Time for another Bad Science Sunday, and this time I followed up on the threat of a video by some gomer calling himself Quantum Eraser. I “watched” it. It was unwatchable. It’s basically a braying ass shouting “logical error” at every statement about scientific evidence, without following through and stating what the error was, or even addressing the evidence in any way. So I made a video, and along the way I bomb you with my opinions about science communication, because this guy was basically the antithesis of good teaching.
Oh, yeah, I also sorta kinda included a partial script, below the fold.
Today I thought I’d talk a bit about what I consider good practice in science communication by highlighting what a consider pernicious practices that are painfully common on this medium, YouTube. Let me say up front that this is all my personal opinion, and I tend to have strong opinions on these matters, while acknowledging that I’m a very small fish on YouTube. But then, this is most definitely a medium that does not favour good educational content in the way it does giggling fascists and repetitive social noise. Not to belittle the social side, which is important, especially in these days we’re all trapped in our houses staring at screens. I’m just saying that from the sole perspective of providing science content, there are a lot of bad vortices of suck out there that can wreck a good channel.
So here’s my general list of bad science communication practices:
- No debates!
Again, maybe some of these things are fine if you’re not trying present science or skepticism. But let’s go through these topics, and then I’m going to show you a fabulously bad example of one guy who does all of them wrong, a crackpot who calls himself Quantum Eraser.
I’ve done debates, but I got better. Debates are terrible. Consider this:
You’ve been invited to give a one hour talk on some scientific topic you know well. Great! You have an opportunity to educate people!
But then you learn that it’s to be a debate. Your time is split — you actually only have a half hour, and the other half hour is to be filled with nonsense, the antithesis of your work.
Furthermore, you know that your opponent is going to be confidently lying about the science — he’s not going to bother addressing criticisms, he’s just going to be asserting stuff.
Your half hour is going to have to be spent cleaning up after this bozo.
That’s a debate. Why do you bother?
Furthermore, allow me to point out that the people clamouring for these debates are all the pseudoscientists. Real scientists don’t get invited to a venue and then ask, “can you please put a creationist on the stage with me to validate my position?” Nope. Doesn’t happen.
Here’s another phenomenon that I’ve only encountered on YouTube: the free-for-all chaos of endless livestreams. Inviting a half dozen or more intelligent people to talk is already problematic, but then when you decide to liven it up by including some looney fringe crank to shout over everyone else, it’s a disaster in the making. I participated in a few such events last year, with this group called the Great Debate Community, but again, I got better. There were some smart people there worth having a conversation with, but then some kook like the creationist calling himself “G Man” would show up, and it was like letting a squirrel loose in a convention of Labrador retrievers. It may have made for entertaining drama, but the signal-to-noise ratio was down near zero, and you’d end up with 4 hours or more of babble on YouTube.
I hope everyone has learned their lesson by now, but early adopters of YouTube seemed to think using a goofy cartoon avatar was the one way to establish distinctive branding. It still drives me crazy. Why would you choose a cartoon duck, for example, as your on-screen avatar? And then dress it up in a tuxedo, to make it look sophisticated, I guess? And have it carry a sword or an AK47 — to make yourself look tough?
I hate it.
Look, there is a problem with putting your own face on screen — lots of people have a fear of public speaking, so having a cartoon mask helps. You can also just put up a static screen, making your YouTube video more like a podcast. Or like I sometimes do, just hide behind a series of powerpoint slides that show the information you’re discussing. That’s all good.
Your cartoon duck, though, is a distraction. You wouldn’t see Jacob Bronowski or Carl Sagan or Bill Nye hiding behind a cartoon duck. It’s better to develop a persona that you’re comfortable in, that you can use to humanise your talk.
Even if you’re not particularly handsome or charismatic. One of the things I miss most about teaching in a pandemic is the inability to connect directly with students, and students with their teachers. Why are you voluntarily discarding your self?
Oh god this is a big problem. A cartoon duck would not be a great choice, but pretending to be a cartoon King Kong who crushes all who oppose him is worse. Naming yourself The Amazing Skeptic or The Great Atheist or The Warrior Scientist would be … dreadful. I see those kinds of names popping up all the time, and immediately translate them into The Great Bloated Balloon of Pompous Self-Regard. Don’t be that person.
A specific example: Sargon of Akkad. How can anyone refrain from cringing when they see a guy named Carl from Swindon who is not even a scholar of ancient middle eastern history, let alone an empire-building conqueror, naming himself that? It’s absurd. I wonder if he lies awake at night regretting his pretentiousness when setting up his identity, years ago? Nah, probably not.Self-awareness is probably not a major component of his personality.
So, you got sucked into a debate, or are doing a livestream with a couple of clowns, or are making a reaction video vivisecting someone’s terrible opinions. Oh, yeah, I’ve been there. Then you notice an error in the other person’s presentation: They misspelled “They’re”! That’s a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy! There was a reason you memorised that long list of logical fallacies and their Latin names, just so you could zing someone with them.
You’re right. You’re totally right. Human brains constantly make logical fallacies, because human brains do not naturally operate logically. It’s so satisfying to catch someone else in an error of logic.
However, unless it’s the whole of their position, you have to ask yourself — is pointing out an apriorism in their argument an effective way of addressing the larger issue? You may be dealing with someone who claims the Big Bang is a lie, and you’re better off keeping the framing wrapped tight around their disagreements with basic physics.
