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Monday, January 29, 2007

PETA vs Pro-Lifers
Amanda at Pandagon put up this amazing post entitled "Is PETA the same group as Operation Rescue?" Man did she get a lot of shit about it, but she's got some very good arguments that I agree with.

I'll leave the meat of the post up at her site, but here's her reasons in brief and see if you understand why I love this.

They think grossing you out is an argument.

They think women are just bodies to be manipulated for their ends instead of full human beings.

Both exploit tender young women as cheap labor for their cause.

Both prefer to advocate for "victims" that are silent and therefore can be projected onto.

Both have a strong, irrational loathing for science.

Neither seems to care that much about the real life well-being of the objects of their advocacy as they claim to care.

Now she justifies each of these points with some good arguments, but don't you think the real pattern here is that of denialism? (now a wiki!)

The most obvious is the anti-scientific attitudes or the insane claims that science can be done without using animals. This becomes apparent in the comments as the ARAs appear and start saying my job can be done without them. But the other arguments are pretty clearly denialist as well. Mostly they are appeals to emotion, and the use of false analogies. For instance when they compare farming to slavery, or comparing eating meat to being a Nazi in the Holocaust. I needed Amanda to help me figure out how big of denialists they are.

Anyway, read her post, and her blog. Pandagon is great.

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Ted said...

The Denialism Talk-Page is pretty interesting, but although I liked your essay, the Wikipedia entry is confusing and stilted. Even eliminationism has a hard time getting defined there.

Further, is your classification complete? What about doctor's focus on tort reform as a method of health care reform? A case of denialism?

Can we discuss the five points -- What makes them unique to denialism as opposed to say, marketing to rubes or public relations?

False experts? Are there real ones? What's the criteria for expertness?

9:56 PM, January 29, 2007

Rev. Dr. said...

I didn't actually write the Wiki, someone wrote it based on my initial denialism post that's linked within it.

As far as tort reform? That's a little bit tougher, I think it's dangerous to use denialism to define all ideological debates, and even though tort reform arguments are based on flawed data, they're not entirely without merit.

The fundamental definition of denialism that I use is that it is the art of making an argument when all available data conflicts with your belief. It's arguing when you don't have a leg to stand on. Marketing will of course appear similar because it's essentially lying, or making people believe things that aren't true, like your shoes will make you Michael Jordan, or a drink will make you a daredevil. It's a kind of lie called puffery, and not really meant to be believed (but sadly is). As long as the lie can be considered obviously an exaggeration to a reasonable person, you can incorporate it into your commercials.

False experts are pretty easy to identify. People like Steven Milloy are the classic examples. These were the guys originally hired by tobacco executives to hide the carcinogenicity of cigarettes. The signs of a false expert are he/she doesn't have credentials in the relevant field, major conflicts of interest, they are making an argument conflicting with the field's consensus view without compelling alternative data, or they basically are just such obvious shills you can point and laugh.

So, a real expert is someone who has a degree or a recognized experience in a given field, studies it exclusively or extensively, has no or minor conflicts of interest, and provides testimony or information that is consistent with the scientific consensus.

10:28 AM, January 30, 2007

La Boheme said...


4:16 PM, January 30, 2007

Ted said...

Hm, good answer in general, although I don't buy that we need another word.

I didn't think that you actually wikied up, but the entry is ugly as it stands; that's all I was saying.

As to tort, well that's another story. When Dr. Charles commentlessly put out his paean to tort reform, I didn't see a lot of science bloggers challenging him despite the fact that he was quotiong WSJ/chamber of commerce party line without much data to back it up. Looked like self serving denialism to me.

False experts? What about science bloggers that blog anonymously? How do we know the level of their expertness? Are they card carrying and licensed? Do we need to know their pedigree or can we infer from the quality of their posts (but then again, maybe we're biased when we swoon over their posts)?

I infer that you're licensed to blog on biology. I'm not sure about linguistics though. Got a license?

10:26 PM, January 30, 2007

Rev. Dr. said...

Ahh yes, you gotta take some things that the anonymous science bloggers say for granted, like we're a bunch of biologists (and a couple of lawyers). But don't worry, these are true things, and not much in doubt.

But anonymous blogging is not without precedent and I think it can be done well. Orac at Respectful Insolence is a good example, several of the sciencebloggers are anonymous.

I think we chose anonymity though because the members of this blog aren't sufficiently established and tenured, and the difficulty of having political opinions attached to yourself when in the next few years you have to apply for residency, post-docs, what have you. You don't want to be a google search away from upsetting some fundamentalist chief of medicine's view on abortion. It's not to protect ourselves as we go about making irresponsible claims about science, and most people are cool with that.

I think one day we'll probably come out of the closet, but it will have to wait until we feel professionally secure. Also note that I don't really call myself an "expert" on a lot of things. I'd say I have expertise in stem cells, molecular biology and general biology, less so on evolutionary biology, climate science, or some of the other hot topics, but I have at least a fair-good understanding and I do rely on trustworthy sources like RealClimate and the Panda's thumb types.

12:41 PM, January 31, 2007

Ted said...

It's not to protect ourselves as we go about making irresponsible claims about science, and most people are cool with that.

You seem awfully defensive there pardner.

In my opinion the best reason to be anonymous is to be free to be truthful, not because you fear the department head. Like that Kierkegaard fellow thare:

Kierkegaard's life and work exemplify the paradox that he saw at the heart of modern life. Ever scornful of human pretensions, he deliberately chose the reverse deception of pretending to be less than he was. Since serious work should stand on its own, without deriving any arbitrary force from the presumed authority of its creator, Kierkegaard wrote privately and published under a variety of pseudonyms while frequently making flighty public appearances in his native Copenhagen. Perhaps this was a great project of personal ironic exhibitionism: how better to illustrate the uselessness of customary "social" life than by living it out to the fullest?

1:03 AM, February 01, 2007

Rev. Dr. said...

That is exactly why we are anonymous. We can't be truthful about what we believe, not without potential repercussions because these days your internet existence can be damaging and is very difficult to control, or excise.

1:23 AM, February 01, 2007


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