The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance

The Art of Rhetoric

Rhetoric is an opportunist, desperate for an avenue of entry through any means of persuasion and locution – a form of such extreme commitment to a conclusion that it bears not the ethics and honesty of poetry. An answer seeking a question which then targets a victim – a disliked topic or person.
Don’t be fooled. Rhetoric always defends an answer – always targets a victim. It is the opposite of poetry. It is the opposite of the process of sound science.

The Art of Rhetoric is the process by which dogmatic truths are enforced through the impugning of an antithetical idea or person. It consists of two components: Opportunistic Persuasion and Opportunistic Locution. These two elements are the subjects of the last two blog posts in The Ethical Skeptic:

How You Persuade Makes All the Differencethe ethical skeptic button

How You Say It Makes All the Differencethe ethical skeptic button

unmitigated bullshit - CopyWhen we sequence the two activity sets together, we educe a process which is in its essence, the reverse of science. Rhetoric is a method of convincing a dilettante audience, and even a scientifically trained audience to submit to consensus on an idea – which holds potentially questionable empirical merit. Neil deGrasse Tyson cites that scientific literacy is what empowers one to spot when someone else is full of bullshit. That might be partly true; however, to Neil’s discredit the vast majority of our scientists, even less Social Skeptics, are not well trained enough in philosophy to understand the tenets of what constitutes bullshit in the form and nature of rhetoric. One cannot conduct the process of science in typical social discourse, nor is holding a set of prescribed answers which were handed to you, indeed science. Thus I am skeptical that Dr. Tyson’s one liner is correct. Spotting rhetoric however, is a useful skill; the ability to spot those arguments which seek to take the place of sound methods of science. Rhetoric is designed to trick smart people into consensus through sleight-of-hand persuasion and locution. It is the container ship which docks at the port of bullshit. Similar to Methodical Cynicism being a martial art, Rhetoric is an Art – a rogue doctrine among the humanities.

An Answer Looking for a Question Looking for a Victim

Rhetoric

/philosophy : argument : bias : inverse logic : sleight of hand/ : appearing to be focused on a given topic or a given case example, when a slightly different or less acceptable somewhat related position is actually being surreptitiously promoted. Enacted through opportunistic measures, desperate for an avenue of entry through any means of persuasion and locution – a form of such extreme commitment to a conclusion that it bears not the ethics and honesty of straightforwardness, science, transparency or poetry. An answer seeking a question which then targets a victim – a disliked topic or person.

rhet destroyIt is not simply science after all which equips a person with the tools necessary in detecting bullshit. It is the quality and rigor of one’s philosophy inside their discipline. That is why it is called a Doctorate in Philosophy, a PhD. Facts are peppered about by all sides in most debates. Facts do not necessarily lend deontological knowledge (truth). It is the structure and nature of argument which reveals both the credibility of the arguer, as well as potentially the soundness of their argument. A seasoned philosopher can discern the difference between a dogmatic shallow skepticolyte, and an authentic lay or professional scientific researcher. Take the current blog series among Social Skeptics demonstrating rhetoric about one of their favorite topics of obsession (why they obsess over this I have no idea):

Answer (truism): Ancient and cultural folklore is an unsound basis from which to make a claim that any folk-legend-monster exists or ever existed.

Question (rhetoric): Do “cryptids” exist, or are they simply figments of social archetypal folklore and imaginations?

Victim (target): Therefore, since it is most likely that the answer substantiates the question (apparent coherency), there is, quod erat demonstrandum, no substantiating evidence supporting any crypto-zoological being like Bigfoot.

The Ethical Skeptic does not believe in Bigfoot. But he also does not believe in bad science either.

Backward science is one of Social Skepticism’s primary means of enforcing consensus. Notice that, as always, no actual science is employed in the above process of rhetoric. If we pepper the process above (and in the below exhibit) with ‘facts,’ it renders the process no less an Art of Trickery than it already is in its essence. This is the chief craft of the most senior of Social Skeptics. It is pseudoscience.