I see this a lot in amateur skeptics. They’ve got a list of fallacies in their heads, and they’re just constantly monitoring sentences for patterns that fit the fallacies, losing sight of the fact their opponent is proposing that all of modern science is wrong.
OK, that’s my catalog of annoyances. Now let me turn your attention to one guy who embodies them all. I bring to you…Quantum Eraser! (Look, he has already broken rule #4).
I never heard of him until I saw him advertising a confrontation with me on YouTube. It was odd; I never scheduled anything with this guy, but here he was advertising that he was going to beat me up on YouTube. I later figured out that he wasn’t proposing a debate — good for him, rule #1, and I wouldn’t accept anyway — but was planning to livestream criticisms of a livestream I did a year or so ago, before I got wise. Oh god yuck. He was going to play that old livestream while recording himself yelling at it.
Already I’m horrified, appalled, and bored.
I looked him up anyway, and found that he also broke rule #3, bigly. Get ready for this: I’m going to play his intro video.
[QUANTUM ERASER INTRO]
You have got to be kidding me. He portrays himself as a scary chromed skeleton robot with green glowing eyes and a big gun, crunching skulls beneath his feet? Really? Somebody is overcompensating for something.
When you see those two visuals, which one do you think is probably totally badass and unafraid to discuss the ideas: the schlubby, plain old guy, or the cartoon killer robot? Do I even need to ask?
So what this Quantum Eraser bozo does is basically talk over the entire overlong and tiring livestream I was in, interrupting to make silly assertions, which obviously, I was not there to rebut. Purely for context, I’ll include one short segment in which I discuss the chromosome 2 fusion in humans. I introduce the concept of synteny, in which we map and compare the gene content of chromosomes, which I think is pretty good evidence that human chromosome 2 is the product of a fusion of chromosomes 2a and 2b in a primate ancestor.
Quantum Eraser listens to that, and then summarises my point, so I guess he understood it, but then his answer is, “we’re laughing at the evidence, and you”. Say what? That’s not a substantive response. Why do you disagree with the evidence? What is your alternative proposal? He doesn’t answer any of that.
[CLIP OF LOGICAL ERRORS]
#5. Worse than #5. He rattles of a list of logical errors that he memorised somewhere, but he doesn’t say specifically where or how I erred. Where’s the argument from ignorance in my statement, for instance?
[CLIP: DEMAND FOR “SYNTENY HYPOTHESIS”]
OK, this is a fairly easy demand to meet, and I’m surprised he didn’t get it from what I said, since he’s such an expert at science.
Here’s the argument. If chimp chromosome 2a has genes A, B, and C on it, and if chimp chromosome 2b has genes X, Y, and Z on it, then I would predict, if human chromosome 2 is the product of a fusion event, then human chromosome 2 would have genes A, B, C, X, Y, and Z on it. I would test my prediction by looking at what genes are present on chromosome 2. If I see A, B, C, X, Y, and Z, the my hypothesis is supported; if I see genes LMNOPQ instead, then my hypothesis is falsified.
I even said how to do the test — get on the NIH database (it’s free and publicly available) and look using the freely provided tools.
[CLIP: HE CLAIMS IT WILL NOT BE DONE]
Except…my simple, easy test has been done. The hypothesis is supported. You can replicate it with a little know-how.
But wait, notice what I’ve done. I’ve broken rule #5 myself! I’ve been drawn into an argument over trivial details, false assertions by Quantum Eraser, and trying to defend a truly simple and obvious scientific test that he refuses to accept. STEP BACK. LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE. This is from the about section of Quantum Eraser’s YouTube channel.
You will be watching and experiencing an amazing channel pulverizing — in excruciating detail, the Heliocentric Spinning-Ball Space Monkey Religion and Pseudoscience.
He continues in this video with this set of assertions.
[CLIP DENYING EVERY PIECE OF EVIDENCE EVER]
This is a guy who denies evolution, thinks the earth is flat, and believes he can dismiss good scientific evidence, like Lenski’s bacterial evolution experiments, by laughing at them and calling them logical fallacies. He doesn’t actually address a single point. You know what we can do with him?
[TOILET FLUSH SOUND]
All right gang, enough of that. Time to acknowledge my patrons, and also to do the fol-de-rol I’ve noticed other you tubers doing: ask that you like and subscribe, clicking on those little doodly-knobbers down below, which, apparently, will magically increase my channels popularity. We must obey the demands of the algorithm, the holy algorithm, so please do so, I will appreciate it so much, since as a little nobody YouTube otherwise will not mention my name to others searching for wisdom about science and evolution and the shape of the earth, instead gracing twits like Quantum Eraser with its favour. Take that tiny step, if you feel like it.
Also, if you want to go a step beyond, you can support me more directly by joining my Patreon, at http://patreon.com/pzmyers. I’m cheap! I have tiers as low as a $1 donation per month. I’m hoping to make up for the low profit margins in volume, like a good capitalist.
I also have plans for the future that your support will enable. I’m a full time college professor, which limits my time, but thanks to the pandemic, my semester ends early, on Thanksgiving, and doesn’t resume until late January! What should I do? Well, one idea I have is a weekly series of short videos exploring the world of Evo-Devo. If you want to encourage me in that, joining my Patreon would help. Knowing me, I might do it anyway, even without more support.
Christ, I’m a bad capitalist.
Until next week…bye! See you later!