dealing with the new generation of cranks
Over the last year I’ve been made aware that I’m about as cuddly as a cactus, as gentle as a steamroller and just plain mean on a regular basis. My reply to all those comments and e-mails telling me how I’m not a nice and chummy skeptic has been, and will be as follows: I know. The barbs and snark directed at those who are and will continue to be called quacks, cranks and charlatans until they produce legitimate proof for their grand claims that consists of something more than telling me how rude and close-minded skeptics are, weren’t just casual slips of the tongue. These posts are usually planned days and even weeks in advance and my stance on how I want to communicate the issues this blog covers is always a deliberate decision. And yes, there’s a good reason why I choose not to mince words and why you shouldn’t either when confronted with crankery.
As noted previously, cranks take their ideas very personally and when given a good, hard dose of reality, the only response they can really think of is lashing out to stop the doubters from doubting. After over a decade of being told that every opinion on every subject matters and that there must always be two sides to every story, a generation of cranks, quacks and pseudoscientists suddenly found themselves in the limelight and saw it as a very comfortable place to be.
Their power comes from the freedom of telling people whatever they’d want to hear and asking them to pay to be told more, using the power of the web to dodge peer review and silence critics from their cozy echo chambers, and even summoning lawsuits to end debate, knowing full well that someone with a good grasp of the scientific disciplines they feel free to fudge wouldn’t be impressed by what they usually do on stage. What the cranks do is inherently dishonest because they discard the rules by which good science is done, play to the public’s hopes, and charge people for the privilege of being fed junk science or outright dangerous medical advice for which they should be hauled to the nearest court to face malpractice charges, if not for the huge loophole for countless quacks known as the DSHEA.
When skeptics like myself enter the picture, we’re not dealing with people who are just mistaken in their views and can be calmly explained what they’re doing wrong and why. No, we’re dealing with cranks who were given the expert’s chair, who were pandered to, praised, and well compensated. They got used to this and they also got very spoiled and even more intolerant of criticism. Reaching them takes a shot across the bow and the thick skin to state your conclusions bluntly, lay your facts out on the table, then wait for the abuse to be hurled right back in your face as the cranks go incandescent with blistering fury, sometimes pretending to be nice as they condescend to you for missing their obvious wisdom and greatness.
Every time it’s the same old dance and it’s your job as the “close-minded skeptic” to show how and where they’re wrong as well as how arrogant they are in their conceit that the collective work of thousands of specialists, researchers and experts pales in comparison to their genius. And I’m supposed to fawn over people who can’t even do math or understand a basic physics concept, spitting out technobabble and mutilating the work of scientific greats just to end up tripping over their tongues in explaining their ideas and pat them on the head? You’re joking, right?
In every applied science class I’ve ever taken, there was no A for effort. You designed an experiment or study, you carried out our ideas and whether you were right or wrong, you summarized what you learned and took it to the professor and other students for dissection. You didn’t get to keep whatever you found to yourself, then act smug and dismissive to those who had questions about your results and how you obtained them. Well, I suppose you could’ve done that but with the understanding that it would’ve resulted in a swift F for the project.
And this is exactly what quacks do when they present junk science, leaps to conclusions or fluffy, senseless woo, they get a metaphorical F for their attempt to play scientist. Then, after taking enough ridicule, some will realize that they were wrong and others will pound their chests and cry that if they’re wrong, they would so much rather be wrong than accept the evil dogmas of science. The latter are the true cranks who definitely don’t deserve a pat on the head for their vanity and they’re sure as hell not going to get one from me.