Extending Skepticism Even Further

A good friend of mine read my recent blog entry on getting past preconceived notions where I confessed to not being as good a skeptic as I ought to be. He pointed out that the first seven paragraphs, which were little more than a bit of trivia the answer to which might surprise you, seemed a bit too much.

And he’s not wrong. The truth is that that was actually the third anecdote I toyed with before writing that article. I decided against using the first two because they are both the stuff of separate blog posts, either of which would have detracted more from the fact that I wanted to make a public mea culpa than a bit of historical trivia about Andrew Jackson.

The simple truth of the matter is, when people are shown evidence of their incorrect assumptions, they are prone to become defensive. That’s human nature. And it’s part of why I deleted the facebook entries I wrote about in that earlier entry. I still maintain that I did it because it ceased to be funny; you can draw your own judgment about it.

But it does become dangerous when that defense mechanism results in doubling down on the incorrect information, and that’s where I originally went as I contemplated what I would write.

The first person I thought of using, was Andrew Wakefield, whom I wrote about in the middle of a lengthy entry on the responses to a posting I had made on the facebook site of the Institute for Creation Research.

While it would be wrong to argue that, without Wakefield, there wouldn’t be an anti-vaccination movement, but his easily debunked “study” (I use the term loosely) has almost definitely done more to enable the movement than any other single person or event. Wakefield himself, when he doubled-down on his critics — sometimes trying to use courts of law — has become a poster boy for what not to do when the evidence isn’t in your favor.

I realize that what I say comes dangerously close to an ad hominem attack, but I don’t think I can ever trust a word coming out of Wakefield’s mouth, especially when it comes to vaccines, preventative medicine, or overall well-being. I think the only thing keeping it from being an ad hominem would be if he were to acknowledge his own wrongdoing and then actively demonstrate that he has heard the voices of his critics and learned his lesson.

For those who don’t know what an ad hominem attack is, it’s a logical fallacy whereby a person attempts to discredit the opinion of a person by discrediting the person him- or herself. A few years ago, the satirical website The Onion, in one of their mock radio-news segments, demonstrated the use of the fallacy to humorous effect. Go ahead. Listen to it. It’ll only take a minute of your time. I can wait.

Which brings me to the current king of ad hominem attacks and the second person I considered talking about in my posting the other day. A man whose words should be frightening to anyone who actually wants to see real progress get made in this country. Someone whose words, if spoken by a person who doesn’t have the same clout and name recognition, would be easily dismissed so that the grown-ups can have a grown-up conversation.

I’m talking, of course, about Donald Trump.

If you look closely at Trump’s speeches, there’s actually very little in terms of policy in them. In fact, if you look away from the proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border (and make the Mexicans pay for it), and the list of names he said he would nominate to the Supreme Court should an opening arise, he hasn’t offered any specifics on any of his policies.

His speeches are otherwise a mixture of two things: first, self-serving pronouncements about his own greatness and that he can “win” at whatever the topic is; and second, attacking those who disagree with him (either personally or as a group).

There’s way too much that he’s said and done that illustrates this, and I’ll let the professional pundits do all of the fact checking and refutation. My foray into directly addressing it, was in the form of the following exchange on Twitter:

Trump response

The very existence of the Spoils System, as introduced by Andrew Jackson, feeds corruption.

I do find it interesting that Ronald Reagan, a man currently revered by Donald Trump’s political party — to the point of deification — has the dubious distinction of having had the most corrupt administration in American history, at least if measured by the sheer number of times a prosecutor has had to look into the goings on within the administration itself. (Other measurements would certainly put Ulysses Grant and Warren Harding ahead of Reagan, to be fair…)

But note that Trump doesn’t actually say anything about Secretary Clinton’s policies should she be elected president. He calls her “crooked Hillary” just like he called the senators he faced for the nomination “Little Marco” Rubio and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

It’s really amazing how he has run a completely substance-free campaign, with more effort dedicated to ad hominem attacks than anything else and has yet to be truly called out on it by the voters.

Yes, Trump is dangerous. Let’s not let him get closer to the White House than he already is.

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