The 111th Skeptics’ circle, featuring that creepy Sham-Wow guy

I have no idea what possessed Action Skeptics to use the Sham Wow guy to present this week’s entries, but it’s amusing. Check it!

In particular I like ICBS everywhere on this thermography nonsense, and Living better skeptically on yet another cancer quack. It’s very upsetting when quack modalities defraud people of hard-earned money. It’s even more upsetting when people encourage quackery to replace an legitimate and important screening procedure such as mammography or effective treatments for cancer. These people are the most dangerous kind of quack, if they continue unchallenged they will be responsible for the death of their victims.

I was also interested to see Tech Skeptics’ discussion of lazy journalism exposed. Apparently, journalism these days begins and ends at Wikipedia.

So stop by and say high to ShamWow Vince over at Action Skeptics.

Skeptics’ Circle 102 at Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes

Please check out this week’s skeptics’ circle at Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes.

Of note, I liked Dr Austs’ post on the human toll of HIV/AIDS denialism, it is stirring. I also found the Skeptic’s field guide particularly interesting. I would have two suggestions. One would be to prioritize by frequency of use or rhetorical appeal rather than alphabetical, and second would be to include a section on conspiracy (like the ones the Lay Scientist and Dubito Ergo Sum describe in this issue ), which I believe is the hallmark of all denialist arguments. If you need a non-parsimonious conspiracy theory to explain your beliefs, well, you should re-think your beliefs.

And speaking of conspiracies, I forgot to blog the hysterical interchange between Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi – author of The Great Derangement, and David Ray Griffin, 9/11 truther crank. The whole thing is instructive in the lesson of not arguing with cranks, but it doesn’t get interesting until part II when Taibbi starts to figure this out for himself.

As you’ve noticed, I struggled for quite some time with the question of how to answer your responses. Mainly this was because I was unsure of whether to treat this exercise like a comedy (because it’s certainly hard to take seriously any “debate” with a person who believes that Rudy Giuliani would conspire to blow up the densest slice of taxpaying real estate in the world, the New York City financial district, in order to save his city the cost of an asbestos cleanup) or whether to aim higher and treat it like a serious political argument. I tried it both ways and neither way seemed to fit. Treating this like an absurdist comedy, I realized, I’m making it hard for readers to see how monstrous and offensive your arguments are — but then again, when I take you seriously, spending paragraph after crazed paragraph grandstanding against you and your book, suddenly I’m the one who looks ridiculous.

Then it hit me, and probably far too late: the correct play here is to ignore you and your arguments entirely. There are many things about your work that are outrageous and offensive, but the very worst thing about you and other 9/11 conspiracists — and, I guess, lately anyway, me — is that you’re/we’re a distraction from the real problem.

It gets better. Taibbi really nails the fundamental problem with all of the false-flag arguments the truthers always lay out against reality:

This same public — the same public that stood meekly by when its manufacturing economy was exported overseas, that cheered when our government pledged to “get tough” with China by demanding that it allow us to weaken our currency vis a vis the Yuan, that twiddled its thumbs when Wall Street played Keno with the nation’s homeowner savings, that has consistently voted overwhelmingly to deprive itself of its right to litigate against powerful companies — this is the public you think George Bush and Dick Cheney needed to blow up downtown Manhattan for, in order to get them on board with a war against Iraq, the Patriot Act, and whatever else.

All of this 9/11 Truther stuff, it’s a silly distraction. A country whose economy is about to go down the shitter, to the brink of depression, thanks to three-plus decades of routinely-ignored Wall Street deregulation just can’t afford to be wasting its time arguing about thermite reactions and “morphing technology.” Captivated by the comic possibilities of Truther literature, I realized this too late. As you’ll see below, I even spent a lot of time pulling what’s left of my hair out over your answers to questions that even I admit now go beyond inane. I admit in advance to looking silly for doing so, and hereby make a promise to God that I won’t do it again, at least not as long as we have other things to worry about. All the same, some of the stuff you came up with, Professor sheesh! And I thought I was loony!

Freaking awesome. I’m sorry I didn’t write about it when it came out. His final diagnosis of Griffin’s writing was beautiful:

In the end it all comes down to what you believe. If you believe that events in life tend to have simple explanations, then you’re not going to be very impressed by Griffin’s arguments. If on the other hand you think that the people running this country spend their days plotting to create phantom civilian jet-liner flights, disappearing whole fuselages full of passengers, and then shooting missiles into the Pentagon in broad daylight in order to cover up embezzlement schemes if you think, in other words, that our government is run by the same people who cook up second-rate French spy movies or your mind instantly produces the word “crossbow” when asked to produce A MURDER WEAPON by a Mad Libs script well, then, you’re probably going to enjoy Griffin’s books.