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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.

  
J-Dog



Posts: 4361
Joined: Dec. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,09:36   

Hmmm…

I am not sure exactly what you mean, but my understanding is that you would like to discuss how to treat ID creationists and their willing and maybe unwitting minions?

1.  Personal Level, including acquaintances

2.  Non-personal level, primarily news media.

On a personal level, it is best ignored, for example when the Creo is someone you are married to, or other family members.

2.  On a non-personal level, you should be under no obligation to accept their particular myth, whether it is Creo, Muslim, or Wiccan.  How polite I am depends on how insistent they are at forcing their myth upon me, but I think that normal interaction politeness level rules would apply.

Personally, I do not even bother to approach anyone about their beliefs, since despite what Creos like FTK, DaveScot and other UD denizens think, atheism is not a belief system, it is non-belief system.  If someone wants to be stupid, hey, it’s not my job to tell them they are.  

If your hypothetical guy in the bar pushes to convert me (or more likely a door-to-door converter type), I usually tell them that God told me that they are a tool of the devil and they should immediately stop doing what they are doing.  I rarely have to respond twice.  I assume that the appearance of meeting someone even crazier than they are immediately halts them in their tracks.  

If they are a yeller and a screamer for Christ like Fred Phelps and family, I think it justified to be a little more severe with a response, so a flamethrower or grenade would be fully justified.  (Ha!  Just kidding - but it would be funny in a cartoon!)  Unfortunately, in the real world, we have to allow them room to vent their spleen, but listen to them? No.  Why bother.  I feel the same with radical Muslims and other haters – legal allowance, personal repugnance.

What is the solution long term?  Fight legal battles wherever and whenever possible.  Teach rationality in thought and actions whenever and wherever possible.  

Continue blogging at ATBC, because for every post we make here, Jesus tears the wings off an angel.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Joe D

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Come on Tough Guy, do the little dance of ID impotence you do so well. - Louis to Joe G 2/10

Gullibility is not a virtue - Quidam on Dembski's belief in the Bible Code Faith Healers & ID 7/08

UD is an Unnatural Douchemagnet. - richardthughes 7/11

  
Louis



Posts: 6436
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,10:10   

J-Dog,

LOL I like the jokes. Although obviously the joke about flamethrowering Phelps and co is an excorable piece of utter evil that means you should be punished for all eternity and excommunicated from polite society.

What I'm angling at is that often if one calls a kook a kook, or a liar a liar, one is villified for exposing the nudity of this particular Emperor. Very often atheists like Dawkins and Harris are accused of extremism or fundamentalism in the same sense others would accuse Falwell or Robertson or Osama bin Laden of fundamentalism or extremism. Needless to say I don't find the comparison remotely accurate. However, this speaks to a bigger issue: how to deal with people who simply refuse to participate in rational discourse AND YET insist on insinuating themselves into places and situations where rational discourse is occuring.

FTK is a classic example. She came to AtBC full of grandiose pronouncements about what a "crock" evolutionary biology is and utterly refused to discuss the topic in any meaningful manner. What can you do with someone like that? She delieberately insinuated herself here and caused no end of disruption and dispute simply because she refused point blank to deal with any comment or argument in a rational manner. Thus several people, myself included, ceased treating her as if she was capable of being rational. Now that is, to a degree, clearly an error. FTK is not propping up the wall of an asylum AFAIK, she is a fully functioning, sane human adult. But heaven help me, she behaves so irrationally regarding evolutionary biology and science that it is incredibly hard to treat her as a rational human being capable  of reasoned discourse on even a basic level. Even the more saintly members of AtBC would concede that.

Sadly ignoring people like FTK does not make them go away. The scientific community has tried ignoring the kooks and charlatans and what has happened is that said kooks and charlatans have done their level best to circumvent the scientific process and manufacture political controversy about a scientific matter that is not scientifically controversial. So "ignoring" as a strategy has limited value.

