Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Worked Example : Selective Reporting + Prejudicial Language + Bullshitting = ?

Warning for new readers : do not fact check this. It is very deliberately a mixture of facts, mistakes, and stuff I just simply made up off the top of my head (which is an easy and common tactic in making the lies more difficult to spot and easier to believe). Or heck, maybe you should fact check this, but don't bother telling me about it. It also contains overt plagiarism - that's what the links are for, which I hope will make my point clear. There's one quote by David Starkey - I certainly don't wish to depict him as a far-right nutter, but the quote was too good not to use.

"The people of this country have had enough of experts". When Michael Gove - great guy, love that guy - said this, buthurt scientists and their socialist cronies took to their usual twitter-mob tactics to enforce their so-called "social justice", shouting and whining their ever-more bigoted denials with obvious delight at this latest perceived victimisation. I mean it was obvious, we all knew it. The loony left might not like it, but the facts are that Gove was just saying what a lot of people in this country are thinking.

Well, I say it's time to stop pandering to the political correctness being rammed down our throats and face the truth : the delusion of science, spreading through our country like a cancer, threatens everything we hold dear. This dragon, this mortal enemy of all our fundamental values is something which, unchecked, will bring misery and disaster to this country.

Let me tell you, I've done the history on this. I know history. And it's the best history, everyone's telling me. I used to just think anyone who didn't agree was just incompetent. Now I know they're just stupid. So let me tell you the history the science nuts and their phoney Westminster lapdogs don't want you to hear.

For thousands and thousands of years, scientists have been repeatedly proven wrong and yet still they inflict untold suffering on their indoctrinated devotees. And it's not just my opinion either, but accepted fact among historians : not a single historian I spoke to for this report disagreed with me. Not a single one. As far back as ancient Greece we find examples of scientists peddling their nonsense to the vulnerable. From Anaxagoras, who thought the world was flat and earthquakes were caused by winds, to Ptolemy's crystal spheres carrying the planets like flies in amber, no idea was too ridiculous for these so-called "thinkers".

Let me take a moment because they'll tell you I'm taking things out of context. Do you know what that means ? I don't. I don't care about the context, that's for losers. I'm just reporting the facts here, no-one ever calls me a liar because they know I'm right. I'm a successful historian. In fact I'm the historian, I'm a great historian. I'm the greatest historian ever. So don't worry when they whine about context. I know what I'm talking about, and they're just afraid of the truth. And the truth about these scientists is, they're nothing but over-privileged, delusional whiners. They're only dangerous because we've given them far too much power, and that needs to stop right now. But let me finish explaining - because the politicians won't want you to know this - how we got into this sorry mess, because that's the only way we'll find any kind of final solution.

What started as a minor cult soon spread, eventually holding all of the West in a grip of mass hysteria. The ravings of Aristotle, Ptolemy and Galen held us back for a thousand years. Now, at the time, their weirdo mysticism must have seemed harmless enough at first, peddled only to the most gullible and vulnerable - unfortunate, but not looking like any kind of threat to society. Even as their propaganda began to win a wider audience, it wasn't easy for anyone to see how truly destructive this wicked, vicious faith would ultimately prove. That's where people like me come in. We've seen the history, so we know what happens. We can tell you how to deal with people like this.

The dangerous nature of these cranks and charlatans only became apparent as they won influence in society. The mysticism of Kepler, who thought the Earth had a soul (I know, right ? Can you believe that ?!), soon gave way to the alchemical investigations that saw generations of "researchers" poison themselves with toxic chemicals in a search for immortality and increased sexual potency. Some, like Newton, escaped with merely temporary madness. Others were less fortunate.

We might have more sympathy if their reckless disregard for human life had been limited to their own narrow cliques. Sadly, it was not. And that's tragic, it really is. From Roger Bacon's first experiments with gunpowder, to Alfred Nobel's dynamite, centuries of careful, methodical research was devoted to the pursuit of efficient, explosive killing. The grisly anatomical studies of da Vinci and Vesalius provided every detail necessary to refine murder into an art, which was put to deadly effect. From the first muskets to grape shot and, later, machine guns, people like Hiram Maxim devoted years of their lives to the cruel calculation of how to kill as many people as possible. And I mean years, just sitting around coldly working out the best way to rip men and women into shreds. They'll deny it, but everyone knows it. It's just common sense.

For me, the horror of Hitler is matched by bafflement at the ovine stupidity of his followers. I increasingly feel the same way about science. I'm always being accused of science-ophobia, but that's a non-word. I think science is the greatest force for evil in the world today. I’ve said so, often and loudly. What are you talking about ? There's this notion that science and scientists are a protected species. That if we talk about them at all or criticise at all, it's somehow hurting or humiliating scientists. It's a ridiculous idea. But liberals say that designing weapons of mass destruction and silencing opposition is part of their culture. Well, to hell with their culture !

