I initially made this thread for GFO
but I figured it'd be helpful to have it here as well.
Having spent several years conversing with people on forums and elsewhere online, I have come to find patterns of stupidity in general discourse that have hindered substantive communication and caused a rise in my blood pressure. While I am by no means an expert on prose and discourse—and I am always continually learning and growing as a thinker and debater (and masturbator)—I want to share these morsels of wisdom I have gained over the years from observing both the enlightened as well as the neuronally-lacking—and anyone in between—in hopes of reducing or even eliminating these little annoyances.
It is not uncommon for forum members while engaging in debate to erroneously (or unnecessarily) point to a perceived mistake and harp on these false positives. Below are a few pointers on how to avoid them and, for convenience, I have added code below each one so you may copy-and-paste a response to any you may come across (and save you some trouble). I will sparingly update this list if I really feel something is worth mentioning. Feel free to give suggestions.Choose from the following list:
Misusing fallacies and perceived fallaciestl;dr: Feel free to use the codes at the bottom of each topic to paste on any thread whenever you encounter these little annoyances.
Unwritten "rules" on forum etiquette
Consider the following two exchanges:
Theistic Nutter: My religion teaches that same-sex marriage is wrong.
Bimbo Faggot: Some people's religions teach that interracial marriage is wrong.
Theistic Nutter: So you're saying opposing same-sex marriage is just like racism?!
Bimbo Faggot: Acting on my homosexual feelings is morally acceptable because I was born this way.
Theistic Nutter: Psychopaths and alcoholics were probably born that way too.
Bimbo Faggot: So you're saying being gay is just like being a psycho or an alcoholic?!
For whatever reason, misrepresenting analogies is very common in online discussions. Indeed exchanges like the ones above have become all too familiar. When analogies are proffered as rebuttals they are typically intended to challenge some implied premise. Analogies, however, are not meant to compare two or more things as though they're similar in every
respect. (Otherwise they wouldn't be analogies; they'd be identities
.) They're meant to compare two or more things that are similar in some relevant respect(s)
. No analogy should be rejected simply because one has found a mere dissimilarity—one must reflect on whether or not the dissimilarity was central to the point. There are proper ways
to attack an analogy, and fallacies of analogies (like the fallacy of false analogy
) certainly exist, but exchanges like the ones above go a step further and completely abandon the point of analogies altogether.
Take the first exchange: Bimbo Faggot didn't say opposing same-sex marriage is "just like" racism. Rather, he used the analogy to interracial marriage as a counterexample to the implied premise that "Whatever a religion teaches is right." Bimbo Faggot appears to be saying that referencing religion doesn't exempt a view from moral scrutiny.
Likewise in the second exchange, Theistic Nutter isn't saying psychopaths and alcoholics are "just like" being gay (or even behaving gay, for that matter). Rather, he used the analogy as a counterexample to Bimbo Faggot's implied premise that if people are born with a certain disposition, any behavior driven by it must be morally acceptable as well.
Such a fallacy captures both a straw man (insofar as the interlocutor now attacks the misreading) as well as a red herring (by virtue of throwing the conversation off track with a distraction). The fallacy is committed, then, when one misreads an opponent's analogy to make a far more sweeping comparison than the opponent needs or intends. Hopefully such clarification will help minimize the incidents of what we'll call "perverting analogies." (It's also fun to accuse an anti-gay theist of perversion.)****
For a real life example, here is the fallacy in action (click the hyper-linked text to visit the source):
To be sure, "news" outlets and blogs never miss an opportunity to craft sensationalistic titles to play with people's fears and prejudices to get more views. Sadly these kinds of analogy perversions are also done unintentionally. Let's read on.
Fuck you, Rick Warren. You can stuff your phony version of love and respect.
I've experienced same-sex attraction. I am also currently experiencing a powerful desire to punch a guy in the eye.
It's not the same thing at all.
And no, my natural inclination to love a man is not the same as a deadly and fatal poison called arsenic.
Did Rick say, as the above excerpt implies, that having same-sex attraction "is just like" wanting to punch a guy or take arsenic? No. These analogues must be judged independently of whether or not you like the person or whatever your position may be on a given topic.
