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Skeptical about this Skeptic
December 22, 2010 5:55 PM   Subscribe

The credibility of Skeptoid podcast creator, Brian Dunning, has come under fire from the Science Blog / Skeptic community after he posted a questionable podcast regarding DDT. A comprehensive fact check in two parts hit the web soon thereafter, followed by other critiques - suggesting that Dunning's objectivity may be tainted by conservative / libertarian political leanings.

The debate continues to RAGE in the comments section of the above links. With Dunning's own responses not necessarily helping.

Other Dunning creations have been less effectively held up as evidence of his agenda. Highlights include insinuations that fast food is nutritious, locally grown produce isn't 'green,' and that the garbage patch in the pacific (north pacific gyre) isn't such a big deal - to name a few.
posted by jnnla (37 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know if he's crazy or not, but I do know I loved the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast, so I figured I'd dig this one too. Well, he kind of is painful to listen to. He should probably stick to blogging about things and not doing audio.
posted by floam at 6:08 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I used to read a lot of Skeptical Inquirer back in the 90s. I remember a bevy of letters on the theme of "you should write about the greatest fraud perpetrated by anyone ever... global warming!" As I recall SI generally answered with: "We try to follow the best science and the best science seems to indicate that the globe is indeed warming." There's quite a number of self-identified skeptics whose skepticism consists of disbelieving everything they're told to disbelieve by Fox News.
posted by Kattullus at 6:12 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't follow him, but he kind of sounds like someone who fancies themselves a skeptic when they're merely a contrarian. It's not all that uncommon among self-described "skeptics".
posted by -harlequin- at 6:13 PM on December 22, 2010 [15 favorites]


If someone is really a skeptic, they should be open to fact-checking, not get all 'SHEEPLE' at people who make with the fact-checking.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:30 PM on December 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


It seems fairly often the case that vulgar libertarians (who seem to make up the bulk of the self-proclaimed skeptic body) completely suck at strong sense critical thinking, whilst being good enough at the weak sense variety to sound convincing.

Admittedly it's a very hard discipline to maintain, even for those not working from the blinkered base of a devout ideological ontology.

I generally just try to remember that knee-jerk contrarian cynicism is just as irrational a viewpoint as slack-jawed naivete. Unless it's about 'libertarians', they're always wrong.
posted by titus-g at 6:36 PM on December 22, 2010 [15 favorites]


Well, in a literal sense, there's no question that fast food is nutritious. Lots of calories, very little cost. Couple dollars a day and you can avoid a caloric deficit. That's actually a big deal.
posted by effugas at 6:44 PM on December 22, 2010


Well, in a literal sense, there's no question that fast food is nutritious.

Malnutrition is a term with a very specific meaning, and it doesn't necessarily have a strict connection with calorific intake.
posted by Jimbob at 6:50 PM on December 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I gave up on a few skeptic blogs (of which I think Skeptoid might have been one) a few years ago when they insisted that there couldn't be any problem with genetically modified crops. They framed it as a hippies vs scientists issue. There may or may not be health or environmental problems with GM, but when the main corporations won't release their studies for peer review then how can you tell for sure? And seeing so-called skeptics who (rightly) rely on peer review as one of the few reliable checks we have for new technology turn around and say that it didn't matter that studies were being locked away instead of shown to the scientific community... well, it made me a bit skeptical of their motives. It's not hippies vs scientists, it's scientists vs corporations in this case.

That said, there are plenty of skeptics out there who are geniunely looking for the truth on many issues. I'd never want to tar them all with the same brush as Dunning.
posted by harriet vane at 6:59 PM on December 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


His video on the Pacific gyre caused shooting pains in my head, like something I'd expect from George W. Bush. "See? It's not so bad. There's no plastic island, ya cain't stand on it. It's just little bitty pieces."
posted by fleetmouse at 6:59 PM on December 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


I gave up on a few skeptic blogs (of which I think Skeptoid might have been one) a few years ago when they insisted that there couldn't be any problem with genetically modified crops.

