I was reminded of that Michael Shermer quote recently while engaging in a debate in the comments of this post on the Whirled Musings blog. The exchange below demonstrates that just because someone laughs at one form of woo, he or she can still believe in another form of woo if they don’t apply critical thinking uniformly. The method by which you arrive at your conclusions is, if anything, more important than the conclusion itself.
I became aware of the Whirled blog post via my Google alert for Gregg Braden. Whirled seems to exist to make fun of new age bozos such as Braden, Deepak Chopra etc, and so I posted a comment supportive of the Braden post, with a link back to the Skeptico site. A couple of people checked out my site and chose to post comments critical of my posts on acupuncture. Critical and a little snippy, I might add. Well, they have a right to do that, I suppose, although I wasn’t looking for a debate on acupuncture when I commented about Gregg Braden. Still, if they’re going to criticize me, I’ll respond, as you’ll see if you click the link.
The trouble is, although the owner and regulars at the Whirled blog like to make fun of Braden, Chopra etc (and posts they don’t like at Skeptico), it’s clear that you’re not supposed to question their irrational beliefs. A poster called RevRon’s Rants, apparently the “life partner” of the blog owner Connie, posted that my “summary dismissal of acupuncture just doesn't wash”, and that “it would be advisable to ensure [your] "science" stands up to scrutiny, IMHO”. Ron subsequently (after being asked by me) posted links to some studies. I explained why these studies did not invalidate my original posts, and posted links to scientific studies that had led me to my conclusions about acupuncture. Ron ignored my criticisms of his studies, ignored the studies I linked, and instead fell back on the fallacious reasoning we’re all used to seeing from the numerous woos who post here and elswhere. For example, in short order I was presented with:
- An appeal to Science was wrong before.
- Criticisms of my “objectivity” (without justifying why I was not objective).
- An appeal to Science doesn’t know everything.
- An appeal to personal experience and anecdote.
- An appeal to closed-mindedness.
Just about everything but any science that “stands up to scrutiny”, as Ron had put it. Clearly “stands up to scrutiny” really just means “supports my prejudice”. Fair enough – he’s free to say what he wants and I‘m free to explain the fallacies he’s relying on.
Or not. Unfortunately the blog owner refused to allow my reply to the latest piece of drivel from Ron, with the justification (via email) that her blog is “a mostly lighthearted, humorous blog”, and that the discussion had turned into “a pissing contest”. The blog owner was apparently especially annoyed at my comparing Ron to Deepak Chopra, because apparently Ron is not like that. Well sorry Connie, Ron is like that when it comes to his belief in acupuncture. And he started the pissing contest, not me.
See below, my final comment that Connie didn’t want to publish. Ron’s comments are indented. My censored replies follow. Ron's first sentence is in response to my comment, "I don’t see any reason to believe “qi” even exists":
Spend a week in a classical dojo and see if you can say that.
Oh come on, personal experience does not make data, and the easiest person to fool is yourself – that’s why the double-blind study has proven priceless. Before double blind studies we used to think a lot of things were true that we now know are not. Wake up.
…or that matter, do some research somewhere besides sources devoted to perpetuating your own preconceptions.
Advice you would do well to take yourself.
But there's a big difference between skepticism and closed-mindnedness, and between believing everything and believing nothing at all. It's in that place where objectivity - and human growth - exists.
Oh no, not the fallacious appeal to be open-minded. An open mind is open to all ideas, but it must be open to the possibility that the idea could be true or false. It is not closed-minded to reject claims that make no sense, but if you can’t accept the possibility that an idea such as qi might be false, then you are the closed minded one.
Closed-mindedness indeed. You have now used just about every lame argument I have heard over the years from new agers, creationists and other miscellaneous anti-scientists defending their drivel – you’re no better than any of them. I wrote my fallacies section because I got sick of refuting the same tired arguments again and again. The trouble is, you’ve got it fixed in your head that acupuncture has worked for you and you can’t even begin to think rationally about it. Read this article by Michael Shermer - he was writing about major new age bozo Deepak Chopra, but he could just as easily have written it about you:
“… another refrain we often hear in the form of “I’m a skeptic too, but…,” where skepticism is fine as long as it is someone else’s codswallop under the microscope.”
[Censored comment ends.]
Confrontational? Sure. But no more than was I was receiving. And in an argument I didn’t start,remember.
Sadly, it seems we have here a group of people who are happy to make fun of Deepak Chopra when they want, but who presumably didn’t arrived at their views on Chopra through the application of critical thinking. I’m not surprised they are teed-off at my comparing them to Chopra. I’d be annoyed too. But the correct response would be to reevaluate your own arguments, and re-couch them with valid arguments in place of the dopey rationalizations of the kind favored by Chopra and his followers. Readers of Whirled would apparently prefer simply to disallow arguments against them they don’t like.
The method by which you evaluate claims is as important as the conclusions you arrive at. Maybe more so – if you have the wrong method, you will come to the wrong conclusions on some questions. Sadly, Whirled may be an anti-new age blog, but it’s clearly not a critical thinking blog.
Of course, anyone may disagree by commenting below. I don’t hold comments for evaluation or censor people purely because they disagree with me. But I do call out fallacious reasoning.