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Apr 14 2013

Robin Ince vs. Brendan O’Neill

At #QEDcon (which sounds like a marvelous conference from the enthusiastic tweets resounding everywhere) there was a panel discussion yesterday that I’m looking forward to seeing appear on youtube.

Brendan O’Neill, professional conservative ass, put his opening remarks, “Is science becoming a new religion?” online. It’s a bizarre tirade — it cusses out this new-fangled trend of demanding evidence and expertise for policy decisions, probably because such demands cut him off at the knees.

Robin Ince, professional comedian and science advocate, has put his reaction online, titled “The fascism of knowing stuff”. He’s a bit incredulous that anyone in a culture that uses technology more sophisticated than a buggy whip could be against knowledge.

As someone who has often been called a fascist, you can guess which side of this argument I favor.

37 comments

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  1. 1
    raven

    It’s a bizarre tirade — it cusses out this new-fangled trend of demanding evidence and expertise for policy decisions, probably because such demands cut him off at the knees.

    This is simple and pure…reality denial.

    It’s foolish and destructive.

    Don’t believe in global warming? No problem until a hurricane storm surge at high tide wipes out part of NYC and NJ.

    Oddly enough, that was predicted years ago. Seems there was a report every year or so warning that this was going to happen. I read one of the from the year before. I didn’t realize at first that it was prediction because it read more like a history of what actually happened.

  2. 2
    Argle Bargle

    Recently the check engine light came on in my car and I took it to the shop. The oxygen sensor was bad. I didn’t know my car had an oxygen sensor, let alone how to repair or replace it. Fortunately the mechanic did know how to fix the car (albeit unfortunately for my wallet).

    I’d be amazed if O’Neill hadn’t had similar experiences. Nowadays we can’t maintain our cars or household appliances, we don’t have the expertise to do so. So how does he think something much more complex than a car or microwave, something like the Earth’s climate or a country’s economy, can be maintained by amateurs?

  3. 3
    Owlmirror

    A “technoogy” would perhaps be delivered by one of the #FTBullies on someone’s Facebook wall.

    Or maybe via an iPhone App.

  4. 4
    Emrysmyrddin

    QEDCon IS great – it’s put on by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, of the #1023 anti-homeopathy campaign, the Hallowe’en Psychic Challenge, the Shuzi Bracelets Rugby test, and much more. They’ve had the honour of being compared to paedophiles by the incomparable Joe Powers. They’re good people. One day I’ll be able to afford to go to the Con itself (bit of a travel for me).

    In the meantime, the free podcasts are a good subtitute for physical attendance. I’m not affiliated – they’re Northern Bastids, I’m Southern Scum – but I try to plug them whenever the opportunity arises as I appreciate the years of free entertainment they’ve provided for me.

  5. 5
    Algonquin on the Bayou a/k/a Sharon

    Science is religion … or superstition … or propaganda … or anything … as long as definitions are fungible.

  6. 6
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    in a culture that uses technoogy

    You mean like spell-checkers and stuff?

  7. 7
    Didaktylos

    @#6 – I think flint-knapping was a step too far, technologically speaking, for their ilk

  8. 8
    leftwingfox

    The journalist suggested this was the kind of fascistic thinking that held up women’s suffrage and the education of the poor.

    Listening to specialists is very different from refusing to allow people to become specialists based on gender, class, or skin color.

    Trust a poor substitute for understanding, but sometimes necessary in the complicated world (I loved the “mend this iPad” example)

    At least with science, if there’s ever a conflict between the authority and the amateur, there’s a method for figuring out who is actually correct outside of authority.

  9. 9
    machintelligence

    The oxygen sensor was bad. I didn’t know my car had an oxygen sensor, let alone how to repair or replace it. Fortunately the mechanic did know how to fix the car (albeit unfortunately for my wallet).

    Since oxygen sensors typically cost less than $ 100 and require only a wrench and less than one hour to replace, you might have been hosed. They are typically a long term maintenance item with a service interval of 80k to 100k miles. Perhaps on newer cars with better onboard monitoring they are treated as a run to failure item.
    Sealed fan motors with no means for lubrication are a pet peeve of mine. Instead of oiling once a year for 25 or 30 years, you get service free for 8 years and then big replacement expense.

  10. 10
    NightShadeQueen, resident nutcase

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpCJzdWxEbQ

    What’s it called again, programmed obsolescence?

  11. 11
    w00dview

    From the O’Neil article:

    When politics and science mix in this way, both of them suffer, I think. We end up with evidence-driven policy and policy-driven science, neither of which is a very good thing.