Now, I don't want you to think I'm discriminating against scientists, or just cherry-picking a few examples. All the best historians agree with me. But it's not just history, it's happening today. Those scientists designing vaccines to make your kids autistic are like Fritz Haber designing chemical weapons, or Edward Teller building the first atom bomb. They're the same people. They keep doing it, over and over and over again. They lie and cheat their way to the top and don't care how many people they have to hurt in the process. They're not the right people to have in charge of the country. We have no protection and they have no competence, we don't know what's happening. But it's got to stop and it's got to stop fast.

It's coming from more than just a few researchers. It's coming from all over academia, from Werner von Braun who used slave labour to build the Saturn V rocket, to Joseph Mengele's brutal torture to satisfy his own sadistic "curiosity". Or James Watson telling us that black people are less intelligent. It's coming from Jack Parsons and his occult ravings. And Harry Harlow, the monkey torturer, and Geoff Marcy, convicted of sexual harassment, and Harold Shipman, and Lisa Nowak, the astronaut serial killer. Or Chester Southam, who deliberately infected people with cancer. I bet you hadn't heard of him.

No wonder, you don't need to. The cruelty of this barbarous profession is obvious, you don't really need me to remind you of this. I'm speaking to the libtards out there who call me a racist, but I'm just stating facts. And how many more will it take before people stop sticking their fingers in their ears and face those facts ?  Scientists aren't sending us their best people. They're sending us drugs. They're sending us crime. They're rapists and murderers. And some, I assume, are good people.

The bastards that are in that gang, they are in prison so the public think it's all over. Well, it's not. Because there's more of them. The police force and elected governors haven't done a damn thing about it. Their good textbooks tell them that that's acceptable. If you doubt it, go and buy a copy and you will find page after page of how nuclear weapons work, how nerve gas works, how radiation causes cancer. I honestly don't hate scientists - these people are cockroaches and they're doing what cockroaches do because cockroaches can't help what they do, they just do it, like cats miaow and dogs bark. They do it because they are what they are and they'll do what they do. The people I hate are the politicians who have sold us down the line.

This isn't just fantasy. All these people just have one thing in common : a belief in "rational inquiry". What is that ? I don't know. I don't want to know. We don't need to know what that is, because it's clear - the evidence is real, I've checked it with the best historians - science causes crime. Some people may ask what's the difference between historians and scientists, aren't they all experts ? But we all know the difference. There's a huge difference between an attack on science and an attack on those who practise it - it's not racist to criticise a belief system. I'm not demonising anybody. I'm demonising the political class who let this happen.

... or then again maybe all of this is just a ridiculous, massive selection effect.

Appendix 1 : Specific Details

To clear up the worst of the lies, as far as I know the search for aphrodisiacs was never a driving force of alchemy. I just made that up because it's the sort of the thing the Daily Fail would say (a paper that seems determined that everyone be sexually insatiable but unswervingly straight and monogamous). Edward Teller helped design the atom bomb but he was by no means the project leader, and there was great controversy in the scientific community over its use (Fritz Haber, in contrast, defended the use of chemical weapons). Von Braun did know about slave labour used in the construction of German V2 rockets, but certainly didn't use slaves to build the American Saturn V. Lisa Nowak was charged with attempted murder, and isn't a serial killer.

Some scientists have done brutal, evil things in the name of science*, just as some Muslims have done brutal, evil things in the name of Islam. But very few people think that all scientists are evil just because Fritz Haber, Joseph Mengele or Chester Southam (or indeed a whole host of other unethical biologists) were despicable figures. In part this is because we're aware of how many scientists aren't monsters - as well as the reports about scientists who are genuinely sadistic, we also hear of all the good things they do. In contrast we hear negative reports about Muslims all the time, but rarely about the times they just got on with living their lives they way everyone else does.

* It's true that scientific textbooks state how to do things, not whether or not you should. Religious texts, on the other hand, are subject to all kinds of interpretations even over the most apparently clear passages. Do people sometimes turn to violence because of this ? Of course they do. Does that mean that those who never commit or condone the violence are somehow culpable ? No, of course it bloody doesn't, because that's stupid.

The above text mixes genuine rhetoric from Donald Drumpf, Nick Griffin, Nigel Farage and - of all people - Richard Dawkins, as well as my own inventions to provide context*. You can find who said what in the in-article links. It's particularly worrying how easy Dawkins' quotes fit with the other, less erudite figures - only the word "ovine" seems out of place (the "what are you talking about ?" was in a tweet in response to someone else - I included it as it fits very well with the Drumpfian style of short, silly, very personal sentences).