Yeah, I'm very much in the "give GM crops a chance....on an individual basis after well tested" camp. The issues with GM crops extend well into social issues; the economic and cultural impact of crops with "suicide genes", for example. Anyone, on either side, who thinks it's a cut-and-dried issue is deluded.
posted by Jimbob at 7:02 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, in a literal sense, there's no question that fast food is nutritious.

Malnutrition is a term with a very specific meaning, and it doesn't necessarily have a strict connection with calorific intake.


HFCS!

I said it first! What did I win?
posted by mmrtnt at 7:14 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


A nice nutritious bowl of brown sugar!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:30 PM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jimbob--

Would you rather have 1,000 calories a day of the finest, most healthy stuff in the world, or 2,000 calories a day of McDonalds?
posted by effugas at 7:43 PM on December 22, 2010


What is the word for a Contrarian who ignore data?
posted by ovvl at 7:58 PM on December 22, 2010


Being a Fortean is so much more rewarding than being a Sc(ck)eptic. We get to wield our bullshitometer on both sides with equal vigor.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:33 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Would you rather have 1,000 calories a day of the finest, most healthy stuff in the world, or 2,000 calories a day of McDonalds?

That's a false binary. You need calories, you also need iron, potassium, salt, protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin C, D, etc. You need a lot of things.

Calorie deficit can kill you. So can deficiencies of many kinds - I'm sure you've heard of scurvy. The question is how much of what are you NOT getting, and how much is your particular biology able to deal with it?

Even the Twinkie Diet guy made sure to get supplements - he understood it's more than just a raw calorie count to stay alive.
posted by yeloson at 8:46 PM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


DDT revisionism does seem to have an odd libertarian appeal that crops up now and again. I recall a few years back, a Reason magazine writer posted a glib "Rachel Carson is the greatest monster in history" type post, and got smacked down by Tim Lambert/Deltoid. At the time, a feeble defense was put up, only to get smacked down again. I got the feeling that the Reason writer sensed that he hadn't done his homework, and quietly let the issue die.

Since then, I've noticed the same arguments Reason used pop up again several times from several different sources. Lambert has been pretty vigilant about seeking these stories and rebutting them. But the recurring theme strikes me as oddly unchanged. As if there's a libertarian central repository of slow news day topics to cut and paste from. Interesting how these memes survive and get passed on.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:57 PM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is really interesting. I'd heard similar things to what this guy is saying before from sources I trusted, and I'd come to cautiously believe that maybe we'd overreacted by banning DDT. Looks like I'll have to read up on this shit again.

All this "questioning assumptions" shit is getting to be a pain in the ass. Maybe it's time to join a cult for a little while and relax.
posted by auto-correct at 9:20 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really see anything in the rebuttals of his DDT claims that suggest that his objectivity is tainted by conservative/libertarian political leanings. Much of the criticism is about him getting his information from junkscience.com, which he denies using as a source.

I haven't yet listened to the Skeptoid episode in quesion, but Dunning has written a response to the criticisms.
posted by lexicakes at 9:59 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would you rather have 1,000 calories a day of the finest, most healthy stuff in the world, or 2,000 calories a day of McDonalds?

Yeah, and would you rather get strangled to death, or just punched in the face? Punched in the face, you say? Well, well, well, look who's all punch-my-facey when the chips are down! And from this I conclude that you prefer getting punched in the face to any other possible event. Q.E.D.
posted by No-sword at 10:02 PM on December 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


Dunning has written a response to the criticisms.

From that response:

I went into it with enthusiasm, because I knew very little about the subject other than what most people have generally heard.

Then maybe you ought to shut the fuck up and let someone else do a podcast on DDT. When you're reduced to using Wikipedia as your sole source, maybe you have exceeded the limits of your expertise.

But there was fallout.

Gasp! But who would criticize an enthusiastic young man with a 6th Grade education and an abiding love for all of god's creatures?
posted by fleetmouse at 10:43 PM on December 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Much of the criticism is about him getting his information from junkscience.com

I disagree - it's helpful to draw a line between the actual criticism and the speculation here. Dunning made many incorrect statements, which are then rebutted by Deltoid (see the link "two" in the FPP) using info from the USDA, University of California, Nature, Science magazine, USAID, Greenpeace and several professors.

