Someone’s being silly on Yahoo!..
Chris Parsons on Yahoo! news posted this article on Will Storr’s new book ‘The Heretics: Adventures With The Enemies Of Science,’ and his post raised a few livid crimson flags, which I’ll point out below. His article starts innocently enough, though with the statement,
“Will Storr is a man who deals in facts. As a journalist of more than 10 years, undeniable evidence and rational data are his bread and butter. There are groups of people, however, who deny the irrefutable; who see cold, hard facts as mistruths or simply inconvenient.”
Parsons goes on to include among these people Holocaust deniers, creationists and UFO believers, though I may be excused for a little suspicion, given what I’ve learned about the rank-and-file of journalistic media over my 6 years as a skeptic, of the possible argument from authority fallacy in Parson’s first two sentences, which sounds to me like few journalists in most outlets I’ve heard or read.
Not to diss journalists as a whole, but fewer than should be in the profession are as fact-based as is being implied. But let’s grant, shall we, that Mr. Storr is one of the few who sticks to facts, rationality and knows what he’s doing, though I’ve never heard of him before now.
Parsons continues, with this:
“So why are there intelligent, seemingly rational people like this, who are capable of such unreasonable logic? The question is the subject of Storr’s new book, which explores the ‘beliefs of non-believers’. Put simply, he wants to know why ‘facts don’t work’.”
Nothing wrong with this, since having beliefs in denial of facts is not inconsistent with intelligence, education, or otherwise rational thinking in people. We do tend to rationalize our beliefs and cherry-pick our data to support them through confirmation bias, as Parsons notes, and the smarter and better educated we are, the better we are at rationalizing.
This has already been done, and given what follows in quotes below, a much better job of it, with Mike Shermer’s book “The Believing Brain,’ in 2011. Here’s my review of it.
My skeptic sense began to tingle when I saw this, flipping the “on” switch of my baloney detector:
“Storr studies not only the thought process behind conspiracy theories, but also the unwavering rationalism of their opponents.”
My suspicions were put on full alert, my logical fallacy meter suddenly hitting the “red” end of the scale a few lines down, when I saw this:
“He attends a conference of ‘sceptics’, who insist there is ‘no evidence for homeopathy’. When he asks the sceptics what scientific literature on homeopathy they’ve read to support these claims, many admit they haven’t read any. This isn’t to say that homeopathy isn’t legitimate – merely that many ‘rationalists’ dismiss it because they don’t want to believe it in the first place.”
WTF?? What a remarkably naive and illogical set of statements…a perfect trifecta of an ad hominem dismissal, a straw-person fallacy, and a blatant argument from ignorance. Since this statement isn’t in quotes I’ll assume it’s in Parsons’ own words, at best a paraphrase.
The statement attempts to dismiss skeptical criticism of homeopathy by completely misrepresenting the skeptical position, trotting out the tired old argument accusing skeptics of being closed-minded, and at once attempting to improperly shift the burden of proof by arguing from a lack of data that “If you haven’t seen any scientific proof that (insert favorite belief) isn’t true, then it must be legitimate. You just don’t want to accept!”
Skeptics dismiss homeopathy with good reason: It’s scientifically implausible on its face, and most importantly, there are no valid well-controlled studies that exist in the literature supporting its therapeutic use at all, except maybe curing your thirst. Every adequate double-blind study in the literature conducted so far has yielded no medical efficacy at all for homeopathy. It has either never been found to work, or has been found not to work.
It’s essentially magic water.
Accepting homeopathy as science would force us to discard major portions of physics and chemistry without any reason, given the lack of evidence and silly arguments advanced for it.
Don’t believe me? See for yourself. I suggest checking out JSTOR, the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Science, and PubMed. Be aware that you may have to pay a subscription or article download fee. If nothing else, take a look at the abstracts given for the articles. I have, on those occasions when buying the article was for whatever reason not an option.
Don’t trust peer-reviewed journals because you think the peer-review process and science as a whole are broken? Sorry, but I can’t help you there.
Well, given this I’ll probably buy the book, but this article doesn’t really raise my expectations.