Life at № 42
“Our country is in a crisis that threatens to set us back 400 years.
I know this sounds dramatic, and I am not talking about politics, I’m talking about reversing the Age of Reason, which ushered in a period of unprecedented intellectual, economic, and social growth. The Enlightenment, as it is also called, drew a line in the sand between rumor and fact, between testable hypotheses and anecdote, and between demonstrable facts and nonsense. Prior to the Age of Reason, people who heard voices in their heads might have been drowned or burned at the stake as witches; by the 20th century we had identified a biological disease that causes this (schizophrenia) and developed drugs to treat it. The Age of Reason led us to the germ theory of disease, penicillin, and—although it took a while and is still not ubiquitous—women’s rights, child labor laws, and a reduction in racism.
And, until the last few months, it allowed we citizens to engage in constructive discussion with elected officials about public policy matters, based on facts. It has allowed a free and independent press, with trained investigative journalists, to help us understand what is true and what is not. If the current administration brands as “fake” facts they find inconvenient, it undermines the entire political system. If we are going to throw out facts as a prerequisite to discussion, we are reversing centuries of cognitive progress.”
This is a discussion that really must be had. In the article Daniel Levitin (Professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill University, Montreal) describes at length what is nothing other than an assault on evidence based thinking and reason. He doesn’t break down the method they’re using, which I think is vitally important so people can recognize the trick. The spurious logical progression they’re promoting is in essence that it’s “impossible to know things”, and so any opinion on a matter has the same value. You can see an attempt at promoting that trope here. This is, of course, an old religious tactic. The obvious problem is in the math, they rely on the exception to prove the rule. For example, economists didn’t all predict the financial crisis, and so economists can’t be right about anything; and so the opinion of someone who knows diddly about economy is as valid as that of the person who has dedicated their life to studying economy.
The problem with that type of thinking should be very easily spotted. Failing to predict an international crisis that had a whole range of underlying factors doesn’t make an economist’s views on economy worthless. It also doesn’t make Johnny Doesn’t Read Books opinion suddenly valid. What will determine which view is better is the amount of evidence each uses to support their claims.
Here’s an interesting discussion between Nye and Carlson where you can see the (appeal to confusion) method in action:
What I find most fascinating about these exchanges is the inherent dishonesty. It reminds me, as these things often do, of the anti-lgbt debates where the bar for evidence is also absurdly skewed. I’ve spent much of my life hearing (from religious extremists) that all of the scientific studies that demonstrate lgbt homes are stable environments for children (and so forth) are “manipulated”, the result of pressure etc. etc. Then they bring out the exception, either Regnerus or Cameron, and claim those are valid. So they dismiss 99.9% of science, and cling to the 0.1% which is demonstrably false, because it just so happens it’s in line with their religio-political ideology. Interesting.