Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"Defenders of Science shouldn't let the sophits carry the day."


"Third, today's sophists exploit a public misconception about what science is, portraying it as a structure of complete consensus built from the steady accumulation of unassailable data. Any dissent is cited as evidence that there's no consensus, and thus that truth must not have been discovered yet.

A more accurate portrayal of science recognizes it to be a process of debate among a community of experts in which the side with superior evidence and argument wins. Unanimity of belief never exists, but the process of science moves forward with the weight of a supermajority.

It is perverse to continue debating an issue that has already been settled for the vast majority of scientists merely so that policymakers will delay action, or so that the losing side can be taught on an equal footing in the classroom.

Aristotle believed that things that are true "have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites" but that it takes a skilled user of rhetoric to defeat sophisticated sophistry. I concur. The manufactured controversy must be exposed for what it is — the assertion of an important scientific debate where none exists.

Science will continue to be the victim of anti-science sophistry until the defenders of science learn to use my field — rhetoric — to achieve what Aristotle envisioned for it: to make strong arguments carry the day before an audience of non-experts."


Indeed. The "Teach the Controversy" school of debate often must first manufacture a controversy. "Manufactroversy". What is the best response to a "Manufactroversy"? IS it ridicule, illumination of the fallacies inherent, satire, responsive sophistry, or a combination of these and more?

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