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Links With Your Coffee - Wednesday

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I'm not much given to straight, irony-free hero-worship. The last time I did a "heroes and villains" piece I chose Pope John Paul II as hero, on the grounds that he was doing everything possible to discredit the appalling institution of which he was head. Fatuously, the newspaper (not this one) ruined the joke by titling it not "Richard Dawkins chooses the pope as his hero" but "Richard Dawkins on the dubious heroism of the pope" (like those Victorian Punch cartoons whose captions drove the joke into the ground by painstakingly explaining it).

Unlike his predecessor, who mixed in some saintly qualities, Benedict XVI is an authentic villain, and even better qualified than John Paul II to bring down the second most evil religion in the world. But this time I'd rather dispense with irony and villainy and go wholeheartedly for an unambiguous, middle-stump hero. And in 2010, who could it be but that doughty nemesis of popes and faiths of all kinds, Christopher Hitchens?

Have you ever cut up an apple to take for lunch, or prepared apples for a fresh fruit tray only to have them turn an unappealing shade of brown? You're not alone. There's nothing wrong with brown apple slices, but they certainly don't look nice, which discourages some people from eating as many apples as they should. Apples are a healthy snack and anything that gets people to eat more fruit could be considered beneficial.

Penn & Teller on GE Foods, Greenpeace, etc.



Penn & Teller BS: EatThis ! pt2/3

Not the most accurate rendering of the arguement.

On one side are shoeless stoned hippies in their kitchen ranting about leaf burritos and on the other side is an expert from the Hudson institute.

Not exactly Micheal Polland with someone being honest about being an industry representative.

How about that Greenpeace dude they caught lying?

It's hard to believe he didn't know better.

And his simply lie doesn't help a discussion about a complicated truth.

Currently we regulate GMO's but we regulate them in exactly the same way as we do any other crop.

My limited time to do some quick research on this leaves me unclear on what the Pest statutes actually determine in terms of safety of the products to consume vs, safe to raise. Are they tested for safety in a way that a drug or food additive would be? Are there longitudinal studies. The fact that the approval takes to months and that after that process the crop is deemed "deregulated" seems to imply that they aren't regulated in that way.

Here is a 2004 paper I came upon that discussed the potential problems in our current regulatory system.

Actually after reading this and hearing exactly what he said, it seems possible he wasn't telling a lie. There doesn't seem to be a process that regulates GMO's to test the health effects of any additional protiens or chemicals added by their alteration.

Penn & Teller are good when they're tackling the most clear-cut "false dichotomy" subjects such as creationism or psychics or whatever.

They have been so-so or even plain wrong on environmental, food and second-hand smoking though.

Scratch "food". Off the top of my head I can't remember watching more than one ep on food.

Not to mention trickle down economics.

Bullshit is just a Libertarian infomercial. Shall I get my science information from a couple of magicians or from actual scientists? Hmmmm.

Nice ad hominem, you might be better off attacking the arguments rather than source. I don't much care for Penn & Teller, sometimes they get it right sometimes they don't. But you don't get to dismiss them with they're not scientists and they're libertarians. Oh the shame of it all.

Generally speaking libertarians suffer from an empathy gap, it is a fundamental flaw in their philosophy.

Watch the episode on college diversity and how that somehow means people shouldn't got to college and you might make a few Ad Hominems yourself.

The fundamental flaw in libertarian ideology as that their ideal state would look much like Somalia if they are given the chance to fully realize their loopy beliefs politically.

Well, you can't complain about Doug's ad hominem when Pen & Teller's segment is full of ad hominems. LOL

Well, you can't complain about Doug's ad hominem when Pen & Teller's segment is full of ad hominems. LOL

Why not? Does their ad hominem (please note a couple of examples that you think are ad hominem) justify his. Didn't your mother ever tell you that two wrongs don't make a right?

And please remember that when you present your example that " hominem is not just a case of directing abusive language toward another person. There is nothing fallacious about calling people names or saying ugly things about them. The fallacy is committed when when one engages in a personal attack as a means of ignoring, discrediting, or blunting the force of a counterargument. . .

so... Better that we call them "half-baked" "weazels" than "a couple of magicians"?

At about 6:09, Penn says, "Unfortunately, the humanitarian efforts of people like Dr. Borlaug are undermined by Greenpeace and other assholes." This remark "engages in a personal attack as a means of ignoring, discrediting, or blunting the force of a counterargument."

