Orac has brought up the interesting point that debating the homeopaths at U. Conn might not be a good idea.
On a related note, in a post derriding attacks on consensus I was asked by commenters if isn’t it incumbent on science to constantly respond to debate; to never let scientific questions be fully settled. And I understand where they’re coming from. These ideas represent the enlightened ideals of scientific inquiry, free speech, and fundamental fairness.
However, they’re also hopelessly misplaced in regard to the problem at hand. That is, denialists, cranks, quacks, etc., are not interested in legitimate debate or acting as honest brokers trying to bring clarity to a given issue through discussion. Orac dances around this issue a little bit, talking about the challenges of debates with pseudoscientists because they are hard to pin down, but the fundamental problem, simply put, is the absence of honesty and standards. Academia and science are critically dependent on debate, this is true, but the prerequisite for having the debate is having people who are honestly interested in pursuing the truth and operate using the same rules of evidence and proof. It’s not about censoring dissent, which the cranks insist is the issue in their eternal pursuit of persecution. It’s about having standards for evidence and discussion. This is why these debates, when confined to a courtroom, often fare so disastrously for the denialists. In the presence of standards that exist before evidence can be introduced, they are left with nothing.
In what is probably the best book on denialist tactics Deborah Lipstadt’s “Denying the Holocaust”, are the best arguments for not engaging in debate with denialists. Now, I realize we’re not talking about scum-of-the-earth holocaust deniers here, but the fact is, the tactics and the methods are ultimately the same no matter how noble or evil the motive. Just because the motives or ideologies of the other cranks or denialists are different, doesn’t mean that they don’t have the exact same flaws in their arguments, use of evidence, or fundamental honesty. Lipstadt explains the risks then of entering into debates with deniers:
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