RationalWiki:Article of the Weak/Homeopathy
If this is your first time here please read the descriptions at the bottom of the page for the definitions of the characteristics we are looking for and some hints on how to assess them in the article presented.
The Article of the Weak is an interactive feature. It is intended to build a searchable archive of
wackaloonery wingnuttery articles that represent fringe views. We provide a link to the thing we consider to be lunacy, along with mainstream resources for comparison. In order to help create a useful archive of articles, we have chosen various characteristics common to non-mainstream thought and biased, irrational writing.
To help us with this project, please review the Article of the Weak, and the alternate resources presented. Rate the article based on how much of each of these characteristics it contains. Some traits are better categorized as present or absent and can be selected using the checkboxes below. You can join in the discussion by using the comments section as well. Note that the "Rate" and "Comment" sections are separate submissions, and that the rating scale is 0-10. You can enter your ratings by using the nifty slider bars or by entering a number directly in the boxes to their right.
Included below are some other common fallacies and strategies used in crank writing. If you find any of these traits in the article of the weak help us out by checking it off before submitting your ratings. These are completely optional, however, the more people that help us out by marking what applies the better our archive will be!
|Here are basic descriptions of the characteristics in the "rating" slider bar section:|
Fundamentalism is strict adherence to a set of "fundamental" beliefs. It can be used to describe a person, a group, or a movement. These fundamentals, be they scripture or pronouncements from a charismatic leader, are followed no matter how strong the evidence against them. Since these fundamentals are "truth", different groups of fundamentalists are inherently at odds with each other and with the community at large. This often leads to an exaggerated feeling of persecution.
An article too influenced by fundamentalism will find its legitimacy weakened by reliance on ideology over fact. Hallmarks of fundamentalism include immutable "facts" about what is or isn't so, regardless of data; the article may assume that everyone must believe these facts to be considered morally good or to be allowed to have an opinion. Fundamentalist arguments often rely themes of "good versus evil", and arguments based on technicalities or semantics rather than facts and data. Quote mining, in which others' words are altered to conform to one's own beliefs, is a hallmark of fundamentalist writing.
Authoritarian arguments ignore fact in favor of personality. Writing that has authoritarian qualities discourages thought on the part of the reader and encourages obedience. Rather than using data to support an idea, authority figures are invoked and their ideas accepted without question. This is especially visible when societal problems are addressed. Rather than arguing from facts or morals, an authoritarian style will invoke the opinion of a leader as the best solution.
Propaganda is a common style associated with authoritarianism. If you feel you are being lectured to and called to action, especially against some sort of "enemy", you may be reading authoritarian literature.
Fear of "others"
Fear of "others" is a jingoistic approach to discussion. It sets up an "us vs. them" dichotomy, whether or not one truly exists. Implied in this style is that the writer is right, and the "other" is wrong---independent of facts.
This style includes racist, sexist, and nationalist writing, but it can be subtle. Traditionally positive traits such as pride can be subtly racist. Patriotism can cross over into jingoist nationalism.
Fear of the other interferes with rational discourse, as it devalues others' beliefs and dehumanizes those from the "out" group. Recognizing this writing style helps identify bias that can harm rational discourse. Look for writing that speaks derisively of others whether or not the facts support such a negative view. Also, watch for arguments that assume someone is wrong simply because they are from a different group.
Hypocrisy does not immediately invalidate an argument. To dismiss an argument for hypocrisy alone is a logical fallacy known as tu quoque. However, hypocrisy raises red flags. For example, when a politician wears the mantle of libertarianism and at the same time calls for government intrusion into private lives, their ideas deserve careful scrutiny---if the ideals are not even actively valued by the writer or speaker, the premises should be evaluated more closely.
Hypocrisy can poison an argument---hypocritical arguments require very close scrutiny.
Denial of reality
This is the bread and butter of fringe lunatics. Denialism is a refusal to acknowledge reality, evidence, and the scientific method. To evaluate an article for denialism, take a look at the argument being made and see if it is based on coherent logic and empirical evidence. If instead it is a collection of mined quotes, logical fallacies, and conspiracy theories, finding any valid arguments will be nearly impossible.
Denial of reality is sometimes manifested as a "reversal" of the scientific method - starting with a set of beliefs and attempting to make reality conform to them. Inconvenient facts are usually ignored. Non-falsifiable arguments are also characteristic. If the data is inconvenient, a denialist can always invoke a conspiracy theory or a Goddidit gambit.
The writing of cranks is often incoherent. It wanders aimlessly, follows tangents, and sometimes dissolves into "word salad". If you read an argument and don't understand it, the problem might not be you. Is the writing clear? Do the thoughts flow from one idea to the next? Is the writing filled with non sequiturs?
Content can suggest incoherence but so can presentation. Just as capital letters are the internet equivalent of shouting, nausea-inducing use of conflicting colors, blinking text, random capitalization, liberal sprinklings of consecutive exclamation marks, and horrid font choices may indicate shattered thought processes.
Since the ability to actually communicate one's ideas is the first step in rational discourse, the degree of incoherence embedded in much fringe writing is an important trait.
Dogmatism is when a belief or person is presented as so above reproach that it must be accepted on its basic authority; and as such, not to be doubted or disputed. Fringe ideas tend not to change since the dogma was first established. Any research or experimentation that is carried out in the field is generally done more to justify the belief than to improve knowledge.
Any challenge to the dogma will be met with hostility and attacks on the critic's character or motives. This creates a debate loop where the same arguments and counter-arguments are seen time and again.
Martyrdom is the last refuge of the true crank. When the rejection of a person's crank ideas gets to be too much, the only thing left to do is throw themselves under a bus for their idea. The earlier stages of a martyr complex are usually noted by making self-parallels to Jesus Christ and Galileo, while the later stages often include loss of jobs, friends, family, housing, and sanity. For some causes a broken-down hermit is the end option, while the end point of other causes might be jail or worse.
Conspiracy theorist, fundamentalist loons, proponents of rejected science and medicine often seem to have some serious anger issues. Sometimes the seething hatred is so strong you can practically feel it radiating from your computer screen. Whether this anger comes from being largely laughed at or ignored, or because deep down inside they know they have devoted their lives to complete idiocy is left for the reader to decide.
Hijacking real science
Hijacking real science is a ploy used in quack medicine, pseudoscience and woo to make claims sound more realistic. It can take several forms. One is using a methodology of research that has surface similarity to the scientific method but which lacks rigor, controls and submissions to peer review. Another is in hijacking the use of scientific language but without an understanding of the actual concepts behind the words. Quantum physics seems particularly prone to this sort of hijacking.
Conspiracy based thinking
Conspiracy based thinking is particularly common in pseudoscience and quack medicine. It is usually used to explain limited evidence and why every intelligent expert in the relevant fields of knowledge have rejected or ignored the claim as the byproduct of a vast worldwide conspiracy.
Equivocation is a logical fallacy that relies on the different meanings a word can have in different contexts. It is a favorite fallacy of creationists and woo hucksters alike. It can be used both to seemingly belittle a concept or idea, or to raise one up to false pretenses. Probably the most common example is the creationist use of the phrase "evolution is just a theory." This is an equivocation of the term "theory" as it is used in common parlance versus the specific meaning it has in science. Other times it can be used to disguise bullshit, like in sham quantum physics where people like Deepak Chopra use equivocation to make their ideas sound like they have some basis in reality.
A political version would be asserting that all Socialists are Nazis, because the Nazis called themselves the "National Socialist Party".