The Art of Rhetoric - Copy

An Example of Rhetoric in Journalistic Propaganda

diabetes - Copy - CopyThe following example is pulled from today’s INQUISITR. It consists of a short prejudicial propaganda article by Shelley Hazen, published September 9th, one day after a diabetes study summarized on September 8 2015, outlined how diabetes has grown in 24 short years, to affect half the American population. In an effort to head off public unrest over the idea that something might have caused this precipitous upsurge in disease, social epistemology outlets such as INQUISITR were instructed to head off unauthorized ideas, via push articles for immediate promulgation. This is a regular observable, repeatable and measurable occurrence of Social Skepticism. Some key features to note, which delineate rhetoric based propaganda:

The Ten Features of Rhetoric Based Propaganda
  1.   It is fast in its retort (often right on the heels of the release of disliked information)
  2.   It employs the worst of pathos based persuasion (polemic, apologetic, obdurate, philippic, coercion)
  3.   It protects a single buried Answer (with a capital A)
  4.   It is promulgated through the same, very familiar media channels
  5.   It is written by low-experience, dilettante journalists – compliance minded B students who don’t know any better
  6.   It is fraught with semantic and locution breaches
  7.   It is written in simple to construct, imprecise and non-scientific phraseology
  8.   It lacks technical competency on the subject being discussed
  9.   It falsely spins scientific and research principles into totally different understanding
  10.   It assumes an unmerited position of authority.

Well, as you can see below, the article is a case study in rhetoric. It bears all the elements of opportunistic persuasion, in this case in the form of an obdurate to apologetic. It cannot be a polemic or disputation because it offers no hint of any opposing viewpoint or substantiation of its “Answer” buried as lede inside the prejudicially framed text. Second, it follows through on the persuasion by taking the question raised (Has diabetes risen with obesity since 1988?), and feeding that via a disconcertingly large series (read that as – this person would not last five minutes in one of my labs or firms) of locution foibles into a

prescribed Answer: Type 2 [diabetes] is caused by poor eating, lack of exercise, and being obese.

assumptions they they want to slip by:

  1. poor eating and lack of exercise increased as a precursor to this 20 year period of diabetes increase. When in fact, this is not the case at all.²
  2. poor eating and lack of exercise are the source of the obesity epidemic. When in fact, it is gut flora which is being identified by science as the culprit. Gut flora being altered by a substance we are ingesting on a regular basis.³

The Targeted Victim:  The idea that diabetes causes obesity. The idea that something introduced into the American diet since 1988, has precipitated a dramatic rise in pre-diabetes, and that obesity and pancreatic failure are the later symptoms and not the disease or cause itself. This is the antithetical idea which is targeted by Social Skeptics. Shelley Hazen’s medical pseudo-authority might be even palatable, if there were not at least 11 other maladies which have also skyrocketed in the last two decades (pancreatic cancer, rosacea, skin disorders, childhood diabetes, autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, IBS/InfBS/Crohn’s, liver distress, kidney disorders, etc.).

click on image to enlarge

example of rhetoric 2 - Copy

Such is the nature of journalistic propaganda from push-media outlets. Such is the nature of apparent coherency spun by social epistemologists for your consumption and consensus. Such is the nature of Social Skepticism. A lie in so many words. An answer looking for a victim.

Such is the nature of rhetoric.


¹  Hazen, Shelley, INQUISITR: Do Half of American Adults Have Diabetes? The Numbers May Not be That Clear Cut; http://www.inquisitr.com/2404697/do-half-of-american-adults-have-diabetes-the-numbers-may-not-be-that-clear-cut/

²  “Physical Activity Statistics: No Leisure-Time Physical Activity Trends | DNPAO | CDC”. WHO. Retrieved Sep 9, 2015.

³  Science Daily: VIB – Intestinal flora determines health of obese people, Aug 28, 2013; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130828131932.htm

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Argument Fallacies, Tradecraft SSkepticism | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skeptical Thinking does not Constitute Expert Opinion

Social Skeptics do not meet the standards of credibility incumbent in pronouncing the judgements they pretend to be qualified to make.

skeptics are not acceptable expert witnessesThe qualifications which merit categorization of an opinion as that constituting expert opinion are clearly delineated by professionals who deal in matters of material fact, in the Federal Rules of Evidence.¹ Social Skeptics position themselves towards the media as the go-to resource for expert opinion on a panoply of topics on behalf of which they seek to block access to science.  Nothing could be further from the reality of the nature of material evidence and issues of fact.  The opinions of skeptics in general, not to mention Social Skeptics in particular, do not qualify as expert opinion under Federal Rule VII. 702.  And in the event that they do qualify, under the strictures of Federal Rule VII. 703, general prejudicial opinions of skeptics constitute the least reliable testimony, meriting a clear ranking of last behind the four recognized types of testimony; which are by rank of strength, Eyewitness, Expert, Defendant and Character testimony.

