than trash. My bad there. I mean, in one way I meant what I said, but there is no way anyone reading my posts here could have divined the context for interpreting my language without the sort of ESP that I would fully agree with Gardner or James Randi cannot possibly actually exist.

    Peace (sincerely): sadmar