But Deltoid mixes speculation over Dunning's sources in with his criticism of the podcast. Dunning contradicted himself early-on over his use of Junk Science, which gives it legs. So all the other bloggers pick up on this angle, since there isn't really much to say about the facts other than "Dunning got it wrong". It's easier and more fun to speculate than to reiterate what Deltoid already noted.

Whatever the reason, Dunning was wrong and as someone holding himself up as a reliable source he really needs to correct that. His response states that Wikipedia was his main source, not Junk Science - this is pretty weak. Wikipedia's a great place to start, but still requires fact-checking, which everyone else managed just fine. He also says that no-one gave him any corrections or responses, when that's exactly what Deltoid did in the first blog post about it. He seems annoyed that Deltoid didn't call or email him personally, which may or may not be a legitimate complaint - I don't get the idea that they're friends or have ever met. At best, Dunning comes across as lazy.
posted by harriet vane at 11:12 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Being a Fortean is so much more rewarding than being a Sc(ck)eptic. We get to wield our bullshitometer on both sides with equal vigor.

As far as I can tell from Fortean websites and media, Forteanism appears to consist of deliberately shutting off the bullshit detector and just enjoying the wackiness.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:32 PM on December 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


This kind of thing is what makes scientific debates about controversial issues so frustrating:
Ah, Nature. That we can check. Here's what Hazeltine's letter says about that correlation:
"The CFDG data (Table 1) show a nearly perfect correlation of lipid DDE residues to shell thicknesses, and the relationship is positive."
OK, that's not exactly what Milloy had, but the point is that the correlation goes the wrong way. Trouble is, Milloy fails to mention that there were four responses to Hazeltine published in Nature. Let me summarize some of the problems with Hazeltine that these letters pointed out. First, Hazeltine's CFDG data comprised just nine eggs. Those eggs mere a mixture of incubated and non-incubated, and the positive correlation is caused because incubated eggs have thicker shells and higher DDE concentration in the lipid. How? Well, incubation consumes most of the lipid and concentrates DDE in the remaining lipid. And thin eggshells are less likely to survive incubation (that's the reason why eggshell thinning is a problem in the first place.) If you look at the relationship between whole egg DDE and eggshell thickness there is no statistically significant relationship in Hazeltine's set of just nine eggs. But other studies with larger samples have found a significant negative relationship between DDE and brown pelican eggshell thickness. Unlike Milloy, Hazeltine cites them in his paper and states:
That DDE is the cause is of thin brown pelican or peregrine eggs is well established in the ... scientific literature."
Hazeltine tried and failed to overturn this. Milloy misrepresented the science by deliberately concealing the existence of the studies that found that there was a correlation between eggshell thinning and DDE.
In other words, one study actually showed that DDT made eggshells thicker, but that was just 9 eggs. But the fact that the study exists means people who are wrong can keep citing it forever.
posted by delmoi at 12:07 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and would you rather get strangled to death, or just punched in the face? Punched in the face, you say? Well, well, well, look who's all punch-my-facey when the chips are down! And from this I conclude that you prefer getting punched in the face to any other possible event. Q.E.D.
What I'm saying is that eating McDonalds is not a punch in the face. There is just so much drama around food. Is fast food the greatest thing ever for a body? Probably not. But it's not the worst thing ever. It's not poison, and the people who eat it are neither stupid nor victims.

A lot of what you'd think is a nutritional debate, is really a complex melange of morality, classism, and anti-corporate gunk. Not all of it. But not none of it.
posted by effugas at 12:35 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


The reason libertarians and corporate shills like the contrarian DDT story is that it makes scientists seem like biased crusaders instead of dispassionate scholars, and that meme fits their wider agenda of discrediting mainstream science so that their junk science can compete in the political arena. The same with the second-hand-smoke skepticism. The latter is, of course, also of great direct economic benefit to the tobacco companies, while the former only indirectly benefits the producers of pesticides by providing political wiggle room on other chemicals when the science isn't going their way. The wider echo chamber set up by conservative/corporatist/libertarian funders in the form of "think tanks", astroturf groups, and Fox News/Clearchannel allows this activity to attain a level of public recognition that severely undermines the government's ability to make scientifically informed decision due to the political pushback. Money will always trump truth in the end.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:05 AM on December 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Another factor here is that this isn't really about genuine skeptical analysis so much as it's about journalistic skeptatainment.

