By David Hills
So, somebody’s wrong on the internet, and it’s fallen to you to put them right. Unfortunately, the person who’s wrong is posting on a Science or Skeptic forum, so you’re faced with having to deal with scientists and their bizarre ideas about “evidence” on their own turf.
Your first encounter with a science forum might come as a result of a friend or colleague pointing out a discussion being had there. You immediately realise that something is wrong with what is being discussed, and it needs correcting. Too often, however, what starts as a straightforward exercise in educating the ignorant can get lost in the mire of that forum’s posting rules and the attitudes of its regular members, with the result that the message you’re carrying gets lost along the way. Fortunately, help is at hand with this posting guide, which will help you avoid those embarrassing little posting pitfalls and faux pas.
Science forums can be a real challenge for the un-blinkered thinker who entertains ideas that might elsewhere be dismissed as “quackery” or “pseudoscience.” But just follow this handy guide, go over there, and sort them out. This isn’t trolling, oh no, it’s just “setting things aright” as members of the posse might say in a Clint Eastwood film.
There is a real point to your efforts. If you dislike a piece of research, don’t write to the journal in which it appeared and don’t waste your time doing your own research or writing papers. All these things are futile – they just perpetuate and legitimise the pharmaco-scientific machinery which exists only to tread on your ideas. No, what you need to do is find some web forum in a unregarded corner of the internet where people are discussing the research, and treat them to the full, glorious flowering of your ideas. That’ll change the world. Here’s how you go about it.
Arriving fresh to the discussion, DO NOT read any previous posts, as this will just blunt your enthusiasm. There are few things more disheartening than finding that the points you are about to raise have already been discussed and dissected ad nauseam. Worse even than that, though, would be realising that the views you have come to challenge are not actually being expressed on the forum, or are far more nuanced than you have been led to believe. Best to avoid this possibility by just diving straight in. Also, coming in all guns blazing will help cover any first post nerves you may be experiencing. So, start off by copy-pasting something you read somewhere else on the internet or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, create your own lengthy first post setting out your store.
It is vitally important that you do not reference any quotes you post, nor should you provide supporting evidence for any assertions you make. It is a much-loved forum game to try to unravel what you are saying, much like a whodunit, and you will cause a great deal of upset if you give away the answer in advance.
In any post criticising research, you must take as a given the fact that all scientists/researchers and doctors are in the pay of Big Pharma or Big Science. This can be taken as a safe starting point for all discussion.
You should not feel under any pressure to support this starting point, but if you do decide to post evidence to support your assertion please try to use as your proof a quote from somebody completely unconnected with the research and preferably from outside mainstream science or medicine. Your choice of source will vary according to the subject but a line from The Sun from about 20 years ago about “yuppie flu malingerers” would be perfect when discussing CFS/ME, for example, since this clearly reflects current mainstream medical opinion and policy. Generally, if you can find a quote which is both by somebody unconnected with the research and on a different subject, you’re on the right lines. If in doubt, a link to whale.to is usually a safe bet.
If you must post a quote from an actual researcher in the field under discussion, then please try to make sure you quote something they wrote about a different subject in order to create as much distance as you can from the research actually under discussion.
If this is not possible, and you absolutely must quote something from the scientific research itself, please try to cherry pick your quote carefully to take it completely out of context.
If you must quote in-context, then make sure you edit the quote to change the meaning. For example, you can remove parts of sentences as necessary to make the quote work for your argument; this is regarded as being particularly admirable in academic circles as it is both economical and inventive. Another novel approach might be to insert or remove the word “not” to change the meaning of phrases as required.
Make sure you reinterpret the meaning of individual words, especially if the meaning-in-context of those words is clearly defined in any papers you’re critiquing. If a paper defines its terms of reference, it’s always as a prelude to a deliberate obfuscation or dishonest sleight of hand, so don’t play along with it, and simply redefine the terms to mean whatever supports your argument rather than their callow lies.
As early as possible, try to position yourself as representing a major group within the field whose voice is currently going unheard. In medical discussions, presenting yourself as a “patient advocate” is the way to go, but in all cases it is also worthwhile to claim that you represent a silent majority on the forum who are afraid to speak out. This approach works especially well if this is your first post and you have never seen the forum before.
So, you’ve made your post and put your point across, but now people are asking questions. It’s annoying and unfair, but sometimes people will not automatically take what you’ve written as absolute truth, and will instead ask for some evidence. Don’t panic! “Evidence” is blustering scientific shorthand for “I know you’re winning, and all I can do is try to stall you.”