Rick's reference to punching a guy was to offer a counterexample to the implied premise that, "If I have an innate feeling, then it must be right for me to act on it." This premise is
sometimes advanced by gays and gay allies, let's be honest—and it's a terrible one. It also takes much the same form as the second exchange I posted above. If we applied this line of reasoning across the board we wouldn't be able to hold anyone accountable.
The second analogy to arsenic is to offer a counter to the implied premise that, "Being gay is natural, and therefore it is morally sound." To be fair, this is usually offered as a response to opponents who consider homosexuality unnatural (another non sequitur). But both the it's-a-choice crowd and the born-this-way crowd are operating under flawed reasoning. That something is a choice tells us nothing about whether or not it's wrong. Similarly, by insisting that it is
natural instead of exposing the flaw in the opponent's argument (i.e., the non sequitur), one appears to concede the operative principle at play in their argument: "if it were unnatural
, then our opponents would be right in holding us or our disposition in contempt!" Uh, no. Misrepresenting analogies does nothing to advance one's position; indeed, it is often a hindrance.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#PervertingAnalogies]Perverting Analogies[/url]
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Misusing Godwin's "Law"
Many a faggot too often invoke Godwin's Law inappropriately. This section will deal with Godwin's Law Nazis (see wut i did thur).
For those unfamiliar with the adage, Godwin's Law
was an assertion made by attorney and author Mike Godwin stating that: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."
Many people have taken this and applied it to any online conversation where a Nazi or Hitler comparison was made so as to either rebut or even end
an argument. Unfortunately, online uses of Nazi or Hitler analogies have come to be seen by many people as a sign that someone has lost the debate.
Firstly, it's not an actual law of logic
, such as the law of non-contradiction or the law of the excluded middle. It's simply a tongue-in-cheek observation that, given enough time, in any
online conversation (regardless of the topic or scope) someone will inevitably make a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis. That's it. The fact that people treat it as an actual law of some sort speaks to their lack of critical and analytical skills when it comes to rules of thought and argument. Call anything a "law" and get enough people to invoke it and many will unquestioningly accept it as a formal fallacy of sorts. For this reason I shall make my own law:
Pooler's Law will describe the following: "As an online discussion grows longer and a Hitler or Nazi comparison is made, the probability of someone foolishly—and smugly—invoking Godwin's Law to undermine or end an argument and claim victory approaches 1."
Secondly, and as should now be somewhat apparent, not every Hitler or Nazi reference in a debate or conversation is inherently fallacious. Of course Mike Godwin is correct to point out that such repeated use of said comparisons tends to trivialize the Holocaust. And there are certainly inappropriate uses of such comparisons. For example, if someone were to demonize another person's position by arguing that they or their position is factually wrong on account of having a connection to Nazis or Hitler in some way, this would constitute a fallacy of guilt by association
. Essentially the person is smuggling in an ad hominem
fallacy to try to divert attention away from the person's argument by attacking their character in irrelevant ways. If Satan himself were to appear to us and state that the sky is blue or the Earth round, there is no reason we should render his assertion false simply because he is the devil.
Some analogies are good and others not so much, but a mere mention of Nazis or Hitler without any context does not inform us as to whether or not their use was appropriate. The inappropriate use of Godwin's Law is in a way committing the same error that a person's ad hominem
use of Hitler or Nazi comparisons is doing: they're trying to stop the debate by erecting a type of distraction and thereby censor the other person, insinuating that all they were doing was engaging in pure hyperbole.
If Godwin's Law should teach us anything at all it is that, firstly, we should become aware of the temptation to abuse clichéd analogies that may actually make our argument lose impact and, secondly, that such overused analogies can trivialize the severity of the analogue itself.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#MisusingGodwinsLaw]Violation of Pooler's Law: Misusing Godwin's "Law"[/url]
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Ad homines are not fallacious per se
Damer, E.T. wrote:
Definition: This fallacy consists in attacking one's opponent in a personal and abusive way as a means of ignoring or discrediting his or her criticism or argument. Damer, Edward T. (2001) Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments (p. 172)
An ad hominem argument is an argument directed "toward the person." The personal attack often takes the form of calling attention to some distasteful personal characteristic of an opponent. What that might be in any particular situation depends on what the arguer finds repugnant. A person may be abused for being messy, unshaven, fat, foreign, a failure, a pacifist, an atheist, a lawyer, a feminist, liberal, conservative, gay, lesbian, ugly, physically uncoordinated, a tobacco chewer, or any number of other toward another person. There is nothing fallacious about calling people names or saying ugly things about them. The fallacy is committed when one engages in a personal attack as a means of ignoring, discrediting, or blunting the force of another's argument.