This causes problems on several levels: - the first being that it's tilted against the truth from the outset: if one were to write a properly skeptical article about the subject in hand it should probably start something like: "The use of DDT as a means of controlling the spread of malaria is a really fscking complex topic, one without any really right or wrong answers, and one that requires significant case based context to make case based evaluations". Then there would be a billionty one pages of stats and NPOV(ish) conjecture.

Which, to be honest would only be of interest to epidemiologists specialising in tropical disease prevention.

The first rule of skeptatainment club: Engage the emotions - To do this best it has to be bite sized, have a clear answer, and preferably an out-group that you can feel disgusted about. Oh yeah, it also has to make the reader feel smarter than the Others [this is the important bit].

The second rule isn't really a rule, as I started out enumerating the problems with the spectacle approach to skepticism, and lapsed into fight club tropes (as one does).

It's more a suggestion of a possible tendency, that some skeptic writers might be more about the popularity and readership than the truth. Or, to be more accurate, that the people most likely to become popular are the ones who are.

Which brings us to 3 (of whatever, I've lost track): Those exemplars of the genre are quite likely to be heavily invested in being right, or being seen as being right, which is an utterly terrible starting point for real scientific inquiry.


It;s a complicated thing, the juxtaposition of science and popularity.
posted by titus-g at 1:13 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


jnnla - If someone makes a mistake, and then openly acknowledges that mistake, and makes public corrections to their initial statement, how does that "call into question" their credibly? If anything, the willingness to admit mistakes in such a self-correcting and transparent manner bolsters one's credibility... no?

Brian Dunning has done a weekly Science / Skepticism podcast for years now. The overwhelming majority of his episodes are rock-solid. He recently made a minor fuckup in his research on one episode of that weekly podcast, which he immediately and transparently admitted to here, and yet you use this as a flimsy excuse to write him off wholesale as having a Libertarian / Conservative "agenda" -- which is ridiculous.

In citing "evidence of his agenda" you then mis-characterize his positions in a couple of other podcasts by rephrasing them as "fast food is nutritious" and "the garbage patch isn't such a big deal." Which is flat-out disingenuous.

Given that you're ignoring many, many more episodes than those few you've selectively cherry-picked as proof of Dunning's "agenda," it seems like you maybe have your own objectivity issues to contend with. Perhaps you don't like fast food? Or maybe you're concerned about the garbage patch? Or maybe you have a bias against Libertarians? I don't know -- and I don't care -- but your charges of Dunning lacking objectivity and being "tainted" by Libertarian bias fall pretty flat, based on his one error that he immediately and publicly acknowledged.

Nice try though. Better luck next time.
posted by slumberfiend at 2:02 AM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't think jnnla's attacking Dunning, just bringing an interesting topic to Metafilter so we can discuss it. That's what we do here.

He recently made a minor fuckup in his research on one episode of that weekly podcast, which he immediately and transparently admitted to here...

I wouldn't call using Wikipedia as your primary source for a controversial issue a 'minor' fuckup. It's lazy and dishonest. He's capable of fact-checking, but he didn't. It's interesting to try to figure out why that is, but honestly I'm ascribing it less to a political issue, and more to a 'difficulty in producing a well-researched podcast every week' issue.

And his admission of error is pretty threadbare. He defends using Wikipedia as his first source, says that he checked references (but didn't do a great job, given what Deltoid uncovered by looking at them too), complains that no-one called him about it, and says that his podcast represents the consensus view on DDT.

And honestly, if as he claims he didn't recognise Junk Science as being a poor source, he really needs to get up to date on science blogging. It's been well-known for the worst kind of agenda-driven bullshit for many years now.
posted by harriet vane at 2:39 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


First off, I do feel that credit should be given to Dunning for admitting his mistake. Most other places, if someone is challenged, they will simply rebut with the same points and then, if that fails, drop the issue. Open acknowledgment of mistakes is rare enough that I think it should be respected.

