ATM and IDCM: Taxes and Evolution

I was struck the other day by some similarities between the anti-tax movement (ATM) in the U.S. and the anti-evolution Intelligent Design Creationism movement (IDCM). They apparently share a number of characteristis. In a NYTimes article last Thursday (requires free registration), there were the following remarks:
Referring to starting a moderated (as opposed to unmoderated) tax discussion listDick Adams, a retired University of Baltimore accounting professor, said he and a friend started the moderated group because the tax-denier arguments were "clearly drowning out serious discourse."Remind anyone of cut and paste quote-mining? And "Some of the people who came along were frightening - one advocated killing police officers - and you had people who just kept repeating the same nonsense," Professor Adams said. "And one lie compounded on another. There was even an attorney who said he had gotten away without paying taxes, and I went and found a federal tax lien against him, and he would just deny it in the news group."Now I'm not suggesting that Intelligent Design Creationists advocate killing police officers, of course, but the other characteristic - repetition after repetition of the same nonsense - sure sounds familiar. Anyone who has been around IDCs for any length of time hears the same sad arguments over and over and over and ... well, you get the idea. I'm amazed that the people handling feedback at TalkOrigins don't go bats. (Hm. Actually, knowing a few of them, I ... erhm. Well. Um. Nevermind.) Then there's "Each time someone beats down these super-weak theories, the proponents just let it lie and then come back a few weeks later with the same rubbish,'' Mr. Jorden says.See above: going bats. Paul Gross recently published an analysis of Intelligent Design Creationism, assessing it against an index of crank science. It passed with flying colors - it's crank science in the same sense that the crackpot taxation "theories" referred to above are crank law. The same characteristics appear in both. Richard B. Hoppe


I have found pretty much the same thing to be true all over the spectrum of argument, but on the net at a much higher density and speed.

The good news is that on the net it’s happening in public and every false assertion can be answered where it is made. It also means that you can see when people who are arguing in good faith accept correction and when others don’t.

There are a bunch of right-wingers on the net who persistently repeat long-disproven crap, it’s true - even when they have been corrected they keep right on saying it.

But it’s not unique to them by any stretch. Bob Somerby’s entire site, The Daily Howler, talks about just this thing as it occurs regularly in the mainstream media, as for example with the persistent lies about Al Gore in the 2000 campaign, every one debunked again and again, yet still to be found at every current mention of Gore.

So it’s not just Creationists and anti-tax loonies from the far right - it’s all over the place.

Other, more honest people do get things wrong, of course, and might even be heard repeating the same junk because they’ve heard it somewhere, but a lot of people want to argue their beliefs without having to pore over documentation, and once they become aware that they can’t trust their sources, they are just as likely to avoid the subject altogether rather than do the research to figure out which position is correct.

Right-wing trolls do seem to be a significant phenomenon on the net, but I’ve met my share of libel-mongers on the left, so I wouldn’t chalk it up entirely to a particular belief system. There are certainly some persistent non-facts floating around on the left; the question is whether there is a campaign to deliberately mislead people, and I think that comes largely from the right.

And some people are just stupid. I’ve corrected the same person twice in front of an audience over something she said, and although it was clear to listeners that she didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, she kept right on with it long after it was obvious that she had never read the research she was quoting and couldn’t even name the author. Hilarity ensued.…

I had written this article on pseudoscience for the Evolution-Education Wiki:[…]seudoscience where I collect various criteria for recognizing crackpottery by: Irving Langmuir Martin Gardner Robert L. Park John Baez

Although one may question the use of such diagnostic criteria, fitting these criteria is a remarkable predictor of the worthlessness of some theory. The only false positive I know of is Stephen Wolfram’s presentation of his work on cellular automata. And even there, there is good reason to believe that he is overselling his work on that subject.

It goes without saying that creationists/IDers fit many of these criteria remarkably well; exploring the extent of that fit I leave as an exercise for the reader.

I’m still looking for this article: Lafleur, Lawrence J. ‘Cranks and Scientists.’ The Scientific Monthly 73 (1951): 284-90. What criteria does he give?

I blogged about this issue a while back, calling the propeganda technique “Proof by Repeated Assertion”. The topic I was referring to was the obvious one of the WMD in Iraq, where no “proof” was (or has ever) been shown to the american people, not even the supposed “proof” from before the start of the war, the pictures and stuff they showed Blair that got the UK into the war.

Bush was saying things like “We know he has WMD, because he will use them against us and against his neighbors”.

