A Common Thread Runs Through Crankery?

While exploring the anti-vaccine mindset, Orac assembles this group under one umbrella:

One of my interests in skepticism and critical thinking has been the similarity in the fallacious arguments, approach to data, and general behavior of those who are–to put it generously–not so skeptical or scientific in their approach to life. I’m talking about believers in the paranormal, quacks, anti-vaccine activists, conspiracy theory mavens, Holocaust deniers, creationists, anthropogenic global warming denialists, and cranks of all stripes.

A commenter calls foul:

I think your first paragraph has something of the strawman construct about it and you could find many examples to question it. To take AGW as an example, this is a concept that has been questioned by none other than James Randi, hardly known for his crank views.

Whereas one of the great proponents of AGW is that woomaster general Prince Charles.

22 Responses to “A Common Thread Runs Through Crankery?”

  1. sharper00 says:

    That seems like apples and oranges to me. Orac is comparing people who reject modern medicine (vaccines and other treatments) with those that reject climate science as well as other sciences and noting the similarity in approach.

    The commenter is simply highlighting that for any particular individual there are a range of opinions and beliefs reached through various means – some better than others. It’s long been highlighted that outside of a core competency an individual’s reliability falls off sharply thus you’re best not to get your Economics from Einstein nor your atmospheric physics from Bachman.

    What, if any, core competency an individual does posses is always up for debate. 

  2. Shub says:

    Randi recanted from his original position quite soon after his initial pronouncements. It is an old story. His fellow skeptics made sure that he did so.

    The traditional skeptics are all consensus, each and every one of them.

  3. Lazar says:

    The strawman is… “general” “similarity” -> specific equality
    James Randi places a warning right up front to not take the essay seriously..,
    “Though this subject is not one that directly concerns the JREF, I’m very frequently asked if I’ll turn my skeptical eye to it. As a year-end fling, I’ll give it a try.”
    The essay is honest and contradictory which is kinda interesting…
    “Conclusions are either reached or not, but only after an analysis of evidence as found in nature”
    “my admittedly rudimentary knowledge of the facts about planet Earth”
    “In my amateur opinion”
    “this my amateur opinion, based on probably insufficient data”
    “It’s easy enough to believe that drought, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are signs of a coming catastrophe from global warming, but these are normal variations”
    This is a major error…
    “It appears that the Earth is warming, and has continued to warm since the last Ice Age, which ended some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago”
    We can agree upon …
    “controlling the filth that we breathe from fossil fuel use”

  4. Sashka says:

    In my book, anyone who puts Holocaust deniers and AGW “denialists” in one sentence is a liar not worthy any further consideration.

  5. Sashka says:

    What’s a major error, Lazar?

  6. Tom Fuller says:

    I wonder if skeptics should publish a post grouping together AGW alarmists and serial killers…

  7. Keith Kloor says:

    Tom (6)

    That was done already over at WUWT, which I helpfully pointed out here. Looks like you were silent on that thread. The usual suspects did their usual contortionist rationalizations.

  8. Tom Fuller says:

    I’ll go take a look. But sign me up with Sashka–if climate skepticism is classed with Holocaust denial, then Orac is not only wrong, he is baiting people like Anthony.

    Which maybe was the point. 

  9. Tom Fuller says:

    Okay, took a look (April? That was a crazy month for me). Anthony got some cheap page views out of a bad lede. Bad Anthony. He should not have done that.

    But he didn’t make it up, unlike those shoehorning skeptics into the same box with Holocaust deniers. Manson really said those things.

    But then, perhaps you knew in advance what my reaction, and the reaction of skeptics and lukewarmers alike, would be to Orac’s Category 1 error.  

    You have been highly complimentary of Orac in the past. What is your reaction to him classing those who do not agree with the climate consensus alongside Holocaust deniers? 

    I ask solely because I want to see how you handle the same situation you have confronted me with on several occasions. I like Anthony personally, I empathize with the situation he faces, but I recognize he errs a bit more than occasionally–and I see your point that I am not in the forefront of calling him to account.

    How does that differ from you/Orac climate skeptics/Holocaust deniers? 

  10. thingsbreak says:

    The commentor you quoted seems to be missing the (a?) point. 
    Denialism has common symptoms and associated behaviors across many different specific subjects. That’s the general thrust of Orac’s post, and it’s not a particularly controversial or novel observation (cf Denialism blog’s “About” page). 
    Denialism can (but does not necessarily always) result in “crank magnetism”, i.e. someone who is capable of denialism on one topic can easily fall prey to it on another. That seems to be a secondary point of Orac’s, and again it’s not particularly controversial or novel.
    The commentor seems to think that Orac is arguing that the second is always a result of the first (nope), and/or that rejection of denialism on one front is a guarantee against all types of denialism- i.e. that the inverse is also true (nope). I don’t see Orac making any of these claims.

