Nobody is more imaginative than a person who doesn’t want to concede an obvious point.
As the internet brought 24/7 global debates, it also brought rapid innovation in the field of being a dishonest intransigent asswipe in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Here are a few common tactics:
Attacking the source
This one isn’t new, but it’s really come into fashion. It’s an Ad hominem with innovative extras.
The classic form: “The conclusion of study X is wrong, because it’s from discredited academic Y”.
But even discredited people can be right about some things. At most, being “discredited” can mean more scrutiny of their claims – if they were dishonest, rather than honestly wrong – but not an apriori assumption they’ll be wrong about everything forever.
And why is academic Y called discredited? That’s where things often get interesting. Like this:
Circular attack on source.
“The study X about heritability of intelligence is wrong, because it’s from discredited academic Y”
“Why do you say Y is discredited?”
“Because he writes about heritability of intelligence!”
This is now a popular form of science denial, particularly in increasingly undeniable as well as religiously denied matters – such as the heritability of intelligence, as well as all other psychological traits, non-socially constructed differences between the sexes, or indeed the existence of sexes.
You will notice that nowhere is any reference made to the truth or falsity of the actual science – the apriori rejection of the argument and of the author are used as proof of each other.
A similar circular construction, on a scale to rival Avebury, Apple’s new campus and possibly the rings of Saturn, is also often used to fallaciously support a position:
1. Acquire ridiculous belief.
2. Call a small fringe that shares it “The experts”.
3. “The experts agree with me!”
This is how you get “academics agree there are 98 genders” and “scientists say the world will end in 12 years”.
As defined in the accurate dictionary, a Sourcetroll is a person determined to not concede an obvious or sufficiently established point under any circumstances, continuing to demand more evidence long after every reasonable standard of proof has been satisfied.
For illustration, consider the chess game I played decades ago in boy scouts against safely the dumbest boy in the troop, and possibly the multiverse.
Being no Kasparov myself, I still quickly checkmated him – but one rule he did know was, it is not possible to take the king. So, checkmated, he made another move – into another checkmate. I told him the game was over. He said “No, you can’t take my king. Them’s the rules”. So, stupidly, instead of rolling my eyes and walking away, or stabbing a Swiss knife into his hippocampus, I spent the next five minutes chasing his lone king around the chessboard from checkmate into checkmate, against his refusal to concede the defeat that happened 40 moves ago.
It works like this on the internet.
“Saudi Arabia and the UAE use extensive slave labor”
“Source 1; Source 2; Source 3”
“Those are surely isolated cases, got a source for your claim it’s “extensive”?”
“It is an established fact known to everybody who visited or even takes a passing interest in the region, and X, Y, Z international organizations are working on the problem. This is a fact. You might as well question gravity.”
Sourcetrolling is dangerous, because pretending that malevolent trolling is “just asking for evidence” makes all asking for evidence sound like malevolent trolling.
Next, there are two subtypes of the association fallacy used to refuse to even deal with an uncomfortable idea, because it is likely to be true:
Tarring by social association.
“Statement A was made by academic B, who was once seen with academic C, who once said thing D, so it’s pretty safe to say that A is wrong.”
How could a person who was once seen in the same room with Discredited Author (see above) possibly be right about anything?
This is the transitive property of problematicity, a very evil principle to go by, but convenient if you’re running an inquisition.
Believed by a bad person, therefore a bad belief, held only by other bad people.
Bad person believed X, therefore X is wrong, any and all arguments that could possibly ever be used to support X are wrong by definition even if they can also be interpreted in other ways (an extreme of the moralistic fallacy), and whoever believes X is a bad person.
“Nazis sterilized the non compos mentis, therefore intelligence isn’t heritable, and if you even consider studying it or citing the extensive evidence that it actually is, you’re Hitler”. If you haven’t seen this before, I congratulate you on staying away from social(ist) (pseudo)science Twitter. This is now the standard line of left-wing science denial.
My latin is almost certainly wrong, but since fallacies need a latin name to enter the canon, I would propose “Malus credebat, ergo malo credo.” Believed by the bad, therefore a bad belief.
Moving on from the association fallacy onto fresh ground, there’s this:
Demands to prove the established.
The inspiration was Helen Pluckrose’s run-in with an interlocutor who basically said “You’re saying evolution is true, but the burden of proof is on you, since you’re the one making a positive claim”, the implied meaning apparently being “Sum up hundreds of thousands of pages and two hundred years of scholarship for me, in half a minute, in a way that I will deem satisfactory – which I won’t no matter what you say – or you lose the argument by default”.
But when the proof was already made at the civilizational level, it’s merely a stalling tactic to demand it in each particular instance. You don’t ask the vendor for a complete monetary theory every time you buy a croissant.
Actually, in this case, something like the law of inertia is a good analogy, and the burden of proof is on the person who differs from the established view and wishes to change civilization-wide consensus – if someone told you that gravity doesn’t exist, the burden of proof would be on them even though they are making a negative claim, simply because they’re making such a wild one that seeks to upturn the established – and in this case, self-evident – view.
Much like the chess antidigy (the opposite of prodigy) in the story above, someone heard somewhere that the burden of proof is on positive claims and ignored the rest of the rules. It is more accurate to say that something like the law of inertia applies, and the burden of proof is on the one who wants to make an extraordinary change to the common understanding of the world – provided the common understanding is evidence-based and falsifiable.
The shape of science denial today is trying to change what it even means for something to be scientific, to question and change the rules (which only doubled life expectancy and landed people on the moon), rather than proving and disproving hypotheses by the scientific method, within and by the rules – a part of a broader trend to avoid unwinnable substantive debates by playing definitional and political games.
Postmodernism is evil. There is no “post” to the correct answer.
There is far too much prejudice and moralizing, far too many sacred cows and things that would be hard to swallow if they were true, so they can’t possibly be true. But “It’s not science because I don’t want it to be true” is the opposite of the scientific outlook.
To be clear:
Wrong: “Nice, therefore true.” (Infantile epistemology)
Also wrong: “Not nice, therefore true.” (Edgelord epistemology)
Right: “Truth is orthogonal to niceness.” (Honest epistemology)
Today, this is one of the standard ways the baddies baddy around. Redefining what they can’t beat, “fucking loving science” while neither understanding how it works, nor liking it very much when it works as it should – impartially, with zero fucks given to preconceived notions and people’s preferences of what would be kinda nice if it were true.
P.S. Bonus point if you get why the cover picture is the Nile. (Denial. Get it?)
In related reading, here’s an article on one of the three blogs on the internet that are almost as good as Wisdomination: