Friday, January 19, 2007

Anti-science mad libs   posted by the @ 1/19/2007 03:53:00 PM

If there is one trend in American life that most irks [group], it is probably [inconvenient truth]. It's not the [inconvenient truth] itself that bothers them... It is the perception of [inconvenient truth] and, worse, the ... discussion of [inconvenient truth] that is so irritating. It offends their view of [philosophy], helps justify all sorts of nefarious [disliked policies], and makes the [group adjective] agenda ... appear [bad thing]. They would very much like for it not to be true. Failing that, they would like for the public not to believe that it's true--or, at the very least, not to be sure whether it is true or not. This is where [skeptic] comes in.

[Lack of appropriate intellectual credentials of skeptic.]

[Claims made by skeptic.] In other words, [group] aren't sure whether [inconvenient truth is true or not], and they don't really care if it is. Their primary concern is that newspapers treat the question as a matter of dispute rather than a settled fact.

If this sounds like the conservative stance on global warming or evolution, it shouldn't come as a surprise. Like those two issues, the [inconvenient truth] is beyond dispute among academics who study it. This applies even to [group academics] with strong [group] pedigrees. ([Example]) And so the ambition of the [group] counterestablishment in these areas is not to overturn the scholarly consensus but simply to make the topic appear so complicated that laypeople and the press don't know what to believe.

And the science of [inconvenient truth], like most sciences, is subject to complicating details. [Explain.]

That was [skeptic's] cue to spring into action. In [skeptic's] [group magazine] op-ed, [skeptic] lists a series of potential flaws in the [data that strongly supports inconvenient truth]. Most of the complaints are simply picayune details. [Example.] All these points are true enough. But is there any reason to think they would change the overall picture very much? Not really, unless you think [absurd scenario].

And some of [skeptic's] critiques are simply mistaken. [Example] This sounds sensible enough, but it is wrong on several levels. [Explain]... so, even if [skeptic] were right about [Example], it would very likely make [inconvenient truth] look even worse.

But whether the [trivial problem] would make [inconvenient truth] look worse or better is really beside the point. [skeptic's] role is merely to point out that the data is imperfect. The skeptic challenging the expert consensus must be fluent enough in the language of the experts to nibble away at their data. (The evolution skeptic can find holes in the fossil record; the global-warming skeptic can find periods of global cooling.) But he need not--indeed, he must not--be fluent enough to assimilate all the data himself into a coherent alternative explanation. His point is that the truth is unknowable.

You might suppose that somebody in [skeptic's] position would do everything he could to mask his own ideological preferences in order to lend credibility to his research. But [skeptic] is completely up front about his beliefs, which are on display in the [frequency publications] he churns out. He is a [group] of the [philosophy] variety. [Quote], he wrote last year in a typical passage. [Quote continues] ([Witty and ironic take down of quote.])

This is not a slip-up. Introducing ideology into a debate is one of the think-tank hack's strongest weapons. It demystifies a complicated issue, moving it from the realm of science into the realm of politics. The think-tank hack confesses he has his biases but then claims that his opponents in academia or government do, too. Evolution is the secularist science establishment's campaign to discredit religion; global warming is being pushed by regulators who would gain enormous power from new pollution controls; et cetera.

Since the goal is not winning these debates but merely achieving symmetry, the hack's most effective technique can be taking the accusation that would seem to apply to him and hurling it at his opponents. [Quotes accusing other side of malfeasance.] So, while you might think [skeptic] is a hack mining the data for results that would conform to his political preferences, he has already made the same charge against the other side. Who can tell who's right?

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