Unfortunately, as is often the case, the Greenpeace spokespeople aren't very articulate, so it's difficult to come to their defense. However, they are not the only "assholes" who have criticized the "green revolution" Borlaug is widely credited with fathering. Now, I believe Borlaug was acting altruistically. That is, I believe that he genuinely believed that the advances he made in agriculture would help a lot of starving people and that he wasn't working on behalf of some corporate or ideological interest. I also believe it's true that his work prevented the starvation of lots of people, at least temporarily, although I suspect Penn's billion figure is a little exaggerated. However, lots of people have acknowledged the green revolution's negative impact on the environment and on local economies. Even GE advocates like Bill Gates acknowledge the green revolution's shortcomings. Is he an asshole too? Penn's diatribe utterly fails to recognize this. He could've said something like, "while modern science has identified many problems with the green revolution, the Greenpeace assholes take it too far." Instead, he just calls them assholes without acknowledging that there actually are problems with the green revolution.

But of course, "That's Bullshit" isn't a news program, it's an entertainment program. Unfortunately, most people are too unsophisticated to recognize that, and Pen & Teller are part of the blurring of news and entertainment that has so poisoned our national discourse.

No ad hominem necessary, they intentionally distort facts to suit their agenda. One episode involving a Wal-mart being built, in Florida I believe. P&T claimed the Endangered Species Act was being ignored so a Wal-Mart could build in a location. The regulation involved, as the show put it, an endangered bird.

The facts show the bird in question was only listed as threatened so construction could continue. And it never occurred to the show that Wal-Mart, with a team of lawyers, could fill out legal paperwork better than an old retiree. Then P&T went on to claim that no species has never been removed from the ESA, which is false.

Then I can go on to the global warming episode, the organic episode, the fuel efficiency episode, and so on. The list of errors goes on and on.

Scientists don't ignore the facts to promote an agenda, but that can't be said for political activists. It just so happens when the facts are distorted, or P&T are outright lying, is on issues that promote their Libertarian political views. That's why they aren't credible and why I prefer to get facts from scientists, not political activists.

"Scientists don't ignore the facts to promote an agenda"

That's amazing! It's almost like they're not human!

You beat me to it, Syngas! I have known a lot of people who consider themselves 'scientists' who happily ignore or adjust the facts to their own (often financial) advantage. OK - "Real" scientists don't, but then I am now applying my own definition!

OK - "Real" scientists don't, but then I am now applying my own definition!

Oh no, it's the No True Scotsman fallacy! :(

It might be better to say "science inherently does not allow ignoring the facts to promote an agenda" or something... or how about, "people who practice science don't ignore the facts to promote an agenda", but then that's basically just using a synonym for... ow, my brain.

Maybe it would be better to simply say that "P&T are not scientific, they are political"?

Science is a methodology and scientists put that methodology into practice. Therefore those who don't practice science, like those who ignore facts to promote an agenda, aren't, by definition scientists. So it's not a "no true Scotsman" fallacy, just as saying true vegetarians don't eat meat. A definition isn't a fallacy.

Hmmmm.... That's a pretty absolute definition. By your definition, Hwang Woo-suk (of dog cloning fame) is not a scientist. I would contend he is a scientist who let the allure of fame and fortune get the best of him at least once. I'd be willing to be at least on a subconscious level, most scientists have let their desire to prove their hypothesis tip the scales unfairly. There's no getting out of the fact we are all human. Even scientists.

When he lies and fabricates data he isn't a scientist. Should he decide otherwise and let the data lead to the conclusion he is a scientist. The label follows from the application of the method, not the claim of possession of the label. When Woo-suk chose to be dishonest he chose to exclude himself from the scientific community.

Thank you!

It is fairer to say that real scientists can indeed ignore facts to promote an agenda, but when they do it, they're not really doing science.

Thanks, one and all. I knew that if I left it hanging there others would try to sort it out for me. I think Doug put it best for me. It seems that we have a working definition that applies only contextually - a scientist is one who practises science, which itself precludes the person who ignores or adjusts the evidence. One person can be either, but not at the same time.

Then what is the person who ignores or adjusts evidence while impersonating a scientist? Asshole?

A climate denier.

Really? Are there really people who deny there is a climate?

They claim there is only weather.

In my experience, scientists are driven by curiosity and a quest to understand phenomenon of the world around them. The good ones thrive on uncertainty and welcome colleagues who might contribute more or different views, for they see each building block of research findings as a step from which to pursue understanding of another piece of the puzzle.

Can scientists become personally invested in the hypothesis they've worked so hard to prove, and might they occasionally even be rude to colleagues who challenge them? Of course. But unlike some other folks who take pride in ignorance, they are usually embarrassed about it if they do.

Do they hide their research behind corporate confidentiality protections and then claim that their conclusions must be true because no scientific evidence can be brought forward to refute it? If so, then I say, they are not scientists but corporate lackeys.


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