Orac finds some super-cranks

I thought the denial of the link between smoking and cancer had gone out of style. The link between smoking and cancer is so thoroughly established that I thought no one could continue to defend cigarettes with a straight face.

Well, all Orac has to do is write a piece about the evidence for a health risk from second-hand smoke and soon enough the denialists come crawling out of the woodwork. The reason is pretty simple, smoking bans are unpopular with a certain group of people, and what do you do when science suggests something that people don’t want to believe? Well, you whip out the tactics of course.

Orac then follows the trail of BS back to one of the more incredible crank sites I’ve ever seen. It’s called forces.org, and it meets every single possible criteria of both crankery and denialism. It’s pretty incredible. They have conspiracy theories about drug companies being behind smoking bans to promote their nicotine replacements and anti-addiction drugs. They have quote-mines galore (every scientific paper they cite is misquoted, it’s incredible). They have these unbelievable crank fake experts. They clearly aren’t convinced by any amount of scientific evidence or expertise. And their logical fallacies are great! Not only do they conflate all sorts of different cancers, it seems that if something besides smoking can cause any type of cancer, then it must cause all cancers – including those cigarettes have been falsely implicated in. All of this is permeated by one of the more hilarious persecution complexes about their rights being violated because they can’t persist in a behavior that is a nuisance and health-hazard to other people.

The point of the site seems mostly to be opposition of the extension of smoking bans, and their reasoning is somewhat intriguing, at the same time it’s hilariously self-defeating. According to the mission statement of their West Virginia division, they have no chance to oppose smoking bans because there is no legitimate right to be a nuisance and hurt others’ health in public. Therefore they have to make sure to deny the science until they die of old age (or cancer). It’s almost like a public admission of using denialist tactics.

Continue reading “Orac finds some super-cranks”

Crankery is caused by a fundamental defect in reasoning

Casey Luskin doesn’t like that evilutionists equate Intelligent Design Creationism with, well, creationism. I’m sobbing.

But in a perfect example of how cranks like using the tools of logic to make their point, and then fail, he suggests that the assertion that ID = creationism is an example of the genetic fallacy. Well, that’s interesting. What’s his reasoning?

Darwinian logic often contends that because a given proportion of ID proponents are creationists, ID must therefore be creationism. It’s a twist on the genetic fallacy, one I like to call the Darwinist “Genesis Genetic Argument.” As noted, it implies that each and every argument made by a creationist must be equivalent to arguing for full-blooded creationism. This fallacious argument is easy to defeat on logical grounds by pointing out that some ID proponents are not creationists, and in fact have been persuaded to support ID in the absence of religion. Thus something other than creationism or religion must be fundamental to the set of views underlying ID (big hint: it’s the scientific data indicating real design in nature)!

First of all a big belly laugh from the “scientific data” point. But anyway, is this actually a case of the genetic fallacy? And even if it were fallacious, is it really an example of an argument of irrelevance?

Luskin links the wiki as well in his post, but it’s clear he didn’t read it (correctly).

Continue reading “Crankery is caused by a fundamental defect in reasoning”

Crank Magnetism

Back when we wrote the Unified Theory of the Crank one of the main things we discussed related to crankery is their inability to recognize competence in others. As a result, cranks tend not to mind the crankery of others, since they see themselves as opposed to a scientific orthodoxy. Consistency be damned, they just want to see science with egg on its face so they can prove that they are being persecuted.

Well lately, Uncommon Descent has been doing a pretty incredible job of sticking to this script. First we have Dembski, insisting upon the persecution of ID abroad, because the Germans jailed a holocaust denier who happened to be a creationist. Dembski, not being the sharpest tool in the drawer, didn’t think to look to closely at the story and, well, played the persecution card a little too soon.

Now Uncommon Descent, aiming for a trifecta of denialism, is using HIV/AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg to attack the orthodoxy. It really is true, cranks are so incompetent at reason and logic they simply can’t see that they’re making a terrible case. In this instance, they’re using Duesberg’s Chromosomal Chaos hypothesis to suggest that science is so addicted to Darwinism we’ve been getting not just cancer research, but bacterial resistance wrong for decades.

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Profile of a Crank – Julia Stephenson

Ben Goldacre at Bad Science is leading the way on opposing this new absurdity of “electric smog”, and one of it’s leading proponents in Britain, Julia Stephenson.

It’s really too easy. Remember the crank HOWTO? Well, she’s just about a perfect example.

It all started when she got wifi in her apartment…
Continue reading “Profile of a Crank – Julia Stephenson”

Tim Blair quote mines me

I see that Tim Blair has decided to quote mine me. As part of my analysis of Cockburn’s crankery I made the following statement.

Below the fold I’ll summarize Cockburn’s arguments and how they use the denialist tactics, George Monbiot’s responses (including his amazing crank-fu!) and discuss why in the future we may start seeing global warming denialism from the left as well as the right.

