Quote of the day

John Nielsen-Gammon’s conclusion after a thorough debunking of Steve Milloy’s junk science:

it took five pages to retort six pages of falsehoods.  This is the epitome of junk science.

2 thoughts on “Quote of the day

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  1. Is it really a waste of time?

    A good refutation sometimes takes a lot of effort, sometimes more than the BS artist put in in the first place. But as N-G points out, people do take this sciencey-looking stuff seriously.

    You not only have to refute it, you have to bury it. Otherwise people looking at the superficial details take it seriously. But that makes it even harder.

    “Denialism” is a good name because it is reminiscent of “denial-of-service attacks” which pseudoscience emphatically is. But you can’t respond to DOS attacks by ignoring them.

    1. I don’t want to give the impression that it is waste of time. At least not always. Just that it is a time sink.

      And in keeping with the computer analogy I recommend everyone read Julian Sanchez’s article on one-way has arguments:

      Come to think of it, there’s a certain class of rhetoric I’m going to call the “one way hash” argument. Most modern cryptographic systems in wide use are based on a certain mathematical asymmetry: You can multiply a couple of large prime numbers much (much, much, much, much) more quickly than you can factor the product back into primes. A one-way hash is a kind of “fingerprint” for messages based on the same mathematical idea: It’s really easy to run the algorithm in one direction, but much harder and more time consuming to undo. Certain bad arguments work the same way—skim online debates between biologists and earnest ID afficionados armed with talking points if you want a few examples: The talking point on one side is just complex enough that it’s both intelligible—even somewhat intuitive—to the layman and sounds as though it might qualify as some kind of insight. (If it seems too obvious, perhaps paradoxically, we’ll tend to assume everyone on the other side thought of it themselves and had some good reason to reject it.) The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. So the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely.”

      If we don’t sometimes defer to the expert consensus, we’ll systematically tend to go wrong in the face of one-way-hash arguments, at least outside our own necessarily limited domains of knowledge. Indeed, in such cases, trying to evaluate the arguments on their merits will tend to lead to an erroneous conclusion more often than simply trying to gauge the credibility of the various disputants.

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