Simply repeating something, and dodging the questions of the true skeptic by re-asserting the original statement yet again. Its pretty much the only technique for their supposed “facts” that can’t be supported or proved, until such time as the majority seem to believe them, and then “join the bandwagon” is added to their techniques.

Other recent cases like this include SCO’s claim that Linux contains SCO IP illegally inserted by IBM (along with “join the bandwagon” when anybody does anything that looks like buying a license from them), and the RIAA’s claims that P2P “piracy” has hurt their sales (ignoring the facts that 1) they give us crap, and 2) sales where higher before they closed napster down)).

“The only false positive I know of is Stephen Wolfram’s presentation of his work on cellular automata. And even there, there is good reason to believe that he is overselling his work on that subject.”

Skeptic Magazine had an interesting review of that subject, although I forget which issue.

Thanks to Loren for pointing out his EvoWiki article reviewing various articles proposing indicators of pseudoscience. That’s just the kind of thing that EvoWiki was designed for.

I see this blog is going to be yet another echo chamber for the self-important cognoscenti. Too bad, since I’d like to have a cogent, perhaps humorous, maybe even likeable site to point creationists and IDers to. A place where they might be persuaded, and where, if they came in with an open mind, they might engage in non-intimidating discussions with those who also have open minds. Who knows, though, Dick Hoppe, maybe ad hominem attacks, sneering condescension, and patronizing attacks on straw man arguments are the most effective tools of persuasion.

“Lighten up”, the ID advocates are with you on that. This thread at the discussion board has a series of invidious comparisons deployed by ID advocates.

And the treatment of critics of ID fares no better on the home turf of ID advocates. Sample the discussion board at Access Research Network, where there are plenty of examples of ID advocates deploying exactly the techniques you seem to decry here.

Lighten wrote “Who knows, though, Dick Hoppe, maybe ad hominem attacks, sneering condescension, and patronizing attacks on straw man arguments are the most effective tools of persuasion.”

What Wesley said. Moreover, it’s what was purveyed to the Ohio Board of Education by the Intelligent Design Movement: scientists want to censor critics, try to stifle critical thinking, lack perspective, act like teeagers in the back seat of a car, and so on. Given that the tactics of the anti-science Intelligent Design Movement are all about persuasion and not at all about science, a little sauce for the gander is never amiss.

Thanks, by the way: I always wanted to be a member of the cognoscenti. I take that to be a compliment!


BTW, defines “cognoscenti” as “A person with superior, usually specialized knowledge or highly refined taste; a connoisseur.” That’s why I take it as a compliment. As for the “self-important” modifier, we all play the lead in our own life’s drama. So yeah, I’m self-important.


“Lighten up” seems to have hit the nail on the head – this is an echo chamber, ranting to some aggrieved choir with a chip on its shoulder (to mix a metaphor or four).

RBH, you have a tin ear for human interaction. The sarcasm in “cognoscenti” was evident, and pride in your self-importance is repugnant.

Wesley, arguing tooth and nail with the nastiest of some hardcore set of true believers just makes you sound like old RBH. The only ones you will ever convince are those on their fringe with an open mind to a reasoned voice. Holding a grudge against everybody because some are nasty is just as irrational as the nastiest of their lot.

“Dick Wad” (if that really is your name, as Lionel Mandrake said),

Edmund Burke’s advice is still with us:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good men to do nothing.”

Now, antievolution may only be evil with a small “e”, but it definitely isn’t good. I am certainly willing to try out effective strategies to combat antievolution that produce fewer noxious decrements in the civility of the debate. But they have to be effective.

I can’t say that my expectations include the conversion of those who are committed to the antievolution cause. That’s usually a commitment that is due to factors other than just an evaluation of the state of the science. It has a socio-politic element that seems ineliminable. Thus, even providing “proof beyond unreasonable doubt” is unlikely to have the effect of inducing a change from advocating antievolution to accepting science.

I don’t claim to be above the fray; I can certainly (and certainly have) put a sharp rhetorical point on an argument if it seems necessary. But I try to reserve the sharpness primarily for those who seem to be engaging in bad behavior. Perhaps this has too much Old Testament “eye-for-an-eye” and too little New Testament “golden rule” to it… my bad.

I’m open to specific suggestions, if you have some.

As an example of the nastiness of which I am capable, I offer this letter to the editor I wrote back during the Arkansas HB 2548 flap.

To add to your post: both of these extremist ideologies do not hold any serious ground in the western world outside of the USA. If an evangelist supply-sider/IDC was to explain his POV in Europe, even in the UK, I think he would just be stared at incredulously.