  11. thingsbreak says:

    Noting that groups show the same kinds of behaviors and beliefs with respect to mainstream science or history (e.g. false experts, cherry picking, impossible expectations, etc.), does not mean there is a 1:1 equation moral between the two groups. There are people who engage in denialism about plate tectonics, and it’s not “classing them alongside Holocaust deniers” in moral terms to note that they share similar problems with understanding and interpreting evidence.
    People who don’t have any emotional investment can easily understand this. The label of denialism is not something unique to Holocaust denial, nor is it meant to invoke Holocaust denial. Nor is it (despite certain claims to the contrary) directed solely at one political orientation.
    I know that I have personally explained this to you before. It’s not difficult.

  12. Tom Fuller says:

    Sadly, your explanation fails. Using the ‘n’ word on dark-skinned Indians isn’t wrong because it’s inaccurate. It’s wrong because it’s hate speech.

    Calling me–calling anyone in the climate debate–the equivalent of a Holocaust denier has nothing to do with our attitudes about science.

    And no matter how many times you try and justify it, it’s just hate speech. 

  13. Tom Fuller says:

    If it were not hate speech, your reaction I’m sure as a decent human being would be this: “Oh–I’m sorry this offended you. I’ll find another term. How do you describe yourself?” 

    Instead of using philology and astrology to continue reaching for thin justifications for degrading insults that offend.

    It is perfectly obvious that you use this term precisely to offend and precisely to associate us with skinheads who deny the Holocause occurred.

    So, you are __________, or some other accurate phrase that would cause Keith to put me in moderation purgatory. But it would just be you. I would not associate other people with whatever term I used.  

  14. Stu says:

    Tom says:

    “if climate skepticism is classed with Holocaust denial, then Orac is not only wrong, he is baiting people like Anthony.
    Which maybe was the point. ”

    One thing to keep in mind (atleast, one thing I’m trying to keep in mind more these days), is that people who follow an issue for any length of time, they inevitably start to notice these chains of causation and effect operating that others don’t. For example, the case with Anthony- I was looking into his blog fairly early on. I remember he would sometimes post these threads about various people who were really coming down on him hard for his ideas that the surface temp record may be warm biased. Articles in the local news and things like that. Not from scientists, just people who were so offended that he would actually dare to wonder about the accuracy of this stuff. Anthony would normally take these comments on the chin, and most posters would wonder why these people were so antagonistic and sometimes really nasty, and I was always impressed with Anthony’s politeness in the face of this kind of opposition. It became a humorous thing, how people could get so wound up… There was also a faith back then that being polite and rising above the fray would win out in the end- the end goal here being an ability to have a debate. Fast forward to present day, and you have Anthony posting quotes from Manson. There is a chain of cause and effect here, but it doesn’t excuse Anthony either. 

    I’ve actually been able to persuade Anthony to remove stuff from his blog that poked fun of Joe Romm. His admission to me at the time was that sometimes he just loses it; stuff gets out that he wished later he hadn’t posted- but that there’s also, behind the scenes- a ton of self censorship and deleting going on, a will to restraint and civility. I’m sure most people, on either side of this debate, can empathise with this situation. 

    Anyway… ermm… blessed are the peacemakers?

  15. Marlowe Johnson says:

    TB once you realize that Tom suffers from the same condition as these folks it becomes much easier to understand his behaviour  😉

    Do you deny that your denialist shenanigans about the appropriate use of the term denier in the context of global warming denialism denies interested blog lurkers from enjoying an otherwise fruitful discussion?  

  16. PDA says:

    What was it Keith said on the other thread about a “hit me” sign?
    Alarmist/warmistas should loudly and vociferously object to being slandered with a term associated with a certain Sicilian crime organization known for extreme violence, extortion, and murder. Because I have to say, a “mafia” is about the only thing I can think of that’s more bad-ass than a “hockey team.”
    Maybe “Climate Vatican Assassins” could catch on.

  17. Tom Fuller says:

    Ahh, thingsbreak, Marlowe Johnson and PDA, showing up on cue. All we need now is Buckyboy and Secular Animist or dhogaza and you have a quorum. 

