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The Skeptical Manipulation PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Brian Govatos   

I like converting people to my ways. Yeah, so what? You do too. You know, converting people to my brand of car, my kind of computer, my political perspective, my favorite restaurants. I like it when people I care about appreciate and understand things that I appreciate and understand. It just feels so good. Iʼm not qualified to discuss the psychology behind it, I just know itʼs true. To take it to another level, I also like being converted to other ways, ways that are better than my own. That also feels pretty good, because it feels like Iʼm growing and moving forward. I guess the whole point of any conversion is that one is changing from something to something thatʼs better, or at least, something that is perceived to be better.

Iʼve been fairly successful at this conversion business, you should know. How? Itʼs simple; I employ manipulation. Does that sound dirty? It shouldnʼt; we manipulate each other all day, every day, and we certainly donʼt make any apologies for doing so. Sometimes itʼs as simple as letting a friend drive my car. In the driverʼs seat, they can easily have their own "A-Ha!" experience. Maybe they utterly hated my brand of car yesterday, but if they can feel it and experience it for themselves, and recognize that itʼs better; game over. Better still, by leaving their ego intact, they were able to come to the realization on their own. I just gave them the brochure, spec sheet, firsthand experience, and supportive evidence on why I believe itʼs a better car. Plus, they put a little stock into what my opinions are anyway.

Yet, as skeptics, rationalists, freethinkers, whatever, we tend to forgo this method and replace it instead with IN YOUR FACE (IYF) fact spewing. Sometimes itʼs easy to get our jollies by chuckling at the psychic patrons, gawking at homeopathic...um, "patients", and belittling avid horoscope readers. Though we canʼt forget that some of these comically misled people are people we care about, and that we would love nothing more than to rid them of these sometimes funny, sometimes dangerous, always delusional beliefs. My car... our car, is better. They just havenʼt driven it yet.

Skeptical manipulation is an interesting notion because all it really means to do is manipulate people to think for themselves. The IYF method is meant to force someone into a corner, turn up the volume, and accept the facts. They will then change their mind, and see things the way you do. Right, but even if you pulverize your target with unquestionable evidence and facts, the root problem of lack of independent thought still remains. Not to mention, your target is now in total lockdown defense mode, and is just about impervious to rationale.

I recognize that itʼs quite a tall order to have someone rewired for critical thought, though I know it can be done. The only other option is to relentlessly stalk your friends and family, wait for them to make irrational decisions, and pounce on them with your arsenal of good sense. I could only see that working if you had a cape, tights, and a really groovy super-name. Something like, "The Amazing..." oh yeah, that position is occupied. Fortunately, sans tights.

"So," you might ask, "how do I begin said manipulation?" Well, Iʼm going to first presume  that your "reason candidate", letʼs say itʼs your brother, already thinks highly of you, and vice versa. That is an undervalued and very essential ingredient. If someone doesnʼt at least respect you, well, good luck working on them. It isnʼt impossible but, sweet fictional jesus, itʼs difficult. Next, I need you to do something that is going to feel absolutely yucky: Sympathize.

Your brother is nipple-deep in astrology, and you can see him sinking deeper by the week. Heʼs even begun calling you with your weekly warnings to heed. Oh, crap. Itʼs becoming part of who he is, and it kills you to see him making real decisions based on the malarkey he reads in his horoscope. Youʼve tried reasoning with him, youʼve tried explaining the basics of astronomy and how it completely blows any astrological claims right out of the water stars. Youʼve tried to convince him to test the predictions of Taurus vs. Capricorn and see if one is more accurate than the other. Sadly, nothing works. He is completely complacent in the knowledge that he is making life changes based on some stoogeʼs mystical paragraph in the newspaper.

Youʼre now becoming frustrated, a little angry, but mostly sad. You love your incorrigible brother but heʼs just not listening to you. A feeling of absolute helplessness washes over as you realize you can predict every one of his pseudoscientific retorts to your arguments.