Then comes the series of strategies that fall into "damned if you do, damned if you don't". If one debates with the FTKs of this world one is accused of giving undue credence to kook claims (quite rightly), or by some sections of our own "team" (and I hate that phrase and the concept it represents, but I'll use it as a shorthand) of engaging in mental masturbation or self aggrandisement. If one doesn't debate one is accused of cowardice, arrogance etc etc etc, all quite falsely.

My question is aimed at this very thing. All of the briefly described strategies above rely on assuming that the person(s) involved on the kook side of the equation are rational, honest people capable of reasoned discourse, informed to some degree about the topics at hand. The simple fact is that they are NOT! When do we stop treating them as if they were rational? How much bending over backwards, careful explanation, polite conduct is enough?

Why do I ask, well one reason if obviously because I have a limited amount of patience and toleration. In my case, very limited! But the other more important reason is this: psychiatrists dealing with people who believe they have been abducted by aliens only enter into the delusion so far. To enter fully into a patient's delusion is to grant it false credence and tus the patient flase hope. It is actually a destructive thing after a point to treat a patient's delusion as reality. At some point that patient has to be weened off the delusion.

I'm not equating creationist kooks or fundamentalists or even UFO believers to people who are genuinely insane, I'm just tryin to highlight the fact that mental health professionals recognise that at some point in a therapeutic process it is positively harmful to continue to entertain the demonstrably false beliefs of the patient any further. The parallel I am drawing is with people like FTK where do we draw the line and refuse to entertain the demonstrably false contention that they are capable of rational discourse about a particular subject?

The accusation made by members of our own "team" (again, usual caveat) is that by not entertaining the demonstrably false contention that these people are equally and universally capable of rational discourse about a particular subject, after a certain point, that actual harm is done to the "cause" (whatever that might be). I've yet to see ANYONE advocate that the very moment a creationist opens their mouth that they should be laughed out of town and mocked unmercifully as a deluded, irrational fool they perhaps undeniably are. The word perhaps is quite important in that sentence!

The point is simple, at what point and under what circumstances do we decide to write someone off as a kook incapable of engaging in rational discourse.

Louis

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

  
BWE



Posts: 1896
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,12:10   

I once told someone that there response struck as rather "chickenshit" in a business meeting with several people present. Ordinarily, I should have been released from the obligations of my position at that point. But, the thing was that his response was indeed chickenshit and no one knew how to handle it. I smiled and said, "Moving on..."  None of the people present ever mentioned the incident again around me and the man's objection was squelched.

I was a bit worried for a while but when nothing happened, I thought to myself that I really enjoy living a bit on the edge.

--------------
Who said that ev'ry wish would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it
Look what it's done so far

The Daily Wingnut

   
JAM



Posts: 503
Joined: July 2007

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,12:23   

Quote (Louis @ 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?

Challenge them to bet real money on their claims. In my experience, they always back down.

That is very strong evidence that they know that what they spout is hooey.

  
Tom Ames



Posts: 238
Joined: Dec. 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,12:34   

Quote (JAM @ Nov. 30 2007,10:23)
Quote (Louis @ 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?

Challenge them to bet real money on their claims. In my experience, they always back down.

That is very strong evidence that they know that what they spout is hooey.

Or single-malt Scotch. That always cleans their collective clocks.

--------------
-Tom Ames

  
J-Dog



Posts: 4361
Joined: Dec. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,12:42   

Quote (Louis @ Nov. 30 2007,10:10)
The point is simple, at what point and under what circumstances do we decide to write someone off as a kook incapable of engaging in rational discourse.

Louis

I think that a baseball analogy fits perfectly here - three strikes and you're out*.

We gave FTK I believe 127 strikes, that's a couple too many, but I believe we, the entire ATBC Board was feeling magnaminous that day... er, month.

How to deal with an entrenched Creo? (And I can't believe you pooh poohed my flamethrower idea!?) Do what we did and call them on their evasions, and illusions, and as Jam suggests, betting them cold hard cash works, but of course, if they are a True Lyer For Christ™, they can always get more from the gullible saps true believers.

I say let them be dumb, just keep it out of the schools.

*For you Brits,  baseball is what cricket became once it grew up. USA!  USA!  USA!

