Comments

  1. edithkeeler says

    Shermer has written extensively on Holocaust deniers, including co-writing an excellent book about it (Denying History), which makes his hyperbolic flapping on this issue the more disappointing and absurd.

  2. Francisco Bacopa says

    Shermer is history. He was cool and important while he lasted, and I enjoyed him during that time. But now he is gone. Some may say he is merely fading, but he is gone. He may not know this yet.

    Bye-bye Shermer. Loved you back in the 90’s. Too bad you couldn’t get where things are going. I did, but then I was almost already there. See ya.

  3. says

    Sorry, isn’t Shermer saying that it’s wrong to equate America with gun control laws to Nazi Germany? or did I misread it? I thought it was a reply to those saying that tougher gun control would be what Hitler wanted.

  4. says

    Eh, I just read Shermer’s previous comment in which he unfortunately implies that the “feminist witchhunt” is something Nazi or Stasi-like. I get it now.

  5. says

    No, slime pitter, I did not “compare TAM to Nazi Germany.” That’s a lie that you people have been spreading around. I wasn’t talking about TAM, I was talking about DJ Grothe. I said his blaming women for talking about harassment was like blaming Jews for speaking out in 1936 Germany. I also withdrew that, because I agreed that it was an overstatement. But withdrawn or not, it’s not comparing TAM to Nazi Germany. Tell the truth for once.

  6. Wowbagger, Antipodean Dervish says

    Ophelia wrote:

    I also withdrew that, because I agreed that it was an overstatement.

    This kind of illustrates the limited capacity some atheists have for arguing with anyone other than fundamentalist Christians – the only weapon in their arsenal is “But the bible says…!”, and they keep trotting this out even when they’re dealing with the words of an actual living person who can admit a mistake rather than an alleged text inspired by a supposedly infallible god.

  7. dantalion says

    Shermer has always been a selective skeptic. He thinks of the skeptical community as something which mainly exists to line his pockets, and I couldn’t be happier to see atheists outgrowing him. The sexism is maybe a little surprising. The double standards and emphasis on presenting a good soundbite rather than a sound argument are pretty much what I expect.

  8. A Hermit says

    Shermer has written extensively on Holocaust deniers, including co-writing an excellent book about it (Denying History), which makes his hyperbolic flapping on this issue the more disappointing and absurd.

    Yep; Shermer’s done a lot of good stuff, (and still is, he’s taking on the gun nuts right now) none of which is invalidated by this latest tantrum. But his inability to look past his own biases and hurt feelings over what was, after all, a pretty mild criticism leaves me a lot less interested in hearing what he has to say in the future.

  9. Gordon Willis says

    “Shermer is history” (and other comments)

    Oh bugger. No, Shermer doesn’t have to be “history”. He’s only got to say “Whoops, yes, I see what you mean. Sorry about that”. Why is this so hard? Personal pride. It seems to be an endemic problem. It’s about just being right, and not getting things wrong, like other people do. It’s why the Slime-pitters don’t make sense, it’s why Paula Kirby has suddenly stopped making sense, it’s why Russell Blackford ditto, and it’s why otherwise rational people start talking nonsensical drivel and getting cross. And it doesn’t have to happen and it’s so bloody stupid.

  10. Aratina Cage says

    Has Orac bothered to show up yet anywhere and tell you how sorry he is that Shermer said that?

  11. says

    I’ve been meaning to mention this, but in my eyes Shermer is actually engaged in a form of Holocaust denial. When he compares mild criticism of specific statements made by his fellow loud skeptical voices to the Nazis coming for people, he is trivializing the deaths of millions of people for no good goddamned reason. He is shrinking the reality of the Nazis so much that I’d say he’s denying the enormity of the Holocaust even if he accepts that it happened. It happened according to Shermer, but it is not too much different than him being accused of making a stupid statement.

  12. Paul W., OM says

    Orac annoys me with the crudity of his “Godwin’s Law” shtik.

    Sometimes he fails to distinguish between a perfectly logically valid reductio ad absurdam—which necessarily uses an “overblown” comparison to perfectly legitimate effect—and an “overblown comparison” that is just a guilt-by-association smear (such as the classic “argumentum ad Hitlerum”).

    Use of Godwin’s Law as a prescriptive blunt instrument is in itself is an overblown comparison, a logical fallacy, and a guilt-by-association smear.

    Orac needs to learn that.

    When Ophelia responded to DJ Grothe’s criticism of women complaining about harassment by comparing the latter to Jews in Germany in 1936, it seemed clear to me that she was making a perfectly valid but somewhat ambiguous and careless reductio ad absurdam, which could be too easily mistaken for a guilt-by-association smear. The problem wasn’t that the comparison was wrong or out of order, but that she didn’t make it clear enough what she was refuting.

    DJ had effectively said that women complaining about harrassment should tone it down because it scares other women away. That in itself was a sloppy, incomplete and thus technically invalid argument.