I remember encountering JunkScience ages ago. After reading their screeds against global warming, I decided that while there might be good things on the site, it was better to get my information from a more reliable source.

Finally, there is a large group of libertarians within the skeptical community. I don't know where this group comes from or why skepticism attracts them so much, as their political views don't seem any more rational than those of anyone else. (I freely acknowledge that some of my political views are based on emotion and philosophy, not purely on empiricism- from what I can see, the definition of a thriving economy really depends on what you look at.) The rest of the skeptical community has been attempting, and I think with some success, to keep the issues non-politcal, as idiocy flows both from the left and the right (although given fox news, I think flows from the left and gushes from the right might be more appropriate). On the left, you have the anti-vaccine movement and most of the quack modalities of health, on the right you have creationism and climate change denialism.

I'm not saying this to defend Duuning's screw up, but given the tendencies present in the skeptical community, this is something that doesn't surprise me all that much. I'm just glad that he admitted his mistake when it was pointed out.
posted by Hactar at 2:50 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


What make me sad is many people in this thread are assassinating someone who I think is a good and just person. The very things people have accused him of in this thread are the very things he fights against.

Brian is pretty well respected in the greatest skeptical community out there right now the JREF.

These are the people who want to get the science right. They aren't for a political agenda, they are for the science agenda.

While Brian may have indeed gotten this wrong, accusing him of being a corporate shill or someone with a libertarian agenda is just flat out wrong.

Brian has the courage to challenge people in the skeptical community to evaluate their own personal agendas. This should be encouraged. There is no golden calfs out there.

I am still plodding through the vast amount of information out there on this subject. Don't be so quick to judge, I know I am not.
posted by andryeevna at 2:57 AM on December 23, 2010


What make me sad is many people in this thread are assassinating someone who I think is a good and just person.

Saying that he made significant errors in his podcast, then acted like a jerk to people who fact-checked him, is not "assassinating" him.

Have some skepticism, for Mr. Randi's sake! As you say, there are no golden calves out there (though I think you actually mean "sacred cows" here, but English idioms are ridiculously illogical, so no worries).

Brian Dunning is a person who is doing science journalism, and as such his journalism needs to be based on good science. The core of skepticism is to evaluate claims logically based on evidence; people evaluated Dunning's claims and found them lacking in evidence, and shared the detailed reasons why.

My hope for him is that he has learned something from this experience, and will be more diligent in his research in future, especially on topics he isn't familiar with.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:48 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hi slumberfiend!
...he immediately and transparently admitted to here...

Lies. Dunning's credibility is at stake precisely because he *has not* addressed the charges leveled against him by the likes of Tim Lambert and others in the science blog community (as well as those in the ACTUAL FIELD of DDT research - as evidenced by the comments...which I'm sure you've read?) Dunning continues to use the straw-man that "The central criticism here was a wrong assumption over who I used as my main source for the episode" No. The central criticism is that he deliberately cherry picked and edited data to present a contrarian viewpoint...and used quotes out of context to bolster this view. For example: suggesting that the "popular perception" that banning DDT didn't really help Bald Eagles bounce back. This is PATENTLY UNTRUE...and there are 5 or 6 studies in Lamberts fact check that address this.

His credibility is in question (IN QUESTION - not "written off" as you put it) because he has not addressed a documented bias in this particular article. So no, he has hardly admitted anything insofar as he markets himself a "critical thinker."

...and yet you use this as a flimsy excuse to write him off wholesale as having a Libertarian / Conservative "agenda" -- which is ridiculous...

I, personally, have not written Dunning "off wholesale as having a Libertarian / Conservative 'agenda'" - but it is not untrue that others have. This controversy simply gave me cause to look at him a bit more critically than I had in the past. I have listened to Skeptoid since the beginning and I read many of the skeptic blogs. I like them. It is fact, based on the links provided, that there are respectable individuals out there who question his credibility - not just jnnla. I admit he might not even have an agenda! Nonetheless I find the whole debacle interesting and I feel I haven't misrepresented what is going on.

it seems like you maybe have your own objectivity issues to contend with. Perhaps you don't like fast food? Or maybe you're concerned about the garbage patch? Or maybe you have a bias against Libertarians?