Merely attacking someone personally (i.e., an ad hominem
) is not automatically an attempt to fallaciously discredit someone's argument. For example, one can address all points raised by an opponent while simultaneously insult them. One can quarrel as to the point or value of doing such a thing (I'd say for fun) but it is not fallacious per se to do so.
On the ad hominem
fallacy itself, however, there is also room for exceptions. Questions of personal conduct, character and motives may be relevant to the issue as in the case of hypocrisy or a history of dishonesty. While this alone does not in itself constitute a legitimate refutation to someone's substantive comments or arguments, it can be useful information when approaching responses from such people.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#Adhomines][i]Ad homines[/i] are not fallacious per se[/url]
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Thinking criticism of one's premises is the same as criticism of one's conclusions
Have you ever encountered someone so stupid you just wish lobotomies would make a comeback? I feel the same way about people who are on "my side" in a debate but accuse me of irrationally opposing their conclusions simply because I attacked their reasons for arriving at them. Almost everyone can spot the flaws and fallacies of the other guy whom they disagree with, but rarely do you encounter folks who are willing to evaluate their own arguments. I often see this with gays who have ready-made talking points for their detractors. I'm sorry to say—actually I'm not
sorry—but these McDonald's-like soundbites must be evaluated carefully, not assumed to be true merely because they agree with you. So before you go around disseminating this junk, hold the fries and make sure all the condiments are in order. If someone were to come to us and say that the sky is blue because of the reflection of the ocean (something I have heard before by the way) our criticism of that statement should not be met with a reply like this: "Oh! So what are you saying? That the sky isn't blue?! You're crazy!" A criticism of the rationale to get to that answer is not necessarily a rejection of the sky being blue. (If you're wondering, it's because of Rayleigh scattering
Similarly, it is not the case that simply because someone considers an idea they are necessarily adopting it. As Aristotle once said, "It is the mark of an educated mind, to entertain a thought without accepting it." Great insights and epiphanies can come about as a result of doing such a thing. Just as one can profit from scrutinizing their own arguments (or of those who agree with them), so too can one profit from such a thing. Just make sure it is done thoughtfully, always grappling with the heavyweights whenever possible.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#Conclusions]Thinking criticism of one's premises is the same as criticism of one's conclusions[/url]
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Typos and Trivialities
It is always important—most especially in the Intellectual Discussion subforum—to use proper English spelling, grammar and syntax as best one can. That said, there has been a growing trend among forum members to completely divert attention away from a point or entire topic simply to point out an insignificant misspelling, comma splice, or other such errors. There is also a pervasive attitude that careless mistakes are the product of ignorance and intellectual ineptitude. Were that the case then the United States' Founding Fathers would have to be deemed buffoons next to more cautious writers, given that the Constitution has noticeable mistakes:
Article 1, Section 10:
No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's [sic] inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress. (emphasis mine)
Confusing, say, "your" with "you're" (or vice versa) is common because of their phonetic similarities. Spelling egregious as "egregorious," however, like this pleasant gentleman
has done on more than one occasion, is much more indicative of illiteracy (and irony
). Either way, it's best to approach grammar "Nazism" more judiciously. If you really cannot help yourself may I suggest fixing and highlighting the offending mistake with a color (like red) when quoting someone. Alternatively you could just add it as a final comment in a post responding to real
substance. I wouldn't be surprised at all if there were a few mistakes in this post.
Feel free to PM me if you do find any.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#TyposTrivialities]Typos and Trivialities[/url]
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Not reading the initial post in a thread before commenting
Most of us make assumptions about things at some point when conversing with others. A very popular one I've seen fellow rump-rangers make is the assumption that when an anti-gay theist says homosexuality is unnatural the person must necessarily mean that it is not found in nature. This in turn motivates said faggot to go find the nearest textbook and prove the theist wrong. There are many ways the word "nature" could be used by a religious person, however. In this
dated article, philosophy professor John Corvino enumerates the different ways people can mean when using "natural" in this context: unnatural as abnormal or unusual, that which does not proceed from innate desires, a violation of the principle purposes of the organs, and what is disgusting or offensive. Withholding assumptions as much as possible can help us to better respond to people without attacking arguments they are not making anyway (which would in a sense be a straw man). The same is true when looking solely at the title of a given thread and thinking you know what it will be about, or the specific focus of that topic, and writing your post without at the very least reading the content of the initial post. Stop that. :angry:
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#NotReadingInitialPost]Not reading the initial post in a thread before commenting[/url]
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On twinks and intellectual discussionTwinks should be seen, not heard.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#CockamsGayzor]On twinks and intellectual discussion[/url]
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Do opinions require justification?
