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January 26, 2007


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Like I said today: "Without skepticism, life would be full of stale, meaningless sophistry. It'd also be much shorter."

Without any way to rule out bad ideas, the good ones would get lost in the massive churning mass of half-formed, unexplored ideas. People like Sylvia Browne would be perfectly happy to have all of human progress stop.

Wow Skeptico, that's what I thought too when I read that.

Very true? I hope the little guy's not going senile on us...

(jk JR, You're the man!)

Heh. I read the newsletter last night, and that was my thought as well. I rarely disagree with The Man, but this is one of those times. If we had had Randi for the past thousand years, we'd be having this discussion on a planet orbiting Epsilon Eridani.

Darn tootin', Phil.

Now get back to work on that warp drive!

It´s a very interesting Blog and simple answer of many questions.

I think there's a bit of tongue-in-cheek there. The "very true" doesn't validate Sylvia's statement, not given the next line where he tells her how wrong she is. It's clear that he's saying that the work of brilliant scientists is well beyond his ability (or anyone else's) to negate.

I think "very true" was in reference to the fact that if people had negated scientific advances, there would have been no progress. As he then says "But any truly scientific work would be totally immune to reversal or negation, by definition." he is obviously not saying that his attitude of "prove it" or "demonstrate it" would have put a stop to science

I think that Tom and Shelley have it: Randi is drily noting that Sylvia's argument is internally valid but based on an impossible premiss (replace 'negate' with 'disprove' or 'falsify' and it'll be clearer).

However, this only really works as an explanation if Randi is actually interpreting 'negate' in these terms - which is not how Sylvia is using it. The OED definition defines negate as 'deny; deny the existence of; destroy; nullify; make ineffective', and this is clearly the sense in whch Sylvia means it.

Thus Randi is wrong to claim 'any truly scientific work would be totally immune to reversal or negation', since negation is about denial, not falsification. We may say (for example) that in Gambia, the work of AIDS researchers is largely negated by the denialism of President Yahya Jammeh; this holds true despite the scientific veracity of the work of the researchers because denialism and repression are enough to constitute a negation.

If we go with that (orthodox) interpretation of 'negate', then Sylvia's srgument was not in fact valid as Randi supposed. So he missed a tick - but through a semantic error, not through a slip of the attention.

I read Randi's comment as being self-effacing, as if he had missed the "a" before his name in Sylvia's quote i.e. he thought she was saying that if James Randi had been doing all science we wouldn't have gotten far. His "very true" is perhaps a misplaced attempt at modesty. That's what I took from it.

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