In the process of approaching perplexing topics under a mindset of true skepticism, I have found several principles useful in spotting those who are attempting to obfuscate, rather than resolve, complex scientific and social riddles.
Dénouer is a term derived from a Middle French word meaning to ‘unknot (a line or rope)’. It is the skillful application of multiple forms and modes of inference in such a fashion as to solve a complex puzzle. For example, reduction, consilience, heteroduction, falsification, triangulation, dead reckoning, or the sequencing of induction applied in such a fashion as to constrain an argument so that its solution may then be deduced (an example). Denouement therefore means to unravel the plot of a story to its outcome or climax – often a revealing of antagonist, ploy, and raison d’être. Science, as a social process, is not much different from a story which seeks to reveal both the technical and human elements wound up inside the discovery of truth.
In this process of considering mysteries, I have found several principles useful in spotting those who are attempting to obfuscate, rather than resolve, complex scientific and social issues. The complicated human side of the plot indeed. They are outlined below in the form of several key Axioms.
Ethical Skeptic’s First Axiom – “Accurate, is simple. But that does not serve to make simple, therefore accurate.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Second Axiom – “Among explanatory alternatives, elegance is always preferable over simplicity.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Third Axiom – “If it is simple, everyone can understand it, and most people believe it, but it still cannot be tested – then it is most likely wrong.”
There is a point of critical transition below which, to dumb something down further or select for the ‘simpler’ alternative, is to also lose accuracy (wrong-ness), or meaning/coherency (not-even-wrong-ness). Occam’s Razor presents a glaring irony, in that by selecting for the simplest explanation, one often violates the very essence of scientific reason in the form of a fallacy based upon this first axiom. In contrast, Ockham’s Razor is necessarily more complex than Occam’s Razor to be sure, but is also more accurate in its definition of the role of plurality in hypothesis development. Occam’s Razor, that is ‘all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one’, resides well below this critical transition, and is therefore not a logical truth. Therefore as well, it can be employed to deceive.
Which serves to introduce the name of this critical transition, the Bridgman Point:
Bridgman Point – the point at which a principle can no longer be dumbed-down any further, without sacrifice of its coherency, accuracy, salience or context.
Nonetheless, it is critical that the ethical skeptic understand that, accurate is already simple. Be judicious in your efforts to dumb-down that which is accurate.
Ethical Skeptic’s Fourth Axiom – “When human intervention is the critical feature of a hypothesis, human intervention to a priori obfuscate that hypothesis forces it into becoming the null.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Fifth Axiom – “An idea cannot be a conspiracy theory if it is also the null hypothesis.”
These two ideas work in tandem. When one tests an idea or hypothesis for validity, one is gauging it against another hypothesis called the null hypothesis. Rejecting or disproving the null hypothesis, is the central task of modern science. If a supposed ‘conspiracy’ idea must and can be falsified (or be addressed by deductive or directly-observable evidence) in order to support the prevailing alternative or notion, then it should/must be falsified. To interfere with such a process, especially a ‘skeptical body as authority’ during hypothesis formulation – changes that hypothesis to the null.
For instance, the idea that the Earth was some shape other than a (reasonable) sphere, was falsified in finality several times through history. Before these observational events however, the idea that the Earth was flat did not constitute a conspiracy theory, but rather then the necessary null hypothesis. It demanded falsification – and indeed mankind rose to the challenge.
Once falsified however, thereafter such a former null hypothesis can indeed then become a conspiracy theory, because it presumes a conspiracy among the observers who falsified the idea or deduced a competing-exclusive one.
If however, a body of science avoids testing of such a hypothesis, it rules over us. It becomes the null. It must be falsified thereafter. For we serve that which we fear most. Calling the null hypothesis a ‘conspiracy theory’ under such a circumstance, flags the presence of Schapiro or Bernays Propaganda. Which serves to introduce
Ethical Skeptic’s Law – if science won’t conduct the experiment, society will force the experiment. One can only embargo an idea for so long.
Ethical Skeptic’s Axiom of Authority and Conspiracy – when an authority is not transparent and instead chooses to obfuscate, then Ockham’s Razor is immediately surpassed and conspiracy is part of the legitimate hypothesis base. One cannot be a victim of what they have earned.
For this reason, be cautious of those who liberally apply the term ‘conspiracy theory’, yet don’t even know what is indeed the null hypothesis.
Ethical Skeptic’s Sixth Axiom – “Danger trumps conspiracy. That which introduces a danger (hazard, risk and/or uncertainty) constitutes a more extraordinary claim (demands more extraordinary evidence) than that which is deemed ‘conspiracy theory’.”
The precautionary principle is a philosophical, ethical, and legal mandate regarding decisions which bear the potential for causing harm to stakeholders (to include non-human stakeholders), when sufficient scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking or the decision involves a sufficient level of risk or uncertainty. For example, when a human population is exposed to risk or uncertainty, they become necessary peers in the process of reviewing assumption of that danger (even if a benefit is to be derived). To avoid stakeholder review, and deem any question raised by at-risk stakeholders as ‘conspiracy theory’ can be a criminal act, as well an immoral/unethical one. If a stakeholder employs a technology and is not harmed, this is an inductive anecdote and is not tantamount to evidence. If a stakeholder employs a technology and is harmed, this is not merely an anecdote – it is evidence. To obfuscate such evidence, or call advocacy around this former stakeholder, a ‘conspiracy theory’, is an act of malice and oppression.