    DJ was basically saying that some complainers should stop making mountains out of molehills and that the benefits of their complaining so much wasn’t worth the cost in collateral damage. (Divisiveness, bad press, etc.) That was an incomplete argument, and thus not really valid as it stands, but making it clearer that that was what he was asserting (without proof) would have clarified what the argument was about.

    IMO, Ophelia responded with a valid reductio ad absurdam of the simplistic idea that the victims shouldn’t complain about their victimization, to show that DJ’s argument was unpersuasive. She was saying that in general it’s valid and justified for victims to complain about victimization, and presenting a crystal clear case where it’s obviously justified.

    The logical point I took from that is was that you shouldn’t just tell victims to shut up because complaining has some bad consequences—if victims generally do shut up, it can have worse consequences. Beyond that, I thought it pretty clearly suggested that Ophelia was of the opinion that the complaining was justified in this case too, clearly not because the victimization was anywhere near as serious, but because the benefits are apparently worth the cost in this case too—the same general principle applies, and the victims shouldn’t pipe down. She wasn’t suggesting that that the absolute costs or benefits in the different cases were at all similar, except in that they were each less than the benefits in their respective cases. (In her opinion.)

    I entirely agreed with that, myself… I thought DJ was out of line to suggest that victims should shut up without making a very good case that they were really making mountains out of molehills and/or that the costs of complaining were greater than the costs of not complaining. (Amounting to what he called “irresponsible messaging.”) And in lieu of a good case for that, in general victims shouldn’t pipe down—IMO the burden of proof about a cost/benefit analysis is on the shusher, not the whistleblower.

    I suppose another interpretation could be that Ophelia was making an (invalid) slippery slope argument that victims are always justified in complaining, no matter what the likely benefits or collateral damage, and that if we didn’t have that rule, we couldn’t even justify Jews complaining about Nazi persecution. I don’t think that’s at all likely, though. (Did anyone?)

    At that point, I don’t think anybody had done anything very wrong. DJ had made a sloppy and incomplete argument one way, and Ophelia had made a sloppy and incomplete argument the other way which was no worse.

    At that point, I think the right thing to do would have been for the parties to carefully clarify what they were arguing about, and what they were asserting without proof, and proceed to argue about the latter. Were the complainers blowing things out of proportion? (E.g., had they really said it was that bad?) Were the consequences of their complaining really that bad? (E.g., is that really what caused the decrease in the proportion of women registering for TAM?)

    And then Orac barged in and said that Ophelia crossed a line by “comparing” sexist behavior in the freethought community to persecution of Jews by Nazis, which Ophelia had explicitly said was not what she was doing.

    Orac said she nonetheless had compared them, and saying she wasn’t doing that didn’t mean she wasn’t doing exactly that.

    And that was fucking stupid on Orac’s part.

    Orac of all people should have known what she meant—that she wasn’t comparing them in the sense of saying that they were “comparable”, i.e., similar in absolute magnitude. Of course they’re not comparable in that sense—that’s exactly what makes a reductio ad absurdam logically valid—if the analogy isn’t “overblown,” it doesn’t make the principle clear. The analogous case won’t be any clearer than the case in hand.

    Orac was mistaking the very thing that made Ophelia’s basic argument structure valid for something that made it invalid.

    That’s a complete logic fail, and if Orac is going to keep pontificating about people’s “fallacies” as he does, and demanding apologies, he should learn what is and isn’t a valid argument, and to be careful about guessing what arguments people were actually making.

    Sometimes Orac seems to be making a different point—that whether or not an argument is technically valid and justified, an “overblown comparison” can be so suggestive and prone to misinterpretation that’s irresponsible to make it anyway, because dumbasses will mistake one argument for another—it may not be your fault if dumbasses find it inflammatory, but you should know better than to think they won’t, so in that higher-level sense it is your fault for going there and setting them off.

    And I have a problem with that because it’s another form of telling the victims to shut up, rather than putting the blame where it really belongs.

    If you’re going to blame the victims for their arguments being stupidly taken the wrong way, you should at least get it right—if the argument was valid and justified, but ill-advised, you should acknowledge that it was valid and justified before you say that it nonetheless shouldn’t have been made for practical reasons, or because of some higher-level sense of responsibility for unintended consequences.

    But if Orac is going to wade in and criticize particular people for particular comparisons, he should be careful, too—in this case, he of all people should have been on the alert for a valid reductio ad absurdam and charitably interpreted Ophelia’s argument that way. He should not have missed the reductio and blamed Ophelia for simply “comparing.”

  13. Paul W., OM says

    The tl:dr:

    I said his blaming women for talking about harassment was like blaming Jews for speaking out in 1936 Germany. I also withdrew that, because I agreed that it was an overstatement.

    I think that was a misstatement. It wasn’t an overstatement at all, just a little ambiguous as to which kind of “comparison” was actually being made, and what point it was meant to refute. (Disambiguating the point would have helped disambiguate the “comparison” too.)

    IMHO it was just a lapse of carefulness and clarity in making a valid and justified “overblown comparison.” (But arguably an ill-advised one because shit happens if you even mention Hitler.)

