why being nice doesn’t always work
There’s a complaint skeptical science bloggers get on a regular basis. We’re too aggressive and snarky when we come across pseudoscience or cranks. Instead of kindly and gently pointing out our objections, we tend to go for the jugular and many of us don’t mince words. Why are we so evil? Because we’re not here to be polite and watch out for the self-esteem of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxers, creationists, homeopaths and the other woo peddlers who attack science and critical thinking in the media and on the web. Cranks have an immunity to congenial objections, brushing them off as “close-minded materialism” or simply ignoring them. That’s why we call cranks out on their nonsense or dangerous quackery with no regard for their delicate sensibilities.
Once upon a time, when people said something stupid or demonstrably wrong, they were shown as mistaken and removed from the media spotlight. But today, thanks to the power of the web and the popularity of famous pundits who’s primary concerns are ratings and falling into a partisan line, cranks are everywhere and they’re expecting to get a pat on the head for being the groundbreaking iconoclasts they fancy themselves to be. And believe it or not, thanks to shoddy media coverage and highly moderated, insular web communities, they get the praise they crave. Then, after reaching a broader audience and getting on our radars, they’re confronted with people who say that they’re wrong, that they’re not the visionaries they imagine themselves, and that their ideas are either misguided or meaningless when put in the proper scientific context. You can probably guess what happens next…
Angry e-mail hits our inboxes and streams of angry comments start showing up on our posts, asking us how dare we doubt them and accusing us of being close-minded cynics filled with bitterness and rage. Who do we think we are doubting their claims? How could we try to squeeze their profound insights into the fundamental workings of the universe into the limited, materialistic box of science? Can’t we grasp how complex everything around us really is and give them due credit for using their imagination in place of empirical studies and well conducted experiments? Well, forget it. We’re not here to pat cranks on the head and give them their politically correct compliment sandwich used by corporate managers during performance reviews. We’re here to write about good science, new discoveries and point out cases of bad journalism or anti-scientific platitudes used for profit and self-aggrandizement. When someone spews nonsense, we explain exactly why it’s wrong and if they continue to do it, we’ll continue to expose their mistakes in no uncertain terms.