Well, it might be time to release the hounds; try letting the best of the best do some of the legwork for you. So, why not start out by sending your bro some Cosmos clips? Who better than Carl Sagan to elaborate on the problems of astrology? Maybe this will encourage him to ask you some questions, and thereby open the door of reason just a tiny crack. Take this opportunity to sympathize with his belief system, let him know that it isnʼt embarrassing or reprehensible of him to have bought into astrology. Fun though it may be, donʼt poke fun at the sucker for being part of this crime. Crime? Astrology?! Yes, crime. The crime against his life, the crime of making delusional decisions that affect his future. Heʼs been misled and misinformed. Continue finding ways to open the crack a little wider, so more light can shine on this topic. Donʼt give up on him until he has had his "A-HA!" moment in the driverʼs seat.

Then you can rub it all in his face a little bit. Ok no, bad. Thatʼs bad.

Itʼs not just Astrology of course. It can be tarot cards, talking to the dead, religion, reiki, spiritual healing, fad diets, it doesnʼt matter. All of these are things that some people take very seriously. Appropriately, the issue must be handled with a palpable degree of respect and delicacy. Iʼm not asking you to have respect for the religion itself (donʼt worry, disrespecting religion isnʼt hard for me either), but respect for the person you love. If you donʼt have a respectful foundation, you really canʼt make any headway. Such has been my experience, anyway.

You should feel obligated to manipulate the bejesus out of those you care about in order to save them from harming themselves in any way. Does this sound a little like religious militance? Maybe a little, but Iʼm confident you can smell the difference. Iʼm not asking you to proselytize, Iʼm only asking that you help when you can. I know some of you are going to say that sometimes itʼs best to let people try, fail, and learn from their mistakes.  While I can understand that, we arenʼt talking about roller-skating without shin-pads, weʼre talking about the risk of developing lifelong delusional and destructive habits. Donʼt shatter strong relationships over it, but donʼt stand idly by either. This is dangerous stuff and these people deserve your efforts and energy. Donʼt give up on them.

Keep your car of reason bright, shiny and clean. You never know when someone near and dear will be ready to go for a drive.

Brian Govatos is a Mac consultant by day and a dedicated volunteer for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science by night. He employs "new media" to help spread the good word of reason and independent thought to the masses. His website (theproudatheist.com) is intended to help non-believers boldly advertise their freedom from faith.

Brian is involved in skeptical groups in the Las Vegas, NV area including Las Vegas Atheists and Skeptics in the Pub. He's 22 and currently enjoys the much coveted Las Vegas bachelor life rich in prostitution, swingers, drugs, and jackpots... or so he would have you believe.

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written by José, April 12, 2009
I do my best with my brother, but the only time he ever has an “A-Ha!” moment is when an issue is skewered on South Park.
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written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009
I don't have a brother who needs manipulating.

However, my daughter's new boyfriend is a creationist. He describes his emotional feeling about god as being like looking at the most beautiful rose he can imagine, except ten times more so. Unfortunately, I got off on the wrong foot when I asked "why not eleven times?" and I fear it's going to be a long way back from there.

smilies/sad.gif

BJ
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How did you do that, Jose?
written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009
This article was written on April 13th, but you submitted your reply to it on April 12th.
How did you do that?

BJ
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written by MadScientist, April 13, 2009
So we should teach rather than preach? I'll miss the pulpit and my gowns and funny hat.

In my teens and through my 20s I used to play this little game with religious people - I'd see if I can get them to change one of their religion-based beliefs then see if I can get them to change back to their original belief. I eventually got bored - anyway it seemed a bit cruel to manipulate people like that just for kicks; it's just not fair screwing with their poor reasoning skills.

I've got a new objective now; I'll have to get you to give up on Macs.
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written by MAL_JD, April 13, 2009
BJ Wrote:

This article was written on April 13th, but you submitted your reply to it on April 12th.
How did you do that?


My guess would be through the "magic" of time zones smilies/wink.gif

Martin
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written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009
My guess would be through the "magic" of time zones

Okay, it is 11:59 April 13th here right now and I will post this just after twelve. My post should say April 14th and the post that follows, provided it is not from another Australian or a New Zealander, should read April 13th.

Here goes.

BJ
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written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009
Nope, it still shows April 13th.
So I would say that is the wrong explantion.
Anyone else?
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written by MAL_JD, April 13, 2009
BJ Wrote:

Nope, it still shows April 13th.
So I would say that is the wrong explantion.