I am sure you have all heard the expression "I am entitled to my opinion" which has become somewhat of a banality. All too often this has been used to shield oneself from any scrutiny whatsoever and expect beliefs to be respected as though they automatically warrant it. They don't. You are not "entitled" to be free from criticism nor respected for flapping your gums and releasing hot air out of your mouth (or for clattering on a keyboard). That you have the liberty to express yourself does not bring along with it immunity from either criticism or a demand for justification. One is, of course, at liberty to forego any and all support for one's beliefs, but in so doing one also foregoes the privilege of being taken seriously.
A word like "opinion" includes a range of different meanings which might explain why very often these nuances are so frequently conflated. Sure, opinions can describe a person's tastes or preferences, but it can also include questions on prudence or politics, technical expertise, or legal and scientific points of view. Biases and points of view are inevitable because of the limited knowledge we harbor which forces us to examine the world through boundaries. Nonetheless, there are degrees of opinions and guesses scaling with the evidence. (This is why the colloquial use of the term "hypothesis" is understood as an "educated guess.") If by "entitled to my opinion" one simply means "at liberty to express oneself" then that is at best a trivially true statement—one that hasn't really been at issue on GTF or GFO. But if one instead means "entitled to have one's views treated as serious candidates of the truth" then that is just delusional. This likely arises out of our modern way of thinking about individuality and egalitarianism—that because we are "individuals" who ought to be treated equally, people's views should also be equally considered and respected as though opinions carry equal weight. Um, no. They don't.
To understand why not, consider the following two opinions:
Person A: After thoroughly looking throughout the city, I personally could not find a single brown cat. It is my opinion that there are no brown cats in my city.
Person B: I like the color pink. Therefore, there are probably pink cats in the world.
It is certainly reasonable to be skeptical of the existence of brown cats in Person A's city. After all, what are the chances that a lone person will have looked at every nook and cranny? Additionally, unless Person A explains what they're considering a brown cat to be, we will not know whether that person's statement is even accurate. So there is plenty of room to criticize Person A's opinion, and in the context of an internet discussion this can make for a lively debate.
Regardless of Person A's anecdotal limitations
, however, Person A's opinion is much more reasonable to consider than Person B's. Why? Because Person A at the very least held an opinion based on some
degree of evidence—evidence which could be countered through independent verification and investigation. Person B on the other hand simply made an assertion about the nature of reality based on mere preference. This is what I mean when I say that not all opinions are created equal. Now, you might think this is a purely academic exercise, but it has not been uncommon for such a line of reasoning to be employed on the forums. For example, there have been countless instances in which people have asserted God's "nature" as based on what they would like it to be ("I want there to be a loving God so He must be loving!"). Assume for the moment that God exists. If He has a nature or personality, said nature or personality would be an objective reality, not a matter of personal preference. To argue the latter is to imitate Person B's stupidity.
Moreover, it's also quite dumb to get indignant when other people are calling you out on your bullshit and hide behind the weak-sauce defense of "It's my opinion!" or "What happened to opinions?
