Introduction Whether one’s principle area of engagement happens to be science, politics, social issues, executive decisions in business, or some combination of those, one of the first things most people learn about the art of logical argumentation is the existence of several informal logical fallacies. Given the frequency with which Read more…
Since I started doing science blogging and skeptical outreach, I’ve noticed that my most popular posts usually involve topics that are considered controversial by the general public, even if they aren’t considered as controversial by actual experts: i.e. genetically engineered foods, anthropogenic climate change, the safety and efficacy of municipal water fluoridation, the importance of vaccines, and anti-science conspiracy speculationism.
The Streisand Threshold: Choosing one’s battles
There is a tremendous amount of pseudoscience and other misinformation that circulates– seemingly unimpeded– on the internet. Consequently, it can be a daunting task for those of us who fight against it to know which targets are an effective use of our time and effort. There are various considerations that might inform one’s decision about where (or toward whom) to direct one’s science advocacy or skeptical outreach:
One of the intrinsic features of the scientific process is that it leads to modifications to previously accepted knowledge over time. Those modifications come in many forms. They may involve simply tacking on new discoveries to an existing body of accepted knowledge without really contradicting prevailing theoretical frameworks. They may necessitate making subtle refinements or adjustments to existing theories to account for newer data. They may involve the reformulation of the way in which certain things are categorized within a particular field so that the groupings make more sense logically, and/or are more practical to use. In rare cases, scientific theories are replaced entirely and new data can even lead to an overhaul of the entire conceptual framework in terms of which work within a particular discipline is performed. In his famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, physicist, historian, and philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn referred to such an event as a “paradigm shift.” ,. This tendency is a result of efforts to accommodate new information and cultivate as accurate a representation of the world as possible. (more…)
Anyone who has spent much time addressing a lot of myths, misconceptions, and anti-science arguments has probably had the experience of some contrarian taking issue with his or her rebuttal to some common talking point on the grounds that it’s not the “real” issue people have with the topic at hand. It does occasionally happen that some skeptic spends an inordinate amount of time refuting an argument that literally nobody has put forward for a position, but I’m specifically referring to situations in which the rebuttal addresses claims or arguments that some people have actually made, but that the contrarian is implying either haven’t been made or shouldn’t be addressed, because they claim that it’s not the “real” argument. This is a form of No True Scotsman logical fallacy, and is a common tactic of people who reject well-supported scientific ideas for one reason or another. In some cases this may be due to the individual’s lack of exposure to the argument being addressed rather than an act of subterfuge, but it is problematic regardless of whether or not the interlocutor is sincere. (more…)