Tag Archives: Brian Dunning

Dawkins, NECSS, and Working Together

by Brian Dunning

The recent news is that Richard Dawkins was un-invited from the NECSS conference because of a tweet he sent that many found offensive. Of course it caused all sorts of uproars and divisions. Sigh… how tiresome; and at a time when there is real work to be done.

I was reminded of this short SkepticBlog post I wrote way back in 2009, another time I found myself frustrated with those supposed friends of science communication who seem to place a higher priority on finding things wrong with their allies.

Diversity has value only when it’s real diversity, and that means diversity of opinion in addition to ethnic or gender diversity. Many self-declared “champions of diversity” would do well to actually practice what they preach.

Are You Paddling, or Just Dragging?

They say you need a thick skin if you want to put yourself out there as a science communicator promoting critical thinking. And, it’s true: Trust me, I know. But that thick skin is not necessarily needed to fend off promoters of pseudoscience; just as often, you need it for public attacks launched by those who purport to be your allies.

Recently someone with a skeptical blog wrote an article criticizing me for two different things (both of which were wrong, incidentally; obviously this person didn’t care to check). I didn’t know the person, and browsed around on the blog for a few minutes. It was a generally skeptical blog, but all too often, it seemed the blogger was less interested in attacking the charlatans than in stroking their own ego by going after just about every prominent skeptic: “I’m smart because Novella, Randi, Shermer, Plait, Nickell, Klass, Radford, Dunning, (the list goes on), are wrong.”

I liken the drivers of the critical thinking movement to paddlers in a giant canoe. Some are more influential and paddle hard, others less so. But we’re all paddling. Every little bit helps. We’re paddling because what we’re doing is important and we believe in it. I welcome everyone who comes aboard to help, no matter the size of their paddle.

So it’s frustrating for me when I see people who represent themselves as paddlers, but really all they’re doing is disparaging those who actually do paddle. Oh, occasionally they may stick their paddle into the water and steer or give a little push or two, but every time they stop to lambaste the contributors, they’re dead weight; and when they shout to other boats what horrible paddlers their shipmates are, they are actively counterproductive.

One of our fellow Skeptologists here on SkepticBlog is renowned for his Libertarian politics, and frequently criticized for mixing that into his science communication. Similarly, another is renowned for his Democratic politics, and frequently criticized for mixing that into his science communication. What their critics fail to recognize is that even though one is paddling on the left side of the boat, and the other is paddling on the right side of the boat, both are paddling like hell and have done far more to advance public awareness of science and critical thinking than their critics. They are close allies and work together frequently. Take note that they do not derail their own cause by turning their attentions inward and infighting with one another.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be open to internal criticism of the way we do what we do. We have to be, and we are. But unless you’re trying to communicate to the world that skepticism is falling apart, you don’t trumpet your criticism to the world in your blog, you pick up the phone and make your suggestions appropriately. I had a huge problem with something that happened at The Amazing Meeting 7. I didn’t podcast or blog to the world that TAM is all fucked up; I communicated my concerns in private to the appropriate person. Guess what, my concerns were welcomed, and I also discovered that I didn’t know the whole story. How about that for a shocker? And the world still knows what I want them to know: That I think TAM is an incredibly positive event. We’re still paddling in step.

I invite every skeptical blogger, podcaster, or communicator to stop and consider what it is they’re trying to accomplish. Do you really have no better targets to go after than your best allies? If you feel that I or anyone else have done something counterproductive to science education, you’ll probably find that we welcome your comments if you present them appropriately. If you’re just out there trying to shout “Look how smart I am”, well, we don’t have time for you; but we’ll make time if you want to pick up a paddle and climb on board.

Reblogged from Skeptoid.  

 

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Argumentum ad Monsantium

by BRIAN DUNNING, Nov 08 2012

It’s my favorite new logical fallacy, the “Appeal to Monsanto”, the world’s largest producer of biotech agriculture seeds. This is the logic that compels many anti-GMO activists to reply to any argument in support of biotech crops with “So you love Monsanto?”