--------------
Come on Tough Guy, do the little dance of ID impotence you do so well. - Louis to Joe G 2/10

Gullibility is not a virtue - Quidam on Dembski's belief in the Bible Code Faith Healers & ID 7/08

UD is an Unnatural Douchemagnet. - richardthughes 7/11

  
C.J.O'Brien



Posts: 395
Joined: Aug. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,13:04   

"But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
--Carl Sagan

We need to overcome the impulse to give creedence to ideas simply because their proponents speak with conviction against prevailing consensus. There is a broad streak of anti-intellectualism, most prevalent in the US I believe, that leads many to accept denialist claims not in spite of the fact that they fly in the face of hard-won consensus, but precisely because they do. Conspiracy theories, systematically invulnerable to contradictory evidence (evidence against a conspiracy is actually evidence for it --that's how powerful and devious the conspiracy is!), are attractive to those who see scientists and "intellectual elites" as arrogant and uncaring about "the common man." You've a leg up on convincing people who think this way, just for espousing a controversial point of view, because they'd rather see "the experts" with egg on their face than actually hold justified, true beliefs.

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The is the beauty of being me- anything that any man does I can understand.
--Joe G

  
Louis



Posts: 6436
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,13:12   

CJ has hit the nail on the head, esp with the Sagan quote.

I also deeply love the money/whiskey suggestions.

J-Dog, I personally operate a three-ish strikes and you're out policy, I think that's a great way to do things. I also know what baseball is, it's as good an excuse for drinking as cricket. 5 day test matches with a bar open all day. Yes PLEASE!

Louis

P.S. I poopooed the flamethrower because I am being told off for saying that shooting fundies was a waste of bullets, i.e. coming out AGAINST shooting fundies when 'twas being discussed humourously. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea by actually agreeing with a flamethrower suggestion now do I? By even mentioning it, even in disapproval, I am running the risk of being accused of being at the head of a jackbooted hoard hell bent on killing all religious people everywhere. Such is the hysterical level of assuming hostility where none exists. Some people cannot distinguish between "hostile" and "annoyed".

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

  
J-Dog



Posts: 4361
Joined: Dec. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,13:26   

Quote (Louis @ Nov. 30 2007,13:12)
Louis Said:

I am saying that shooting fundies was being discussed.

I actually agree.. with a flamethrower suggestion now .

I am at the head of a jackbooted hoard hell bent on killing all religious people everywhere.

Luis - I fixed your last post for you.

It was easy, I just went to the UD site and used the handy drop-down Quote Mine Feature ™.

No, no, you don't have to thank me, I was happy to help!

--------------
Come on Tough Guy, do the little dance of ID impotence you do so well. - Louis to Joe G 2/10

Gullibility is not a virtue - Quidam on Dembski's belief in the Bible Code Faith Healers & ID 7/08

UD is an Unnatural Douchemagnet. - richardthughes 7/11

  
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,13:27   

Quote (Louis @ Nov. 30 2007,13:12)
CJ has hit the nail on the head, esp with the Sagan quote.

I also deeply love the money/whiskey suggestions.

J-Dog, I personally operate a three-ish strikes and you're out policy, I think that's a great way to do things. I also know what baseball is, it's as good an excuse for drinking as cricket. 5 day test matches with a bar open all day. Yes PLEASE!

Louis

P.S. I poopooed the flamethrower because I am being told off for saying that shooting fundies was a waste of bullets, i.e. coming out AGAINST shooting fundies when 'twas being discussed humourously. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea by actually agreeing with a flamethrower suggestion now do I? By even mentioning it, even in disapproval, I am running the risk of being accused of being at the head of a jackbooted hoard hell bent on killing all religious people everywhere. Such is the hysterical level of assuming hostility where none exists. Some people cannot distinguish between "hostile" and "annoyed".

Oh, I didn't realise you was being humorous. I was counting on those extra rounds. You do realise that a flamethrower burns fossil fuels and endangers everyone? Sheesh! 

Yeh, yeh, you just go on warming the globe.

  
Louis



Posts: 6436
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,13:36   

Oh you guuuuuyyyyysss!