" Guess what? Other people are giving their
opinions. By criticizing them for expressing their
opinions you are violating the logic of your own exasperated response. (For more on this see: "Forcing" one's opinions onto others: The imposition delusion
Opinions are not facts and no one expects them to be treated as such; however, when expressing opinions of the variety that lie outside of one's mere subjective desires, valid and sound support is a good way to get people to take said opinions more seriously.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#DoOpinionsRequireJustification]Opinion lacking justification[/url]
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"Forcing" one's opinions onto others: The imposition delusion
In any contentious "culture war" there will always be winners and losers. As philospher John Corvino put it, "Whichever side prevails in [a] debate, the other's views will be marginalized. There's no getting around that. (That's what prevailing in the debate means.)" Laws and policies will be enacted from those victories which in turn will force everyone—whether they agree or not—to abide by their dictates, however draconian. A reasonable person can only hope that such debates will be hashed out by reason and evidence over zealous passion and tribalism. However, in the context of public speech, especially in relatively free, first-world countries, there exists this obnoxious myth that whenever someone stridently expresses their opinion, perhaps even censuring dissenting opinions in the same breath, said person is somehow "foisting" or "imposing" their beliefs onto others. Such illusory offenses would be amusing if they weren't so frequently and prevalently expressed. It is even doubly hilarious because the person raising the charge is completely oblivious to the fundamental inconsistency built into that claim: "I'm making an objection against others telling people how to behave...by going out of my way to tell these people how to behave!"
How embarrassing. The truth is one is free to opine and censure others to their heart's content, but no one is free from criticism on what one says or entitled to agreement or respect of said ideas. If, on the other hand, one merely wishes to communicate a desire for more prudence (like telling a seemingly well-intentioned Christian that it is probably not an opportune moment to voice their moral disapproval of so-called "lifestyles" after someone had just committed suicide from gay bullying) then the point is well taken. Otherwise kindly stfu.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#ForcingOpinions]"Forcing" one's opinions onto others: The imposition delusion[/url]
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Politically Incorrect or just an Asshole?
The term "political correctness" (commonly abbreviated to PC) arose as a criticism to the reality of excessive social considerations and oversensitivity from the mid-20th century onward. Because many groups have been historically marginalized in society, some (mostly liberal) people took it upon themselves to "correct" others in their use of language so as to not offend. Naturally this outraged those who perceived the movement as "thought policing" and an encroachment on liberty. Of course as I mentioned earlier, anyone is and has been free to express themselves on this forum and elsewhere, but just as the politically correct movement overstepped bounds of reason when it came to respect and sensitivity, so too has this been the case for those on the opposite end of the spectrum.
There is now a trend, especially online where one is conveniently anonymous, to think that anything short of physical abuse constitutes "political correctness." Um, no. While the demarcation isn't an exact science, it is nonetheless possible to differentiate between hypersensitivity (i.e., political correctness) and just being a plain ol' asshole (or "asswipe" for the severest of offenders). GTF and GFO are very permissive and tolerant when it comes to comments so long as they do not escalate to the point of harassment or bullying, but the idea that anyone's criticisms of someone else's character and comments are ipso facto
political correctness is a delusion of the highest order. While certainly an abstraction, being an asshole is nevertheless as real as Tyler Perry's cinematic mediocrity (in other words, very real
Political correctness can be something like, say, berating someone for using the word "black" instead of the term "African American;" think Steven Pinker's euphemism treadmill
. The fault in someone who is being politically incorrect, then, lies in not being worldly or scrupulous enough—that one should instead go out of one's way to choose words more carefully and "walk on eggshells," as it were. However, to be an asshole means to behave with a complete and total disregard for civility, not merely for purposes of jest and banter, but to take considerable trouble to be unwarrantably venomous. In between these two lies a continuum, the bulk of which can be summed up as being a "dumb-ass" or a "jerk-off." By all means feel free to shamelessly embrace these labels, but don't be under the false impression that you are acting as a champion against "thought policing" and expect some kind of immunity from having others call a spade a spade.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#PoliticalCorrectness]Confusing "political incorrectness" for just being a plain ol' asshole[/url]
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But that's a stereotype!
There is nothing inherently bad or wrong about stereotypes. Stereotypes are simply popularly held generalizations about specific social groups, or types of individuals. Such generalizations may be true, others false. There is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater simply because you came across a false generalization. It is quite useful to make general assumptions in one's daily life or else risk becoming paralyzed by political correctness. Imagine going to Saudi Arabia and withholding the assumption that most people there are Muslim and speak Arabic!
It is important to note that a stereotype need not take the form of an all-or-none generalization. It's probably safe to assume that people do not actually intend to advance an absolute generality (remember, only Siths deal in absolutes
); these, like any true "all" statement, can be negated by just a single example that runs counter to it. Rather, it appears that people instead advance stereotypes as probabilistic
generalities—in which case a single counterexample would not
undermine it. Nor are stereotypes illogical by design simply because they do not arise from personal experience. One cannot help but wonder how any teacher could suggest that only personal experience constitutes valid learning.
