Oops: When A Skeptic Commits A Fallacy

“It explains so much, though, Marsha, that you think you can get truth and facts from Gary Null. No wonder your reasoning is less than stellar.”--me, committing an ad hominem on Huff. 

A comment by a new poster over at Huff (which for whatever reason appears nowhere on her page or on mine or on the post) suggested that I needed to be schooled in critical thinking skills because I had refused to listen to Gary Null's  exchange with Wakefield (or look at Mike Adams's idea of exoneration of Wakefield--I have looked and it's not).

And the comment above, as the poster noted in a comment that only she and I may know about, is indeed an ad hominem taken alone. Oops. Yup. I did it. It was a throw-away comment written in response in to a person who makes some of the more extreme people at Age of Autism almost look stable. 

I wrote yesterday about how we have a tendency to use schemas; they are handy shortcuts, necessary tools that are often unconsciously created. They may also be intentionally constructed, which is what I detailed yesterday; if you use quack sites which have repeatedly been demonstrated to be based on misinformation or falsehoods, I know where you've gotten your information. I've already evaluated the evidence, and so in that case, since the information isn't new to me, I don't have to give it current, due consideration. In other words, although the statement taken alone is an ad hominem, if I had taken the time to detail as I did in yesterday's post (it was pretty long, wasn't it?), and then concluded with the quote at the top, the quote would no longer have been an ad hominem.

But I've also written recently that it isn't the person making the claim; it's the claim itself and the evidence for the claim.  I've argued that the evidence matters, not the person, and this is true. When one's been reading the quack sites for as long as I have (plenty of folks far more illustrious than I-- a warranted and non-fallacious appeal to authority, by the way--have been reading the sites for longer and fighting the woo for longer), the claims become intimately familiar. In the over 800 posts here, I've spent time deconstructing the claims made at these quack sites (like natural news or Mercola's), and in that case, although it takes on the short hand of ad hominem to say that relying on Mike Adams or Gary Null to prove Wakefield's sainthood reveals Marsha's reasoning skills, well, in truth it does. Plus, if one did a search for moffmars (her old handle) here, you'll see I've rebutted her often over-the-edge remarks.

 However, and no surprise, based on my last post on schemas and filing folks accordingly, I would argue that when coupled with extensive familiarity with certain writers/commentators/celebrities and their claims, although, yes we should consider claims and not rely on the person making the claim in general, we would be fools once we've analyzed several claims by a person and found the person to be either wholesale misinformed (to be nice) or outright fraudulent (still being nice) to rely on that person for important information.

It doesn't mean that the person won't be right on some things but it does mean that they are suspect enough to avoid reading them to gain helpful information. Better instead to go to the experts themselves than people who have clear agendas to sell more products (ah, and all the anti-vaccine folks scream, yes like big pharma).

Hyman, for instance, isn't wrong on everything, but he's still not where I'm going to get my health information from, and Lanza, speaking about stem cell research, may be well worth listening to, but as long as he's peddling biocentrism as an explanation for why we never die, I'm going to use my handy, dandy schematizing and file him accordingly. In other words, when the preponderance of evidence favors categorizing someone as a wackadoodle (again, being nice), well, it's reasonable to not waste time reading the wackadoodle's "evidence." Instead, I'll go to the experts.

So, GMC's Fitness Panel carries more weight than Wakefield's protestations on radio shows of fringe nuts Gary Null and Alex Jones (link on Null to quackwatch article on him; Jones link to the interview with Wakefield, hosted on natural news--there's a schema there).

Still, left on its own, I must admit that my comment meets the criteria of an ad hominem. As such, I would refer the commenter to my post on schemas as further explanation. 


The author said...

Trouble is we still have a stone age brain in a hi tech world. Excellent for drawing conclusions about the depredations of Sabre Tooth tigers and learning to avoid them, not so clever for abstract reasoning and rational analysis of statistical co-incidence.

"My favourite stone axe has gone missing, must be those butt ugly Neanderthals, the other side of the creek who nicked it"

James T. Todd said...


It appears you are agreeing with Isaac Asimov in his article, "My Built-In Doubter" where he said that there are sometimes good reasons to reject on their face, without too much additional consideration, certain kinds of claims from certain kinds of sources. Or, oops, perhaps I should not have forefronted the person, Asimov, rather than the statement he made, so I'll try again: You are agreeing with the situation-contingent and time-specific position regarding the summary analysis of claims that the very often correct and typically empirically oriented writer Isaac Asimov expressed in the article, "My Built-In Doubter." Oops, I did it again, sneaking in a reference to Asimov's attributes--as well as an implication that you and he might be similar in those attributes, which is another kind of ad hominem. Dang.

Forget I said anything about you being right and in good company.

Jim Todd

Autism Reality NB said...

Uh, I believe you make ad hominem attacks on a regular basis against "anit-vaxxers" ..... just sayin'

Sullivan said...

It is difficult to stay away from ad-hominem's with Mr. Wakefield right now. It is interesting (and strangely amusing) the company he keeps right now.

It is also worth noting. He has allied himself with some people whose opinions on issues outside of autism I disagree with. Is he a tool for these people, or are they using eachother. One of his most recent supporters is a 9/11 Truther. The gentleman in question has gone so far as to write a 9/11 truther musical. Gary Null is an AIDS denialist. That guy in Austin who interviewed Mr. Wakefield a couple of times starts his show with images of Nazi's and swastika flags hanging from the White House.

It was amusing when Mr. Wakefield went on Art Bell's show, a show which has a major focus on UFO's.

But, on a serious note, do we need to have the public's image of "autism advocacy" (however accurately that is applied to Mr. Wakefield) tied to AIDS denialism, UFO's and 9/11 Truthers?

He can take the faux vaccine-safety movement with him, I'm OK with that. But I don't need him liking "autism" with those movements.

KWombles said...

Thanks, Jim. :-)


No, see, they're not ad hominems when you first explain why the claims are ridiculous and that someone who puts out the ridiculous claims is a wackadoodle.

Example: He's a dumbass, so he's wrong--ad hom.

Not an ad hom: So and so believes the earth is flat despite all the evidence to show it's not, and that makes him a dumbass.

Now, both are name-calling, but the first is a fallacy while the second is not.

:-) See?

Sullivan, Wakefield's willingness to branch out to the fringe elements just demonstrates that his followers were really out there in more than just the vaccine issue. It also makes it clear he really has hit rock bottom.