I feel up to blogging for this morning, and during this day and the next I’ll be reading up on SF approaches to zero-point energy production for a friend of mine, which should be fun.
*waves at @Ravenpenny*
Especially important in looking into zero-point energy is avoiding any use of blatant pseudoscience from so called “free energy” machine sellers…
Rubber science is acceptable within the context of fiction, implausible technological quackery is NOT!
So far, I’ve got two reference pages out of five candidates in separate browser tags. The other three candidate pages are all crank sites, with obvious red flags. I won’t sully my reputation, such as that is as a relative no-name in the skeptical community, by using those last as sources.
This raises a question…
Out of the arguments of both proponents and critics of any claim, how do I decide which claimant is more credible?
There are a set of steps I use that make for a useful start of any inquiry, and I’ll put these into three groups of related questions:
- First: Which side in a given controversy, genuine or manufactroversy, commits the fewest logical fallacies? Which side has the most valid or cogent arguments and makes the fewest errors in reasoning? Once these are compared and an answer obtained, I then choose the side with the best arguments and go to step two. Remember though, to take care to see fallacious arguments that are actually there, and not the result of wishful seeing. And so…
- Secondly: Which side has the better factual support for their claims. Do their respective claims add up under adequate fact-checking using reliable sources? Do credible sources support or reject the claims made? Which sources have the better track-record and reputation as a valid and reliable? Next…
- Thirdly: Related to the second, but worth it’s own step: Which factual statements, when checked, even if and when true, are actually relevant to the claims and counterclaims made? Does the alleged factual support of a given claim actually have anything to do with it?
These three points are a basic rundown of the steps I use.
Answering these questions on science and science-relevant news are one reason I tend to support climate scientists over so-called climate sceptics, and professional biologists over the various species of creationists found online and in religion and politics.
They are the reason that I tend to give more credence to the statements of astronomers than I do astrologers, Physicists and psychologists more than psychic claimants, chemists over alchemists, and neuroscientists over phrenologists.
These questions are the reasons I don’t get my science from clergymen, religious apologists, allegedly fair and balanced media outlets, politicians or radio talk-show propagandists.
Those are not what I would call credible sources.
I get my science from scientists, and science-writers with a real background in the field, thank you, not preachers, partisan bloggers, or people who loudly decry government and taxation while also running for public office so they can get paid a rather handsome salary, with kickbacks and bribes paid by lobbyists, otherwise funded by my taxes.
- Top 10 Fallacies of Internet Trolls (americanlivewire.com)
- Conservative media’s attacks on climate science effectively erode viewers’ belief in scientists (rawstory.com)
- 2013 SkS Weekly News Roundup #32A (skepticalscience.com)
- The Appeal to Authority (ethicalrealism.wordpress.com)
- The Prodigy Effect (ketyov.com)
- 5 Ways Right-Wing Media Make Their Fans Fear Science (alternet.org)
- Anti-science arguments: How do we respond? (newanthropocene.wordpress.com)
- Moving science communication beyond the standard argument (nrelscience.org)
There’s much reading I must catch up on, from Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future, to my back issues of Skeptical Inquirer, Skeptic magazine, and Scientific American.
Also tops on things to read is a neat little book called Sleights of Mind, by Stephen Macnick and Susana Martinez-Conde, and something on an alleged New Atomic Theory, by Luiz G. Spoladore.
Fascinating how my reading list tends to snowball when life’s little surprises catch up with me — Cthulhu-possessed kitten, anyone?
Seriously, though, Eccles will grow into a fine cat…if only I can dissuade him from mischievous activities concerning my wireless computer mouse…
What has priority on your reading list for this winter?
MNQ is a question that I pose to you, my readers, and is posted each Monday at 12:00
PM. Do feel free to comment, and don’t worry yerselves overmuch… I’m not an ogre and I don’t bite…much.
Earlier last evening, some friends were over at my place for gaming night, involved in a dinner and role-playing session, and the subject of the power of belief on organic diseases came up, particularly on such illnesses as terminal, or at the time, seemingly terminal cancer.
Well, long story short, that discussion ended with an agreement to disagree on the matter, but it presented itself as a perfect bloggable moment on a subject I don’t often touch on directly and some other things in previous discussions that bear clearing up: The effects of our personal worldviews on our assessment of various sorts of evidence, and the value afforded certain concepts, such as faith and evidence, by those same worldviews.
Yes, I’m an argumentative bastitch, but as Dave Hume said, ‘Truth springs from argument amongst friends,’ and even when that argument is annoying, it is still intellectually healthy when done constructively.
How much worth should we give belief in terms of performing seemingly miraculous events? How much worth should we give personal accounts of mysterious (to us) happenings? Are we being unimaginative, overly dismissive, too rational for our own good in not affording them great value as proof of something beyond what we really know? Is it dismissing personal experience as at all valid to be cautious of anecdotes without some other data to corroborate them? Is it closing our minds to new and wonderful things, against our best interests?
I do not consider myself particularly rational. For the above though, my responses would be that the first two require us to be very cautious, no to the third, no to the fourth, and absolutely f**k no to the last.
