Alternative Facts: a new name for an ancient problem

“Never argue with an idiot, they will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience,”

A warning from George Carlin. I have quoted this in the past, but in reality, I don’t like to apply it.

I tend to take others on face value and respect their arguments as a sound attempt to better understand the world.

The problem is that the main source of debate that I face comes from those who simply do not like a given conclusion, be it relating to climate change, vaccination or fluoridation of drinking water.

For a long time I refused to give up on the argument or in respecting the other as I believed that we could together reach a better level of understanding.

But experience has taught me otherwise.

These debates have forced me to learn about the philosophy of critical reasoning, not just empirical evidence. Today, I listen to the evidence provided as well as how the argument is being arranged.

I’ve come to realise just how defeating and exhausting it is to engage with those who simply reject evidence in favour of a preferred conclusion.

Recently, I decided to engage with the commentator. I stated that I’ve stopped debating such people because I’ve found most to be disingenuous in their debate, disrespectful and ultimately committed to their conclusion regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

After hours spent in research and a few thousand words in critical review of the arguments presented, I concluded with basically the same statement I started with.

“Alternative facts” have recently caused a small uproar among certain people. Yet, the more I’ve come to understand critical reasoning and debate, the more obvious it is to me that this view has been deeply ingrained into our societies for as long as we have had societies.

The rise of empirical methodology with the enlightenment has done little to impact our love for the fanciful – how we would like reality to be.

And contrary to common belief, we honestly don’t need to respect the groundless views of others – especially if those views can cause harm.

They could be oppressive ideologies or irrational fears leading to otherwise avoidable measles outbreaks. They could be charlatans selling magic water or “medicinal” turmeric. It could be the slow juggernaut of climate change. Each of these negatively impacts on the lives people.

I have previously been roped into a debate with an easy rebuttal to this conclusion; if I’m not willing to entertain a debate, I’m the real denier.

The commentator who initiates the debate is, in essence making the statement that they reject the scientific evidence – either through cherry picked evidence or blatant ignorance. The commentator demands I take their feelings seriously and engage with it or else commentator automatically assumes the high grounds for victory.

No, that’s not the case.

The reason for this is because we’re not engaged in an academic analysis of the evidence. There is a body of evidence that exists in the academic literature and not in a debate on NewAnthro. Debate here changes nothing – especially the minds of those who don’t like what science concludes.

Am I suggesting that we simply ignore them?

No. I don’t know what the actual answer is, but I know that leaving them to their own devices is just as bad and it leads to large followings on their pseudoscience websites.

I’m inclined to think that a lot of the older ones are lost to the absurdities. We can only truly tackle “alternative facts” through education – not what to think, but how to think. If we want to empower our democratic societies, each individual needs to have trained a finely tuned internal BS detector.

The alternative is that we will continue to be led by nefarious causes.

Hence I’m no longer going to be led into pointless exchanges on NewAnthro with anti-science advocates. I enjoy my life too much to waste it on the brick wall that they claim is their brain. If they want a debate they can do the academic hard-yards and contribute to the scientific literature.

Arguing here is pointless and I’m tired of my commitment to a fair and respectful exchange being used as a weakness by the dishonest and deluded.

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2 thoughts on “Alternative Facts: a new name for an ancient problem

  1. I recently engaged in a long debate with a denier who came across as being a little sophisticated and who used quotes from various research papers (mainly about the fact that often insufficient data renders definite conclusions hard to arrive at), yet the fact that almost all of these research papers also discuss AGW as being a well known fact, meant nothing to him.

    Being a layman with enough knowledge of science to know that mainstream arguments (such as on the skeptical science website) make a great deal of sense, but without much technical know-how at my disposal, I usually focus on the inherent absurdity in the horrendous conspiracies theories people like him support—which are really not supportable i.e. the claim that Climate scientists only do research to make money and are afraid to reveal “the truth,” lest they be destroyed by powerful administrations, or, that they are secretly plotting to gain control of the world’s future energy economy.

