Monday, May 25, 2015

straw man*

Recently, I have noticed a disturbingly common pattern of interaction on important topics.  

One party represents a solidified position as “secular,” “scientific” or “based on fact.”  In response, another questions that position and declares a simple openness to various possible other perspectives.  The first party denounces this openness as lunacy, confuses it with an equally solidified opposing opinion, and attributes that opinion to “irrational beliefs.”  The now unquestionable “scientific, secular” position is defended with inquisitional fervor.

Here is one such situation: a school demands that a student be “diagnosed” and “coded” by a psychologist so that appropriate resources can be made available to help in class.  The mother wants some of the resources but questions the diagnosis on rational grounds: the symptoms resulted from a childhood infection and the child’s teachers and other professionals involved with him say he has been improving.  The mother is told by the school “experts” that she is “in denial” of her son’s diagnosis.

Another example: a doctor pens a scientific study on the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals.  When a critic points out the biases of the study and questions its pro-pharma stance, defenders of the article lump the critic’s position in with an anti-vaccination campaign and refuse to engage her critique rationally.

And another example:  a “secular liberal” blames acts of terror on the Muslim religion.  Alternate views of the origins of these incidents, and doubts about the neutrality of the media reporting on them, are dismissed as “the folly of conspiracy theorists”.

All of these responses to alternate views defend a hardened and rigid position by using “science,” “reason and “facts” to deny facts, reason and science.