I never claimed I was offering the *right* explanation smilies/wink.gif

But at least I did think critically and offer a possible explanation smilies/grin.gif
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It's Tough
written by JasonPatterson, April 13, 2009
I agree, it's a fine line to walk between swaying someone's mind toward skeptical thought and shutting them down via being overly critical. It also takes quite a while to do this. If nothing else, think of your likely responses to people who are trying to get you to change your skeptical beliefs in favor of something irrational (crystal healing, for example.) The harder they push the less likely you are to buy into it. The only advantage we have is that all people think rationally from time to time and so the foundation of skeptical thought is already present in their minds.

I'm a physics teacher, and I get tested in this regard every single time I walk into my classroom. When I cover work and energy, students invariably ask about perpetual motion machines that they've heard of, when I get to electricity and magnetism, they ask how magnets improve blood flow. It's hard not to just say, "They don't," and move on with the subject matter. The unfortunate thing is that saying that they don't doesn't sway their minds, it just makes the kid think that you're a jerk.

On top of this is the touchy subject of religion (at least in the US) in a public school. I'm allowed, actually, I'm encouraged, to promote rational thought in my students and to teach them to use science in their daily lives, but when it comes to religion I'm required to hold my tongue in nearly all cases. It's very frustrating at times...
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The Time Warp
written by JasonPatterson, April 13, 2009
I wonder if the date of the article's submission changes if it is edited. Perhaps there was a typo/grammatical error that was corrected that changed the article's date, but that occurred after the first post. Just a thought.
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written by CasaRojo, April 13, 2009
I totally concur with Brian, FWIW o'course.
I feel that often the more vocal proponents of the woo, the ones that are hardcore delusionists or scamsters, need to be engaged with an IYF approach if for no other reason than to make them aware that there are people that are going to counter them, that will be as militant as they are so to speak, towards the BS that they speweth forth. Especially if they start out with ad homs and such. If that's their style, you've little chance (read, NO chance) of getting anywhere with them anyway. That course of action is arguable of course and could make them look like they are the victim to their supporters and sympathizers. At this point I have to say, so be it.

"Iʼm not asking you to have respect for the religion itself (donʼt worry, disrespecting religion isnʼt hard for me either), but respect for the person you love."

I've found that people so closely identify with their particular brand of woo that they often think that disrespect/non-belief of their religion is disrespect for them personally. They can't/don't separate themselves from their beliefs especially if they feel the need to defend an invisible, absent deity that loves them unconditionally.
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written by Brian Govatos, April 13, 2009
Jason Patterson wrote:
I wonder if the date of the article's submission changes if it is edited.


Yes, my name was spelled incorrectly and was edited after it was spotted. Hence the date/time inconsistency.
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Now that the date mystery is out of the way...
written by Skeptigirl, April 13, 2009
I have been 'preaching' for years that the one science the anti-science crowd is actually better at than the pro-science crowd is the science of marketing, (aka the science of persuasion or the science of communication). Many in the pro-science community see marketing as a bad word and certainly not a science.

This is a failure to recognize teaching and persuasion/marketing overlap. Even if it has the same qualities of manipulation as we see in all the woo marketing, teaching encompasses effectively getting one's message through to another. And what are the elements of a 'science'? Research, generating and testing hypotheses, refining them, retesting them and so on until you get it right. This is what marketers do. And they've advanced the science tremendously in the last half century.

If you want people to think critically, why not market the message, "think critically". I'm not talking about marketing a slogan, I'm talking about growing/spreading the use of critical thinking skills. There are many ways to accomplish this which are not inherently unethical yet still encompass the science of marketing.

For example, teaching people the basic tactics of persuasion results in a kind of immunizing against those tactics. One example of this would be teaching people to look for implied claims vs actual claims made about a product. It is particularly important since implied claims is a widespread technique used to get around FTC and FDA regulations. That seems rather obvious yet many on the pro-science side don't recognize such an approach as immunizing against an unethical marketing tactic. The result is many of the pro-science individuals often only address the specific falsely implied claim rather than the tactic itself.

Many on the pro-science side tends to treat every problem as a knowledge deficit. But often the issue is not lack of knowledge, it is a preference for some invalid knowledge over valid knowledge. A marketer would first analyze the problem. What is the reason for the person choosing invalid knowledge over valid? Unless you address that reason, all the knowledge imparting in the world is not going to change anything.