It’s so wonderful because it combines many other logical fallacies into one, and is thus a great time saver. For example:

  • It poisons the well (cloaks a viewpoint with negative weasel words) by associating the scary, evil word Monsanto.
  • It’s a non-sequitur (a logical association that does not follow). IF (a) THEREFORE (b). IF (genes can be used to confer traits such as drought resistance) THEREFORE (I love Monsanto).
  • It’s a straw man (misrepresenting what I said into something that’s easy to argue against). If I had actually said “I love Monsanto”, then plenty of rational arguments are available to show that’s a bad idea.
  • It’s an ad hominem attack on my argument (the argument is wrong because of who the person is that made it). Whatever I said about biotech must be wrong since “I love Monsanto”.
  • It’s a red herring (an irrelevancy to distract from the subject under discussion). Monsanto does not necessarily have anything to do with any given science-based discussion of the merits of what can and should be done with direct genetic manipulation.

Also, the Appeal to Monsanto comes in many different forms. Here are some Appeals to Monsanto from my first episode on organic food (skep.us/4019), which did not mention Monsanto at all:

Brian is basically an uninformed apologist for big agro-business. I would not be surprised if he is pulling a salary from Monsanto or Cargill.
G William Shea, 2/2/2008

well, actually [Brian] is very very very uninformed on a lot of subjects, including the scientific method! anyway, another one to see about GM and a real eye-opener in my eye 😉 “The world according to Monsanto”
Pindar, 2/10/2009

check out the documentary, “The World According to Monsanto” you can find it on the popular video sites out there for free.
Justan, 2/24/2009

But the problem is not to justify the status quo; the problem is dealing with the implications of monoculture, the ownership of biological processes, the desertification or sterility of fertile land, the multifarious effects of carbon-intensive cultivation, and the implications of unfair government subsidies for certain crops (which hurt the farmer, especially the corn farmer, the most, and help Cargill, Coca Cola, and Monsanto, the most).
Jay, 2/24/2009

I will gladly pay more for organic food if it means I’m not a lab rat for Monsanto.
Erin, 10/2/2009

Its not a matter of IF but WHEN it hurts [Brian] and his family will something be done. I’d try to see his point of view but I just cant put my head that far up my A**! I wonder if he is being paid by Monsanto.
Paul, 2/24/2010

i dont know what you are trying to accomplish by this blog but you seem to have all ur facts skewed. who do you work for monsanto?
MATT, 5/2/2010

Claiming that organic foods are less healthy is the most obvious farce in your article as well as your blind belief that pesticides and herbicides are healthy and biodegradable.  They might biodegrade, but not within a million years.  If you are a “skeptic” then why would you believe monsanto funded studies.
Tyler K., 12/12/2010

You don’t work for someone like Monsanto do you?
Phi, 4/6/2011

I have heard that often farmers who buy genetically modified seeds enter into a contract with Monsanto and are only allowed to use Roundup products.
J.O., 9/20/2011

If genetically modified foods are that much better than why has just recently been articles about the fact that the corn that Monsanto has produced having problems with the very pests that it was modified to not be affected by.
Steve, 10/21/2011

“To feed a growing population …” This is an argument used by corporations such as Monsanto.
Eric B, 10/27/2011

Couldn’t have written a more obviously emotionally biased article if Monsanto covered your expenses.
Samuel, 7/18/2012

Monsanto is owned by the zionist jews
AmericanPower, 9/9/2012

The Appeal to Monsanto was also employed in response to my episode ondetoxification (http://skep.us/4083) did not mention Monsanto at all:

Cam, I like how you say [Brian] is promoting “diet” and “water” as if he has some sort of patent on fruits and vegetables (like GE corn from Monsanto) and water which can only be bought from him.
Joe Shmoe, 1/25/2011

Even my episode on genetically modified organisms (http://skep.us/4112) did not mention Monsanto at all, as I was trying to stick with the science and avoid readers’ obvious ideological complications:

My major concern is a legal concern with such giants as Monsanto.
Justin Zimmer, 2/15/2012

A must see, The World according to Monsanto” on you tube.  A bit unsettling and disheartening.
Betty Bate, 10/13/2012

An acquaintance of mine who works with a scientific testing company has heard numerous first-hand reports of Monsanto’s threatening to stop funding university agriculture departments [i.e., withhold grant money] if they did any health/safety testing on GMO technology.
John, 10/18/2012

