The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Agency of Pseudo-Skepticism & Cultivated Ignorance

A Handy Checklist for Distinguishing Propaganda from Actual Science

The propaganda artist insists upon final conclusion from a smattering of facts. An ethical skeptic raises questions from disciplined, incremental and in-the-field observation.

How do we distinguish propaganda from genuine skepticism and science? How does the ethical skeptic discern who to engage with and whom to treat with a more asperous demeanor? Here is a handy checklist which I find helpful in such circumstances. Ethics never demands that you treat everyone nicely. Be gracious to all and tolerant of unintended ignorance – but never cozen a liar or insistent apparatchik. These are distinguished by their methods, and not their specific beliefs or stances on an issue. The central key is this:

A propaganda artist insists upon final conclusion from a smattering of facts. An ethical skeptic raises questions from disciplined, incremental and in-the-field observation.

A propaganda artist habitually defends the strong. An ethical skeptic defends stakeholders at risk.

A propaganda artist focuses on person, identity, motive and trivia. An ethical skeptic focuses on method and argument.

The propaganda artist may in fact, be correct – but this is simply by accident.

The Propaganda Artist

Seeks and targets specific groups, inserting them self into that targeted group conversations

The only ‘question’ raised is pejorative, questioning an opponent’s motive or character/person

Makes a high priority of identifying the bad guys (usually a priori)

Identifies the bad subjects a priori (by means other than actual completed science) – often in a bundle or on a t-shirt

Groups opponents into a gigantic conspiracy-theory-believing, tin-foil hat or anti-science cult

Relies upon personal attacks based simply upon an opponent’s dissent

Uses the media or a club of social superiority as their backup – bullying crowd

Comes armed with a list of disjointed facts or canned points, and calls that ‘evidence’

Issues figures and fabutistics (‘97% of scientists’, ‘less than 5% of cases’), without any qualification or understanding of them

Obtains plausible deniability stances from club doctrine and materials/sources

Uses one-liners/talking points and presumes opponent has never heard them before

An habitual attachment or reliance upon headlines or catch phrases

Fails to examine their canned talking points for any straw man of opponents

Appeals to authority or celebrity in lieu of competence, and before any argument is actually framed or established

Habitually underestimates or deprecates opponents

Relies upon partial, preliminary or outdated science

Fails to demonstrate a record of producing any original thoughts

Fails to understand what a hypothesis is, or the different Levels/strengths of study design and inference

Seeks to increase celebrity and club status through their activity

Focuses upon victory – motivated to compensate for a past anger/shortfall

Was in the opposite camp and now they have ‘seen the light’ and are still a fanatic, just merely switched sides

Significant need to be the ‘science representative’ or the smartest person in the room

‘Wears the logo or job’ as status inside the science or industry under contention, but does not seem to carry much professional knowledge of that science or industry

Insults the innocent opponent – bears a habit of insulting

Flip-flops sides (not as an outcome of scientific persuasion) unconsciously or on smaller (but critical) issues

Never applies doubt to self or favored ideas, only to disfavored ideas

Fails to grasp that simply using the tools of science (eg. Bayesian analysis, meta-study, single p-values) does not mean that one has actually done science

Habitually fails to understand or acknowledge risk or value

Seldom distinguishes a stakeholder from casual interest – never defends a stakeholder at risk

Issues conclusions based upon mere ‘facts’ and not the critical nature of argument (soundness, logical calculus and critical path)

Never ends with a question, always a final answer

Does not seem to be aware of what a syllogism or logical calculus is, and how to differentiate it from an ignoratio elenchi argument

Reliance upon informal fallacy or peripheral trivia as a means to disprove an opponent

Fails to measure or be aware of the cost in a claimed cost-benefit mechanism

Forces a simplest explanation or talks about ‘Occam’s Razor’ (sic)

Possesses a final explanation claim for all inquiries

Forces an argument to final explanation

Answers are always simple and easy (which is not the real world)

Tenders an idea equal status to a scientific hypothesis

Implies at all times that the science has been completed

epoché vanguards gnosis

How to MLA cite this blog post =>
The Ethical Skeptic, “A Handy Checklist for Distinguishing Propaganda from Actual Science” The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 24 March 2018, Web;

March 24, 2018 - Posted by | Agenda Propaganda | ,

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