Between a Rock and a Hardplace: Debating Cranks

Posted on 24th March 2008 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior - Tags: ,

Chris Mooney has an important article online about how scientists debating fringe groups like Creationists and AGW deniers in many ways actually hurts our causes.

Sure enough, one of the Expelled trailers features the following quotation from Oxford evolutionary biologist and atheism apostle Richard Dawkins: “If people think God is interesting, the onus is on them to show that there is anything there to talk about. Otherwise they should just shut up about it.” And then in comes Ben Stein to play the rebel, the Galileo, against this oppressive scientific orthodoxy, against “Big Science” that tells the little guy to “shut up.” How’s that for enabling? (Link mine.)

A very astute observation of Dittohead reasoning. The fact that science does not have any peer-reviewed publications supporting the existence of god or disproving AGW Theory is only proof, in their minds, that the vast liberal conspiracy is in full effect, suppressing the “facts” they so desperately need to be true in order to prop-up their pre-defined ideological assumptions.

With Dittoheads–and that is who we are talking about primarily–debate is always a futile effort. How do you argue with someone who doesn’t even share the same factual foundation as the rest of the world? People who dismiss peer-reviewed research as liberal bias, who rationalize away hard facts as subjective, and take the absence of media and scientific coverage as support for their positions?

Mooney’s recommends science bloggers start ignoring the cranks as the best strategy for marginalizing them. I agree, but would also like to offer another tactic that I personally adhere to and one I think other bloggers should adopt: stop treating these cranks with respect.

The problem isn’t that science bloggers are pointing out the irrationality, lack of scientific evidence, and blatant rhetorical abuses of the Cranks. The problem is that they are doing so in a competent, fairly respectable, and dignified manner. That’s what makes the cranks feel legitimized.

When John Coleman can get up in front of an audience of AGW skeptics and argue that other people should sue Al Gore for his warnings about Global Warming, without having the spine to sue Al Gore himself, and he says this with a straight face, it’s time for bloggers to drop the academic tone and start laughing these people out of the room. Absurd statements like this prove that John Coleman is a spineless dweeb. He deserves a spanking and a “Dunce” cap, not a measured, respectful response.

First-tier bloggers like Mooney, Nisbet, PZ Meyers, etc shouldn’t stoop to this level, and neither should second tier science bloggers. It’s important legitimate science remain above the fray. Scientists are the keepers of data integrity, and I agree with Mooney that it’s best if they simply start ignoring the cranks.

Leave it to the third/fourth-tier bloggers like myself to openly ridicule these dimbulbs, as I personally have done here, here, here, here, and here. These are just my way of marginalizing what has become and increasingly silly cluster of conspiracy odd-balls.


  1. One of the issues with “laughing off” or totally disrespecting those crazies is who defines what is totally absurd and what is not. Granted in the case you mentioned, it seems pretty black and white but you’ll eventually end up getting some people who’ll laugh off the semi legit guy.

    Comment by Sour Swinger — March 24, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  2. Hmm, good point. I mean, so-called “Conspiracy theories” are simply “things that certain people will automatically laugh at”. Yet, these same people were lied to as children about Santa, and don’t understand how easy a mass lie really is.

    Though in the end, I’d still prefer to laugh at those I want marginalized! :)

    Comment by Clint — March 24, 2008 @ 6:13 pm

  3. Sour Swinger,

    Very true. I try to rely on my perpetual education to prevent that from happening here. When I personally attack a quack who turns out legitimate, I don’t have a problem eating crow. : )


    I intend to keep ridiculing them as my personal strategy. I think the top-tier bloggers should just forget them for the most part.

    Comment by ideonexus — March 24, 2008 @ 10:53 pm

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