A blog about science, medicine, media and the ramblings of Irish hack....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

20 nifty tricks to argue like a charlatan

For scientists, skeptics, debaters, or indeed anyone who values useful information over shrill soundbites, there is little more infuriating then crass manipulation of the facts to mislead an audience. Purveyors of woo and snake oil are particularly skilled at this cynical sideshow, but they are by no means alone in the practice which all too frequently raises its ugly head in politics too. And when constructive debate breaks down along ideological barriers, you can be sure the quality of discussion suffers.  When discussions arise, those with a vested interest are adept at sidetracking the debate with enough petty logical fallacies to fool an audience into thinking their claims have some merit. “What beastly intellectual cowardice!” I hear you mutter. And I concur.

But just for a moment, let me play advocatus diaboli. Perhaps we should look at their techniques and admire the smoke and mirrors approach to discussion that can leave the most well informed earnest orator flummoxed and flustered. Let's give these rogues their due, and identify some of their little tricks, in the hopes we can catch them out at their own game.

So for your viewing pleasure, I present..

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Your Dogma is chasing my Karma - a suggestion to skeptics

One of the reasons I love science is its utter objectivity. Science doesn't care about your petty prejudices, political persuasions or reckless religiosity - it remains steadfast and unconcerned. Creationists can scream 'til they're blue in the face that the earth is less than 10,000 years old but it won't magically shave off an odd 4 billion years from the age of the Earth. Homeopaths can claim all they like about their elixirs but it won't change the fact that their concoctions are just water. Science is an objective tool - we can run the same experiments, and verify the same result is found. Skepticism, defined by Wikipedia as a "...questioning attitude of knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts,or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere"  is an integral part of science for evaluating evidence. Critically this means remaining objective - an active skeptic in the scientific sense attempts to falsify their own ideas by testing it or looking for counter examples. They must examine all plausible interpretations and test them. Crucially,  it is a terrible mistake to only look to evidence that supports your position and disregard evidence at odds with it.
I'd like to think it is promising that many people are identifying themselves as skeptics. But are we honestly applying that label with all the intellectual honesty and rigour it entails ?

If creationists want the Earth to be <10,000 years old, they'd best invent time travel.....

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Abortion - Misconceptions and outright fabrications

Let's be frank - Abortion is an emotive issue. There are a myriad of different views between the two extremes constituting an entire spectrum of beliefs. Nor is there anything wrong with this; people have the right to their own opinions. But people do not have a right to their own facts - any position justified with bold faced fabrication and truth bending is not only intellectually dishonest, it merely spreads disinformation and muddies the water, obscuring informed debate. And yet the cynic in me thinks that this may be precisely the goal.

I personally am pro-choice. I have come to this decision after many years of researching the topic, and separating the facts from the fictions. I also think it's shameful Ireland buries its head in the sand regarding the issue and in true hibernian fashion ignores the elephant in the room. So yesterday I attended a pro-choice counter rally to the well funded "Rally for life" and as we lined the streets to peacefully protest for the rights of Irish women to make their own choices, we were met by some real friendly people from the anti-choice brigade. Like this lady ...

Apparently that's the Virgin Mary and Jesus. I initially thought she was holding up an ad for Johnson's baby lotion.

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