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  Topic: Dealing with [S]Denialists[/S] People, Because denialists are people too.< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
Louis



Posts: 6436
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,05:15   

Dear All,

The only controversial topic I can think of is the issue of tactics. How do we deal with denialists?

I've made mention a number of times at some length my thoughts on civil and rational discussion and discourse, and my distate for people who particpate in it dishonestly.

If I walked into a biology department and started telling all the biologists that they were wrong because chemistry prevents biological evolution for certain technical reasons, then these biologists explained to me how that claim was in error and I simply refused to acknowledge my error and instead accused them of being stupid or biased or perpetrators of a conspiracy, I'd expect to be treated fairly harshly. I might even get called an idiot.

If however, I was at a public event where a biologist were speaking to the non-biologist public (me included) and he or she started a tirade against idiots who claimed chemistry prevents biological evolution, I'd be more than a little annoyed at his rudeness.

IDCists, creationists, global warming deniers etc are in the former type of situation, not the latter.

If we as scientists are going to reach out to the wider community then yes indeed it behooves us to behave politely and with courtesy. If however elements of the wider community try to interfere with us and with science ON A DEMONSTRABLY ERRONEOUS BASIS then I'm sorry but I feel no compunction, and there should be no compunction to continually treat such irrational and unreasonable behaviour with anything more than the contempt and mockery it deserves. The distinction is a vital one and one that is often missed.

Does this mean that at the first sign of a kook in the department we yell and scream at them? No of course not. Does this mean that people should be treated with no compassion at all because they come up with foolish and false ideas and seek to get them tested by scientists? No of course not. But does this mean that scientists should meekly roll over at every kook utternace to avoid offending someone? No of course not.

Like it or not there comes a point where calling a kook a kook is not merely justifiable and/or understandable but it is necessary and actually the best thing that can be done.

I'll try an analogy, it might not be very successful as I haven't thought it through so feel free to tear it to shreds. Firstly a caveat, this isn't mere terratoriality. No one, elast of all me is arguing for the non-scientific public to be excluded for science or kept away from scientists, nor is anyone arguing for the non-scientific public to be ritually humiliated should they dare to enter our ivory towers. VERY far from it.

You're at home watching TV one night and some one comes in through your open back door. They are very polite, but tell you in a calm, quiet voice that the news item you were just watching is a lie. The news item is something trivial, and obviously accurate from the video data (which, yes I know, could have been faked etc, but let's halt the descent into solipsism shall we?). When you mention the video data shows it to be at least on the face of things accurate you are told that your are wrong. You bring out today's newspaper, and show the same story, the details confirming the video and are told again your are wrong, this time you're told that you are a bit foolish for believing the lie. Your eyebrow is raised and yet you are still polite even though this person has come into your house to communicate this message, and short of physically removing them by some means, it doesn't look like they are budging, they even follow you from room to room. You turn to the internet, providing more data covering this story. Again, it's all lies, and this time the accusations of your mild potential foolishness are a little more forceful, with the added comment that you must be part of a system or group that perpetrates this lie. Again, you keep your temper, and open your front door. This news event happened in your front yard (by happy coincidence!) and the physical effects are plainly visible. Again, this person who has come to your house uninvited tells you, more forcefully now, that not only are you a fool for believing the lie, but that you are a willing and odious participant in the fraudlent promotion and execution of this lie.

At what point in this part of the story do you cease calmly and politely responding to them and treating them as reasonable and rational?

The next part of the analogy is pretty simple too. Instead of being in your home you're in a public bar chatting with your friends about this news event. The same person comes across and tells you the same event is a lie (of course you have no idea it's the same person, you've never met them, this is an alternate universe version of the previous part of the story). The same sequence of events unfolds, this time with the obvious difference that you have to open the door of the bar to show them that your front yard (conveniently across the street).

At what point in this part of the story do you cease calmly and politely responding to them and treating them as reasonable and rational?

The final alternative universe part of the story is actually that you are a news reporter reporting at a public talk on this news event. All the same parameters apply. The same person gets up at the Q and A session after your presentation and makes the same claim that the news story is a lie. The same sequence of events unfolds, this time with the obvious difference that you have to open the door of the auditorium to show them that your front yard (conveniently also across the street, next to the bar!).

At what point in this part of the story do you cease calmly and politely responding to them and treating them as reasonable and rational?

The next question is also simple: how do you react in each situation if and/or when you have decided to stop treating them as reasonable and rational?

Let's take another uncontroversial example that is on my mind at the moment due to one of the books I am reading. How far do you think Holocaust deniers should be tolerated in the public sphere? How far do you think they should be treated as reasonable and rational individuals with a valid point for debate?

Cheers

Louis

--------------
Bye.

  
  16 replies since Nov. 30 2007,05:15 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  

    


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