    I can only respond by mentioning that ordinarily research done by academics employed by our universities are usually compensated only for the costs involved in doing research or for lost wages when not being able to teach (for example). I also like to point out that the vast majority of climate and earth scientists have continued to make the same projections no matter which administration happens to be in power, yet have ignored many opportunities like those available during GWs tenure, when the man most responsible for refusing to sign the Kyoto Accords, and who expressed serious doubts about about man’s role in AGW—could have gladly removed the yoke of coercion which liberal Democrats had supposedly placed on their backs?

    Then there’s the fact that the data about climate change, has remained basically the same, during ANY administration, and that what is happening today, was projected by climate scientists long ago, (in the 1980s and before). So previous scientists must have had access to a time machine which enabled them to know what the future woiuld bring? I also like to point out how reasonable it is to assume that the very powers that cling to the sources of their wealth, such as large oil and/or gas companies, are the ones who are obviously spending a fortune just to create doubts about AGW, and that, scientific researchers make nowhere near the big bucks earned by executives and CEOs or others, either running or being lucratively employed by mega companies like Exxon Mobile? However, my opponents almost never address these issues in their responses, and rely instead on using red herrings and ad hominem attacks. So, I have come to the conclusion that deniers like these are just not interested in the truth, or in having a rational debate—however well formed and logical that debate may be.

    One of the people I exchanged comments with, had a habit of demeaning and insulting me, or at the very least, using very condescending language while trying to enlighten me with more of his speculations about, and denials of, the mountain of evidence that supports the reality of AGW. Just before I quit commenting to him, I tried to bring to his attention the fact that he had used some pretty ugly insults and antagonistic comments while making his responses to me, (which he continued to deny)? I actually tried to prove my observations by copying one of his most nasty diatribes, and then posting it right below other comments which he had made, and which affirmed his own verbal abuses . What was his response? He just doubled down on denial and claimed that his own caustic use of insults did not even exist–even though the proof that thoroughly disputed this fact,was right there in plain print and in front of his nose!???

    Obviously, many deniers are not even focused on using persuasive or rational arguments to prove or disprove points. All they need to do is create doubts in the minds of those who can be fooled by pseudo-science and then see nothing wrong with voting for politicians who spread blatant denials in order to block crucial climate legislation. As my mother-in-law used to say, “Its so stupid that it stinks!”

    What deniers are currently doing is spreading falsehoods under the protection of the 1st amendment, and, while opinion page editors everywhere, refrain from correcting the many lies and bits of misinformation that deniers commonly use! Most of these editors think there are still good reasons to continue the debate, just because (as in any scientific endeavor), there continues to be many things that are not yet known, and thus, this fact can be used by deniers to indicate that the science itself, is still not settled. Still I have tried in vain to make one editor who publishes my comments aware that the 97% or more consensus, is really about two things–that global warming exists and that man is its major cause. And, all the while those of us who know the truth, feel like we are pushing back on a huge bolder composed of lies and deceptions, while it rolls slowly towards an abyss–because we are unable to persuade the people who count the most, about the fact that they are being conned!

    The sad thing is that, under their version of the 1st amendment, scientists and educators could be accused of denying the rights of a teacher to dispense easily debunked facts, (like claiming that 2+2=5)? But if anything, all of us are being denied the simple right not to be taken in by lies, while our local newspapers refuse to edit letters filled with lies and falsehoods–something completely within their own rights to do? And the real sadness is that as the climate becomes more and more unstable, and causes more and more extreme weather, deniers will continue to dispense lies and misinformation that will probably still be believed by many of us. However, as the saying goes, you can believe in your own opinions but not in your own facts!

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    1. The deniers are losing numbers simply through the observed effect already at play. Moreover, business (more often than governments) are ramping up in their actions to mitigate climate change. It won’t be enough and I’m convinced that the most likely solution (if you can call it that) will need to be a techno-fix (carbon sink as well as radiation deflection). It’s not ideal, but ingenuity will need to make up for an absence of quality leadership. In the end, the option we will use will cost us the most.

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