June 1, 2015 by Liberty
There has been a distinction that I’ve lived with for years but it’s one of those things that I didn’t realize until one painful moment. Like many lessons in life, I only learned of it’s existence when it was too painful to ignore it any longer.
I’ve always had a sympathy towards some people that society considers conspiracy theorists. As I’ve discussed before, that’s obviously a loaded term. People mostly use the term conspiracy theory as an ad hominem attack. It rarely has to do with whether or not it’s actually a theory about a conspiracy.
Hell, even when it’s a theory against a conspiracy, people will often throw this label at you when you disagree with the mainstream opinion. Just think about saying, politicians are human beings that think about and often act in their own self interest. Many a statist will ridicule you as a conspiracy theorist for saying it in any specific context. (For example, politicians increased welfare to get more votes. CONSPIRACY!!!!!)
Also skepticists are often categorized with conspiracy theorists. If someone is the slightest bit skeptical about something considered right by the mainstream, that individual is attacked for being conspiratorial. With many of the major mainstream “conspiracies,” this plain old skeptical group exists but is categorized with the same people claiming a particularly crazy theory.
For a person to say, 9/11 was a conspiracy planned out by the CIA to do x and y, is probably crazy. Sure, there may be funny links that look like they add up to this but there sure as hell isn’t enough evidence available at this time to make certain claims as fact. And, of course, just because the pieces fit together, it doesn’t mean other pieces don’t fit together too.
I’d bet if you give 100 intelligent paranoid people the same set of facts and they’ll come up with 100 unique and plausible stories explaining them. Looking like it all fits isn’t everything. So, sure, it may be fun to hear the theory but it means very little until serious evidence can back it up. (I think I stole this idea from someone.)
With those 9/11 conspiracy creators, people force in everyone that doubts the traditional story of the attacks. Thousands of engineers have signed a petition about wanting a new investigation. This is complete speculation but I have a feeling these engineers aren’t the ones arguing it was an inside job (not all of them at least.) Most of these people are just saying, “this doesn’t add up. Something is wrong.” Does that mean they’re crazy conspiracy theorists that deserve to be categorized with everyone that makes up a theory about what happened?
Climate change is another example. Sure, some people claim climate change is a massive government run conspiracy to bilk the taxpayers or businesses or whomever out of loads of cash. Then there are people asking, “Is it really that bad?” “Do those facts really make that consequence?” “Do we really have control over stopping it?” Scientists and regular folks that ask these questions get shoved into the conspiracy theorist category.
I find evolution to be another fun example. I really enjoy hearing people trying to prove evolution wrong. Once in a while, they have a really convincing and well-thought out case. They offer a bunch of interesting information about it but then they always seem to have to bring up intelligent design and act like that doesn’t suffer from ten billion times the number of problems evolutionary theory suffers from. I think evolution seems right but then again, what the hell do I know?
No matter how hard you try, science cannot be arrogant. There are theories that have been proven wrong, and there are theories that haven’t been proven wrong YET. Without accepting this, you’re not participating in science. You might as well be a theologian. (Okay… Perhaps engineer would be more appropriate.) It’s not science when you’re not questioning it. It’s belief, hope, or some other faith based situation.
Faith of Engineering
This is a bit of a tangent but I think it’s a worthwhile one to take.
In my previous paragraph I suggested engineers use faith. This doesn’t necessarily apply to all engineers considering how broad the term engineer can be used. It does fit the general concept of engineering though. I’m using it as follows: Engineers take the work of scientists and apply them to certain applications. They don’t typically focus on testing theories. In those situations, I’d consider them more scientists than engineers.
So, if you’re designing a building as a scientist, you’d have to build controlled experiments to test different building conceptions. Naturally, that’s usually expensive and completely excessive. An engineer just takes load equations, plops in a little data, makes sure everything makes sense, and throws it all together with a big margin of error. Engineering is getting things done. Science is a never ending process.
That’s why I find evolution interesting. Since religious people are so religious about their beliefs, many “scientists” become religious in an attempt to defend evolution. Religion requires that kind of thinking to spread. Science doesn’t exist with it.
For the record, I don’t have a strong opinion about any of these theories. I’m not an expert in any of these fields. Quite frankly, I tend to trust scientists that make their scientific theories. (They tend to be smarter than the general population including myself.) That being said, science involves testing theories, holding up to scrutiny, and plenty of other things that people seem unwilling to do in certain areas.
My god… I find few “conspiracy theorists” get attacked more than people against using vaccines. Now, I’ve been vaccinated. I would vaccinate my children in a second. That is not why I’m defending people who don’t want to vaccinate. They’re just a wonderful example of the problems society has with “conspiracy theories.”