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you over-apologized a bit, and retracted too much when you should have mostly clarified.

    But then, if you’d done that, you’d inevitably have been accused of making a “notpology” by people who don’t do nuance. (Especially the ones who don’t do nuance on purpose.)

  14. says

    @Paul W
    Excellent comments the clumsy overuse and misuse of Godwin’s Law bugs me to no end. I sum it up with what I think should be a corollary; Godwin’s Law taken to absurd extremes will eventually lead to the prohibition of comparing Hitler to a Nazi.

  15. says

    Heh. I think you’re giving me more credit than I deserve, Paul. I think my thought was simpler (not to say cruder) than that. I think it was just…”How odd to rebuke people for objecting to injustices that affect them. There are injustices, there are people affected by them; it’s odd to rebuke them for saying so.” Then I looked for comparisons. I still think I should have looked for a less drastic one, because that would have been a better fit, and I actually wanted a good fit – so I must not have been trying for a reductio. I wasn’t trying for a slippery slope either though. I was trying for a parallel. I often do – mostly because people talk to and about women in ways they wouldn’t talk to and about other races, LGBT people, immigrants, etc. I’m often in the position of wanting to illustrate that with parallels. It’s perhaps not so much an argument as an illustration or thought experiment or nudge to “try to imagine how this would work if you substituted a different demonized group.”

    I think it’s pretty pathetic that DJ Grothe needs that kind of nudging (and even more pathetic that it doesn’t work), but there you go.

  16. says

    Joe

    I’ve been meaning to mention this, but in my eyes Shermer is actually engaged in a form of Holocaust denial.

    I’ve been thinking along the same lines. If you compare something that horrible to something that trivial you implicitely deny the horribleness.

  17. Paul W., OM says

    Joe & Gilliel,

    I agree, with a caveat. If you’re making a valid reductio ad absurdam, and make a reasonable effort to make that clear, you’re not denying the horribleness, because you’re not making the bad kind of comparison.

    I don’t think Ophelia made that kind of comparison with that note of trivializing the holocaust.

    I do think Shermer did.

    His piece reads like he’s making that kind of comparision, because he says other extreme things, like talking about “purges.” It could all be metaphorical and hyperbolic and intended to be taken as such—not about real purges, not about real Nazis—but even if that’s true, Shermer was way more careless about how it sounded, and that’s fucking irresponsible, so Godwin’s law works right in that case.

    He shouldna done it much more clearly than Ophelia shouldna done it.

  18. Paul W., OM says

    Ophelia,

    Heh. I think you’re giving me more credit than I deserve, Paul. I think my thought was simpler (not to say cruder) than that. I think it was just…”How odd to rebuke people for objecting to injustices that affect them. There are injustices, there are people affected by them; it’s odd to rebuke them for saying so.” Then I looked for comparisons.

    That’s not inconsistent with what I was saying.

    I still think I should have looked for a less drastic one, because that would have been a better fit, and I actually wanted a good fit – so I must not have been trying for a reductio. I wasn’t trying for a slippery slope either though. I was trying for a parallel.

    That’s not necessarily inconsistent with what I’m saying, either, except where you explicitly say you weren’t looking for a reductio.

    This is going to sound like a presumptious attempt at retroactive mind reading, but…

    Are you sure you weren’t looking for a parallel because you were automatically looking for a reductio? That would be my first guess as to why you wanted a parallel—precisely to show that DJ was making a kind of argument that is sometimes wrong, by showing a parallel and that in the parallel case it is clearly wrong.

    In that sense it’s a good fit, and if I’m right you “instinctively” went for the reductio and your instincts were right. I never said that you were consciously looking for a reductio, or were consciously aware that what you were looking for was a reductio—people often make little leaps like that when they’re “obviously the right thing to do,” but have difficulty articulating why they really are the right thing to do.

    People often can’t remember the reasons for semiautomatic steps like that, or misremember them.

    You may also have been looking for a “better fit” in the sense of not being quite so overblown, but still “overblown” enough to be a reductio—or really just “obviously wrong” enough, without exactly being overblown, but still absurd in the technical sense.

    Maybe I should have said that in my previous post—a reductio parallel isn’t necessarily “overblown” but it usually is. It is only necessarily “absurd,” i.e., so “obviously false” to the parties concerned that the point must be granted without argument.

    I guess I was not quite right before, when I to said we can’t have reductios without overblown analogies. It would just be harder to find them, and they’d often be less punchy and compelling, and less likely to be actually funny to boot.

  19. Paul W., OM says

    Now that I think about it more, people do regularly make reductios ad absurdam using parallels to less important cases—“underblown” analogies? And just odd parallels. Any of those things can be logically effective for demonstrating that a rule has exceptions, thus isn’t valid.

    I guess I was just wrong about overblown analogies being necessary.

    I do insist that they’re often especially good for reductios, though. I love ‘em, and you can take my overblown reductios away when you pry my keyboard from my cold dead fingers.

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