* I'm not so happy with the writing style here - the three main sources all sing the same tune in different ways, and it's hard to invent a consistent style to link them. But I thought it was important to try to show how one could demonise not just scientists, but science itself.

Dawkins' complaint that people are offended is patently absurd : he keeps saying incredibly offensive things and then doesn't understand why people are yelling at him. Sorry Richard, but you cannot go around saying that Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world and expect that Muslims won't be offended.  If someone said the same thing about science, you'd be bloody offended. You'd take it personally. You would not feel that it wasn't a criticism directed at you, you'd feel that you were being abused - and rightly so ! Farage (regarding Romanians more than Muslims) and Griffin do much the same thing. There isn't a "huge difference" between criticising a mode of thought or even a career choice and those who practise it. If you want to make that distinction, you have to be much, much more careful than you can be in 140 character tweets.

One other thing I've noticed is that such figures often say the occasional moderate statement, which their followers then seize on to say, "hah ! look, he's not a racist at all !", or, worse, more intelligent but less involved commentators will say, "it's more complicated than that". It isn't. The occasional mewling about "immigration from the Commonwealth" does not make up for years of roaring about the problems of eastern Europeans. Not all issues are complicated, and preferring some countries to others is just racist anyway. Usually, yes, things are more complicated than they appear on the surface - as indeed this little piece of satire should attest to. It's also important to remember that sometimes the world is frighteningly simple. And depressing.