I was watching a news story about vaccinations. The story was doing everything short of directly insulting people that don’t want to vaccinate their kids. Quite frankly, I would have had more respect if they just came out insulting those anti-vaccinators claiming they’re socially ostracizing them. The news said absolutely everything in favor of vaccines without pointing out why these people had their objections.
Now, I understand showing objections would encourage idiots to question vaccines. That being said, most people that are questioning vaccines aren’t as stupid as you’d think.
Have a conversation with the average person that supports vaccine usage. Ask them about the studies they’ve researched on the subject. 99% of these people won’t be able to give you the details on any of them. All they’ll have for evidence is, my doctor told me, or the news told me.
They’re being idiots in that particular area. They’re substituting their knowledge for the knowledge of someone else. There is very little wrong with this (it’s required for life) but it’s an important distinction to make. (Of course, voluntarily being an idiot in certain areas is very intelligent. I’ll get to that.)
Have a conversation with the average person that doesn’t support vaccines and it will usually be the exact opposite. They’ll list studies. Some will go into anatomy. Sure, they’re usually not qualified for this stuff. Much of the information they give is bad. Much of the information they give is true but irrelevant when compared to hundreds of other studies. That all being said, they’re actually using information to try and make a wise decision.
To reach someone trying to make an intelligent decision, it’s absolutely idiotic to try and insult them. Sure, social ostracism works in some cases but to try and insult someone out of a well-thought out decision will probably just push them deeper into it. Sure, they may not be judging and using the information they have well but at least they’re trying. (Some still are idiots but they’re a whole lot closer to being intelligent on the subject than people not even trying.)
Of course, some people against vaccines blindly say vaccines cause autism without any attempt to back it up with evidence. Of course, they’re idiots. There are also supporters of vaccines that have done tons of research on the subject. They’re not necessarily idiots. My point is that the average supporter of vaccinations has way fewer facts in their decision making process.
(Alright, this is a completely unrequired tangent but it can help shed some light on the vaccine situation and a sad aspect of science in general. A major study that linked vaccines to autism was recently proven a complete fraud. Not only was it a bad study with fewer samples than a smart prostitute. It literally had fraudulent data in it.
There are two points on this. First of all, the fact that it TOOK A DECADE to figure this out is insane. More than that, it took a journalist to figure it out. No… not a scientist. That study probably prompted 30 studies to try and disprove it. Think of all the lives risked, money wasted, and time lost.
My second point: If we’re tossing responsibility towards anyone for “idiots” not using vaccines then I think we need to point the blame at the media for spreading a bad study, a basic flaw in the science community (apparently scientists check data for repeatability, not for fraudulent data,) and one bad dude publishing bs.
Phew… That was a rather long but hopefully productive tangent.)
While there is nothing wrong with judging someone for stupid decisions, there is a distinction between ridiculing them for stupid conclusions versus ridiculing them for critical thinking. An expert in vaccines could (maybe even should) ridicule someone against vaccinations. That expert could make fun of experts on the other side with at least the slightest bit of credibility. (It goes both ways, of course.) The average person should not be ridiculing someone that’s studied vaccines more than them. If they do, they’re not attacking a specific position, they’re attacking critical thinking. (Substitute critical thinking is not critical thinking.)
On Being An Idiot
Being an idiot is a fundamental part of life. There is nothing wrong with most of the population trusting the mainstream opinion of experts. There are millions of fields of information out there. You can’t become an expert in all of them. In the vast majority of them, you need to blissfully accept that you’re out of your element. (Sure, you may be able to contribute but it’s not likely to be a well-planned contribution. It would likely be luck.)
You don’t have to know all the physics and mechanics that go into making a car to drive a car. You just need to know how to drive a car. It’s okay for the average person to not understand how the details work (as long as it works.) That being said, it’s not okay for the average person to insult someone else for not driving a car, when that person not driving understands the details of the situation better.
While it’s okay not to understand the details of most subjects, many people end up living their whole lives being a complete idiot. This goes for “conspiracy theorists” and regular joes. The world doesn’t get better when people don’t use critical thinking to make their decisions. As much as everyone likes to believe there is some perfect answer to every question, life it just a constant stumble forward.
Bad ideas get crushed. Good ideas move forward. Sometimes the craziest ideas end up changing the world. People that choose not to use critical thinking should at least have the courtesy to not insult people using critical thinking (or trying.) Again, in the vaccines case I generally believe substitute critical thinking is the smarter choice but what the hell do I know?
Of course, the world won’t listen to my request. So, whether I agree or disagree with you on any statement, there is one thing I need to say. If you spend hours researching, if you try to put the puzzle pieces of life together, if you use evidence in making your decisions then I respect you… No matter what stupid conclusions you come to!
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