It Is Likely This Post Will Get Anti-Science Comments

Why do I read the comments? Since taking on the task of blogging for Skeptoid, I continually read and respond to the comments. My motivation often is I hope to perhaps have someone see the difference between science and pseudoscience. I also want people to see that I do allow people to spew their nonsense, although it doesn’t usually go without a response. I want to point out to all future commenters what you might expect for a response from me when spewing nonsense.

Anecdote

While your personal story may be interesting, powerful, or even worthy of further investigation; the story itself does not constitute evidence or science. Science is done under a set of rules to help reduce bias and to help ensure it the data could be reproduced if desired. Science tells us eyewitness reports and even our own memory very quickly change details of our memories. Our brains are also designed to find patterns, leading to us find coincidences all the time, leading to a classic logical fallacy known as confirmation bias.

If you find yourself posting your personal story, please note I may acknowledge it, but I will also point out it is not evidence of a contrary conclusion to the point of my post.

Science Fact

The difference between someone reporting science and reporting nonsense is how confident the respective parties are with their positions. Fringe websites and quacks will state their positions as fact, with no room to question the evidence. You will notice proper skepticism requires reporting science conclusions with “likely” or “a high degree of certainty.” Even very well established theories still will occasionally get that treatment by scientists, knowing that perhaps a new discovery will require modifying current theory.

A good example of this is Newton’s Laws. It isn’t that Newton was wrong, but instead turns out they are a really good estimation of relativity. We know the 1/r² relationship for both Coulomb’s Law and Newton’s Law of Gravitation. We have no reason to believe the square term is any thing else but exactly 2. However, because these laws are derived experimentally, we can only assure these relationships to the limit of experimentation. I believe the mounds of evidence tell us they are true, but as a scientist I have no problem reporting that there is technically still an uncertainty range. A fringe website will never admit the uncertainty.

Comments espousing your facts are the only true facts are usually met with ridicule.

Not Being Skeptical

The devil in the word skeptical is that its base meaning is to be doubtful. Those in opposition to my conclusion drawn from the evidence say that because I make a conclusion or that I do not show more apprehension to even good data that it makes me not skeptical. Scientific skepticism does not mean doubt everything. It means evaluating the evidence in a scientific manner and drawn a conclusion with bias reduced as much as possible. I never say my conclusions are final or that I am not willing to entertain new evidence. However, if the science behind my conclusion is solid, I am not going to easily change my conclusion without evidence as strong or stronger for the opposite viewpoint.

I usually just ignore this type of comment. It is an ad hominem attack that is a strong indicator you have little evidence for your position and it reveals your desperation.

Conspiracy

Sorry folks, the government is not suppressing your miracle cure. Neither is big pharma, the Illuminati, or any other organization. If they were, I highly doubt you would have the ability to surf from blog to blog stating as such. It reveals you have no real evidence, and will usually be met with ridicule.

Reading Too Deeply

Come on folks, it’s a blog post. I work full-time and have two kids. I blog for free. I do it to hopefully spread a few kernels of knowledge and to practice my writing. At the same time, I do not have hours and hours, nor a large editorial staff to help me make corrections. Because of this, I may not always have perfect grammar, spelling, sentence structure, or other proper writing things down perfectly.

If you see errors in grammar, spelling, etc., feel free to kindly point them out. I do honestly appreciate it and I usually correct those errors. If you have a question about something that isn’t clear, or feel like I need to clean up a section of a post, I will also accept and perhaps implement your constructive criticism.

However, if you use it as a way to attack my position, I may still correct what you suggest is wrong, but you may also be ridiculed for using it as the only defense for your position. If that’s your only evidence, then you have no evidence.

Questioning My Expertise

I write about a wide variety of topics. While my day job is teaching college physics, it doesn’t mean I have no knowledge of other sciences. I am friends with many biologists, chemists, medical professionals, and other people with whom I discuss general science on a regular basis. I read well established scientifically-based websites as well as studies in various journals. These things do not make me an “expert” on these topics, but I am knowledgeable enough to share what I know on this website. I would not expect anyone to take my word as final, so I try to link to other writers with more expert knowledge, or even to the original studies. Although I don’t cite each conversation I have with others, I do at times discuss statements made in this blog with experts before posting. Don’t assume I do this all on my own.

If your only argument for not believing me is my education or my apparent lack of experience in an area, it usually means you have no evidence to refute my claim. These comments will usually start nice by pointing to the evidence and an admission of my less than expert status, but continued attack on my expertise will be ridiculed. Even expert can make mistakes at times. We should always trust our known trusted experts, but verifying with other sources is also important.