In this example, I (and others) have adopted certain language or word choices. "Science is successful" and "overwhelming evidence" replace or add to just describing the evidence and getting caught by the reply, "it's just a theory" or, "you have evidence and I have different evidence". Some scientists have begun defining 'theories' as "much more than facts" because they encompass many facts together. This approach replaces simply defining a theory in scientific terms which we've been doing for decades with minimal results in changing the misconception about the uncertainty of scientific theories.

This brings up another point. I've heard many people express futility in trying to change people who are convinced of some invalid knowledge. Futility may very well be true, however, how do we know that when the only approach we've used to solve the problem is direct imparting of knowledge? In science when an hypothesis fails you don't just write the problem off as unsolvable. You go back to the stage of generating another hypothesis and retry.

Hypothesis: Invalid beliefs are the result of ignorance about the facts. Therefore, if I tell someone the facts and present the supporting evidence they will see the light.

That hypothesis is correct in many cases and I'm not suggesting we abandon well supported knowledge imparting. But for the people who do not respond to valid knowledge about something they've been misinformed about, we need to analyze the underlying issue that is blocking the message and address that. Until we do, and even after we've ruled numerous alternative hypotheses out, one should not conclude people with invalid beliefs are unreachable.
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written by tctheunbeliever, April 13, 2009
I have an idea for teaching critical thinking in the classroom: Show "Expelled" to a class and have them take notes---one page for misleading information, one page for hyperbole and innuendo, one page for questionable sources, one page for unwarranted conclusions, one page for ad hominem attacks, one page for straw-man arguments.....

No peeking at expelledexposed!

Some situations can make the suggestion of critical thinking a lot more painful. A relative of mine became another victim of John Edward when she lost a child suddenly. I have a hard time finding a good way to tell her what a parasitic scumbag he is. Sorry, I meant to say an alleged parasitic scumbag.
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written by Willy K, April 13, 2009
written by tctheunbeliever, April 13, 2009
I have an idea for teaching critical thinking in the classroom: Show "Expelled" to a class and have them take notes-....


You could also show them videos of Randi, Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. and ask them to look for the same things. They might as well see examples of critical thinking along with the woo. smilies/wink.gif
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written by Trish, April 13, 2009
Don't forget that people who've decided to "try" alternative medicine are quickly maneuvered into thinking that their health will only improve if they "heal" or "transform" their whole being, and are encouraged to share their transformation with people they care about. Not only does this increase the pool of potential clients, but when the treatment regimen is less than successful, the person will be loathe to admit it, lest they lose face. The only way to counter this "trumpet this hits, rework or ignore or bury the misses" that results is for people to be well educated about the fact that changing one's mind in light of more reliable information is rational and not some fearsome "inconsistency."
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written by Skeptigirl, April 13, 2009
written by Trish, April 13, 2009: The only way to counter this[,] "trumpet th[e] hits, rework or ignore or bury the misses" that results[,] is for people to be well educated about the fact that changing one's mind in light of more reliable information is rational and not some fearsome "inconsistency."
([corrections for clarity] and emphasis mine)

In short, I think you are saying, make it increasingly acceptable to be wrong. I think this is an important aspect often overlooked.

Why do people naturally need to save face? Is it something in our genetic behavior pattern? Is it cultural? And people go to great lengths to be believed as well. Far fetched stories reinforced with, "It happened to my friend" or some other supposedly near first hand account are extremely common. The theme of supplying false credibility to stories the re-teller has no reason to falsely reinforce other than to limit the audience in questioning the re-teller's judgment for believing the story, clearly serves some emotional purpose.

My only objection to your comment is the "only way" part. There are "many ways", IMO to address this barrier. smilies/cool.gif

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written by José, April 13, 2009
Yes, my name was spelled incorrectly and was edited after it was spotted. Hence the date/time inconsistency.


No! I can see and control the future. Where's my million dollars!
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written by Kuroyume, April 13, 2009
I have an idea for teaching critical thinking in the classroom...


The one problem with this idea is that it requires prerequisite knowledge not only of what these fallacies are but also information to back up why you put the information under a particular heading (or not). This probably goes to far too quickly.

I think that critical thinking skills must start at the ground level in education. If I hear or read "It's only a theory" about some scientific Theory or, vice versa, "Here's our 'theory'" when it is plainly a hypothesis, one more time, I will theorize their obliteration and then test it scientifically. smilies/wink.gif Without syntactical, semantic, logical, observational, and critical reasoning skills under their belts, it is difficult to persuade someone about anything in the same fashion.