    Really? Policy dictated by evidence is bad? I suppose he would have adored Rick Perry’s attempts to pray away the drought rather than listen to those snooty elitist scientists. That article is a mess. Instead of letting policy being dictated by any old ignorant yahoo why doesn’t O’Neill advocate for improved public education and more emphasis on critical thinking? Evidence driven policy combined with a well educated, informed electorate is a strong sign of a healthy democracy and if O’Neill actually thought his position through carefully he might realise that ignorance whether driven by politicians or the voting public can be toxic to the survival of a democracy.

  12. 12
    Argle Bargle

    machintelligence @9

    Since oxygen sensors typically cost less than $ 100 and require only a wrench and less than one hour to replace, you might have been hosed.

    $150 parts and labor. Maybe $150 isn’t much for you but my budget was tight for the next three weeks.

  13. 13
    md

    consuming x liters of coca cola per year for y amount of years will raise your incidence of m disease by n percent

    Observing the above to be true may be science but using above science to ban soda doesn’t make it good policy. Arguments opposed to a soda ban may defy the scientific or ignore it all together, and that doesn’t make them bad policy, or rather anti-policies.

    I dont think the headline for O’neill’s is particularly relevant. He’s talking about the use of science in policy making, not whether science itself is becoming religious. The words religion, religious or faith do not appear in his article.

  14. 14
    md

    please insert ‘article’ after O’neill’s

  15. 15
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    this new-fangled trend of demanding evidence and expertise for policy decisions

    The problem is that we often decide things without evidence and expertise and then use our evidence and expertise to justify the decision we made first. What we think are evidence and expertise depends on our original decisions.
    The interesting thing is that people like O’Neill don’t seem toknow that we can put aside our beliefs and prejudices to some extent and try to think ‘reasonably’ as they say. We may not be very good at it and we may not overcome all our presuppositions but it’s still better than just relying on what we know in our bellies as a reason for a policy.

  16. 16
    peicurmudgeon

    O’Neil seems to be talking about our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who has a history of denying science, muzzling scientists, and explicitly putting ideology ahead of expert advice.

  17. 17
    phere

    I made a comment on the post which has yet to appear but basically we have 2 categories – those (like he referred to in his blog post) that are confounded as to why “experts” (those snooty elitist scientists…lol!) might be useful and those who erroneously think that they are themselves experts because they can use a browser. We have children dying of whooping cough because parents think they are smarter than scientists, doctors, the CDC. We still have a majority of the population who think the term “theory” is a loose guess and who could not tell you the basic steps of the scientific method nor why it is important. But hey, let’s forget all that and keep trying to teach our children in our public schools that a man built a giant boat and put all the animals on it so that the creator could drown all the bad people. We are fast approaching an “Idiocracy” society.

  18. 18
    raven

    new-fangled trend of demanding evidence and expertise for policy decisions

    What is the alternative to evidence based policy decisions? Fairy tale based policy decisions?

    I don’t think fairy tale based policy would work very well.

    Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who has a history of denying science, muzzling scientists, and explicitly putting ideology ahead of expert advice.

    He got that from George Bush. The Iraq war only cost $2 trillion to accomplish nothing. Supply side economics only resulted in the Great Recession.

    But don’t worry. We might recover from the Bush Disaster in a generation. Or we might not.

  19. 19
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Scientists are not decrying others’ right to hold, express, and act on opinions on policies or candidates.

    Scientists are decrying the fact that people are justifying there policies or candidate choices on false facts, and that no distinction is made between, “I believe opposing cap & trade is the right thing to do” and “I believe cap & trade is the right thing to do because it is a fact that the atmosphere is too huge for humans to have any impact on the weather. If we could control the weather, why would we still have the Sahara?”

    If O’Neill can’t tell the difference between those 2 positions, I don’t know how he strings so many English words together in ways that consistently form things resembling sentences.

  20. 20
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    I don’t think fairy tale based policy would work very well

    We’ve had it before. We could just look at the evidence on whether fairy tale based policy works better than evidence based policy…

    except, oh.

  21. 21
    moarscienceplz

    What is the alternative to evidence based policy decisions? Fairy tale based policy decisions?

    It’s quite simple, really. Whatever Rush Limbaugh or Wayne La Pierre tells me, must be true. After all, they have no reason to lie to me.
    /snark

  22. 22
    Lithified Detritus

    What we have today is a situation where evidence and expertise are the main drivers of policy.

