I contend once again, Carl Sagan was neither correct, nor really all that brilliant. In his oft-lauded ‘The Demon-Haunted World’ quip, he miscalled entirely the constituency who would end up becoming our problem. I fixed it.
I bear an apprehension about an America in my, my children’s, and grandchildren’s time – when oligarch and technology powers rule and are in the hands of a few elite cronies, and no one representing the public interest is permitted to speak against, much less stop what is occurring; when the people have lost the ability to control their own destinies and are forbidden access to the resources and rights to question those in authority; when, clutching our progressive buzzwords and nervously surveying our science communicators’ latest witch-hunt, our critical faculties seared, unable to distinguish between virtuous-sounding agitprop and what’s actually ethical or scientific, we slide, almost without noticing, straight into civil strife, an equality in paucity, and oppression.
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
The Ethical Skeptic, “A Handy Checklist for Distinguishing Propaganda from Actual Science” The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 24 March 2018, Web; https://wp.me/p17q0e-7lR
I neither want to understand your observation or contention, nor do I regard it as acceptable for consideration unless I see solid conclusive empirical underpinning first; much as I hold for all the things I regard as true. Until it is proved in finality, I will allow no language of science to develop around the subject. Your terms and construct schema are all pseudo-science.
Wittgenstein says bullshit to the supposed objectivity of those who game the process of science in this manner, and identifies three types of error to which the social epistemologist falls prey.
One of the principal developers of our modern framing of philosophy was Ludwig Wittgenstein (most often pronounced /vhit’-geng-shtiyne/). His Philosophy of Mathematics served as a means to bring into coherence his own contentions regarding the role and limitations of philosophy as it impacts our science. Indeed, Wittgenstein’s writings from 1929 through 1944 are heavily devoted to mathematics, a fact that Wittgenstein himself emphasized in 1944 by writing that his “chief contribution has been in the philosophy of mathematics.”1 This focus on mathematics afforded Wittgenstein a frame of reference from which to understand the contrast between a hard-boundary science such as maths, and in contrast a soft-boundary science, such as psychology. Wittgenstein going even so far as to consider the substrate of science, philosophy, thusly: “philosophy is not a theory, or a doctrine, but rather an activity. It is an activity of clarification (of thoughts), and more so, of critique (of language).”2
As such, philosophy does not lend itself to recitation in the Wittgenstein argument, aside from its basic dependence upon foundational elements, tautologies that are true based on their own essence (eg. 2+2=4, or I am alive). A philosophy can be nonsense (unsinnig) when it is devoid of any referenceable structure or meaning, or senseless (sinnlos), when possessing referenceable structure and meaning but contestable in terms of accuracy.3 Most of mankinid’s contentions, are incorrectly ascribed to be nonsense by faking skeptics, when in fact, they are more accurately termed senseless under the Wittgensteinian philosophical framing. But for the most part, we forgive social skeptics this error. Employment of the pejorative ‘nonsense’ sounds more scientifically authoritative and conclusive. They are all about sounding authoritative and conclusive, so they would rather employ that term in error. Terminology and language as it turns out in the Wittgenstein sense, are not only crucial to the foundations of understanding and science, but also stand as one of the principle tools through which fake skepticism is leveraged.
“Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.“
~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
Wittgenstein is considered one of the key developers of thought regarding how we understand what is philosophy, sense, nonsense and knowledge. Wittgenstein outlined a useful framework hinging around the all important role of language (#2 in the series), inside of which I have developed a series of litmus thresholds which define what is both knowable, and what is known. Elements of science, or what is considered to be added to the body of what is known, are dependent upon several channels of serviceability in order to possess even the remotest possibility of becoming a part of our body of knowledge. Each must sufficiently pass a litmus test of serviceability in terms of:
1. Domain of Comprehensibility – a tenet of knowledge must be graspable by the mind of at least one person
2. Domain of DescriptiveSymbology (Language) – a tenet of knowledge must be describable in some kind of symbolism, both privately and commonly held
3. Domain of Intelligibility – a tenet of knowledge must be frameable in reference to previous foundation tenets of knowledge (Wittgenstein elements)
4. Domain of Observability – a tenet of knowledge must possess a feature which is at least in part, observable and/or measurable
5. Domain of Tolerability – a tenet of knowledge must not offend the sensibility of members of those who hear it
6. Domain of Sustainability – a tenet of knowledge must both be teachable and teachable by others than its originator
Wittgenstein placed language and descriptive symbology as the foundational aspect which influences the intelligibility lifecycle of an idea. These six screening mechanisms are the filters through which mankind develops what is considered the Body of That Which is Known (science). However, when this process is tampered with, or the methods of science are crafted in such a way as to corrupt and game this series of acceptances, three errors result as outlined later below.
