Feedback through a Fine Toothed Comb
Today we're going to read and reply to some more listener feedback, but we're going to do it better than we have in some previous such episodes. We're going to hear them out, even if they appear to be cranks, and analyze their arguments on the arguments' merits. This means, folks, that the game is stepped up a notch.
An entity using the nomenclature "~ZX~" from Edinburgh, Scotland wrote the following in response to my episode about HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Alaska that some conspiracy theorists think is anything from a mass mind control device to an earthquake-making superweapon:
[He then posts a link to a YouTube video which, by its description, seems to be about the Japan nuclear plant crisis being an inside job, or the plant itself is some kind of superweapon, or it caused Japan to slide into the ocean. The description is not at all clear. The video is 42 minutes long so I didn't watch it, other than to scroll through. It appeared to be some guy browsing conspiracy theory web pages and narrating what he sees.]
Obviously, it would be easy to say that this person has some kind of delusional disorder, and he might; but let's focus on what he says. His central criticism seems to be that what I say is unreliable because I'm either part of some government conspiracy, or I'm so deeply victimized by it that I can't see anything other than what the government wants me to see. Whether we think that's likely or not, it's certainly a valid possibility. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt and look at his arguments. He began with:
He's sarcastically making fun of what I said. Except, I never said anything like that. What I pointed out is what HAARP is used for. I didn't say anything else about the government or whether it goes around killing people. This is a straw man argument. He chose not to argue against what I said, so he made up some crazy words and put them in my mouth, because they were really easy for him to argue against. He repeats more of this later in his email:
Well, maybe they do and maybe they don't; it's got nothing to do with anything I talked about. Even assuming that the government does have a secret purpose to kill us all or control all our minds, it still says nothing about the technical capabilities of HAARP. So even if every word of his email is true, in no way does it refute anything I said in the episode. I invite "~ZX~" to write again.
In a similar vein, here is another email that came in through the general email box, not related to any specific episode, and completely anonymous:
A similar case, but a different fallacy. The charge that I am on the payroll of Big Pharma, Big Government, Big Toxins, or whoever, is a familiar one. It's an ad hominem attack. It means I'm wrong because of who I am, rather than because of what I say. That's an invalid argument. Being wrong would make me wrong; I can still be right no matter whose payroll I'm on. So, again, he refuted nothing with his comment.
Here's some feedback from Sam in Chicago about my episode on rods. In case they're new to you, rods are believed to be a species of creature that appears only on film and are invisible to the naked eye. My conclusion, which is the same as that of photographers who always have to deal with this annoyance, is that rods are simply insects flying across the field of view and leaving a streak in the frame showing their movement during the period of time the shutter was open.
Aside from the bulk of his email which is simply a denial of my conclusions, with no new information offered, I'd like to focus on what he says at the end. I don't do field work. I'm a science writer, not a researcher. My job is to report on the field work done by others.
The scientific method does not require personally sampling the pseudoscience in order to evaluate it; it requires rational analysis of data and a theory that makes testable predictions that others can replicate. A personal experience is often about the worst way to analyze something. The scientist knows that personal experiences, even his or her own, are subject to personal biases, misinterpretation, and a lack of controls.
My personal observations would be of no more value than yours. Do some science, then get back to me.
"Love and Light" from Gaia sent in the following in response to my episode on wheatgrass juice, how it's marketed not only as a miracle superfood but also as a miracle cure for just about anything:
If Peter Jackson had made the Zeitgeist movies I might have enjoyed them. Unfortunately they were made by art student Peter Joseph Merola, not filmmaker Peter Jackson.
"Love and Light" goes through a number of logical fallacies here. She begins with the all-natural fallacy:
No; the best way to heal our ailments is whatever's safest and most effective. If that's something natural, a word I'm guessing she intends to mean unpurified or not manufactured, then that's great. But pharmacology has shown us that such compounds are usually more effective when produced under controlled conditions where the dosage and purity can be properly measured, and where they can be mass-produced without having to rip up whole swaths of rainforest.
Government corruption is a real problem that actually exists; unfortunately it has nothing whatsoever to do with the effectiveness of herbal therapies. This argument would be a non-sequitur: Government is bad, therefore herbs are effective. Some herbs are effective as treatments (in fact most pharmaceuticals are based on molecules found in nature), but we don't owe our thanks to this to government corruption.
I always like to finish these episodes with the best piece of feedback. This one comes from Allen in Warrington, who was as far-out as a conspiracy theorist can get:
I'd just like to point out that I found no invalid arguments in Allen's email at all. Quite a bright fellow, that man.
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