Phony-Baloney Detection Lesson #2

Appeals to Authority

Listen to this quote by a guy I am sure some of you have heard of:

"Our society is dominated by experts, few more influential than psychiatrists. This influence does not derive, however, from our superior ethics or goodness or from any widespread consensus that we are especially admirable?"[1]

Don't you just love that?

He goes on to say, that Americans have become a people too dependent on so-called "experts" who "for better or for worse, exert an influence that far exceeds the actual wisdom (I might add here humility and grace) we demonstrate."[2]

Now, listen to this person's credentials:

"Dr. Satinover is a former National Merit Scholar (W. H. Taft HS, 1965, Woodland Hills, CA) and holds degrees from M.I.T. (S.B.), Harvard (Ed.M.) the University of Texas (M.D.) and Yale (M.S.) He completed psychoanalytic training at the C. G. Jung Institute of Zürich. He is a former fellow (resident) in psychiatry and child psychiatry at Yale where he was twice awarded the department of psychiatry's Seymour Lustman Residency Research Prize (2nd place). He was the 1975 William James Lecturer at Harvard. He was until recently a graduate student and teaching fellow in the department of physics at Yale University as part of the Condensed Matter Theory Group where he received a master's degree in physics in 2003."[3]

The last I heard he decided to "pick up" a Ph.D. in Physics.

Phony-Baloney Detection Rule #2 is this:

"Nothing is true because some guy or gal with more degrees behind his or her name than the weather says it is."

Let's say that you have a "cause". There is an issue that hundreds if not thousands have embraced. Within that cause, which has now become a "movement", those who have embraced this cause or issue have gathered their "experts" who come to the conventions they hold where these "experts" tell these crusaders all they want to hear.

These "experts" line up at the stage entrance with truckloads of evidence. They have manuals, books, graphs, charts, movies, and slideshows, of statistics that will be presented as "indisputable evidence" the position or ideology of the new movement is correct. The result?

"Our cause is right and just", cries the members of the new movement, "just look at all the new "facts" I can now throw in the face of the world".

Nothing is true not even if a million so-called "experts" say it is true!

This is a huge problem in American society today. We are a people who blindly trust so-called "experts" (who may not even be "experts" at all) who self-proclaim themselves as "authorities" and who gladly accept their self-proclamation and the following it has earned them.

What is even scarier is that some of these so-called "experts" come to believe, in a kind of self-delusion, they are the authorities their followers regard them to be. These "experts" begin to believe they must be "right" just because they said something was so.

What if, when you wake tomorrow, there are suddenly a gazillion "experts" with academic credentials too long to possibly list, who are now saying the sun not only does not rise in the East and sets in the West-it never has!

Would that make it so? Would the fact that these "experts", some of whom would believe themselves to be "world-renowned" authorities, deluge you with so many facts that your head explodes, make their position on this issue any more "right"?

It would not!

In the emotions and blustering of any cause or issue, humans have the almost innate desire to be "dogmatic", and in their dogmatism, forget how to cut through the bull to learn what is right and what is not.

It is the test of experiment which cuts through the "cock and bull" of anyone, self-deluded or not, who makes a claim that something is true-NO MATTER HOW MUCH "INDISPUTABLE" EVIDENCE that is thrown into your lap.

Anyone, no matter how beloved, no matter how many books he has written, no matter how many conventions he has been the keynote speaker at presenting his truckloads of "proof", must have someone, somewhere hold his feet to the fire of the test of experimentation in the form of the following process:

1) Observation, 2) hypothesis, 3) prediction, 4) testing, and the attempt to 5) reproduce steps 3 and 4 used to form a theory (the last step of the scientific method).

Without the test of experimentation, without an objective third party (peer review) being able to reproduce the so-called expert's proof then all the "expert" is presenting to you in his truckloads of "statistical proof" is SPECULATION!

It is not proof. It is nothing more, nothing less, than SPECULATION!

No matter the credentials, no matter the reputation, no matter how much the much-loved guru of your movement quotes as proof, without the test of experimentation, you have no tool to discern whether what he is telling you is the truth or not.

Those who spew facts, figures, and stats, would not too often go wrong if CONCLUSIVE scientific testing was always possible. Unfortunately, it is not. In situations where limited testing can be done and even when the test results conflict, it is the ethical responsibility of the "presenter of the facts" in any issue to say so!

It is then, when the so-called "experts" who at least attempted to employ the test of experimentation, have to say,

"This is inconclusive but it would appear from what we presently know that ___________".

Even the "experts" have biases. Some of those will spew as "facts" what is instead "speculative biases" (and they know the difference) and not tell you so. From the dishonest to the sincerely deluded "experts", some spew what is mere "speculation" under the disguise of "indisputable evidence". That is the difference between "politics and truth".

As a columnist who is supposed to be trained to keep a story at 650-words, I am committing a sacrilege-this one is over a 1000. May my editor' forgive me!

If an "expert" is spewing a string of facts and stats, and is not citing the "tests of experimentation" from which these stats were derived, then that is how you know you are being fed SPECULATION (cock and bull?)!

What cuts through it all-THE TEST OF EXPERIMENTATION!

The next "Phony-Baloney Detection lesson #3" is Straw Man Argument.

[1] Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth; Jeffrey Satinover, M.D.; Baker Books; page 31
[2] Ibid
[3] http://www.satinover.com/main.htm

Doug Bower is a freelance writer, Syndicated Columnist, and book author. His most recent writing credits include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Houston Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Transitions Abroad. He is a columnist with Cricketsoda.com and the Magic City Morning Star, and more than 21 additional online magazines. He lives with his wife in Guanajuato, Mexico. His newest books, Mexican Living: Blogging it from a Third World Country and The Plain Truth about Living in Mexico can be seen at: http://www.lulu.com/mexicanliving

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