It’s important to remember both the left and the right have anti-scientific tendencies, the left’s just tend to be less religious, less world-threatening and more woo-based. My brother recently told me about moving to California, “they don’t believe in Jesus here, just bullshit” in reference to the woo-based beliefs of large portions of the population. The risk of unscientific tendencies is when people with potential to become cranks see a scientific theory as a threat to some overvalued idea they hold dear. Sometimes the over-valued idea isn’t even a bad quality, it can be compassion – but taken to an extreme. If the left starts to see global warming policy as a money-grab by the elites, expect to see more left wing crankery and climate denial based on conspiratorial beliefs about carbon markets.

I suspect this is what has happened to Alexander Cockburn, a lefty who has gone over the deep end, on what appears to be suspicions of a conspiracy to further defraud and hurt poor countries using global warming science.

Basically, I was saying that the origins of anti-scientific arguments are based on certain overvalued ideas that the left has as well as the right. Neither is completely free of unscientific movements. How does Tim Blair read my statements?

That this means there is no consensus on global warming science!


Mark Hoofnagle predicts:

In the future we may start seeing global warming denialism from the left as well as the right.

But … but … the debate is over! And it’s been over for 15 years, according to Al the Colder:

I actually can’t figure out exactly what his reasoning was here. Does it mean that left wing crankery somehow disproves science? That Alexander Cockburn, a political writer, disagreeing with global warming science is proof of no consensus? This is classic crank logic here though. A single sentence out of context proves they’re right! There is no consensus! If any left-wingers think something stupid the science is untrue!

Sadly, he doesn’t allow comments without registering (and he isn’t registering anyone new). Basically, they all sit around in a circle-jerk making fun of my last name (I’m being persecuted!) and acting like it’s some great coup that Tim Blair could take half of a sentence out of an essay saying something completely different, and warp it into something absurd.

What a moron.

**Update** Blair has suggested that I’m made unhappy by the attention I’ve gotten from his blog and the Blairites. Quite the opposite. The thing about running a blog on denialists and cranks is that you’re going to be attacked. I’m mostly amused when it happens. And besides, the Blairites don’t troll like others have – the 9/11 truthers come to mind. If anything they’re very polite, if a little touchy. I don’t mind having them around at all and am not so afraid of trolling (or just dissent) that I create a gated community of people who agree with me.

This guy is a brain surgeon?

The latest gem from Egnor:

Clearly the brain, as a material substance, causes movement of the body, which is also a material substance. The links are nerves and muscles. But there is no material link between our ideas and our brains, because ideas aren’t material.

I’m not a neuroscientist, but that’s strikes me as the dumbest thing I’ve heard yet. No material link between our ideas and our brains? So I guess when we take a hallucinogen like LSD it works by magic? How could it be that thinking
is separate from “material” as he puts it, when we can ingest material substances that alter our thinking? How is it that damage to specific areas of the brain can inhibit different kinds of thought? Immaterial things like remorse, impulsivity, memory, language can all be affected by “material” brain-damage and “material” drugs. How does the non-materialist explain this? Is it magic?

This goes beyond Egnor’s usual ignorance of science, this is more like Deepak Chopra kind of woo – this idea that our brains are in contact with the divine and that’s where our thoughts and ideas come from. But it’s just magical thinking, there is no evidence of some divine hand in our thoughts, quite the opposite. The evidence is that ideas do have an organic origin, or how else does one explain how damage to the system or specific drugs that interact with it, affects our thinking in predictable and repeatable ways?

And let’s think about what this “non-materialist” view does for the study of neuroscience. Oh wait, nothing. Because if the brain is an incomprehensible magic black box, why study neuroscience? Why try to decode, dissect and discover how neural processes and diseases work if you believe it’s just magic?

** It’s also ironic that this paper – Probabilistic reasoning by neurons – just popped up on Nature AOP and I couldn’t help thinking that maybe Egnor didn’t do a thorough literature review before posting this nonsense.

Formation of a crank: A case study

Readers of the Nation are probably by now familiar with the lunatic ravings of Alexander Cockburn on global warming.

What is bizarre, is that, before he traveled down this road, he seemed able to identify other crank ideas – like 9/11 conspiracy theories, and criticized them. Further, it’s unusual to see a left-winger become a crank on global warming. The history of this mess is interesting. It started with this first post from Cockburn, in which he declares global warming a scam.

What evolves is a fascinating picture into the formation of a crank, and the change in global warming denialism from attracting only right-wing cranks, to also attracting left-wing cranks – both denigrating science to serve a political goal.

Below the fold I’ll summarize Cockburn’s arguments and how they use the denialist tactics, George Monbiot’s responses (including his amazing crank-fu!) and discuss why in the future we may start seeing global warming denialism from the left as well as the right.
Continue reading “Formation of a crank: A case study”