It Is Likely This Post Will Get Anti-Science Comments
by Eric Hall
October 26, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Eric Hall
@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit