Some Generalizations

One of the few advantages of having no time is that when I do get around to sorting through my RSS feeds of various denialists is that I end up seeing patterns I didn’t observe as much when I tracked these jokers day-to-day. So, inspired by BPSDB I decided I’m going to share some generalizations.


For one, I feel rewarded by my previous study of denialists and cranks. Given that I have no time to deal with the incredible mass of BS that they generate daily, looking through their output I don’t feel particularly inspired to challenge anything in particular they have to say. After all, it’s just the same old nonsense every single day. One of the obvious generalizations you come to looking at a few weeks output of the DI, or a typical global-warming denialist is that one of the critical differences between a denialist and a real scientific site is that real scientists are interested in a synthesis or cohesive understanding of the world. Scientists are interested in making all the pieces fit, and if there is a new or challenging piece of information they are interested in finding a way to include it in an existing framework of knowledge. As we discussed in the Crank HOWTO and Unified Theory of the Crank almost a year ago, the denialist is quite different. All you see out of them is a haphazard assortment of ideas, and the only unifying theme is that, at least to them, it all contradicts scientific theories they are unwilling to accept.

It may be hard to explain but my current approach to my RSS feed is quite different than it used to be. I think that we’ve been successful in communicating to the blogosphere the importance of standards in writing about and critically understanding science. When I see many of the other sciencebloggers (both inside and outside of the sb network) writing about pseudoscience they’ve adopted much of our language because I think they implicitly understand the divide between those who are interested in honest debate and the scientific method and those who strive only to challenge that which they fear or misunderstand.

I think it’s a subtle point, and something you only see when you see the work of a group in aggregate, but it’s one of the more powerful indicators of whether someone is an honest actor interested in the truth and the scientific method. When you look at their output over time, is it just a haphazard set of attacks on that which they dislike, or is it an enthusiasm for exploration and accumulation of knowledge with an emphasis on making the world fit together in a logical and consistent way?

It also demonstrates a critical flaw in the way that scientific news is reported, because many of the science aggregators and mainstream news organizations fail according to this standard. If the motivation behind publication is only to generate buzz or readership the result is a haphazard set of reports on whatever is hot and new, and not necessarily a reflection of the literature as a whole, a common theme we complain about here on scienceblogs. Good science has to age a little bit, and every new result, with some exceptions, shouldn’t hit the lay press without qualification because all that generates is confusion and resentment among the population. Science is not nearly so fickle as a the mainstream reporting of it would have you believe.

Maybe my attitude will change when I have more time to write. I think in about 2 more weeks I will be able to write a little bit more regularly and bring the pain on these denialist jackasses. However, in the meantime, I’m enjoying being able to just zip through my RSS feed, spotting the tactics, and just moving on…