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Feedback through a Fine Toothed Comb

Skeptoid does some microsurgery on the logical fallacies presented in some listener feedback.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #266
July 12, 2011
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe


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:

Okay, Brian,

No... The U.S Government couldn't possibly ever want to kill people. Its never done that before now has it ? Maybe its best you take a look at what they even NASA what's to do when "Then Year" arrives... and if you have the clearance you know that "then year" already has arrived.

[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.]

Best you have a wee look at the NASA Powerpoint presentation in this Vid. See how many heinous ways they are dreaming to kill people. Including genome nano -tech that can target specific social groups... AND INDIVIDUALS. Swarms of Nano that replicate and TAG EVERYTHING... Especially see the part in the presentation about using LOW FREQUENCY as a weapon...

But noo.... HAARP's just a science tool, of course it is... We're all safe and sound. Our Government loves us... That's right, they care for us.


Yawn, wake me up when you have a clue here.

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:

The U.S Government couldn't possibly ever want to kill people. Its never done that before now has it ?

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:

We're all safe and sound. Our Government loves us... That's right, they care for us.

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:

yes i'd ilke to say your an idiot and that maybe your paid by somebody to write the crap you write, a complete idiot

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.

LOVE guys like you....Read a few things, get the facts wrong, then make an emperical decision. I worked with Jose Escamilla for two years, documenting the phenomena. First, they are NOT invisible to the naked eye, once you start filming them, you can actually SEE them, though they DO streak by at about 3,500 mph. Secondly, catching them on a hand held camera is rare, for just the reasons you might imagine; the aperature closes too quickly, and these things zip by so fast, it's a one in a million chance that you'll get one that way. Lastly, Jose DID all the research; filmed birds, bugs, bees, flies, yes, even dragonflies, and they are NOT Rods.I also did the same research myself, and found the SAME thing Jose Escamilla did. Rods are real. Exactly how much field work did YOU do? How many hours of film do YOU have to support your conclusions? It's easy to sit at your desk and write snarky comments. Do some field work, THEN get back to me.

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.

Exactly how much field work did YOU do? How many hours of film do YOU have to support your conclusions?

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.

Do some field work, THEN get back to me.

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:

Just to enlighten you a little and hopefully plant some seeds, you probably do have a good amount of heavy metals/toxins. Things like wheatgrass juice, chlorella, and cilantro remove it. The natural way is the best way to heal our ailments. Speaking only for North America, there is an incredible amount of toxins in our food, water, and vaccines that they don't tell us about. In fact, our food being poisoned is only the tip of the iceberg, you should spend some time looking into the corrupt governments and how they've dumbed down almost an entire planet to the point where we don't even know our true history and have forgotten that we are all one. You should use your blog to spread light to people. The Zeitgeist movies by Peter Jackson sum up the problems pretty well.

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:

The natural way is the best way to heal our ailments.

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.

You should spend some time looking into the corrupt governments and how they've dumbed down almost an entire planet to the point where we don't even know our true history and have forgotten that we are all one.

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 used to be obsessed with conspiracy theories, to the point where I argued with everyone I came across that George Bush ordered the 9/11 attacks, amongst other conspiracy theories, I even made 50 copies of loose change and gave them to people I didn't even know. I actually stumbled across your podcast when I was looking for a good conspiracy theory podcast, quite ironic I know, then I got hooked, I listened to every Skeptoid, watched every infact, and watched here be dragons (which is awesome by the way).

So I wanted to thank you for a few things, first I'd like to thank you for making me feel like an ass for peddling what I now know to be complete BS, thanks for teaching me the fundamentals of critical thinking, and most importantly thanks for all the entertaining episodes of Skeptoid, I look forward to your show every week, and I have recommended it to friends and family, who have enjoyed it too. keep up the good work.

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.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Feedback through a Fine Toothed Comb." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 12 Jul 2011. Web. 27 Nov 2015. <>


References & Further Reading

Clark, J., Clark, T. Humbug! The skeptic's field guide to spotting fallacies in thinking. Brisbane: Nifty Books, 2005.

Damer, T. Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments. Belmont: Wadsworth/Cengage Laerning, 2009.

Engel, S. With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies. Boston: Bedford, 2000.

Porter, Burton Frederick. The Voice of Reason: Fundamentals of Critical Thinking. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Sagan, C., Druyan, A. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House, Inc., 1996.

Walton, D. Informal Logic: A Handbook for Critical Argumentation. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.


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