I agree with Brian: we need a new tact that lets the person come to the realization himself/herself so that he/she does not feel persuaded or bullied into the realization. It can be a very tough sell though. People, in general, are notorious non-thinkers and seasoned procrastinators. They don't want to spend a lot of time investigating something so deeply that they understand it. Instead, we tend to be more impulsive than calculated. For instance, there may be many people who do not believe or agree with evolution who will never dig into the tall piles of evidence that would almost assuredly convince them otherwise. Instead, it is easier to let others spoon-feed bad information into their heads so that they don't have to have that pain between their ears: thought. Thus it is understandable why college and university graduates tend to be much less credulous and religious: many of them have learned the worth of deep investigation and it carries over into their lives thereafter.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 13, 2009
Before we are likely to get teachers to teach critical thinking from examples in the current media such as, "Expelled", I believe we need to get the teachers to see 'media literacy' as an important topic to teach. At least that was my experience a few years ago when I tried to get a teacher to show an excellent video from Consumer Reports that demonstrated to young children how the commercials which targeted them were misleading or manipulative. The teacher didn't think it was at all important and decided there was no time even though obviously time could have easily been made.


written by tctheunbeliever, April 13, 2009
I have an idea for teaching critical thinking in the classroom: Show "Expelled" to a class and have them take notes..

As skeptics, we would benefit from promoting "media literacy", a topic which aims to use critical thinking skills toward the advertising and broadcast media. For examples for younger children, I'd probably choose from the myriad of more politically neutral programs like the shows which present all sorts of supernatural "facts" as if they were foregone conclusions. For older teens, one might introduce films like "Expelled" to critique if the local community would not be hostile to such a program. If they were, you could use older propaganda films and hope the kids make the connections if they saw "Expelled".

The recent YouTube clip on Swift of Randi showing Barbara Walters evidence she was scammed by Yuri Geller is an excellent example of a politically neutral teaching demonstration.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 13, 2009
Arrrgh.. didn't mean for the quote to be in the middle of that post.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 13, 2009
written by Kuroyume, April 13, 2009...If I hear or read "It's only a theory" about some scientific Theory or, vice versa, "Here's our 'theory'" when it is plainly a hypothesis, one more time, I will theorize their obliteration and then test it scientifically. .. Without syntactical, semantic, logical, observational, and critical reasoning skills under their belts, it is difficult to persuade someone about anything in the same fashion.
Or, we could try changing the way we market the scientific definition of theory. An explanation of what a theory in science is has failed to make much impact and given by your 'frustration' noted above I think you agree. I hypothesize it is because we haven't given the student (much of the public is a student in this example) a hook to hang their new concept of theory on rather than the hypothesis the student is unprepared to grasp the complexity of the definition of scientific theory. Thus the hook, "a theory is more certain than a fact", with a proper explanation why that is, may be more effective than saying a theory in science is not the same as a theory in lay terminology.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 13, 2009
Thus the hook, "a theory is more certain than a fact", with a proper explanation why that is, may be more effective than saying a theory in science is not the same as a theory in lay terminology.
Additional note to the above comment: We need to test this market "hook" and see if we get any better outcome. I don't want to imply the answer is in. We do know, however, that explaining the difference between scientific and lay use of the term, theory, has not been sufficient. Continuing to repeat an ineffective solution is unlikely to result in a different outcome.
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written by Kuroyume, April 13, 2009
And it probably goes deeper. The continued misuse of the term and reinforcement by unscrupulous types (starts with a 'c') has been something of a set of stumbling blocks. It is analogous to the ever-flip-flopping studies on how good/bad, say, coffee or beer or wine is for you. One day, the media reports a study that shows benefits. The next, it reports a study that shows malefactions. People are left no better educated. The same for this term in many ways. And made worse by there being a common definition and the more specialized definition used by science. I tend to say 'scientific theory' whenever I mean to be specific (and maybe loosen it to 'theory' thereafter it is understood).