My episode on aspartame (http://skep.us/4127) did not mention Monsanto at all, mainly because the two have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Yet:

Aspartame is poison period. It’s made by the biggest bunch of criminals in the world. Monsanto is determined to rule the world and might be. I get Gout as soon as I use and Aspartame.
Dean Slater, 8/27/2009

Even my episode on high fructose corn syrup (http://skep.us/4157), which was basically a chemical discussion and did not mention Monsanto, came down to hitting me with the Appeal to Monsanto:

You totally miss the point, HFC is made with GMO corn and is helping to eliminate biodiversity. Not to mention the downright evil business practices of Monsanto et al.
Mark, 3/24/2011

My episode comparing organic vs. conventional agriculture (http://skep.us/4166) did not mention Monsanto at all, as it was about the comparative sciences:

I couldn’t afford organic food for the life of me. But what about good old Round-Up Ready crops like Soy and Corn? Monsanto is taking over the bloody world, and they are going to soon OWN our food supply and all patents to it.
Kimberly, 8/12/2009

I wonder what you would think about our food supply if you had to shut all the windows in your home and flee the area several times a year while the crops are being sprayed with round up and other poisons.  I wonder if you would appreciate Monsanto and their schemes to dominate every farmer you know.
kadie, 11/21/2009

we’re all gonna die if this path is follwed much longer, but thankfully many people unlike yourself are waking up to the REALITY of chemical agriculture and not just stupidly DEFENDING it for no reason like you are. thanks for nothing, and thank goodness not everyone blindly defends monsanto and big AG like you and your fellow skeptoids.
mike, 12/17/2010

My episode on morgellons disease (http://skep.us/4206) had nothing remotely to do with Monsanto. Yet:

Who pays you to be such an idiot? Monsanto?
Colleen, 9/25/2012

My episode on the things we eat (http://skep.us/4216) was a discussion of the basic building blocks of nutrition and so, naturally, did not mention Monsanto:

The vast majority of our food (whether plant or animal) comes from factory farms. This is not healthy and it’s a business model that cannot sustain itself. Thanks to WalMart, Monsanto, and other mega-giants for that debilitating trend!
Joe Boudreault, 7/30/2010

Somehow even my episode on the Bilderberg Group (http://skep.us/4225) conspiracy theory fell prey to the dreaded Appeal to Monsanto:

This problem started in 1930 with President FDR signing a treaty allowing the taking of a limited amount of human specimens for research purposes. In exchange the Grey’s gave us the perfected “sonar technology” in exchange. Since that time they have taken over our Dem & Rep parties. They have managed to infiltrate our manufacturing facilities, have bought out Proctor & Gamble and created the Monsanto Company.
David Kaas, 6/19/2011

There was a listener feedback (http://skep.us/4232) episode that made one mention of aspartame (which has nothing to do with Monsanto) and yet got this:

We live in a messed up world…we all better open our eyes and make a stand…because our health is in the hands of Monsanto and other giants…maybe we should look at Bill S510 but I’m sure everyone here is in favorite of that one lol
BJ, 11/18/2010

It would never have occurred to me that the Appeal to Monsanto can even be used to justify the antisemitism of the Zionist Conspiracy (http://skep.us/4271), but so it can:

Brian, your opening statement on this subject says that “anti semitisim is institutionalized by world super powers” ? ??   Brian you are blind,  what would you call Aipac?, ADL? IDF? Mossad? Monsanto? ect ect (all Zionist owned.)
Jim White, 10/13/2012

And finally, the Appeal to Monsanto can even be used to stain the reputation of those who are already stained, like Joe Mercola who was featured in the episode on the 10 worst anti-science websites (http://skep.us/4283):

Have you heard about Mercola’s link to an Indian company that makes pesticides, fertilizers, and bisphenol A and invests in Monsanto seed products? 😉
ejwillingham, 11/8/2011

So, blog commenters, keep this tool handy. The Appeal to Monsanto can apparently be used anytime, anywhere, to argue anything, and it need have no relationship to biotech at all. Enjoy.

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