Being Wrong: How we deal with it makes all the difference.

I’ve talked a lot about similarities between the so-called “climate sceptics”, anti-vaccination activists and creationists in the past, and much of those similarities could also be shared with the anti-fluoridation camp as well, but there is one aspect of similarity between each of these four groups that I have yet to discuss.

From my experience, each one is happy to name-call and partake in science paper fight – both pointless, ego-centric activities – but yet typically fall silent when one takes their evidence seriously and finds it lacking.

A very public example which many of us witnessed is that between Peter Hadfield and Christopher Monckton. The latter was pompous, bombastic and feverish in his initial replies to Peter’s work, but when Peter offered to debate with him, the only conclusion an observer can make is that Ol’ Chris scampered.

With my own work, I have increasingly come to the realisation that pointing out where the best science stands does little to convince the true believers – it only solidifies their bogus positions through a supposed arrogance / ignorance within established scientific methodology.

This is the fertile grounds for propagating “ivory tower” conclusions or secret agendas.

Rather, I try to critique the counter evidence provided to me and explore this myself within the real world.

I’ve looked at the arguments provided by The Queenslanders for Safe Water, Food and Air inc. president, Merilyn Haines, after I became aware of her through her comment on NewAnthro. All of my work has been, thus far, devoid of any Merilyn “approved” rebuttals.

Equally, the day and half I wasted exploring data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics relating to bladder and lung cancer on the behalf of Dan Germouse, after his comments on NewAnthro, went by without comment.

In the early years of my blogging, I was foolish enough to play into the hands of such trolls and become frustrated by their personal attacks. I did waste countless hours researching papers to provide the scientific reasoning for a given position, or in reply to their proposed argument, only to be hurled back favoured scientific material (regardless of the quality or the actual standing of the paper); what merely descended into a paper war.

These activities, I felt at first to be worthwhile – I was at least engaging them. However, they are emotionally draining and circular; deliberate attempts to wear one down rather than advance understanding.

Developing my work into my current approach, I’ve noticed that such pet theorists are inclined to avoid arguments they cannot refute. Regardless of my efforts to correct and engage Merilyn, from her recent interview on ABC radio, it is clear that she still parrots off the same nonsensical claims. I suppose Dan moved on to greener pastures following my effort, to continue to moan on supposed “pain and suffering” due to water fluoridation.

The hardened and indeed committed “sceptic” to such matters as anthropogenic climate change, vaccination, evolution, fluoridation and whatever other conspiracy ideation you wish to mention will simply side-step an argument they cannot refute rather than acknowledge personal error.

In reality, the biggest insult they produce is entirely upon themselves. Such avoidance of counter-evidence is as debilitating as that we all seem to shake our heads over, such as parents whom deny their child medical assistance on the basis of religion or “natural medicine”. It’s incapacity to accept fault and improve.

I’m not stating that my work on NewAnthro is faultless and know that some of my analyses must include certain caution, acknowledgement of error bars, due to confounders. For instance, with my look into rates of bladder and lung cancer, I assumed that other factors that may confound my results, such as the average age of the population, immigration and emigration, are more or less homogenous between the study groups at a state level.

My analysis largely hinged on exploring Hirzy et al (2013) whom state that there is additional “pain and suffering of citizens” due to “the use of technical grade fluoridation agents”. I expected that, if there is indeed evidence of this, it should be evident within the Australian dataset with Queensland the obvious control group.

Within my analysis of the Australian Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, I even make a note of criticisms I would expect and attempt to provide my argument in reply.

Being wrong is as valuable as being right, provided you can admit fault and move on. The true believe remains true, entirely at the cost of any credibility they may have held.

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4 responses to “Being Wrong: How we deal with it makes all the difference.

  1. It’s too bad, if predictable, that Dan, for example, turns tail when presented with a strong argument. However, that doesn’t mean you effort is entirely wasted, as others have read, absorbed, and maybe added your arguments to their quiver, to be used and linked as the occasion arises.

    • I hope so. That’s why I placed the anti-fluoride page above. Within it, I have the common anti-fluoride arguments with anchors so that others can link directly to them.

      I’m committed to attempting to understand life and the universe as best I can. NewAnthro is my “weeding” platform, I think. It’s just a shame we will with so many true believers whom still demand equal footing for unequally supported ideas.

  2. It’s a critical element of the Gish Gallop. After some portion of Gish’s arguments were thoroughly debunked in a debate, Gish would turn up to the next debate and reuse the same arguments – even those he’d previously admitted were flawed last time. Being prepared to admit your own errors, and then to actually stop remaking them – is what makes a true skeptic, and an attribute which tends to be entirely absent among global warming “sceptics” (as well as fluoride “sceptics”, evolution “sceptics”, 9/11 “sceptics”, vaccine “sceptics” and the rest of them).

    • I think the difference is that Gish obviously knew he was wrong. Looking at the media content of Monckton, how he tempers his message depending on the selected audience and his continual use of “evidence” which he is aware is wrong, I’m certain he too knows he is wrong. He’s not a stupid man. I think the fame and funding fuels his ego and he’s simply enjoying the ride. In essences, it’s the story of Tono Bungay.

      The difference for the creationist, anti-vax, anti-fluoridation etc groups is that they actually believe the story. They knew it was right and rejoice when anecdotal or otherwise unsubstantiated evidence supports their position. They are frustrated when others are unable to “read between the lines” and see the “truth” rather than, what they see as the “official line”. Credible scientific methodology has fallen prey to this agenda whenever it fails to share their opinion. When someone like me seriously looks into their claims and cannot help but find error, we are seen as mocking self-righteous individuals, and simply flipped off.

      I’m surprised by how easily a human mind is willing to delude itself rather than take a hard, critical self-examination. There’s nothing wrong about being wrong, only when one is wilfully and repeatedly wrong is there a justification for concern. These ideologs are deeply troubling.

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