But what about the claim that stereotypes are based in prejudice? It would be foolish to ignore the historical evidence of stereotypes sometimes serving to justify prejudice. The prevalent dislike of Middle Easterners is a recent example of this ugly phenomenon. But are stereotypes really to blame here? Think about this carefully. Imagine trying to justify hatred of males or of African American youth simply because both of these categories have topped the charts in almost all crime statistics. To infer that most men or black youth are rightfully held in contempt is asinine. Not only does the inference fail because of converse error
, it also fails because it adopts an attitude presuming guilt. Being precautious and clutching your purse when a black youth crosses your path is much different than proactively treating every black person you meet as though they are
criminals. So really the fault lies in the erroneous reasoning and defective use of stereotypes, rather than the stereotype itself.
So why do stereotypes ruffle people's feathers? Perhaps the problem people see in stereotypes is an erroneous assignment of blame, as I explained earlier. But it can also be that they reveal some uncomfortable truth that people do not want to face. It's important to realize that stereotypes do not cast judgment by design. To say that the Inuit are short and stubby, and blacks from Central Africa are tall and slender, says nothing about whether this is good or bad. I often hear people complain about the stereotype that gay men are effeminate. There is evidence to suggest that on average this may be empirical reality, but that's actually irrelevant. Ask yourself: Is there something inherently wrong in effeminacy that automatically justifies hatred, contempt or anger toward gay men if, hypothetically, all
gay men were indeed effeminate? Of course not.
Stereotypes are a useful heuristic for interacting with others. Some of them will of course be false and we should swiftly correct them as we encounter them, but don't feel so hostile toward the very human tendency to generate false positives. After all, it is in mistaking shadows for wolves that has historically kept us alive and well.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#Stereotypes]But that's a stereotype![/url]
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Science was wrong before
Science is an empirical study of data that is based on a paradigm of inductive logic
. Loosely speaking it produces inferences to the best explanations, but not by a logical deduction to a necessary conclusion. This is why a single study does not "prove" a phenomenon—science does not deal in "proofs" the way mathematics and logic do. To get confidence there must be a collection of evidence over time, preferably arrived at through the use of different methodologies. Such "truths" are provisional and subject to revision as newer information becomes available. It is important, then, to recognize that science is open to error and, as a consequence, is self-correcting. Regardless of the errors one can point to, science is based on observation moderated through elaborate methodological naturalism (not to be confused for philosophical naturalism). The latter part of that last sentence is what's important. This is why anecdotal evidence is largely crap. (See: A word on anecdotes
Despite instances of scientific errors that one can recall, the importance of science is lost when one solely fixates on the end result instead of looking at it as the product of an elaborate process designed to suppress personal bias and faulty reasoning. The "but science was wrong before" argument is nothing more than a smoke screen used to disguise the fact that the person using this excuse is likely either advancing some silly nonsense he has no good evidence for (and likely failed to have his data filtered through rigorous methodology) or has a personal bias against the result for reasons other than the evidence.
No one is claiming that science is the only way of knowing the material world, but it has proven to be one of the most reliable tools we have for understanding observable reality. If one wants to claim that there is a better method that trumps or rivals it, then that person must explain and demonstrate their better method for evaluating claims, and provide evidence that it is indeed a better method.
I'll leave you with this quote from Science Based Medicine
Intuition, tradition, revelation, "stoned thinking" à la Andrew Weil, dreams, extrapolation, speculation, and personal anecdotal experience can lead people to strong beliefs, but we can't trust those beliefs to reflect reality. Only the scientific method can give us reliable knowledge. No matter how convincing they sound, claims must be tested before we can assume they are true.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#ScienceWasWrongBefore]Either dismissing science or attempting to justify other ways of knowing on the grounds that "science was wrong before."[/url]
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Science rests on faith, much like religion
Science certainly operates under certain assumptions
, but using the word "faith" here can be misleading. These assumptions can be, for example, that there is an objective reality*
, that the universe operates according to regularities, and that human beings can learn about and understand these regularities.