A skeptic’s expert opinion is immaterial to the issue of fact in a disputed case, if any one or more of the following apply:

a.  There exists direct evidence as to the issue of fact, or

b.  There exist one or more Eyewitnesses to the issue of fact, or

c.  The skeptic is not employed in the particular field in question, or

d.  The skeptic offers only “critical thinking skills” or “the scientific method” as their sole skill basis regarding the issue of fact, or

e.  The skeptic cites hearsay or anecdote as their only knowledge regarding the issue of fact, consisting of

i.  contending that their opinion is held by one or more other experts in the field, or

ii.  citing that an opinion is based upon previous anecdotal or hearsay similar cases, which could serve to shed prejudicial light on the issue of fact.

f.  The skeptic cannot be reasonably certified by counsel in his role on behalf of the court, to serve a Duty of Candor.

From the Federal Rules of Evidence (2014):

ARTICLE VII. OPINIONS AND EXPERT TESTIMONY, Rule 702. Testimony by Expert Witnesses

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.¹

Skeptics and SSkeptics:

702. (a)

  • possess neither scientific, technical nor specialized knowledge – other than, at times, a self qualified general familiarity with the scientific method,
  • possess no knowledge which will aid a trier of fact (the layperson audience), other than hearsay anecdotes concerning hearsay similar cases
  • possess no material or skill which will aid in determining a fact of issue.

702. (b)

  • possess insufficient knowledge or data regarding the fact of issue.

702. (c)

  • may self qualify as possessing a reliable principle with respect to the scientific method; however
  • typically fail as a qualified expert with respect to a history of professional application of the scientific method, and
  • critical thinking skills, and rational thinking do not count as expert skills, experience or knowledge.

702. (d)

  • has no track record of reliably applying the scientific method to the facts of the case category or case itself, to assist in determination of a fact of issue.

Therefore, skeptics do not in general qualify as ‘experts’ under the rules of evidence.  If however, they do qualify under Rule 702, then Rule 703 applies to the utility of such expert opinion:

ARTICLE VII. OPINIONS AND EXPERT TESTIMONY, Rule 703. Bases of an Expert’s Opinion Testimony

An expert may base an opinion on facts or data in the case that the expert has been made aware of or personally observed. If experts in the particular field would reasonably rely on those kinds of facts or data in forming an opinion on the subject, they need not be admissible for the opinion to be admitted. But if the facts or data would otherwise be inadmissible, the proponent of the opinion may disclose them to the jury only if their probative value in helping the jury evaluate the opinion substantially outweighs their prejudicial effect.¹

In other words, if we do not have an Eyewitness or direct evidence to a fact of issue, then a true skeptic who works by application of similar material facts or the scientific method, in their profession in the field in question, can be relied upon for expert testimony, provided that it is not overly prejudicial beyond its probative value.

If however, a skeptic tenders an opinion, such opinion only counts as evidence of issue of fact if they are indeed “in the particular field” in question. If a skeptic tenders expert opinion, which relies on prior prejudices or anecdotes from a standpoint of hearsay, this evidence is typically immaterial regarding an issue of fact. The only instance in which prejudiced testimony based on inadmissible hearsay and anecdote is regarded as material to the issue of fact, is when it constitutes the best testimony available (probative) and would therefore merit inclusion regardless of its prejudicial effect. Even in this circumstance, there exists a burden on an eyewitness or expert called the Duty of Candor. This not only requires that a counsel calling on an expert be transparent in relating his expertise with regard to a topic at hand, but also requires that counsel demand from an expert that they dispense with credenda which might be seen as prejudicing their testimony. No person in this world carries a larger agenda than a SSkeptic. Such a credenda places a counsel at risk of misleading the court – “either through direct representations or through silence.”  Well maybe a Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door carries more of an agenda, but SSkepticism comes in a close second, risking placing the SSkeptic witness into a box of non-credibility and bias based on past politics and advocacy.

Sorry SSkeptics, you are only impressing yourselves and the misinformed with the sciencey-sounding media rhetoric.


¹Federal Rules of Evidence, 2014; Federal Evidence Review, Arlington, VA; VII. Opinions and Expert Testimony, Rules 702 – 703, (http://federalevidence.com/rules-of-evidence).

April 28, 2014 Posted by | Ethical Skepticism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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