A few weeks ago, I blogged about the incredibly dumb open letter by anti-vaccinationist and Age of Autism propagandist Ginger Taylor. The open letter was addressed to Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, and was a response to an article they’d written in the LA Times. Orac then quickly wrote up a great response, to which Mooney and Kirshenbaum simply linked to rather than waste their valuable time just because some blogger chose to address them personally to get attention.
A few days later, another Age of Autism blogger wrote up another, which seemed to serve no purpose other than to chear-lead Taylor’s original article. I wrote a brief response to that too, which included a small error on my part, which was corrected by the cheerleading blogger himself. My mistake was that I was looking at the wrong LA Times article by Mooney and thus couldn’t find the specific quote, though I did surmise that it was a legitimate quote, only quote-mined to distort its meaning. . .which I still stand by. It was a quote where Mooney calls scientists “super smart,” and since then, anti-vaccinationists haven’t failed to continue misrepresenting the context of that quote in order to push their “science is elitist” rhetoric.
Mooney’s intended meaning was to argue that scientists need to learn how to better communicate science to the public and that he feels that’s something that some scientists are stubborn about learning. I happen to only agree with Mooney to a point and think his full thesis on how to communicate science is not much of a solution at all. But the point is that he was not suggesting in any way that when evidence is concerned, scientists can’t see the forest from the trees. He was saying scientists are poor communicators of science. There’s a fundamental difference.
Now, Taylor’s back and she’s still harping on the same misrepresented quote:
The article, a trite interview with Mooney about his book during which he disparaged AoA and treated the vaccine/autism connection as a closed case, reported that Americans were rejecting science because they just were, well… pathetic I guess, and needed to be listening to “super smart” scientists.
If ever there was a more obvious attempt to put words in someone’s mouth. Mooney never called Americans who disagreed with scientific findings “pathetic” and quite frankly, it’s rather arrogant to presume you represent all of America. Further, as I’ve written before, the “super smart” line was not about making an argument from authority as much as the anti-vaccinationists want to pretend that it was in order to use it as a platform to delve into one of the favorite tactics of all cranks, the “science has been wrong before” gambit, which has been discussed many, many times such as here and here.
My letter to them suggested that America might not be listening to the science industries and to people like Mooney because they are treating America so poorly and with such little regard.
Perhaps the answer, Ginger, lies not in the scientists but in yourself. In your original article you stated:
Yet “science” has never done a simple study that took a large group of vaccinated children and a large group of children whose parents chose not to vaccinate them, and compared them for autism incidence!
And my original response:
You mean scientists have never done a study like this one right here that you’ve known about for some time? But let’s be honest here. All we really needed was this study here. But of course that’s not good enough for you. BIG SURPRISE. What you want, scientists can’t give you because it’s either unethical or impossible to acheive.
So why is it exactly that you feel you can disrespect others by lying but feel it’s outrageous that they should choose not to respect you for lying? But she goes on:
The letter generated a number of responses both privately and publicly in which I (member of the pathetic public in the very same demographic which Mooney suggested that science journalists should be reaching out to) was treated poorly and with little regard.
Again, she tries to appoint herself representative of everyone. No, Ginger. Again, you and your fundamentalist, pseudo-scientific coherts at Age of Autism are pathetic; everyone else is just fine. Most people are capable to objectively hearing out the evidence and forming conclusions based on the evidence instead of their own biases. Ideologues who will never change their minds no matter how compelling the evidence, on the other hand, are not the demographic a science journalist goes out of their way to reach. To borrow an expression from Barney Frank, trying to talk to you is like trying to talk to a dining room table. So what would be the point?
Then Taylor goes on to whine about how offended she was that M&K just let Orac speak for them. Does she link to Orac’s response or actually address Orac’s arguments? Nope. Instead, she tries to intimidate Orac by revealing his true identity. . .which was never really a secret in the first place and make a string of non-sequiters/ad hominems that don’t come anywhere close to addressing the actual arguments. Then after promoting another blog of hers, she dismisses all her critics as “bullshit,” cleverly linking to the book “On Bullshit.” Because of course, that gets to the heart of the matter. Good job, Ginger. Classy and insightful as ever.
She then goes on for another paragraph describing her temper tantrum before ironically accusing her critics of not addressing. . .
“. . .the science or questions that are inconvenient to their stance, have contempt for the people that they are supposed to be serving, the same people whom Mooney says that they should be reaching out to (which is me, whom he will not answer).”
Um, no. You’re projecting again, Ginger. As I pointed out before, there wasn’t any science in your original open letter in the first place. It was just a long rant about how you think scientists and science journalists are big arrogant meanies for not taking your seriously. And similarly, there certainly wasn’t anything resembling science in this latest rant. And this is the third time now in one short blog that you declared yourself representative for all non-scientists.
This entire anti-intellectual gambit gives me flashbacks to Sarah Palin insisting she’s qualified to be vice president because she’s a hockey mom, relates to Joe Sixpack, is attacked by the “gotcha media”, and because her critics are just elitists. Has it ever occured to you Ms. Palin–err, I mean Ms. Taylor, that in certain fields like public office and science, that elitism is a good thing? You’re so proud of your 167,000 emails to Obama but did it ever occur to you that science isn’t a democratic process and that public opinion doesn’t change the facts?
As I understand it, the whole thesis of Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s book is that science literacy is a serious problem in this country. And given that a fifth of all Americans don’t even know if the Earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, that even more than that think that the Earth is 6000 years old, and that many Americans deny the facts of 9/11, I definitely wouldn’t be very proud of your little public opinion poll on the subject, especially since, as Penn and Teller superbly illustrate here, you can get people to support just about anything:
The most reputable health organizations in the country aren’t about to just change their minds about the science just because a bunch of laypeople wrote uninformed letters to the president. That’s simply not how science works. You could get people to write 167,000 emails to Obama saying 9/11 was an inside job; that wouldn’t make it true.
The result for me is that after five years of good faith efforts to have earnest, productive exchanges with people like these, I have given up. I just don’t care what they think any more.
. . .
And start thinking for themselves rather than swallowing what they read in the paper.
It’s great to encourage people to think for themselves as long as they accept the possiblity that they can be wrong. But there’s your problem, Ginger. You don’t care what experts think, and you never did. You simply have faith in your own conjecture and are uninterested in having those beliefs challenged or scrutinized. And that is why the experts as well as those of us who care about good science, academic rigor, and evidence will never take you seriously.