Thanks!

Louis

P.S. Jack boots on people, we've got some stomping to do.

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

  
George



Posts: 312
Joined: Feb. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,13:41   

I like to think of denialists of all kinds in three groups:

1) the followers
2) the masters
3) the activists

Type 1 are the people who deny really on a superficial level.  They don't know a whole lot about the subject, including the more detailed denialist arguments.  They might follow the denialist line because it fits in with their politics or because a friend is denialist or because of some funny quote or something they heard on talk radio.  These are the sort of people that wouldn't really comment on blogs, though they might lurk a bit.  They might be your brother-in-law.

Type 2 are the ID leaders, the oil magnates that fund the anti-climate change or the tobacco is good for you research.  They probably don't even believe their own denialist position.  They're the ones making money from it.  They're evil scum.

Type 3 are the cheerleaders of a denialist movement, the evangelisers who've completely bought the line.  They're talk radio hosts, revival meeting organisers, wingnut journalists, and probably most of the commenters at UD (the non-trolls anyway.)

I think the way to deal with a denialist is to find out what group they belong to.  Quickly and efficiently if possible.  The masters and activists will never be persuaded except under exceptional circumstances.

It seems that Louis is talking mostly about the activist type, which we can now see includes FtK.  Yeah, we spent too long on her.  But at first I thought she was just a follower, with a real interest in learning more.  Three strikes might be a good rule of thumb, but what counts as a strike?  Some people don't respond very well to direct challenging and dissection of the technicalities.  They just aren't very persuaded.  I reckon before giving up on a denialist, you should try different angles of persuasion (besides flamethrowers).  If you try a few different kinds of arguments against them, and they're impervious to them all, then yeah, they're types 2 or 3 and are a lost cause.

Really, that's what we did with FtK.  We tried "here's all the evidence", "explain to us what your evidence is", "how's there a conspiracy if there are so many Christians who believe in evolution [the one I thought would win]" and "your masters are either dumb or deceitful."  None worked.  That's at least four strikes and I'm sure I missed lots.

  
Bob O'H



Posts: 1967
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,13:50   

Please, George.  The image of activist Sal waving his pom-poms about is not one I want in my head just before I go to sleep.

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ID theorists don’t postulate a designer for their arguments. - Crandaddy
There is no connection between a peppered moth, natural selection, and religion that I can see. - FtK

   
George



Posts: 312
Joined: Feb. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,13:58   

Quote (Bob O'H @ Nov. 30 2007,13:50)
Please, George.  The image of activist Sal waving his pom-poms about is not one I want in my head just before I go to sleep.

How 'bout Louis?  He's the one who started this team thing.

  
J-Dog



Posts: 4361
Joined: Dec. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Nov. 30 2007,15:36   

Quote (George @ Nov. 30 2007,13:58)
Quote (Bob O'H @ Nov. 30 2007,13:50)
Please, George.  The image of activist Sal waving his pom-poms about is not one I want in my head just before I go to sleep.


How 'bout Louis?  He's the one who started this team thing.

Louis had to step out for a minute - low on flamethrower fuel, and had to get the jackboots re-soled.

I'm sure he'll be right back.

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Come on Tough Guy, do the little dance of ID impotence you do so well. - Louis to Joe G 2/10

Gullibility is not a virtue - Quidam on Dembski's belief in the Bible Code Faith Healers & ID 7/08

UD is an Unnatural Douchemagnet. - richardthughes 7/11

  
Louis



Posts: 6436
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 01 2007,03:17   

Quote (George @ Nov. 30 2007,19:58)
Quote (Bob O'H @ Nov. 30 2007,13:50)
Please, George.  The image of activist Sal waving his pom-poms about is not one I want in my head just before I go to sleep.

How 'bout Louis?  He's the one who started this team thing.

Gaaaaaah! No I'm not! I specifically mentioned it was a convenient shorthand, and NOT a representation of reality.

Please don't make me extend my disclaimers. Please!

Louis

P.S. I'll get to the rest of the excellent post in a moment.

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Bye.

  
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