The idea of the Walters-Randi video or the Carson-Randi video as starting places in a media sense is a good one. That and advertisements. We're talking marketing (of science and critical thinking). Where better to start than the place that hits almost every one of us everyday like a non-stop barrage - product advertisements. Start with the more innocuous ones (food, diet plans, toys, pitched products) and move onto the more insidious ones ('Smiling Bob', Q-Ray, wearable magnets, diet plans). Hmmm. Entice people with their everyday situations - What do I eat to be healthy and energetic? What's the best way to lose weight? Which automobile should I buy? Consumer Reports, which you mentioned, is a prime example here of testing-based, no-nonsense consumer information on various products and their efficacy. When it comes to important or expensive purchases, I always do comparisons, read consumer reviews, find the product with the features that are needed but without those that are not, and so on.
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Use of Media for Science Ed
written by JasonPatterson, April 13, 2009
Using media to demonstrate rational thought and poor arguments is a great tool, I do it in my classroom. I usually use silly things, like the Enzyte commercials or weight loss supplements. The kids are actually pretty good at identifying implied vs explicit statements (though every last one of them thinks that the word explicit means vulgar or dirty due to the CD stickers...) They can be taught to recognize appeals to authority and such fairly well, or so it would seem.

Showing Expelled as a way to exemplify irrational thought and spurious arguments in the classroom seems like a fantastic way to lose one's teaching position, at least where I am at. Of course, where I grew up I was taught 8th grade science by John Freshwater. Some of you might remember the name, it was big-ish news in the religion in education arena last summer.
http://online.worldmag.com/tag/john-freshwater/

Poor guy, just had a book on his desk and a poster on the wall and he got fired. They fail to tell you that he refused to teach the geology portion of the class or evolution (he'd swap with Mr. George [a good man and an excellent teacher, as I recall] in the room next door for that portion of the course.) They also neglect to tell you about this incident that actually led to his firing.
http://depletedcranium.com/?p=567

It's tough being a teacher in the Midwest (at least my part of it) where guys like this get rallies in his favor and I get angry parents calling me and the school after I talk about the evolution of the universe.
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I fail...
written by JasonPatterson, April 13, 2009
I must have entered the first URL as underlined instead. Apologies.
http://online.worldmag.com/tag/john-freshwater/
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written by saxx, April 13, 2009
thank you dear friend smilies/wink.gif
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written by Skeptigirl, April 13, 2009
Broadcast commercials are expensive. It's unlikely we could carry out much of an effective commercial broadcast advertising campaign based on donations. Consumer reports made a profit (I think) on marketing citizen's benefit advertising (as opposed to sellers' benefit advertising). But even they did not have a huge footprint on broadcast media.

Without a profit we are left with less expensive forms of marketing. Fortunately, we have the Internet. My current idea is to share our ideas via networking. Certain types of campaigns lend themselves to this tactic. We've been working on a name for CAM (complementary alternative medicine) that better suits what it actually is. sCAM is convenient for print or computer screen media. "Evidence based medicine" is an effective term that has been adopted though some want it to be "scientific evidence based medicine" to prevent the sCAM folks from claiming they too have evidence for their snake oil. While SEBM is correct, you lose something when the term becomes too long. It's a work in progress.

I don't know who started using the "theory is more certain than a single fact because it is based on lots of facts" framing but I really like it. The same is true for the "overwhelming evidence" and the "science is successful" framing. By simply adopting these marketing slogans amongst ourselves and developing other strategies we spread via networking, we can have the effect of broadcast commercials without the cost.

Not that we shouldn't support broadcast commercials when we do have the funds for them. Nothing beats the effectiveness of TV commercials, though some viral Internet stuff certainly rivals it.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 13, 2009
Which reminds me, there is certainly room for real science TV shows that are still entertaining. I think there is enough incredible science out there, and Bigfoot, UFOs and psychic detectives are really getting tiring as TV program topics. This may be a good time to introduce better programming.

I think Shermer is (was?) working on something like that.
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Maybe that explains this
written by Alencon, April 13, 2009
On Monday, September 15, 2008 (I know the date because I have a blog entry) the Washington Post had an article about research experiments done at Duke and Georgia State(allow me to copy from my blog entry) "Those experiments appear to demonstrate that presenting evidence to someone refuting a belief can result in a “backfire effect” that actually strengthens the belief! The research further indicated that this affect tends to occur with Conservatives but not Liberals.

In other words presenting evidence to a Conservative refuting a position he holds isn’t likely to persuade him he’s wrong. It’s more likely to have him dig in his heels!"

I don't know if these results are accurate or not, but if they are, then I suspect the "backfire effect" would be even more pronounced with woo-woo true believers.