Such assumptions in science are not testable, but it is important to understand that they are not held because they are required. As assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way, for example, while certainly an assumption, is not a requirement in science. Rather, why this or any other assumption in science is adopted is because scientists will be able to construct useful theories (i.e., explanations of sets of facts) if they make those sorts of assumptions
. It's important to see that this does not rest on faith. We are justified in our assumptions if making said assumptions leads us to construct useful theories. If they do not, then we are not justified in adopting them. There is also another important caveat here. That we are able to construct useful theories with such assumptions does not prove said assumptions. If holding the assumption that the universe is rational and governed by natural laws enables us to make useful theories, this does not prove the natural world is
rational and governed by laws, only that we are successful in navigating the cosmos with theories describing it in such a way. Calling this "faith" as most of us understand the term is misleading if not downright false.
Science also holds values
, much to the chagrin of those who would have you believe science is a value-neutral domain that never pushes anything normative. These values are philosophical axioms which we adopt—both in the sciences as well as elsewhere—in order to even get anything done. Suppose you find yourself in a chemistry classroom where a teacher is giving a very simple lecture on the composition of water: that it is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. Simple enough. Let us suppose, however, you are skeptical of this claim. The science teacher could appeal to data from chemistry, describing the outcomes of simple experiments. But notice that in doing so, the science teacher has implicitly appealed to the values
of empiricism and logic. What if you do not share these values? At this point one has hit philosophical bedrock with the shovel of a stupid question. The right answer to such a question is, why we should even care what such a person thinks? They have effectively dismissed themselves from a valuable conversation. It is simply unreasonable to think that the failure of science to silence all possible dissent has any significance whatsoever.
It appears those who advance the view that science rests on faith wish to portray science as a dogmatic enterprise wherein the lay public is asked to adopt assertions on sole authority and blind trust. Clearly many of us do utilize trust when adopting areas of science which are too sophisticated and nuanced for our ordinary understanding, not to mention that we cannot possibly exhaust every discipline (scientific or otherwise) with the same rigor as a PhD in that field. Such a trust, however, is built and developed over time through a history of confidence in generating truths about objective reality and when we at the very minimum understand its research methodology for arriving at its answers.
_____*For a funny exchange on this in the forum, read this old debate between René (Anonymous Boy) and Alex (lostpainting).
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#ScienceFaith]Science rests on faith, much like religion[/url]
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A word on anecdotes
You are currently suffering from a massive headache. Your kindly grandmother suggests you take one of her own herbal remedies that has been "time-tested." You take the supposed remedy and a few minutes later your headache is gone. It worked, right? Not necessarily.
You cannot make that assumption because sometimes we get it wrong. Long ago people used leeches to drain people of "bad" blood. They KNEW bloodletting worked. They saw it with their own eyes!
Aside from the fact that eyewitness evidence is embarrassingly unreliable
, even if we were absolutely positive that what we saw was accurate that in no way guarantees that our inferences
are also accurate. If you've ever been strongly convinced of something like in the above hypothetical, consider the following:
The disorder could have run its course;
Many diseases are cyclical;
We're all suggestible;
Temporary mood improvement can be confused for a cure;
Psychological needs can affect our behavior and our perceptions;
Many assume mere correlation necessarily establishes causation.
There's a reason why establishing an explanation for any natural phenomenon in science is a pain in the ass. It's because although the senses are used to view and examine evidence (i.e., empiricism), there are also brain failures, both physically and in the way that we reason, which greatly impact what we observe and infer. Think about it. By using mere anecdotal experience alone, how would you be able to tell in the hypothetical above whether it was the remedy that relieved you of your headache or something else, like the possibility that your headache was going to go away anyway? This is why you often get researchers who split a randomized sample of people from the population into control and experimental groups—you want to be able to compare and contrast them to account for alternative causes and not fall prey to things like a placebo effect.
Understandably we don't go about our everyday lives filtering our first-person experiences through a rigorous methodology—that's impossible and we'd drive ourselves insane trying to do so. There is a certain practicality in operating under assumptions, predictions, conjectures, and cursory impressions—there's no doubt about that. We should, however, also recognize their huge limitations, especially when we're being asked to take some kind of risk or place a heavy reliance on something based on them.
[b]You have committed the following annoyance:[/b] [url=http://www.gayforum.org/intellectual-discussions/pooler-s-pocket-guide-to-discourse-t1857/#Anecdotes]Believing anecdotes are reliable[/url]
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