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Sep 08 2013

Be careful with the self-portrait

A new installment in a recurring series, What Not to Have in Your Twitter Profile.

(Is that really a series? No, probably not. But it might be. It could be. I’m preparing for contingencies.)

 Everything I believe is evidence based. No exceptions.

That. In fact forget Twitter profiles; don’t describe yourself that way and don’t think of yourself that way. Really, don’t; it’s a recipe for disaster. It might as well be the slogan of our dear friend Dunning Kruger.

And even if it weren’t – it’s still gross. It’s also deeply ironic, since it’s only people who think careful thought is a good thing who describe themselves that way, yet if they actually were careful thinkers, they would never describe themselves that way. Yknow? Careful thinkers know better than that. Careful thinkers have taken some trouble to inform themselves about human cognition (because how could they be careful thinkers if they hadn’t?), and that means they’re aware that we’re all subject to biases and blind spots and implicit associations and answering the easier question instead of the question that was asked – and so on. They know we’re mistake-prone, to put it simply. Even experts in the ways we’re mistake prone are mistake-prone.

So it’s just asinine, as well as conceited and boastful, to announce that you do Reason flawlessly. You don’t, because nobody does.

26 comments

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  1. 1
    Andrew B.

    Me: “I had a turkey sandwich for lunch.”

    Professional Skeptic: “A-ha! Where’s your evidence for that? No? You have none? Well, I demand evidence for ALL claims! No exceptions!”

    Me: “…why are we friends, again?”

  2. 2
    Aratina Cage

    I got accused of being accurate but mindless today on Twitter. You gotta love the not-so-careful-at-thinking skeptics on Twitter.

  3. 3
    lippard

    Anybody who makes such a claim likely hasn’t even begun to think about how we know what we know, and how much we are dependent upon the testimony of others for such basics as our language and conceptual schemes, our knowledge of our early selves, name and age, and family relationships, let alone distant lands and abstract ideas. We’re highly epistemically dependent upon those we learn from around us and who preceded us.

    The Cartesian model of knowledge doesn’t work.

  4. 4
    Randomfactor

    Most Twitter accounts would be greatly improved by nonexistence.

  5. 5
    Robert B.

    @4: Ha! Yes, that’s my twitter’s best feature.

  6. 6
    lpetrich

    This reminds me of someone who once claimed that he was always rational. I once tried to find something irrational that he does, like preferring certain foods. He responded that his girlfriend cooks for him.

  7. 7
    Jafafa Hots

    I may change my twitter handle to RationalSkepticThinkerDood just for laughs.

  8. 8
    RHolmes

    Are you kidding? We should be encouraging people to use these phrases. It’s a quick way for pseuds to let everyone else know that they’re nothing like as smart as they think they are.

  9. 9
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Andrew B

    Me: “I had a turkey sandwich for lunch.”

    Professional Skeptic: “A-ha! Where’s your evidence for that? No? You have none? Well, I demand evidence for ALL claims! No exceptions!”

    Me: “…why are we friends, again?”

    Well, in that case at least you can leave them the evidence some 10-20 hours later in a well-sealed plastic bag…

  10. 10
    hyperdeath

    I’ve seen him before. He exemplifies the Dunning Kruger effect, and the phenomenon of people who pompously identify as skeptics being anything but. He frequently lashes out at Atheism Plus (while periodicly announcing that he’ll ignore it), using arguments that oscillate between it being pathetic and irrelevant, and it being some malevolent force that’s destroying atheism. Presumably, being aware of the contradictions in your own arguments, isn’t “evidence based” enough for him.

  11. 11
    Bjarte Foshaug

    Careful thinkers have taken some trouble to inform themselves about human cognition (because how could they be careful thinkers if they hadn’t?), and that means they’re aware that we’re all subject to biases and blind spots and implicit associations and answering the easier question instead of the question that was asked – and so on. They know we’re mistake-prone, to put it simply. Even experts in the ways we’re mistake prone are mistake-prone.

    Not to mention that the amount of study required to get a deep understanding, even within an extremely limited field of science, is so vast that even the smartest, most educated person on the planet is a lay-person about almost everything. Any hyperskeptic who actually tried to practice what they preach would have doomed themselves to live in an ontological vacuum.

    As I have previously written elsewhere, whenever “skeptics” – or those who label themselves as such – admonish others to “just go with the evidence” or “follow the facts where they lead”, they are contributing to this simplistic myth that “following the evidence where it leads” is a straightforward matter rather than something that requires vast amounts of background knowledge and cognitive work in its own right. I would probably be able to provide a fairly decent lay-man’s explanation of the evidence for things like evolution or global warming based on books I have read, but this is already an interpretation and a translation into linguistic form of the evidence itself. I wouldn’t personally be able to extract any useful information about past climates from three-rings or ice-cores.

  12. 12
    mattyarbrough

    It’s the kind of sentiment I’d expect from an enthusiastic 15 year old. Hubristic, delusional, and perhaps not entirely sure what it means. But it *sounds* awesome.

    Here’s the rub: First off everything you believe can be evidence *based* and still wildly wrong. How you interpret the evidence might be completely detached from reality (see: antivaxers, global warming denialists). Second the evidence itself might be low quality, highly cherry picked, or just plain BS.

    It’s a reactionary and rigidly ideological mindset masquerading as reason, poorly.