    If only this were actually true…

  23. 23
    unclefrogy

    O’Neill is just complaining because he wants to be the one making the decisions the way he thinks things should be. He just does not want to be told that what he thinks does not match reality he does not care .
    he resents people who know more than he does uncle frogy

  24. 24
    jamesfrancesco

    From Ince’s speech “we need…more science, less passion”

    Science is not passion? Another science-basher who has no damn idea what science actually is or what actual scientists are like.

  25. 25
    robinince

    um, a bit confused. when exactly did I say “we need…more science, less passion”?

  26. 26
    robinince

    as for calling me a science basher, as I was arguing for science and critical thinking on this panel, I am doing a very bad job of science bashing. Here is a science bashing piece I wrote with science basher Brian Cox at the end of last year http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/sci-tech/2012/12/brian-cox-and-robin-ince-politicians-must-not-elevate-mere-opinion-over-sc

  27. 27
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Shorter O’Neill: “I am angry that the opinions of those better informed than me are given more weight. Despite that fact I have no qualifications worth mentioning, people should listen to me.”

    Shorter Ince: “Don’t be an idiot”.

    I’m with Ince.

  28. 28
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @jamesfrancesco

    Ince was the one arguing for science-based policy. I hardly think he can be described as a “science-basher”.

  29. 29
    marko

    Brilliant…

    The answer to “is science the new religion?” is obviously yes, so long as you redefine religion as “a self-correcting, evidence based system of exploring the universe which attempts to unearth the least wrong laws and theories that can explain what exists or might exist whilst accepting that room must always be left for doubt and further enquiry”.

  30. 30
    haitied

    Yes because making sweeping generalizations about and assigning rights to populations based on race, gender, levels of education and economic status is the same as telling an individual, who is uninformed and lacks credentials to take part in serious discussions about complicated issues, that they should pay attention and learn before they try to become part of the conversation. . . . I wonder if that speaker is aware of the US republican party who has a habit of ignoring science in policy making. . .

  31. 31
    AJS

    Brendan O’Neill is a knob, pure and simple. He makes a living out of disagreeing with people. And I would not trust him to tell me what colour shoes he was wearing, if I could see his feet.

  32. 32
    David Marjanović

    Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

    What’s it called again, programmed obsolescence?

    “programmed obsolescence”: 17,200 ghits
    “planned obsolescence”: 573,000 ghits

    The Iraq war only cost $2 trillion

    You wish. In 2006 a book called “The Three-Trillion-Dollar War” came out, saying it had cost that much till then.

    “If we could control the weather, why would we still have the Sahara?”

    …Indeed, if it gets just a little warmer still, and if there’s enough rainforest left in west Africa to provide evaporation, the Sahara will disappear, as it did last time it was that warm.

    There’s probably not enough rainforest left. But I’d love to be surprised.

  33. 33
    Jim

    This is not strictly speaking a proper counterargument, but it’s one of my favorite responses to the “science is religion too!” thing:

    It’s a most peculiar psychology—this business of “Science is based on faith too, so there!” Typically this is said by people who claim that faith is a good thing. Then why do they say “Science is based on faith too!” in that angry-triumphal tone, rather than as a compliment? And a rather dangerous compliment to give, one would think, from their perspective. If science is based on ‘faith’, then science is of the same kind as religion—directly comparable. If science is a religion, it is the religion that heals the sick and reveals the secrets of the stars. It would make sense to say, “The priests of science can blatantly, publicly, verifiably walk on the Moon as a faith-based miracle, and your priests’ faith can’t do the same.” Are you sure you wish to go there, oh faithist? Perhaps, on further reflection, you would prefer to retract this whole business of “Science is a religion too!”

  34. 34
    David Gamble

    I was in the room at the front watching the debate with my jaw hitting the floor … at one point Robin turned to O’Neill and explained “You are a fucking idiot”. In this instance that was not an insult, just a factual statement.

  35. 35
    jamesfrancesco

    Wow, that was very stupid of me. I switched the names. I’m always switching names and numbers around, rarely this blatant and embarrassing.

    My apologies.

  36. 36
    robinince

    phew, I was worried some transcript had gone around which had some made up or misheard sentences. Mind you, I don’t recall saying “you are a fucking idiot” to O Neill, that was pretty rude of me. i think he had called me an idiot a few times by them. I blame my insomnia plus coffee and banana consumption.

  37. 37
    robinince

    sorry, “by then” obviously, not “by them”

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