Which serves to introduce Ethical Skeptic’s Laws of Risk:
Ethical Skeptic’s Laws of Risk – in order of progression of application logic, nine laws frame the ethics of risk in a social context:
- Reward most always outweighs uncertainty or miscalculated/ignored risk.
- Uncertainty and miscalculated/ignored risk are seldom regarded as cumulative.
- An imbalance in risk or uncertainty produces a value which seldom goes uncaptured. Exploit stakes seldom go uncaptured.
- An implication as to uncertainty or difficulty in measuring risk is belied by the appraisal of value to be captured through its misproportion or imbalance.
- A system which imparts risk upon stakeholders, perpetually bears the burden of proof of any reasonable or implicit claim to have mitigated that risk.
- In absence of a reasonable accounting of risks, there is no such thing as a claim to virtue (from benefit).
- A peer reviewing a risk strategy must also bear that risk them self.
- Stakeholders placed at risk, are peers in its review.
- An ignorance of risk/uncertainty or absence of risk strategy, is itself a risk strategy.
Even if an idea is supposedly addressing a risk, if risk/uncertainty in its introduction and deployment has been ignored, then alternatives outlining that risk/uncertainty exposure cannot logically constitute conspiracy theory.
Ethical Skeptic’s Seventh Axiom – “Once plurality is introduced under Ockham’s Razor, it cannot be dismissed by means of skepticism alone.”
This axiom simply means that, once a hypothesis has shown merit to be considered among the field of reasonable alternatives (plurality), it cannot be removed from that status by sitting in your parent’s basement and rattling off memorized quotes from the 1972 Skeptic’s Field Guide. Even less, by declaring yourself an authority and condemning the idea among ‘science communicators’. An alternative which has reached this status must be evaluated by the novel and incremental scientific inquiry which is now mandated to be brought against or in support of it. It has earned its day in the court of science. For instance, once a harm has been identified in a portion of the population from a pesticide – even if a suitable supportive hypothesis has been squelched and not allowed to be developed (the handiwork of fake skeptics) – then that harm must be addressed by science, and not be neutralized by apothegms from pretend/agency-driven scientists or journalists. Screaming a conclusion over and over also does not count as evidence in such a case.
Which introduces a tactic employed by such fake skeptics, methodical cynicism:
Methodical Cynicism – doubt employed as a skulpting mechanism, to slice away disliked observations until one is left with only the data set and alternatives they favored before coming to an argument in the first place. A method of controlling the conclusions of science by screening out the alternatives which it is allowed to entertain.
Watch carefully for those who block an alternative from being matured or allowed into consideration. They are fully aware that if they fail, that idea can no longer be contained by philosophy (skepticism) alone. They understand this principle well and are terrified of such a condition. You must understand them even better.
Ethical Skeptic’s Eighth Axiom – “If the right term does not exist, then it must exist.”
I am a Wittgenstein fan. He contended that language is the limiting factor in our ability to comprehend (which of course the reader of The Ethical Skeptic already knows well). If the right word does not exist, then it must exist. If you are the first person to perceive, apprehend, and craft it – then so be it. If you find later that the exact term did indeed exist, and you were simply not aware, then of course adjust accordingly.
Ethical Skeptic’s Ninth Axiom – “The level of quality placed into scientific work and/or inference is inversely proportional to how much it is called ‘The Science’.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Tenth Axiom (Hempel’s Narrative Paradox) – “That which is the official narrative bears the greater burden of proof (versus any form of dissent), and should not be inferred solely by means of induction, abduction, or denial.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Eleventh Axiom – “When the act of simply remaining neutral (skepticism) itself constitutes magical, heretical, or conspiracy theorizing – one has broached despotism of the narrative.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Twelfth Axiom – “An ideology that cannot be defended by means of evidence and deductive logic, will inevitably be enforced by violence.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Thirteenth Axiom – “One cannot be a victim of what they have earned.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Fourteenth Axiom – “Inside a political climate science can never be settled. Science must ever operate inside the public trust.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Fifteenth Axiom – “The direct derivation of belief from mere ‘fact’ is one level of competence below ignorance.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Sixteenth Axiom (of Nelsonian Knowledge) – “In order to skillfully distort the truth, one must first also know it.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Seventeenth Axiom (of Truth and Suppression) – “Only the truth demands active, trained and organized suppression. In a free thought and information society, lies will eventually falsify themselves. Suppression of an idea usually involves fear of some element or form of truth.”
Ethical Skeptic’s Eighteenth Axiom (of Debunking) – “One’s implicit claim to have proven the null hypothesis, especially by means of an absence of evidence, constitutes the most extraordinary of claims.”
These are some of the critical precepts which help one to negotiate the dazzling array of social deception which surrounds many of our most important science-based decisions as a society. Contemplate and enjoy ethical skeptic.
The Ethical Skeptic, “Ethical Skeptic’s Four Axioms”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 10 May 2021; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=50564