Word Soup/Salad

One of my favorite comment type is the one where someone who thinks they are an expert (or are selling themselves as an expert) uses a bunch of very technical language to sound smart without really saying anything. Comments of this type are often interesting, as the commenter usually thinks they are saying something. However, it is often useless information. I don’t start with ridicule, but if the commenting persists with a bunch of nonsense, I will usually resort to ridicule at some point.

In Conclusion

I don’t mind a healthy discourse. In fact, on certain topics the science isn’t settled, and it is discussions on the science that help us improve our understanding. However, resorting to the above tactics or similar ones will be met with ridicule and does nothing to add to the discussion.

I will likely keep reading the comments.

About Eric Hall

My day job is teaching physics at the University of Minnesota, Rochester. I write about physics, other sciences, politics, education, and whatever else interests or concerns me. I am always working to be rational and reasonable, and I am always willing to improve my knowledge and change my mind when presented with new evidence.
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17 Responses to It Is Likely This Post Will Get Anti-Science Comments

  1. Reg. says:

    But Eric, many hypotheses begin as nonsense, it is only later they a found to be complete nonsense. Or not.

  2. Karolyn says:

    Why do you have to ridicule in the first place? Just because something is not totally verified by science does not mean that it isn’t true or does not exist, so why should it be the subject of ridicule?

    • Reg. says:

      The challenge engenders greater effort Karolyn. Cool but earnest.

      • Reg says:

        Then where should we draw the line with being Skeptical Eric?

        There is no such thing as an absolutely undeniable observation, There is always a window of error and later adjustment..

        This reminds me of the second and third degrees of approximation based on the spread of tolerances. Absolute accuracy of calculations were futile because of the spread of manufacturing accuracy.

        Third degree equals say +/-10% accuracy and nothing but mental arithmetic.Second degree probably +/-5% but pen and paper required.
        First degree, 100% accuracy requiring something better than a slide rule but unobtainable anyhow because the spread of manufacture could not be trusted.

        Reminding me again of the guy crossing from England to the Continent cradling his super high tolerance resistors on his lap, only to find when the aircraft arrived that space particles attacking his precious package had frustrated his endeavors by silently chipping away at their structure.. . . .

        • Eric Hall says:

          We cannot be skeptical all the time, every day. Even when being scientifically skeptical, we will make errors. My problem is when people can’t recognize their errors once they are revealed.

          For example, I will occasionally buy a lottery ticket. It is totally irrational and makes zero sense mathematical. I admit the reason is psychological. I like being able to daydream of what I would do with the millions.

          • Jeff Grigg says:

            If the entertainment value you get from thinking about what you could win is at least half the cost of the lottery ticket, then it was a rational purchase.

          • Moral Dolphin says:

            I don’t buy a lotto ticket very often. But I do take part in the fun about 2-3 times a year.

            The returns are pretty awful!.

            I was under the impression that state lotteries contributed to the state coffers..so my 20 or so bux a year doesnt seem totally wasted… just sucker tax.

            I am not quite sure that this is the case since the privatisation move announced a few years back..

            Mind you, proportion and error analysis, probability and risk are hardly ever relevant when there is a discussion.

            How often do you have an discussion along the lines of;

            “there is “arsenic” in that!
            “Its radioactive”

            or even

            “Its a placebo you know!”

            This should have had this taken into account in a prior comment when proposing confidence based on any qualities.

    • Eric Hall says:

      It isn’t that I would ridicule an observation, nor would I ridicule the fact something doesn’t yet have an explanation. A perfect example is dark matter. We observe its presence, but we know little about it. We only make the claim it exists because the observations show the gravitational effects.

      I ridicule when someone when they present their anecdote as fact. If you acknowledge it as an anecdote and not proof – fine. But as a counter to my evidence – it is worthy of ridicule.

      • Reg. says:

        I think the prime example of this is that an atom of anything is mostly great empty space with no explanation of what the space actually is.

        Is that space DARK Matter?

        On the other hand is my question based on anecdote, misconception or fact?

  3. Moral Dolphin says:

    Ah, the almighty anecdote..I forgot to mention that hourly observation..

    Did anyone mention testimonials?

  4. christian says:

    You said you don’t mind being corrected on typos, so….. I don’t think you ‘don’t mind a health discourse’, I think you ‘don’t mind a healthy discourse’ 🙂

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