I deny the possibility of nothing that is true in any knowable, and thus in any showable sense. But I require that certain truth-criteria be met before I concede to the claimant that it is.
And I really shouldn’t have to, but I’m occasionally forced to point out that requiring evidence before accepting a claim is in no way the same thing as denying the very possibility that the claim could be true…neither logically nor semantically the same thing…not even close…
…After all, if you were on trial in court for a serious crime, and I mean really serious, wouldn’t you rather the jury need the prosecution to meet certain standards of evidence to establish reasonable grounds for your guilt rather than assuming it on faith just because it’s possible you might be guilty? Or at the other extreme, refusing to convict a defendant despite evidence?
My money’s riding on the jury seeking evidence for the conviction and accepting what it demands.
Well, that’s how skepticism works. If something is true, show it. And if you can show it, then you know it.
But what is experience anyway, and why is it such a powerful motivator for belief?
We are prone to thinking about things, about reasoning our way, maybe not as logically as we might, from point to point, from A to B, from factoid to conclusion, however hasty.
But we do not think in a vacuum. We need input for our thinking, and we get most of that from experience. Whether it’s things we directly see, hear, feel, taste or smell, or any of our other sensory channels, or second-hand experience, no less useful, consisting of what we read and hear from others, experience gives us most of the data we process with our thinking.
Everything we can say we know, we know through some form of experience, and we can convey that experience to others, not directly from our own minds, of course, but by demonstrating our claims to them through the same sensory channels, or if needed, others, that we came to know something, such as playing a recording of something we heard, showing the text of an article in a medical journal, or even directly showing the item of discussion itself for the examination of an unbeliever, as close to ‘proof-positive’ as there ever was.
It would be foolish to reject such direct proof, but often the availability of this is lacking, and we must resort to less direct means.
One way we try to convince is by giving accounts of what we believe happened. But because our minds can deceive us, even when working properly, our senses mislead us under unfamiliar viewing conditions, and our memories fade and distort with time, we must be careful to have something more than personal testimony as our proof. If we do have other evidence with which to verify our claims, testimony can be useful, and even without it, it can still be a good starting point for inquiry. It gives us a reason to say, “That’s pretty neat, let’s look into it further and find out if it really happened, and why,” or, “Let’s see if we can examine this closer and explain it.”
But anecdotal accounts cannot serve as evidence on their own, not without some other form of data to support them. Twenty anecdotes are no better than one in the court of science, much less a court of law, and 400 anecdotes are no better than 20. Even in a court of law, there must be corroboration of eyewitness testimony by other forms of evidence.
I’ve learned to give anecdotal accounts a wide berth, as they are notoriously unreliable as proof of anything by themselves, no matter how compelling they seem in the telling, no matter how sincere, honest, and reputable the one telling them.
I believe many things, rationally and not so, and have a worldview which can accommodate any phenomena that offer good reasons to accept their existence, to fit them within my ‘reality equation’ with few problems.
But as a skeptic, I’m aware of many ways we can be misled by our experience, and though I’m no more immune to being fooled, I’m more alert for those instances in which I may be fooled. I call it hedging my bets.
My friend’s account was certainly interesting, and if it could have been verified independently of what either of us believes, it would certainly be wonderful. If true exactly as related, it would mean that all we need do to cure the most horrific cancers is to motivate people to think positive thoughts, or perhaps artificially induce mystical or religious experiences in patients to induce healing.
We know how to do this last, and reliably too, with trans-cranial magnetic brain stimulation, drugs, meditation, and some neurological conditions can cause these experiences as well. We know how to stimulate what part of the brain to achieve whatever effect we seek to…
…and if this was as effective as often said, it would be standard medical procedure. It would easily, cheaply, and conveniently eliminate the need for expensive, dangerous treatments like chemotherapy if it really worked. It would revolutionize the treatment of malignant cancers.
But if my friend’s experience is to be a guide for his beliefs, so must my experience guide me, and my experience, both direct and indirect, has shown me consistently that the world just does not appear to work that way. I’ve never found even one soundly conducted clinical study that has validated the curative power of pure belief on aggressive cancers, anywhere in the medical literature.
Mind you, I was not always a skeptic, nor a religious non-believer. I became these after my own experiences disillusioned me about the power of faith. Belief can be a powerful motivator, but life has shown me, to much dismay, and much more disappointment, that belief by itself cannot literally work miracles.
My understanding could be wrong. Maybe miracles do happen, but just because someone doesn’t know how to explain a horrible disease seemingly vanishing from the one afflicted with it, there is no real reason to suppose that no one can possibly explain it, that therefore it constitutes proof of the power of faith, or whatever.
I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, but one must be careful to not commit an argument from ignorance…drawing a positive conclusion from what one doesn’t know, in this case, the lack of a mundane explanation, or even dismissing a mundane explanation out of hand.
Anything can be believed…In my experience, everything has been and is, somewhere or at some point in time. There is really no limit to what people can or will believe if the need is strong enough.
But belief should be based on reality, not the other way around, because every belief has its rival, and reality cannot possibly accommodate them all when they are so often obviously inconsistent with each other.