If that's the case, then conversion by manipulation, allowing the individual to "discover" the truth on his own might well be the only way to convince some folks.
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written by Kuroyume, April 13, 2009
Yes, you've hit the nail on the head. Presenting 'evidence' to someone who is already firm in some belief that the evidence contradicts it usually won't sway them - but, as noted, may increase their belief. That is part of the point of this article: we cannot just keep using the same old methods to educate or berate believers in fallacious things out of those beliefs. How many of us were 'berated' into our current skeptical stance? I doubt any at all. We all arrived at it by a process of educating ourselves and self-realization, even if with assistance. I'm pretty sure that's how I arrived here.

Of course, as another responder mentioned, the IYF method must be applied to the higher-ups in the deception business (blemish-her-heart Sylvia et al). They are the ring leaders and persuading them using these more subtle techniques has a much lower chance of success which in turn helps them retain their 'flock' and spread their deceptions. The effect of more subtle persuasion on others may help start to reduce the flocks and disrupt the ability of the deceivers to perpetuate their deceptions. (Sorry for the less than cordial language.)

More considerations later.
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Skeptigirl
written by BillyJoe, April 14, 2009
"Evidence based medicine" is an effective term that has been adopted though some want it to be "scientific evidence based medicine" to prevent the sCAM folks from claiming they too have evidence for their snake oil. While SEBM is correct, you lose something when the term becomes too long.

Strangely, I've never heard of the term "scientific evidence based medicine" or SEBM.
THe term I'm familiar with is "Science Based Medicine" or SBM
(SBM = Plausibility + EBM)
It even has a web site:

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/

BJ
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Alencon
written by BillyJoe, April 14, 2009
Those experiments appear to demonstrate that presenting evidence to someone refuting a belief can result in a “backfire effect” that actually strengthens the belief!

This came up inanother thread where someone said:

No one that believes "X" also believes that there is proof to the contrary. Because it would be extremely silly to believe something you know and believe to be disproven.

To which someone else smilies/wink.gif responded:

You would be surprised to learn, then, that some religious people see it as test of the strength of their faith to have evidence that flies in its face. They actually bask in the warm satisfaction of having kept the faith in the face of such strong challenges.

BJ
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written by bosshog, April 14, 2009
Yes yes! By all means let us manipulate the benighted masses into seeing the true light.
This issue and the attitudes expressed about it smell of a messianic delusion.
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Sorry Boss
written by CasaRojo, April 14, 2009
>>Yes yes! By all means let us manipulate the benighted masses into seeing the true light.
This issue and the attitudes expressed about it smell of a messianic delusion."

How about we help them arrive at their own conclusions through education. Manipulate them by helping them with critical thinking skills. Manipulate them into learning about the nature of woo so that they are not taken advantage of. This very different from teaching people about an imagination based super hero. If you truly see a correlation, I'd advise a closer looksee.
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written by Steel Rat, April 14, 2009
Yet, as skeptics, rationalists, freethinkers, whatever, we tend to forgo this method and replace it instead with IN YOUR FACE (IYF) fact spewing. Sometimes itʼs easy to get our jollies by chuckling at the psychic patrons, gawking at homeopathic...um, "patients", and belittling avid horoscope readers


I really don't try to convert or manipulate anyone, even though they're constantly trying to convert me. I'd much rather ridicule, because I really don't care what they believe in, but it's my duty to point out to them how silly their beliefs are. Sure, I start out trying to be polite, but that never works. Ever. You only really get someone's attention by, well, getting their attention. Nice guys finish last.
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written by briangovatos, April 14, 2009
Steel Rat:
I really don't try to convert or manipulate anyone, even though they're constantly trying to convert me. I'd much rather ridicule, because I really don't care what they believe in


Sure, I get that. However, that's why I really tried to emphasize the point of the person in question being someone you already care about. Yes, it's overwhelming and incredibly frustrating to try and repair every tweaked thought process you encounter. That would certainly result in a general apathy toward the woo wanker, of which you speak.
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written by bosshog, April 15, 2009
CasaRojo:
"I am the way and the truth and the light."
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written by MJG, April 15, 2009
Yes bosshog, YOU are the way the truth and the light. Or at least you could be, as anyone could be, in the sense that by learning to think critically, you would have the tools to observe the world around you draw conclusions that have a much greater likelihood of being true.
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You da boss!
written by CasaRojo, April 15, 2009
If you say so. smilies/wink.gif
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Please be careful how you post when trying to quote others
written by Trish, April 15, 2009
Skeptigirl – I just saw the remarks you wrote following something I posted. I was shocked to see that you structured the post as if you were quoting me, but made changes to my sentence – which you labeled “([corrections for clarity) and emphasis mine] that changed the meaning of my sentence as written.

