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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s