META: How to respond to Crank Science?

From: Harvey Newstrom (
Date: Fri Aug 17 2001 - 08:31:40 MDT

> Olga, we elect you as the disinterested organization. Check out a
> copy at the local library and check it out.

Good idea. While you're at it, why doesn't she research UFOs to see if
they're real. Also prove that the moon landings really occurred. And try
to find out if Bush really won the Presidency fairly. And, if she has time,
find out about that JFK shooting also. And could she try to locate Elvis
while she's at it? Also, proving whether God exists or not would be
helpful. A whole proof or debunking of all psychic powers would be useful
as well.

Seriously, Olga has already posted references to scientific responses to The
Bell Curve. I have not seen any scientific reviews for it, just a bunch of
laymen saying "it sounds good to me." There seems to be a bad case of
"prove it's wrong" mentality here. Instead of providing evidence for the
minority opinion, it is being presented as a default with a request to
disprove it.

Lately, we have been accused of having "blind faith" in science by not
personally verifying scientific knowledge with our own research. We have
been accused of being "politically correct" for not giving unscientific
viewpoints equal standing with scientific ones. We have been accused of
"refusing to debate" for not debunking every crank theory that gets posted.
We have been accused of "not proving our position" if we don't personally
disprove every anti-science post that appears. We have been accused of
"appeal to authority" for preferring scientist's conclusions to those of
mystics or politicians. We have been accused of "personal attacks" for
reviewing an author's background and methodology.

How should we respond to challenges to science or established facts? How
much work should we undertake to argue the basics over and over again?
(This used to be against the list rules in former years.) How much time
should we expend defending our basic position that science is real and all
scientists aren't part of a great liberal conspiracy of political
correctness? Do we really need to examine unscientific organizations and
methods just in case they might have stumbled across some truth that science

I have tried to respond rationally and scientifically to some of these
claims lately. I am becoming discouraged that it is a waste of time and
leads nowhere. If people do not understand the basic scientific,
experimental, and statistical methods, then further discussion rarely helps.
If people do not believe in these methods, the situation is even worse.
Time is a limiting factor here. It is no wonder that most readers just skip
these arguments. Should we just ignore these challenges as they appear?
Does that make them appear stronger or weaker than directly confronting
them? Is there a danger of filling the Extropian archives with all sorts of
unscientific conspiracy theories that are posted as if they had all our

I would seriously love to hear some comment about this.

Harvey Newstrom <> <>

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