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I am a politically-progressive, ethically-herbivorous anthropoid pursuing a paleontology education in the Los Angeles Basin. I am largely nocturnal, have rarely been photographed, and cannot thrive in captivity.

08 April 2012

Skepticism... Or Denial?

James McWilliams has an excellent short post up today about the conundrum of scholarly and scientific skepticism.  On the one hand, it's a powerful tool, arguably the most powerful one humans have ever invented when it comes to ferreting-out truth claims.  But on the other hand, it can be a straightjacket when it's employed in the service of defending bias rather than undermining it.

The whole point of skepticism is to whittle away all your biases and become able to see what the evidence is really telling you, rather than what you wish it was telling you.  McWilliams's case study here is a sad textbook example of what happens when bias trumps skepticism: two scholars confronted with overwhelming evidence that their traditional, mechanistic view of animals is completely wrong.  They seem to accept this evidence at face value, but then, suddenly, retreat into bias and tradition without any compelling counter-evidence of their own, claiming they are skeptical.  But this is not skepticism at all: looking the mountain of evidence confirming animal sentience in the face and refusing to follow where it leads is self-interested, speciesist denial, and nothing more.

Denial of animal sentience is denial of evolution, plain and simple.  It is intellectually equivalent to creationism.

8 comments:

  1. > Denial of animal sentience is denial of evolution,
    … or solipsism :-)

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    1. ....or the majority is a slave to their own mind without knowing it. ;)

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  2. Thank you! McWilliams was off-base here. We do not need more anti-science sentiment in the animal rights community.

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    1. I was actually agreeing with McWilliams here, Unknown.

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  3. McWilliams: "...how scholarly caution–usually an admirable quality–can lead to conclusions that are not only obviously wrong, but supportive of proof that’s empirically unachievable."
    Humane Hominid: "But this is not skepticism at all ... [it is] speciesist denial, and nothing more."
    So was it skepticism or bias that led them to their bogus conclusion? McWilliams appears to be arguing that it is skepticism. You appear to be arguing that it is bias. I think it's bias, and I further contend that labeling these misguided economists as "skeptical" is consistent with a problematic, anti-skeptic, anti-science vein of thinking in the animal rights community.
    I'm the one that argued, in comments on McWilliam's blog, that skepticism could not have been behind their bogus conclusion, because their bogus conclusion violates Occam's razor, a favorite tool of skeptics.
    -Anne B

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    1. Ah, I see your point now. I think you are correct.

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  4. I'm not sure how else to contact you, so I'm just posting a link to an article that I thought you should know about if you don't already:

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0032452

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  5. Thank you so much for putting it into words for me, that I shall now shoot at people: denying animal sentience is denying evolution. it´s like creationism.

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