Appendix 2 : General Demonisation/BullshittingTechniques

Only a Sith believes in absolutes, so please don't assume that anyone who ever makes a mistake or believes one or two crazy ideas is a dangerous madman. The following list comprises both abject bullshitting (especially mixing lies with truth, and wilful ignorance) and warning signs (using anecdotes is fine, only using anecdotes is not; presenting evidence that bad things will happen is OK, but using purely emotive drivel to induce panic is not). So be cautious, mull things over, above all things be prepared to admit you might be wrong, but don't let self-doubt cloud overwhelm you and hide the truth when it becomes clear : a polished turd is still a turd.
  • Never tell a lie when the truth will do. This makes it easier to get away with the lies when you need them. Use a mixture of the truth, half-truths, and massive in-your-face lies. It confuses the heck out of people.
  • Only ever use the truth selectively. But, occasionally say something ostensibly much more moderate. This will give your supporters helpful ammunition against anyone accusing you of being a bigot.
  • A closely-related tactic is to state that you're not demonising the people you are, in fact, demonising. Tell them you're just demonising everything they believe in, because that makes it alright. Whether people actually do believe all this is totally irrelevant.
  • Tell a story, use anecdotes. The narrative structure of cause and effect appeals to something very deep in the human psyche and we're none of us immune to this. Whether your tale really represents the larger picture or not doesn't matter, because people will automatically assume that it does. The story doesn't have to be complicated, it can be as simple as person A did bad thing B to other person C because of reason D. Stating a reason is important, even if it's not true -  if people can see an obvious causal connection, it's even easier for them to assume your story is just a typical example.
  • Scare people. Telling people they're being attacked is just one part of this. Make people angry and thus easier to manipulate. Deliberately make people hate you, then use that to accuse them of bias.
  • If possible, be an expert in the field you're talking about. If yours is a minority viewpoint, your supporters will ignore or try to discredit every single other expert.
  • If that's not possible, don't worry. You can be an expert in a completely different field instead. Your supporters will insist that gives you credibility regardless of what the real experts think
  • If you have no qualifications of any kind, that's fine too ! You can depict yourself as one of the "common people" and don't have to worry about statistics at all. You can also say things like, "that's just common sense" with absolutely nothing to back it up.
  • If you're really desperate, present yourself as a "generalist". Don't refer to your opponents as "experts", instead call them specialists. Your being a generalist gives you magical powers to see things the expe- I mean, narrow-minded specialists can't. Obviously experts are all stereotypical loners with no larger vision at all. That's right, every single one of 'em.
  • Regardless of who you are, always use as many statements that can't be factually verified as possible. Things are "probably" happening, "everyone knows", it's all just "common sense", you have an "opinion", again use personal anecdotes - people naturally learn by induction, not by reading statistics. 
  • A related tactic is to just make bold, confident declarations as though you were stating a fact. Don't give a citation or any kind of qualifier whatsoever, just state this happened. Better yet is to mix this will well-cited genuine facts (also consider citing sources that are hard to find or just plain don't exist, thus sending your opponents on a wild goose chase long after the actual argument is over). Use negatives as much as possible ("not many people use method X") because they're a lot harder to check.
  • But you don't even have to refer to facts at all. Attack the nature of the argument instead of (as opposed to in addition to, which would be rational) the argument itself or its supporting evidence. While all bullshitters use fallacies, educated bullshitters accuse their opponents of using fallacies - often without really understanding them. On the internet this typically looks like someone shouting, "straw man !" for no apparent reason.
  • Emphasise your own amazing qualities as often as possible. Drumpf takes this to absurd new heights, often stating he's a successful businessman as though that gives him legitimacy. Wealth brings goodness, right Socrates ? The trick is to convey authority. It doesn't matter what authority.
  • Use short, snappy sentences.
  • Try to use correlation to infer causation, forgetting any wider statistics, however forced that might seem. "But it tells them to do it in a book !". Exploit the Nirvana fallacy to the hilt : it happened that one time, so it's not perfect, therefore everything about it is bad.
  • Be personal. Although they all have very different styles, just about all the successful populists try to seem like "one of us". They have different ways of doing this, though, "I'm just saying what everyone's thinking" is a common tactic. Whether everyone's really thinking it is completely beside the point.
  • Inconsistency is a strength - be self-contradictory, but be subtle about it. As long as it's not glaringly obvious, instead of making it easy for your opponents to expose your errors it can simply make it literally impossible for them to respond rationally.
  • If presented with an irrefutable counter-argument, simply ignore it. On the internet you can literally do this. In real life the classic politician's technique is to answer a completely different question and keep talking until the interviewer gets bored. "Let me finish !" they say, and occasionally they will eventually give a direct answer, making it impossible for the interviewer to know if it's worth letting them keep talking or not.
  • Alternatively, as an alternative to attacking the nature of the argument, just completely miss the point and/or focus on some very small detail as though it were the most important thing in the world. Pick on one word and wilfully misinterpret it for so long that everyone forgets the real point of the statement.
  • Just keep repeating your argument regardless of how people respond to it. Say it over and over and over again.
  • Escalate. Always raise the stakes, always attack. If something has been exposed as ridiculous, just say something even more ridiculous instead. Never admit you were wrong, except in a very small way to make yourself look moderate.
  • Always go to absurd extremes. Treat everything your opponent says as though they intended the most extreme outcome possible - "we should regulate the banking sector more closely" becomes, "kill all the capitalist pigs !", or just assume that what they said was close enough as makes no difference. Make everything into a, "where do you draw the line ?" problem.
  • Put words in people's mouths. Don't tell them how they should do their job, tell them how they are (supposedly) actually doing their job without bothering to check if it's true. As long as it fits your narrative, your supporters will love it, your detractors will hate it and thus the bias spiral grows and grows. Once you're got some established core support, being as obnoxious as possible to those who disagree is a very powerful weapon.
  • But being obnoxious is about far more than merely being rude. You can be charming and polite : "Villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged". Making yourself seem like the victim can be extremely effective in the right circumstances - again feeding the bias spiral. Great vigilance is required to detect these sorts of people.
  • Strive to make your statements require tremendous energy to refute. Sometimes it can be an asset to make statements which are as wrong as possible. When your opponents refute one aspect of it, say, "ah, but you're forgetting about blah". Blah can be just as wrong, but it doesn't matter. You've kept them focused on petty details. The fact that you have so many arguments is often falsely assumed to be evidence in itself, just as "lots of people believe X" is wrongly assumed to mean they can't all be wrong. They can, and often are. Having a hundred reasons to believe a thing doesn't mean that you don't have a hundred reasons which are all bollocks.
  • Actually believing the idea you want to sell is an optional extra - it can make you passionate, but vulnerable to going too far and saying something really stupid. On the other hand not caring at all leaves you free to say whatever the hell you like, but then you have to be a very accomplished orator to be convincing. The key point is that you care far, far more about winning the argument than about being right. Insist that you won arguments you clearly didn't (a common strategy in political leaders TV debates these days). If you actually care about whether what you're saying and believe is true - I mean the overall idea rather than individual aspects - then you may as well forget it, bullshitting isn't for you.
  • Perhaps most importantly, cherry-pick to the extent that the cherry is likely to go locally extinct within a 50 mile radius of wherever you happen to be.
The hallmark of the bullshitter is the penultimate point. Normal people like to win arguments, but they also like being objectively right. The bullshitter doesn't care about the truth, they care only about winning. They will keep defending their argument long after it's obvious they've lost. On the internet, they will keep blathering even after you tell them you're not listening any more.

So again, be careful not to assume someone is completely beyond hope just because they use one or two of the above methods from time to time, or genuinely believe a few crazy ideas. Take care to distinguish between someone with a passionately-held point of view versus someone who just wants to win whatever the cost. Everyone bullshits to some degree. But when someone persists with many of the above techniques, readily exposing their wilful ignorance while simultaneously professing great knowledge, have no compunctions about exposing them for what they are : a bullshitter. How you persuade people of this is another story.

No comments:

Post a Comment