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Re: Even "dry" science news is not immune from abuse ...

> It's actually very heterogeneous.

Oh, I know. By "some more so than others" I was getting at that very
fact . . . I guess my point is, where does the average seem to lie?
The number of free-for-all, fanboy, New Age, outright racist,
creationist, and other "fact-optional" sites greatly exceeds the
number of reasonable, constructive science sites (which is why I
appreciate the DML) - or at least, the former are frequented by many
more people than the latter.

The internet reflects human demographics, and is similarly diverse and
difficult to appropriately generalize, but I think we can all agree
that sites where a science-oriented worldview predominates are rarer
than we would like.

(Oh, and let's not forget that about 50% of all internet traffic is
pornography - excuse me, p0rn. So that skews the average a bit away
from general heterogeneity . . . sadly. But  I guess we're really
taking that as a given and looking at the remainder.)

On the one extreme, you have ScienceBlogs,
> let alone certain specialist blogs that neither jerks nor idiots are
> interested in.

I've seen some jerks interested in ScienceBlogs (et. al.) when it
comes to science-related sites, though admittedly the
percentage/frequency is lower. Mostly they get uppity with anyone who
holds anything resembling a fringe view, which is understandable (hey,
I don't like those either), but is not really a moral justification
for attacking people, as opposed to showing some restraint and
pointing them elsewhere.

On the other, you have... <gulp> ...YouTube comments. I don't
> think anyone with an IQ above 80 has ever commented on a YouTube video.

YouTube comments are an embarrassment to humanity.

But at least those are short. I've seen far greater investments of
imbecility, as I'm sure many of us have.

> Even within Wikipedia you can find such differences.

Of course - a lot of contentious information being worked out there . . .

> And to a slightly smaller extent, this holds for ScienceBlogs: Tetrapod
> Zoology is almost idiot-free, but all blogs that _ever_ talk about
> climatology or school shootings or other topics that are (at least in the
> USA) politically sensitive are regularly visited by ideology-driven people.

Sure. And really, I don't have a problem with ideology-driven people;
we frankly need those in a dynamic society, and in some sense we've
got to take the good with the bad in any open democracy. It's people
like that who don't value *informing themselves* as to the facts of
their hot-button issue who get me ranting. And therein lies another
problem: the profusion of contradictory misinformation with which
sincerely interested people end up "educating" themselves.

>>  A core aspect of science is to move towards objectivity
>>  via mutually respectful debate
> Surprisingly little respect is actually necessary for science.

But it helps, no?

Disrespect tends to be a distraction from objectivity and often
promotes an agenda (i.e. beating the other guy) over empiricism.
That's just how the human ego works, all too often anyway. And
objective collaboration (e.g. looking for where one's own mistakes lie
and admitting flaws) is facilitated by trust and a lack of a
hostile-competitive atmosphere.

So necessary? No, of course there have been plenty of acrimonious
feuds between scientists. But broadly useful? I think we can agree
that if science were dominated by constant bitter squabbling, it would
be less handy than it is with at least some basic decorum, even if
it's only a thin veneer.

What _is_
> necessary is that no participant resorts to logical fallacies like the
> arguments from authority, ad hominem, from ignorance, from personal
> incredulity, and the like.

That's not strictly necessary either, as long as *most* participants
recognize the fallacy and either force the fallacious individual to
capitulate or simply shun them altogether. Here again, there have been
plenty of quirky researchers, even some with strongly subjective
fringe views, who have made entirely legitimate contributions to
science (James Watson, anyone?). This is especially true on the
cutting edge of many fields, where speculation, odd notions, and weak
arguments can run rampant without really disrupting the rest of the
scientific process.

(Note that "insult" and "ad hominem argument" are
> not synonyms.)

I'm aware - ad hominem is specifically claiming "the character of
individual X makes said individual's claims false/untrustworthy," as
opposed to insults, which merely imply such a condition or serve to
rile the opponent.

> After all, the reason why the ad hominem argument is a logical fallacy is
> not that it's disrespectful. It's that even a stopped clock is right twice a
> day.

Being disrespectful (or respectful, for that matter) is itself not a
strictly rational thing. It's a subjective perception. But I think
that in science, it is more parsimonious to be respectful - on a
professional level at least - because it is practical: it aids in
viewing the arguments of opponents in an objective context instead of
an agenda context, allowing one to more easily choose to *further* the
arguments of opponents if those arguments can be demonstrated to be
sound. Of course, going beyond mere respect and into infatuation  or
ideological loyalty isn't good, either.

(Professional and personal respect are of course not the same thing,
but if a participant has either, they are more likely to be civil in
how they debate - for the former because they respect the logic and
for the latter because they respect the personality. It's when neither
is held that debate becomes truly embittered.)

It's been observed that changes and paradigm shifts, even in science,
are more associated with generational changes than with established
scientists being objective and altering their views. That implies a
bias towards what *has* been learned over what is *being* learned. And
I think that a certain arrogance about status and experience tend to
lead the ego of entrenched researchers down that path. Truly mutually
respectful debate, without the presumptive dismissal of one party by
the other, should (and probably does) help to counteract that trend.

This is the kind of intelligent discussion that could not happen in
most corners of the internet, which makes it all the more heartening.
I wish regular folks could see this sort of thing and take something
from it.