In-N-Out is my favorite. I have thrown plastic bottles into the sea, and didn't even CARE. I do think libertarians are outrageous, yes. Really outrageous.

but your charges of Dunning lacking objectivity and being "tainted" by Libertarian bias fall pretty flat, based on his one error that he immediately and publicly acknowledged.

They are not my charges. Don't shoot the messenger, brah!

Nice try though. Better luck next time.

Really, man?

It feels as though you have taken my post pretty personally...and I can understand where you're coming from looking at my original posting. That being said...I really don't think I was "attacking" him. I still check out Skeptoid, and I don't disagree that Dunning has made a lot of great contributions to the skeptical / scientific community - but when you hold yourself up as a critical thinker...it kind of makes people hyper-sensitive to any possible inkling of an "agenda" that you may have. I thought the whole thing was interesting.

Hugs!
posted by jnnla at 10:54 AM on December 23, 2010


Getting "both" sides of any issue by definition oversimplifies everything. We are always dealing with conflicting values, and must weigh one against another against another and decide the path of least damage, which often enough is doing nothing.

Life is complicated. That's why I like Skeptic's Guide to the Universe - they take the necessary time to air out issues, and are often in discord with one another.

As it should be!
posted by Tokarski at 12:45 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


which often enough is doing nothing.

Impossible. You can keep doing what you're doing, but doing nothing is a fiction.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:08 PM on December 23, 2010


Yeah, if you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting.

Which in the case of DDT used to mean we were getting some serious environmental damage. Now that we know that, we can make sure we only use it as a last resort when less damaging options aren't going to work.

There's no such thing as 'doing nothing' unless we all freeze into place as if we were in a Sleeping-Beauty-style spell. Ain't gonna happen. So we gather our info, and choose the best course of action that we can under the circumstances. Sometimes more info comes to light later on that proves us wrong, but all that means is that we have to adjust course again. There's no standing still, though.
posted by harriet vane at 5:00 PM on December 23, 2010


Hi jnnla, thanks for responding to my comment.

Nice try though. Better luck next time.

Really, man?

Yeah, that was a lame parting comment on my part. I came home loaded from a bar and dashed out my reply to your post before bed. Apologies… man. That was douchey of me.

It feels as though you have taken my post pretty personally...and I can understand where you're coming from looking at my original posting.

I guess so. I like Brian Dunning. I’ve followed Skeptoid for years, and have met him a couple times at local Skeptics In The Pub events. I’ve never chatted in-depth with him (I honestly don’t know whether he’s a Libertarian or not), but he seems like a pretty sincere guy.

That being said...I really don't think I was "attacking" him.

As I already said, I think the cherry-picked Skeptoid episodes that could maybe lean toward Libertarian sympathies and rephrasing them as “fast food is nutritious” (et cetera) was a little disingenuous on your part. And an insinuation (which you seem to be in agreement with) that someone's objectivity is “tainted” by an “agenda” because they made an error seems attacky to me.

They are not my charges. Don't shoot the messenger, brah!

Really didn’t get that impression, what with the "evidence of his agenda" comment, but okay... brah.

...he immediately and transparently admitted to here...

Lies. Dunning's credibility is at stake precisely because he *has not* addressed the charges leveled against him

Um, I think you forgot the indignant exclamation point there. It should really read as, “Lies! Damnable lies!!!”

And it’s an interesting choice of words to say “charges leveled against him” rather than “his research.” Which is the charge; that he fucked up and is wrong on DDT, or that his objectivity is somehow tainted by a Libertarian “agenda”? Seems like the two are being conflated a bit.

Anyway, look, I read your post, read Dunning’s response in which he appears to address this stuff, and I commented here. No, I didn’t wade through all the comments elsewhere in the skeptosphere, and no I’m not going to dig deeper so that I can argue with you further about the DDT details here on Metafilter. Your response to me contains such bold, passionate usage of all-caps and asterisks... it’s really harshing my mellow on the day-after-Festivus, man.