Post the same argument again. And again if necessary. If it doesn’t work the first 37 times then it will definitely work the 38th, the 38th is the charm. There’s an old saying about idiocy being the act of trying again what you know has repeatedly failed before. This is not true. Gambling addicts aren’t wrong for not knowing when to quit, they’re wrong because they finally quit just one throw of the dice too soon. So keep at it. Remember, repetition trumps proof, so if questioned simply repeat the claim as if a) nobody has questioned it and b) the truth of your claim is clearly a given. Do this often enough and your claim becomes true. You may have to continue this for some time; science works by repeatedly saying your theory until enough people agree. Whoever shouts loudest wins, and since you’re up against the combined forces of Big Pharma and Big Science you’ll need to shout very loud and very long. Hang in there!
Do not be tempted directly to answer any questions that arise from your posts. If you feel cornered by a response to a post you have made, simply change the subject. After a few posts, everyone will have forgotten and you can return to the previous points as if nothing has happened. If, after you have avoided answering a question a number of times, a forum member swears at you, you have won. Swearing means the poster is automatically wrong. Post something prissy about the swearing and retire to your own turf with a well-earned banana daiquiri.
If one person disagrees with you, make a post suggesting they learn more, research properly, or read a self-published book by somebody unconnected with the subject and unqualified or inexperienced in it.
If more than one person disagrees with you, post a whinge claiming as many of the following as possible:
- Forum members are a clique, cabal, or Big Pharma shills
- The forum has rules which demand total obedience to The Forum View on Allopathy or Science.
- The forum only exists to attack alternative medicine and/or disease sufferers.
- Any dissenting views are squashed.
- Forum members style themselves part of an intellectual elite, and everybody else – the “great unwashed” are considered unfit to even review research, let alone criticise it.
- Something sniffy about swearing.
- If people continue to disagree with you, point out that since we can’t prove a negative all opinions are equally valid.
Once people have given up trying to explain why they think your argument is wrong, well done! You can move on to saying “right, now we’ve established that…” or “so it’s agreed that…” Your argument is all but won. All you need to do now is point out that they laughed at Galileo, and your work is done. More banana daiquiris.
Finally, always remember these points while posting.
Always assume bad faith and covering up on the part of researchers. Nobody in mainstream medicine is to be trusted. Conversely, anybody not part of the mainstream cabal who puts on a white coat and says they have an answer should immediately be listened to, before they have any evidence to support their claim. Remember, science can only truly be progressed by a maverick working outside the system, and if those pen-pushers down at city hall think that they ca- sorry, drifted into cop shows for a moment there. Anyway, the only lesson to be learned from the XMRV fiasco or the Wakefield farrago and countless other injustices, is the lengths to which the mainstream medical juggernaut will go to in order to silence the lone heroic maverick. Move along, nothing to see here.
The only research worth pursuing is the research you’ve decided you want carried out and researchers should both instinctively know this and abandon any other line of research to pursue it. Similarly, in existing research the only figures or measures of any value are the ones you decide the researchers should have used, and the research has no value without these measures.
You should lecture anybody who works in science or medical research condescendingly and/or disparagingly at any and every opportunity. Scientists only do this for a job, they can’t possibly have the level of interest that you have, you who are doing this simply from righteous indignation rather than being motivated by money, and passion trumps knowledge just as surely as anecdote trumps research data.
Remember, all opinions are valid, unless they’re the opinions of somebody actually working in the field. Statistics, big words, these are all a smoke screen used to exclude you from voicing your righteous opinion. Don’t allow them to take away your right to be right. Personal incredulity is the key here: if you find a claim to be not credible, then it cannot be credible. If you don’t understand something, neither does anybody else, so there’s room to insert your own theory.
- Everybody is biased. Except you.
- Everybody has a conflict of interest. Except you.
There we are. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll soon be posting freely and winning arguments on any science or skeptic forum.
Once you’re comfortable, I can also recommend a forum dedicated to discussion of RMS Titanic. If you decide to register there, please make sure your first post covers the following points, as they are always appreciated:
- The Titanic was attempting to win the “Blue Ribbon Trophy” (write it exactly like that) when she hit the iceberg.
- If the Titanic had not tried to turn but instead had deliberately hit the iceberg head-on, she “wouldn’t of sank.” Again write it exactly like that.
- Ask where Jack and Rose are buried.