Monday, July 10, 2006

Characteristics of frindge groups

I have just finished reading Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things. I will write a full review of this book at a later stage. However, what I found most interesting about the book was Shermer’s discussion on the characteristics of pseudoscientific and pseudohistoric groups, such as ‘scientific’ creationists, Holocaust deniers and extreme Afrocentrists. These fringe groups make various claims that are supported by very little evidence and their beliefs run contrary to common scholarly views on history and science. Shermer argues that these groups, due to the lack of evidence for their claims, resort to fallacious modes of argument in order to advocate their views. These groups share the following common characteristics:

  • They are absolutely certain that they have the truth (pg 206);
  • They concentrate on opponent’s weak points, while rarely saying anything definitive about their own position (pg 212);
  • They exploit errors made by scholars who are making opposing arguments, implying that because a few of their opponents’ conclusions are wrong, that all of their conclusions must be wrong (pg 212);
  • They use quotations taken out of context to buttress their own position (pg 212);
  • They mistake honest, genuine debates between scholars about certain points within the field for a dispute about the existence of the entire field (pg 212);
  • They focus on what is not known and ignore what is known, emphasize data that fit and discount data that do not fit (pg 212);
  • They rely on post hoc rationalisation, after-the-fact-reasoning to justify contrary evidence (pg 216); and
  • When the ideas of fringe groups fail to be accepted by mainstream scholars, advocates propagate conspiracy theories. (pg 206).

Anyone familiar with ‘scientific’ creationism – especially the young earth variety – will recognise some of these tactics.


Secret said...

Hey Kevin. Thought I'd check out your blog and see what it is all about, why the religious change of heart? I have never been a particularly religious person, although i was baptized catholic some years ago.
I see you are into some good music...simon and garfunkel, Alanis, and the beatles (absolutely love the beatles!!), anyhow, chat to ya later.

Dar said...

Speaking of believing in weird things ...I am fascinated with the guy who communicates (via psychic line) with the alien he calls "Bashar" ...and people attend his seminars! Religion aside, there are more than a handful of people claiming to speak with aliens. There is in-depth descriptions on the internet and books about alien "tribes" such as the Essessani and the Greys.

I find it all so weird and supernatural... I cannot imagine the type of person who believes this! Do you think it's people seeking answers such as ourselves?

Kyaroko said...

That's so funny that you mentioned that book! I bought "Doubt" recently on Amazon and "Why People Believe Weird Things" was suggested by the Amazon computer as a book I might be interested in. My dad in particular is a believer of many weird things. He's one of those that believes pretty much any random email forward he receives about 9/11 conspiracy theories and actually paid some institute in West VA to give him an out of body experience via electroshock therapy. It didn't work, surprise surprise. Maybe if he pays them some more money and goes a few more times... Anyway, looking forward to hearing more about what you thought of the book.

Kevin Parry said...

Secret wrote:
Hey Kevin. Thought I'd check out your blog and see what it is all about, why the religious change of heart?

Hi Secret

When I think back on my faith struggle with Christianity, my biggest problem was the fact that the claims of Christianity did not match up with the reality that I observing around me. That’s was the crux of my deconversion.

Thanks for the comments on my music tastes: if one takes a look at my MP3 collection, most tracks originate from the 80’s and 90’s. I guess I’m reluctant to let go of my childhood and adolescent years

Thank you for popping by.

Dar wrote:

I find it all so weird and supernatural... I cannot imagine the type of person who believes this! Do you think it's people seeking answers such as ourselves?

Hi Dar

A few months ago, a local talk show on TV here covered the topic of UFO’s and alien abductions. They interviewed a few people who claimed that they had been abducted by extraterrestrials, and one woman even recounted a long story of how she had visited another planet. Cori and I sat there, thinking along similar lines as you “do they actually believe what they are saying? Are they lying?” Interestingly, Shermer, in his book, notes that most people who claim that they have been abducted by aliens are actually normal, honest people. They actually are recounting something that happened to them which has affected them personally. Something incredible has happened to them, but Shermer, like Carl Sagan, argues that these experiences have nothing to do with actual aliens, but has everything to do with the human mind. They cover some very good arguments that suggest that alien beings are a product of the mind. I think I will cover these in a full post. Thank you dar for providing the inspiration!

Hi Kyaroko

Good comment. Shermer does a good job in going into the psychology of why people believe in weird thing, like conspiracy theories, for example. It is a fascinating read.

All the best