I frankly share Lighten Up’s concern that we not turn this page into a “geez, can you believe those guys” conversation between fellow travelers. But I also recognize that some of that is inevitable, for the simple reason that so many of us here know each other, work together, and share the same perspective on things. You can’t expect those engaged in advocacy to be completely free of it, but we work to keep it to a minimum. I think any fair reading of this site as a whole will show that most of the posts are dedicated to serious analysis of all the various aspects of this dispute.

Tip 1: Write for others, and not yourselves, and then judge the results by an the increase in traffic to this site.

Tip 2: Don’t gratuitously shut out vast swaths of a potential audience by tying in ideologies that are not relevant to the point of this site. E.g., Matthew’s ignorant swipe at “supply-siders.” WTF? An anti-taxer is not the same as a supply sider; supply siders are not fringe; the UK had Thatcher as PM for over a decade. This is just the academic echo chamber, [Enable javascript to see this email address.]. It’s like the former NYT film critic who couldn’t believe that Nixon had been reelected in a landslide because no one she knew had voted for him. Group-think is what you’re fighting against, not for.

A site with as many contributors as this will have a wide variety of tone and topics - check out RBH’s other posts to see that. However, I personally want this site to be weighted pretty heavily on the side of professional and civil comments, but I think at times humor, satire, and even some venting will be appropriate.

But whatever the case, the marketplace will decide - people will come here, read, and comment, or they won’t. I hope we provide the right kind of material to draw a reasonably sized and thoughtful crowd.

I strongly disagree with Lighten Up’s first tip. We must write for ourselves, and work to express our ideas, not try to pander to some vague mass; to strive to please the maximum number of people is to strive for mediocrity. Our goals are integrity, honesty, and an accurate reflection of a scientific position, not popularity.

There are enough contributors here that we will have diverse voices. If some of them grate on you, don’t read them. The last thing that will happen, though, is that we will dictate what individual contributor’s expressed opinions may be, especially on matters so tangential to the focus of this site.

And yeah, I think some of us will occasionally piss off some subset of our readers. I’d rather we were challenging than conciliatory. It’s funny how the people who most often complain about the “academic echo chamber” are actually complaining because academics don’t meekly echo their opinions.

I don’t know, PZ. Aren’t you worried it might turn into a very creepy wankfest? After all, there is only so much self-congratulatory crapola one can stomach at a single sitting. No academic echo-chamber? This is stated as a bald assertion, despite the masses of text documenting its existence.

Maybe a scientific perspective and goals of integrity and honesty might indicate a reasoned tone, a disinclination to revert immediately to states of high emotion, and a focus on the facts rather than on ad hominem attacks.

Facts. Yeah, facts. That sounds good.

So far, I’ve pointed out the fact that William Dembski overlooked a pretty big question about his “explanatory filter/design inference” (EF/DI). And the fact that Dembski’s “inductive generalization” for saying the EF/DI is “reliable” is founded on zero actual examples of rigorous published applications of his EF/DI. Oh, and the fact that the EF/DI appears to be too tough for anyone besides Dembski to actually use, and approaching too tough for him to use, given that he’s written or edited many more books than he has published examples (counting the incomplete or flawed attempts) of the application of the EF/DI’s “generic chance elimination argument” (GCEA).

These facts were presented here without much in the way of the sort of rhetorical window-dressing that “Hugh Wankers” (<mandrake>if that really is your name</mandrake>) seems to get all huffy about. I am a bit disappointed that topical responses to the presentation of these facts seem a bit thin on the ground. Why is it, “Hugh”, that persons such as yourself find, it seems, every opportunity to indulge in these metadiscussions consisting of leveling accusations of bad rhetorical practice, but rarely if ever present yourselves in the discussions of the facts that do occur?

I think I’m getting the basis for an ordinary, if not downright plebian, design inference.

Sorry, Wes, I didn’t mean to frighten you into sputtering and babbling. I don’t get into the arcana of discussions with IDers any more than I get into discussions with flat-earthers, socialists, or Jehova’s Witnesses. I just thought it might be nice to be able to point them to a site where the scientific points are made clearly and convincingly. Oh, well. At least I’ve found a site where points are buried with turgid and obtuse prose and delivered with mean-spirited condescension and spite. Well, I’m off to find a place where short guys with chips on their shoulders get drunk and pick fights with the bouncers. Cheers!

OK, everyone, we all know the TO drill: DNFTT.

[Removed as an instance of attempted identity theft. The IP addresses do get logged, folks. -WRE 2004/03/30]

Additional note: it was left by whoever was posting as “hugh wankers”. His IP has been banned permanently. Trolls will not be tolerated. - EB

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on March 28, 2004 12:41 AM.

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