I’ll just let it lie that some DDT guy bitch-slapped Dunning, and that Dunning did not / has not responded to the DDT guy’s bitch-slapping to your liking. It appeared to me that his post on Skepticblog addressed this… but you still seem to think otherwise. I am not invested enough put in the time required to root around looking for ways to refute your all-caps-n-asterisk comments. Maybe Dunning is (he should be), but I’m not. Which, I guess, means I cede the point that the DDT episode of Skeptoid is possibly wrong and should be taken with a grain of salt. (I will bear this in mind when using DDT ‘round my house in the future.) Fair enough?

I still check out Skeptoid, and I don't disagree that Dunning has made a lot of great contributions to the skeptical / scientific community - but when you hold yourself up as a critical thinker...it kind of makes people hyper-sensitive to any possible inkling of an "agenda" that you may have.

I have to kinda’ call bullshit on this. Really, nobody in the Skeptical movement does all that hot a job of hiding their political leanings. The guys at Reasonable Doubts are obviously way Liberal, as are Chris Mooney and Rebecca Watson, and probably most of the other S.G.U. and Skepchick folks -- and I’m guessing that D.J. Grothe is very likely a Liberal is as well. Michael Shermer is openly Libertarian, as is “Swoopy” from Skepticality, as are Penn & Teller. Robert M. Price is a Conservative. I think they’re all great skeptics, regardless of which side of the fence any of them are on politically. I don’t follow any of them for their politics, and I don’t see any of their objectivity as being “tainted” by the fact that they have opinions on politics.

(Sidenote: Chris Mooney and Robert M. Price discuss elements of this here, and it’s refreshingly civil and interesting.)

Dunning is actually one of the more inscrutable among them, in my opinion. Is the fact that he doesn’t outright affiliate politically what’s problematic? Does that give Skeptoid a covert “agenda,” because Dunning’s not in-your-face about his politics like, say Penn & Teller or Reasonable Doubts? (Not problematic for you, of course -- you’re just the messenger, after all -- but for everybody else.)

Perhaps you don't like fast food? Or maybe you're concerned about the garbage patch? Or maybe you have a bias against Libertarians?

In-N-Out is my favorite.

I don’t care for their fries myself. Sorry but I just don’t. The burgers are pretty good, but the fries are bland. There, I said it.

I have thrown plastic bottles into the sea, and didn't even CARE.

Okay, now you’re just being a Silly-Billie.

I do think libertarians are outrageous, yes. Really outrageous.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Do I get a prize for guessing correctly?

Tell me, if it were to come out that Dunning wasn’t actually in error in this instance, would the same ominous Libertarian agenda still be lurking beneath his work, waiting to be exposed and thereby “tainting” all his other objectivity? And do you honestly think this would be an issue if it was a Liberal “agenda” Dunning was being accused of having?

Call me out on it if I’m misunderstanding you, but given your choice of citing just three specific possibly-maybe-Libertarian-friendly Skeptoid episodes in your post, it seems like Dunning’s research error is less an issue than the hidden Libertarian “agenda” that the error conveniently provides an excuse to attack. No? I commented because I kind of found that annoying, especially coming from someone who’s so loudly beating on the “anti-bias / pro-objectivity” drum.

If you don’t agree with Libertarianism, fine, discuss that in and of itself then. If you’re really that concerned about Dunning being lazy in researching one episode of Skeptoid and then not capitulating and supplicating to a DDT expert to your liking, fine, discuss that. But it might be a good idea to separate the two things.

In other words:

A). Brian Dunning's credibiliy might be in question because he fucked up in performing the due dillegence on one of his weekly skeptical podcasts.

B). Brian Dunning might be a Libertarian.

C). Brian Dunning might be a Libertarain -- and they're all "outrageous" -- and he fucked up in performing the due dillegence on one of his weekly skeptical podcasts... and this calls into question his credibility as a whole and suggests that he might have a Libertarian "agenda"... and (not that I'm attacking him, but) here are some other cherry-picked examples that can be disinginuoulsy construed as being a part of his "agenda."

A + B ≠ C

You could just leave it at statements A and B, omitting C entirely. But, if you want to toe the "Libertarian agenda" line, please drop the "anti-bias / pro-objectivity" rhertoric while you're doing so.

Hugs!

Yes, hugs brah, hugs.
posted by slumberfiend at 3:53 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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