I wrote:

The only way to counter this "trumpet this hits, rework or ignore or bury the misses" that results is for people to be well educated about the fact that changing one's mind in light of more reliable information is rational and not some fearsome "inconsistency."


you changed it to:

'"The only way to counter this[,] "trumpet th[e] hits, rework or ignore or bury the misses" that results[,] is for people to be well educated about the fact that changing one's mind in light of more reliable information is rational and not some fearsome "inconsistency."'




While you did catch a mistake [“trumpet this hits” should have read “trumpet the hits” - which can be corrected thus: “trumpet [the] hits, rather than the clumsy “trumpet th[e] hits”], the commas you added did not so much clarify as reverse the meaning of my sentence. The sentence, as written, was complex, with phrases that referred to previous statements, so I will clarify the structure of the sentence I wrote. "The only way to counter this X is for people to be educated regarding Y.” The commas you added were grammatically incorrect, chopping the sentence up in such a way that it sounds like I want to counter something by having people “trumpet the hits…bury the misses” – while without the commas, as I intended, my sentence is a call to “…counter this ‘trumpet the hits…bury the misses’ that results….” [when alt med practitioners encourage patients to conflate their self worth with the success of whatever treatment the “practitioner” is selling.] The comma between “counter this” and “trumpet the hits” is the grammatical equivalent of changing this sentence, “The newspaper arrived this morning.” into “The, newspaper arrived this morning.”

After mangling what I said, you go on to say, “In short, I think you are saying, make it increasingly acceptable to be wrong. I think this is an important aspect often overlooked.”

I want to state clearly that I didn't say, or have any intention of implying that we should “make it increasingly acceptable to be wrong.” I was saying that people will continue to cherry-pick info to support wrong conclusions as long as our society continues to consider revising one’s view in light of better info to be a sign of weakness. Your second sentence, “I think this is an important aspect often overlooked.”, is incoherent. The reader can’t tell what phenomenon has an overlooked aspect. The “this” in that sentence does not clearly refer to any noun.

I really don’t care if you object to my position that the only way to get people to stop cherry-picking info to support false conclusions is to become educated enough to understand that changing one’s view in light of better information is rational & not to be feared. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with concluding that some problems only have one solution.

P.S. While it's techincally correct to use parentheses to show a correction to a text, this technique is generally used when the author can't be contacted to correct his/her own work.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 15, 2009
written by Trish, April 15, 2009
Skeptigirl – I just saw the remarks you wrote following something I posted. I was shocked to see that you structured the post as if you were quoting me, but made changes to my sentence – which you labeled “([corrections for clarity) and emphasis mine] that changed the meaning of my sentence as written.
No offense but I interpreted your awkward sentence the best I could. You want to blame me for not understanding what you wrote? What, do you think I did it on purpose and it was an evil plot to make you look bad?

If any meaning was changed, it wasn't because of my commas, it was because your sentence was misunderstood by being poorly written.

And you admit you typed the wrong pronoun, not that it's a big deal. We all do it. It bothered you that I just changed the 'e' and not the whole word. That's an unbelievably petty complaint. Sounds like you are trying pretty hard to be offended.

Sorry, but you've grossly overreacted for no good reason I can see. Instead of having a cow, just say your post was misunderstood and clarify it. I would have gladly apologized for the misunderstanding. I'm not going to apologize for your overreaction, however.

P.S. While it's techincally correct to use parentheses to show a correction to a text, this technique is generally used when the author can't be contacted to correct his/her own work.
Really? So what, I should have PMed you over a blog reply? You can't be serious.

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written by Skeptigirl, April 15, 2009
written by bosshog, April 14, 2009
Yes yes! By all means let us manipulate the benighted masses into seeing the true light.
This issue and the attitudes expressed about it smell of a messianic delusion.
Clearly you've missed the points being made here.



@BillyJoe

SBM it is then. Sounds good to me.

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