Do Not Legitimize Crackpots!
It reads fast. It is part polemic, part rant, probably with a fair amount of repetition, and maybe not a lot of organization or sequence to it. It just flowed out.
This idea started from the perspective of pseudoscience. I think it now applies to racists and other crackpots.
The conclusion first: Do not give legitimacy to crackpots.
By giving them voice or position.
Let them find their own platforms and audience. I am confident they will not grow.
We don’t have to help or hurt them. We should ignore them.
These days there are (at least) four kinds of crackpots:
1. Pseudoscience / pseudo-medicine / woo
2. Racists / bigots / white nationalists / nazis
3. Conspiracies mongers
4. Trump cultists
There’s probably way more.
As a member of CSI (once CSICOP) and reader of every issue of The Skeptical Inquirer, going back to when it was The Zetetic / Zetetic Scholar, I’ve been in this fight for 40 years. Mostly wrt #1 above.
After all this time, my evaluation is that the approach taken since the 70’s - to engage, argue, debate, explain, etc. is a loser. Pseudoscience is bigger than ever. UFOs, cryptids, quack medicine, have not gone away. They are now more complex. There are still flat earthers.
The same is true for #’s 2 & 3. Less so with 4, though I don’t hold out much hope.
Therefore I’ve been suggesting that a better solution *might* be to ignore and not engage. Do not give them voice. Do not elevate them to equivalent status with you - on stage or paper, comment sections, or the international arena - what Trump did with North Korea. THESE ACTIONS LEGITIMIZE THEM. DO NOT LEGITIMIZE THEM.
They will continue to spout of course. Racists will still march and rally. They have that right. Whether a larger counter rally is more effective than merely ignoring the 40 guys on the DC metro, I don’t know.
Do not defend truth, rationality, logic, anything against this nonsense. Do not explain. Do not, do not, do not.
Like that bozo with the table in front of the White House last week. “Change My Mind”. No. Do not change his mind. Ignore him completely, though you may mock him with a tuba.
Giving them a platform by engaging at least propagates, if not endorses their ideas as legitimate debate. Let them find their own platforms, talk in their own echo chambers.
This will take these kinds of issues onto a different kind of track than they’ve been on. My gut tells me that if left alone they will NOT grow and spread unchecked any more than they already do.
History and experience tells me that facing them off does not convince or turn or re-educate anyone. Or stop anyone from being indoctrinated.
When people say stuff that’s outlandish, unprovable or just plain crackpot, you do not have to rebut or debunk or anything. Some do yeoman’s work on twitter and elsewhere. Valiantly and bravely, debunking or being sly and clever. Nyet with deniers, and others who are willing to engage and point out lies, deceptions, illogic. I am wondering if treating them as the trolls they are is not better. Call them nuts, crackpots, quacks. Just one ‘shoo’ and move on. Give them silence, no matter how much they write and taunt.
Don’t legitimize the question, position, or argument. Because you don’t counter this nonsense with logic. You can’t convince a cult thinker through rational means. They drew their conclusions non-rationally. They’ll not “correct” them when faced with rationality or logic. They didn’t arrive by reason and logic and they won’t ‘see the light’ by it either. In the public square you counter it by not allowing it to be normalized, By not treating it as an equal viewpoint.
I don’t have to have an epistemological argument about the nature of science and reality every time a crackpot comes along who doesn’t like some scientific fact or conclusion. Or wants to put one forth that they can’t conclusively, let alone even remotely, prove - other than by rhetorical twaddle.
Anti vaxers are afraid of something that’s not in vaccines. You don’t sit down and calmly, rationally “discuss” and explain this to someone, or the world, that they’re afraid of something that has never existed in reality. You say clearly and loudly “that’s crackpot fantasy (dangerous) thinking ” and move on.
Since they can’t make their point through counter scientific/math analysis, they attempt to tear down the mechanism that drew the conclusion. I dont play because even if you tear it down, the immutable natural laws still hold. There are no ‘proponents’ of gravity. Feel free to ignore it to your peril.
Over time I’ve become a contrarian. I think these people are liars and/or ignorant. I think their ideas should be called out directly as such - crackpot, bunk, stupid, idiotic, quack, fantasy - what you will.
By giving legitimacy we encourage the next crackpot to think something up and immediately - yes a priori - sitting down at the table automatically because we delegitimize nothing. By engaging over the last 40 years, we’ve given every new crackpot idea instant legitimacy as long as it’s dressed up with a suit and tie. They’re at the table and now we have to, yes have to, get them back out the door. They don’t belong.
While lots of pseudoscience could be true, we know they aren’t. And we don’t do ourselves any favors by continually allowing for the infinitesimal “possibility”.
I have no problem saying there are no aliens (yes there are ufos), there is no bigfoot, ghosts, god, or other life after death. Homeopathy doesn’t work nor do astrology or chiropractic. They are all based on fantastic, faulty premises and their continued promotion today is based in something other than a search for truth or fact. They are just belief-without-proof rhetorical games.
And I’m still not saying these things couldn’t or can’t “happen” or be discovered. I’m saying they haven’t and there’s no evidence they will be, so I do not live my life assuming they will. I don’t need to perpetually prepare for that less than minute possibility ever happening. If it does, then I’ll easily and happily adjust as the worldview adapts and changes. It’s not a win for one side or the other. It’s just an acknowledgement and redefinition of what we thought we knew.
Till then - nope. Not a seat at the table. You want to sit? Earn it. Learn the language, science, math. Then do the science and math with the language and prove you deserve, yes earned the right to participate in the discussion.
I don’t need to contort reality to see “all sides of all issues” when many of those sides are for practical purposes not possible.
Do I really have to explain calmly and rationally why something that has never existed should not be argued the same way things that actually have and do exist?
I don’t deal in Bigfoot because there really can’t be “a” bigfoot. Or the loch ness monster. We know this. Habitats, families, food sources, multiple remains / fossil record. We should stop legitimizing it just because “it could” because in the world we live in and as we know it to work, it actually can’t.
This should all be treated with the disdain and derision it deserves.
1-4 above all have political and power muscle behind them. I’ve always been much more concerned with how people make their political decisions than ultimately whether they are left/right, indy or whatever. Whether you are a critical thinker, fantasy thinker, whatever tells me a lot about how you decided smaller things. And so when i exercise my voting power I will evaluate how you make the decisions you make….and give them due weight.
Who have we been targeting with this kid gloves approach? Not the heads /leaders. They aren’t gonna sway - they have too much invested. Ego, $, potential, power etc. It’s the followers, the current and future / next wave. And sadly, the 70’s astrologer, palm reader, psychic goer is today’s climate science denier and anti vax. I am not saying it was the wrong approach to take back them. I am saying that is how we got here and it didn’t work. It didn’t change the historical arc of critical thinking and evaluative skills en masse.
They are not trafficking in ‘mis” information. They are deliberately lying, twisting, contorting, spinning, saying things they know are not true as a weapon to get what they want. And what they want is something else entirely from what they are even saying. That they are afraid to actually say because it wouldn’t sell if out in the open.
They are deliberate and calculating or they are deluded. Because this is not about “opinion” or “tactics” - they are “mis” representing reality - and yes, there *is* a reality.
Racism is a crackpot idea. Pseudoscience is a crackpot idea. Conspiracies are crackpot. Trump-cult behavior is crackpot. Yes they are. People who invest in them and traffic in them may be crackpots or PT Barnums. In either case, leave them to themselves.