I no longer believe in belief, and giving up that belief was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. My worldview currently affords more weight to reason, observational data, and objective standards of evidence, and has not impaired nor handicapped me in the least. My friend gives more credence to the power of belief than I do, and whether rightly or not is not under discussion here, in keeping with his own experiences.
How do your own experiences influence your perspective on the world?
How does this affect your assessment of claims?
What are your own criteria for truth?
How do you yourself judge what is real from what is not?
Do you even care about assessing claims?..
…Or is it enough to just believe?
MNQ is a question that I pose to you, my readers, and is posted each Monday at 12:00 PM. Do feel free to comment, and don’t worry yerselves overmuch… I’m not an ogre and I don’t bite…much.
It would be absurd for me to suppose when someone relates to me an extraordinary experience, barring reasons to suspect deception, that nothing at all really happened.
Clearly, in many cases, whether within one’s mind or in the external world, something has happened.
But it would be equally absurd for me to leap to the conclusion that what was related to me was literally an external experience in principle or in truth beyond the ability of science to explain.
Let’s try to avoid confusing the currently unexplained with the inexplicable, peeps.
In earlier posts, I’ve often discussed the ways in which we can be misled by faulty thinking, especially the use of anecdotes of personal experience and other forms of undocumented observation, into believing what we want to believe. My point is this: ‘Anecdote’ does not mean ‘evidence’ in the plural.
The reason for this is simple. When people try to use anecdotes to support supernatural, paranormal, or other questionable claims, they are not actually providing supporting evidence, merely supporting a claim by making yet more claims, which themselves require evidence, without which they are useless. I’ll say it once more: anecdotes ≠ evidence.
Even in the sanest and most sober of us, the claim of an encounter with the unexplained is often based upon a very personally compelling subjective experience, a form of evidence that while often powerful and deeply moving, can be highly fallacious and misleading, despite the general reliability of it in our everyday lives.
Anecdotes of weird experiences do not strengthen the case for any paranormal claims, for they are themselves only claims. This is why in a court of law, it is often essential for eyewitness testimony to be supported by corroborating evidence, not just more eyewitness testimony. Anecdotes have even lower status in the court of science.
Our senses can deceive us, our memories are fallible, even the most normal of us can hallucinate much more often than we would like to think, and our intuitive faculties are often inadequate for figuring out things beyond our everyday experience or complex correlation and causation…
…It’s why we invented statistics, to compensate for our natural tendency to misjudge probability.
With regard to some…fringe topics, no matter how many anecdotes are made for a claim, all by themselves they are scientifically worthless as evidence: if a hundred guys all say they saw a UFO, even if they said the same thing, but there is no supporting objective evidence for their claim, then all that testimony is useless and of no value to science.
This could be summed up by the following principle…
Anecdotes are not scientifically useful to test hypotheses, only as a means of formulating them, as rather than being evidence for a claim of fact, they are themselves merely claims of fact.
If, on the other hand, all one hundred of them started showing something that could be objectively verified, such as medically diagnosable radiation sickness, then that might lead to an investigation into what they might have really seen, which, spacecraft from another galaxy or not, is likely to be interesting.
One of the things I have to look out for as one o’ them Evil Debunkers™ is to avoid committing a common fallacy: to make a misplaced leap in reasoning, the skeptical version of an argument from ignorance, though rather than come up with a pseudoscientific or supernatural explanation for a strange event without having reason to suppose it true, attempt to propose one or more ‘naturalistic’ explanations for the alleged phenomena that while remotely possible, sound weak and contrived, and are also just as unsupported by the facts as those proposed by believers.
It’s the fallacy of giving explanations for strange events without first doing the legwork to find out if there’s really anything to explain.
This has a lot to do with anecdotes, which, no matter how honest, sincere, or otherwise virtuous the speaker, are often secondhand, third-hand and even further removed from the original source, the one the mysterious event allegedly happened to.
This has the obvious difficulty that as the one on the receiving end of this testimony, I have no independent access to any of the events described, and if it was a one-time only event, I have no way of repeating it and finding out the answer. I would have no idea what information in the account described has been omitted, embellished, or confabulated before the anecdote was transmitted from the source several persons removed, before reaching me.
Some anecdotes are simply not amenable to real explanation, and in this case a skeptic would be best served by saying to both himself and to the one relating the account, ‘I’ll have to suspend judgment on that statement for now. I have no plausible explanation for what you just told me, no magic easy answer. But let’s say we look into this a bit further and maybe get to the truth of the matter.’
I simply decide that given the data, no definitive answer to the question can be made, that the alleged event is unproven, and file it away until at some point in the future, evidence will be uncovered that allows the case to be reopened, evidence which may point to a definite conclusion and the case’s final closure.
- Each Cell-Phone Tower Creates 18 Babies?! The Difference Between Causation & Correlation | Discoblog (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- Of SBM and EBM Redux. Part II: Is it a Good Idea to test Highly Implausible Health Claims? (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Short-Term Hallucinations? (everydayhealth.com)