Because most arguments, constructs or hypotheses are innately comprehensible (1), intelligible (3), can be observed (4), and taught (6), should I wish to constrain science in the Wittgensteinian/Ethical Skeptic sense; science which is headed in a direction I do not like, therefore I must assail the two vulnerable touchpoints of the knowledge development process, Numbers 2 and 5 above:
The Wittgenstein Essences of Fake Skepticism
2. Refuse to afford the subject an intelligible and professionally agreed set of concepts, schema or descriptive language, and
5. Position a screen of intolerability as to its being observed or sustained (taught) at all.
An ethical skeptic will notice that celebrity skeptics fly into action when observations are made regarding an embargoed science. Refusal to allow an idea to thrive is their chief tactic in such circumstances. Wittgenstein cautioned that what is ‘known’ can be as much an exercise in philosophy, as is philosophy itself. Unlike maths’ hard boundary science, much of what we know is vulnerable to what we want to know, or our soft-boundary philosophy of both what we can comprehend, measure, communicate or desire to observe. Very often this knowledge is not in reality anchored existentially into both that which is known, or especially that which can be known. We pick and choose what eventually arrives as ‘truth’ based on our philosophy.
It is this refusal to allow description of that which can be known, which is the chief sinnloss on the part of the Social Skeptic. Both the desire to not know something, and the belief that all one’s knowledge is underpinned outside the framework of philosophy, stand as a grand fantasy on the part of the social skeptic. The nonsense arises in their inability to observe this in themselves.
More than simply an argument from ignorance, the Wittgenstein Error is the active construction of the ignorance itself. A gaming of what is observable by tampering with language and symbolism first. It is akin to attempting complex math while refusing to allow a mechanism for integration. All in order to shepherd to a priori ends, that which can be known.
This gives rise to three particular forms of error on the part of those who profess science as part of a social agenda. Errors which the ethical skeptic, is wise to avoid in their own thinking – and quietly identify in the thinking of others, in a non-pejorative context (we all are vulnerable to this human frailty).
Wittgenstein Error (Descriptive)
Describable: I cannot observe it because I refuse to describe it.
Corruptible: Science cannot observe it because I have crafted language and definition so as to preclude its description.
Existential Embargo: By embargoing a topical context (language) I favor my preferred ones through means of inverse negation.
/philosophy : knowledge development : symbolism and language/ – the contention or assumption that science has no evidence for or ability to measure a proposition or contention, when in fact it is only a flawed crafting of language and definition, limitation of language itself or lack of a cogent question or (willful) ignorance on the part of the participants which has limited science and not in reality science’s domain of observability.
“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” ~Wittgenstein
Wittgenstein Error (Contextual)
Situational: I can shift the meaning of words to my favor or disfavor by the context in which they are employed.
/philosophy : knowledge development : symbolism and language/ – the philosophical conception of words bearing a meaning-as-use approach to definition, or the idea that the meanings of words, relative or not, cannot be defined abstract in isolation from the contexts in which they are employed.4 Semantics and locution abuse as it formulates the basis of rhetoric.
“We are unable clearly to circumscribe the concepts we use; not because we don’t know their real definition, but because there is no real ‘definition’ to them.” ~Wittgenstein
Wittgenstein Error (Epistemological)
Tolerable: My science is an ontology or intolerance dressed up as empiricism.
/philosophy : knowledge development : fallacies/ – the contention that a proposition must be supported by empirical data or else it is meaningless, nonsense or useless mis-sense, or that a contention which is supported by empirical data is therefore sensible, when in fact the proposition can be framed into meaninglessness, nonsense or uselessness based upon its underlying state or lacking of definition, structure, logical calculus or usefulness in addressing a logical critical path.
bedeutungslos – meaningless or incoherent. A proposition or question which resides upon a lack of definition, or which contains no meaning in and of its self.
unsinnig – nonsense or non-science. A proposition of compromised formal structure or not framed in a scientifically valid form of reduction. Feynman ‘not even wrong.’
sinnlos – mis-sense, logical untruth or lying. A contention which does not follow from the evidence, is correct at face value but disinformative or is otherwise useless.5
“Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.” ~Wittgenstein
Our duty is to challenge pseudo-skepticism which employs these two error bases, institutional doctrine which is founded upon them and the resulting cultivation of ignorance which provides the fertile soil from which more of this type of error can be perpetuated.