    I much prefer Matt Dillahunty’s “I want to believe as many true things as possible and as few false things as possible.”

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Exactly. What lippard said @ 3, for instance – I’ve just been thinking about that: about the way nearly everything we “know” is totally dependent on other people. We rely on authority for most of what we know, and we’d be helpless in the world if we didn’t.

  14. 14
    Anthony K

    Ophelia, you and lippard can speak for yourselves, but when I have a health issue, I first research my doctor’s credentials. I then contact their medical school and everywhere else they may have been a resident, as well as any elective placements for copies of their academic records. I review the curricula of each of those institutions to ensure rigour, supplementing with first-hand reviews of my particular doctor’s scholastic history, utilising semi-structured interviews with their proctors, professors, and co-students. Unfortunately, this all takes some time, and often travel, which is a big pain in the ass because first I have to visit Boeing’s plant in Seattle to verify the integrity of their aircraft…

  15. 15
    Bjarte Foshaug

    @Anthony K
    That’s so unskeptical! I have to personally derive all of medical science as well as the entire fields of aerodynamics, mechanical engineering etc. from first principles by doing all the science myself.

  16. 16
    doublereed

    That statement is evidence against the statement itself.

    Most impressive.

  17. 17
    Anthony K

    That’s so unskeptical! I have to personally derive all of medical science as well as the entire fields of aerodynamics, mechanical engineering etc. from first principles by doing all the science myself.

    Well, I’ve never said I wasn’t a lazy man. (Kidding, of course. I tried to do the same, but got sidetracked when alchemy appeared to be a profitable offshoot of my ſtudies of the Tranſmutability of The Baſic Elements of Nature.)

  18. 18
    AsqJames

    As with all my blog posts, it is what I think I think. There may be much I have forgotten, and there may be things I will disagree with by tuesday afternoon.
    - Robin Ince in the intro to a recent blog post.

    Not only is this a more honest self-assessment, it anticipates and invites a conversation in which all participants are granted licence to make mistakes and/or learn something.
    Probable result: productive dialogue.

    Announcing up front that your beliefs are always evidence based isn’t just intellectually dishonest, it’s also an implied insult to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you (that they’re beliefs are insufficiently grounded in reality).
    Probable result: unproductive slanging match.

  19. 19
    screechymonkey

    Oh, you guys mock, but I once encountered (online) someone who really did claim that the only reason he accepted that the earth was round is because he constructed his own Foucault’s Pendulum, and he couldn’t believe that anyone who hadn’t could call themselves a skeptic.

  20. 20
    Anthony K

    Oh, you guys mock, but I once encountered (online) someone who really did claim that the only reason he accepted that the earth was round is because he constructed his own Foucault’s Pendulum, and he couldn’t believe that anyone who hadn’t could call themselves a skeptic..

    On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. But seriously, if this person is to be believed, that’s kind of awesome.

    Of course, how did this skeptic know that people called themselves skeptics without having constructed one themselves? Just because they said that they are and that they didn’t? CONVICTION IN THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION!

  21. 21
    hyperdeath

    mattyarbrough:

    It’s the kind of sentiment I’d expect from an enthusiastic 15 year old.

    Yep. I can imagine my 15 year old self saying something like that. Although I don’t think I’d have introduced myself with it.

  22. 22
    Cari

    Reminds me of the oft quoted and mostly mis-understood statement President Obama made; “You didn’t build that.” The right wingers, and just plain thoughtless respond with signs on their businesses saying ” I DID build this!” Yes, with the help of the public school system, the federal and state highways, the federally subsidized airport, student loans and grants, miners and police and firefighters and ……………..help and infrastructure and history that does not figure into their self-agrandizing claim.

  23. 23
    Eamon Knight

    Everything I believe is evidence based. No exceptions.

    Worthy enough as a life goal, perhaps, to be approached asymptotically (and with rational caveats such as: many fields of knowledge have an expert consensus, to which one can and ought to defer). But claiming to have arrived at this pinnacle of self-actualized epistemic triumph? While he stood on foot, perhaps?

  24. 24
    Dave Ricks

    Related to a point Bjarte made in #11 (about the need to evaluate evidence): When an atheist says there’s no evidence for a god, to me that’s like saying once OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murder, then there was no evidence against him. Maybe I could find a better analogy, but my point is I consider the illusion of intelligent design in biology is still evidence for the existence of a creator-god, and science helps me evaluate that evidence. Then my evaluation concludes against the argument by design.

    Maybe that’s a quibble over definitions, but then I remember, Dan Finke wrote a post that he wasn’t a stupid person when he was a theist. Maybe his theism was consistent with evidence as he saw it. OJ’s acquittal of murder was evidence-based. By itself, being evidence-based is not enough.

  25. 25
    sawells

    @19 : the funny thing about that is that a Foucault’s Pendulum does not prove the earth is round, it proves that it is rotating.

  26. 26
    Eamon Knight

    @24: Indeed. When I converted to evangelical Christianity in my teens, I did so because I was presented with what at the time seemed like reasonable evidence. That my standards of evidence, and understanding of principles of valid inference, were horribly naive, does not change the fact that it was a rational decision within the bounds of my knowledge at the time. And of course, there’s an entire apologetics industry churning out “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”, “creation evidence” etc, all of which seems entirely reasonable to a certain audience.

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