    “But we like the term Holocaust Denier. If you take it away from us we might have to think…” 

  18. thingsbreak says:

    Tom, when people ask me not to refer to them personally as climate deniers/denialists, I try to respect their requests. However, the term is commonly used in discussions about denialism generally and with respect to climatespecifically, and I’m not going to pretend it isn’t just to appease the local political correctness thought police.
    Denialism applies to more than the Holocaust, and to more than climate. Recognizing commonalities between these and other forms of denialism is not equating them morally. People have been using the term “denial” long before and without reference to the Holocaust and will continue to do so long after you’ve stopped whining about it to derail discussions of the commonalties between climate denialism and other types of denialism.

    Again, this isn’t hard. 

    I suggest that as long as people are discussing a topic on someone else’s blog who doesn’t share your same penchant for false equivalences, you either toughen up or avoid conversations where your feelings are going to be hurt by use of the word denialism. 

  19. Brendan H says:

    thingsbreak: “Noting that groups show the same kinds of behaviors and beliefs with respect to mainstream science or history”¦ does not mean there is a 1:1 equation moral between the two groups.”
    True, but I wonder whether the term gains some rhetorical force when it involves an emotive subject such as global warming. I’m not too keen on the term denier, but not so much for any association ““ real or imagined ““ with Holocaust denial, as for the sometimes unpleasant way it is used against climate sceptics.
    That said, I also think that the term “sceptic” is too generous to be applied to some climate, er, contrarians.
    On that note, your notion of moral equivalence is interesting when applied in the converse. It seems to me that two key features of denial are conspiracy thinking and moral opprobrium, and that the two work in tandem.
    This point is brought out in a Wikipedia article on Holocaust denial, and particularly this quote: “”¦indeed, that [the Holocaust] was nothing more than a frame-up invented by the Jews, and propagated by them through their control of the media”¦”
    The power of this argument is in both its circularity and its projection. As long as one believes that the Jews are irredeemably wicked, the argument cannot fail, because such wickedness is capable of anything, including the monstrous “lie” of the Holocaust.
    More than that, those who feel affronted by blame ““ real or imagined ““ being cast their way can turn the moral tables on their persecutors by engaging in denial and conspiracy.
    Is this sort of mindset present in the climate debate? I think it is among a certain minority, and I think I can spot them.
    The interesting question is whether the mindset is present on both sides of the debate. I would say not, or not obviously, since this sort of denial is by definition contrasted with the consensus/ mainstream view.

  20. Keith Kloor says:

    Brendan writes, 
    “I also think that the term “sceptic” is too generous to be applied to some climate, er, contrarians.”
    I agree and I tried to address that issue in this post.

    As for  denialism on the other side, it does exist, but not related to the science. Some pro-AGW folks are in denial over the scale of the global energy challenge and the ability of renewables to supplant fossil fuels in a meaningful time frame. 

  21. jeffn says:

    KK “Some pro-AGW folks are in denial over the scale of the global energy challenge and the ability of renewables to supplant fossil fuels in a meaningful time frame.”
    I’d say it’s a lot more than “some” and it points out that playing around with what, specifically, is denied is a very useful political tool.  Consider this analogy:
    Joe “It will rain very hard one day, we should immediately relocate the Loch Ness Monster.”
    Jane: “There is no Loch Ness Monster. If you’re really worried about the rain, why not do something about the cause of rain or look at umbrellas instead of babbling about mythical sea monsters?”
    Joe: “Jane is an idiot- she denies the basic fact that rain will indeed fall at some point. Only my political party knows where the Loch Ness Monster lives and delay in taking action to move her- especially for something as simplistic as denying the existence of rain – is to doom the earth.”

  22. Brendan H says:

    Keith: “Some pro-AGW folks are in denial over the scale of the global energy challenge and the ability of renewables to supplant fossil fuels in a meaningful time frame.”
    The major advantage of fossil fuels ““ especially oil — is the amount of energy packed into an easily transportable product, with many spin-off uses.
    In regard to energy denialism, my view is that the more AGW goes mainstream, the more we’ll see pragmatic solutions come forward. Thirty or forty years ago, if I remember rightly, there was the same foot-dragging over industrial pollution. Nowadays, support for a “clean” environment is standard marketing practice.
    The same is probably is happening with AGW, and will intensify in the future. For greens, this type of evolution of opinion is probably a tragedy, because it dilutes the pristine vision, but that’s the way of things, and I’m not too bothered.
    Political purism is a dangerous brew. I’d prefer to see visionaries focus on making money in a well-regulated economy than dreaming up schemes for a wholesale reordering of society.  
    As for the “sceptic” label, for practical purposes “climate sceptic” is about the best one can do as an overall term. The “sceptic” may be too generous towards some, but the “climate” helps to delimit the range of attributed scepticism.

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