The “War” on anti-science

Terry, Let’s unpick this one, so we can actually “walk our talk”. You asked “What is?”

(1) Wherever possible criticism in private. Praise and support in public. Wherever possible dialogue instead of conflicting argument.

(2) You said it yourself the other night, has anyone ever changed anyone’s mind – who wasn’t already a friend or held in “good faith” – by telling them they were wrong in public? What we need is good-faith dialogue.

  • Me and you.
  • Us and “Atheists Against Pseudoscientific Nonsense (AAPN)”.
  • Antivaxers and the rational skeptics community generally.

(3) In this case the original Mercury / Aluminium video was already a viral meme – amongst people who appreciate fascination with science – very basic, elemental physical science 101. (I shared / liked it myself a couple of weeks ago.)

(4) Some (mischievous) person at Vaxxed saw a delicious opportunity to wind-up the Skeptical crowd by inventing a counter-meme that they knew would just make the “scientistic” types blood boil. And it worked. AAPN fell for it. John Richards fell for it …. all typical behaviour fully predicted by Vaxxed. No-one at Vaxxed and no-one at AAPN believed it was anything but nonsense – the clue is in the name and Snopes had already debunked it for anyone (!) who actually needed to check, without spreading it over all their would-be friends FB & Twitter feeds. No-one who subscribes to anti-vax conspiracy theories is going to check, are they? – except for their mission to debunk the debunking and stoke the conspiracy and/or have some fun on social media. No (good-faith) “friend” following AAPN’s page – or your Skeptcs page – is going to disagree that it’s nonsense. What has been achieved? Except Vaxxed successfully winding up a certain kind of Skeptic and wasting the time of many more, and generating hundreds more clicks, the large majority of which will be (trigger / keyword) bots even if they’re actually human.

(5) This is not about “ignoring” the nonsense meme – we’re well past that – it’s about deciding the most rational action and most productive expression. Not a knee-jerk “against” response – that’s a tit-for-tat “war” – exactly what some / they want. We’re well past doing the dumbest responses too. As you said any number of Skeptic responses will not make any difference numerically. The clue again is in AAPN’s name – “against” – they’re just looking for a war too – an arms race pushing up the numbers and stakes. Just because something is wrong, a lie, is not a good reason to say so, outside a controlled scientific environment. Life is not science.

(6) The rational response is to seek good faith and continue the dialogue. To move us on from two parties – with no mutual respect – screaming and hurling insults at each other. Let’s walk the talk?

[Meta (7) Your suggestion that I had suggested ignoring it was the personal “insult” in public – but it’s OK because we happen to be friends 😉 ]

[Meta (8) And as I’m sure we’ve agreed before anti-vaxxing has nothing to do with the science of vaccines, it’s everything to do with the politics of anti-establishment freedoms.]


[Post Note – a comment / response exchange cut and past across from the Medium version of this blog:

To which I responded:

Good point ” I agree on two counts.
(1) Same risk even with Snopes, only advantage is it not not attached to any particular campaigning issue or ideology so far as I have been able to tell over many years ” even if it is sometimes wrong. (Was using the pejorative “antivaxxer” terminology because that was the default line already in the context of the Skeptics facebook thread in which the comment was made. Should have used scare quotes ” as I often do.)
And (2) “scientific atheists” are not just part of the problem, but the worst half of the problem IMHO ” turning into caricatures of the ideologies they claim to oppose. (Pretty sure you’ve agreed with me on this before.)
(PS will copy this Comment & Response into the WordPress version of the blog too, where I often add post-notes that don’t show up in Medium.)

3 thoughts on “The “War” on anti-science”

  1. Its too late at night. I need some time to mull this over. I have a nightmare vision of ‘leaving the field’ in the face of overwhelming odds and whispering friendly platitudes from the sidelines to a bunch of people who are unlikely to be interested in what I may have in common with them. I reckon that scenario in my head won’t go away easily. One thing you are very right about is that what we are currently doing isn’t working and we need to do something else. Steven Novella has given up hope. That in itself is a real worry.

  2. Until we drop the warlike language “leaving the field” we will only achieve war. If we’re going to use warlike metaphors we should be reading Sun Tzu – it’s an art, not a science. Outflanking, changing the game, etc.

  3. BTW, didn’t know who Steve Novella was until I googled.
    I see the problem now – he’s a scientist 😉

    “Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”

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