Bioethics Clinical trials Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

The day after Thanksgiving: A bit of reading for you–and a “framing” response

Believe it or not, sometimes even Orac has a life. I know, I know, between the ridiculously logorrheic blogging here and other online activities, coupled with even more ridiculous long hours working at his day job, it’s hard to conceive. However, my wife and I had a whole passel of relatives over, several of whom spent the night. This puts a crimp in the blogging activity, but for once I don’t care that much. Fortunately, there’s a lot of good reading out there, of which I picked a few examples:

  • The “Gonzalez Trial” for Pancreatic Cancer: Outcome Revealed. Remember the Gonzalez trial? It was the trial of a “nutritional” and “detoxification” method for pancreatic cancer. The trial was stopped in 2005, but for unclear reasons its results were never reported or published. Now, Dr. Kimball Atwood IV makes a very reasonable speculation as to why the trial was published and why its results are being suppressed. (Hint: It wasn’t because the Gonzalez regimen was superior to the standard of care regimen for pancreatic cancer.)
  • Background reading on the unethical mess that was the Gonzalez trial. If you want to see just what an unethical and unscientific mess the Gonzalez trial was, read: The Ethics of “CAM” Trials: Gonzo (Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI).
  • Mathew Nisbet, Beneath Contempt. Fellow blog brother Mark Hoofnagle takes other fellow Science Blogger to task for his disingenuous criticism and use of straw man fallacies in his response to Mark, Mike, and me. Suffice it to say, he’s a bit more–shall we say?–vociferous in his criticism than I am. Equally suffice it to say that Matt’s mischaracterization of our argument as being “name calling is the best strategy” in refuting denialists is the most outrageous straw man I have ever seen from a fellow ScienceBlogger. Couple that with Matt’s unwillingness to publish criticism in the comments of his posts, and I’ve basically had it with him.

Come to think of it, that third one there irritated me enough, that I think I’ll expound upon it briefly. I’ll put my response below the fold, because I realize that a lot of people are tired of this, as am I, quite frankly, and to spare those who aren’t interested. However, I couldn’t let Matt’s straw man go unanswered. Click to continue if you’re interested. Don’t click if you’re not.

To my criticism of his post, Matt responded:

No one is constructing a straw man. I pointed readers to your reactions to the interview and linked to the pages long postings. Readers can judge those responses and then move on to the rest of my post.

I personally don’t have the motivation or the time to engage in an endless blog debate about these issues. I’ve linked my main post to a forthcoming 30 page book chapter that explains in detail my alternative strategy. I’ve also linked to video interviews and on my side bar there are links to other audio interviews and articles. I’m also giving a number of public talks this spring in New York, DC, and other cities where readers can turn out to listen, discuss, and debate.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend. Monday I get back to the office with teaching to wrap up and various research projects to finish. I think we’ve articulated our positions and discussed our differences. Time to move on!

Now that’s just lame.

If you “don’t have the motivation or the time to engage in an endless blog debate about these issues,” then you shouldn’t be blogging. It is clearly not the communication venue for you. Yes, I know that sometimes blog debates get long and tiresome. I’ve even contributed to such lengthy debates. But if you’re going to post a criticism like that, you should at least be willing to defend it through a couple of rounds. Matt instead says, “We’ve already hashed this over before; so read my book.” Until the next time he decides he wants to tweak people, of course. In reality Matt isn’t particularly interested in a real debate, as evidence by the way, like Brave Sir Robin, he bravely runs away, declaring, “Time to move on!” coupled with his use of a very blatant straw man argument. At least, he’s not interested in a debate with people who are more than mildly critical of him, a category in which I counted myself until last spring. However, Matt’s antics have turned me from a mildly enthusiastic fan to a puzzled and disappointed opponent, and he is utterly clueless about how he might have brought that about, not just with me, but with several other ScienceBloggers.

In any case, here was my response, which Matt has not yet approved as a comment. Since I’m not sure he ever will, I decided to post it here:

No, Matt, you are constructing a straw man, and your denying that it is a straw man is simply ludicrous. It was, in fact, an outrageously obvious and blatant straw man.

You explicitly said: “Most notably Orac, Mike the Mad Biologist, and Mark Hofnagle argue that their preferred brand of name calling remains the best communication strategy.” Nowhere did I say that name calling “remains the best communication strategy.” For one thing, what I was doing was not “name calling,” but rather choosing an appropriate label. Isn’t the selection of a good label important part of “framing”? For another thing, I never said it was the “best” strategy, only one effective strategy that it’s foolish to take off the table a priori, especially since you have failed to make your case that your way works better more often than that of successful science communicators who may be too blunt for your liking. I cited paragraphs from my post that clearly show that you misrepresented my argument. I also assert that you misrepresented Mark’s argument as well. Indeed, it’s also completely disingenuous of you to say that “people can go read for themselves” and decide after you misrepresented my point.

Think on this Matt. I was behind you when you first introduced your framing hypothesis back in April 2007. It made sense to me at the time. I wrote two long posts defending it shortly after the article by you and Chris was released. I still think the concept has value, but after having seen it in your hands I’m afraid you’ve lost me. How did you manage that? You did it through your actions, in which it appears that, to you at least, framing seems to mean sucking up to the opponents of science and trashing those who are too blunt for you at every turn. It also seems to mean hypocrisy. Yes, hypocrisy. You castigate me, Mark, and Mike for “name calling,” but you are not above some name calling yourself when it suits your purpose. The difference is that you direct it at those who would be your natural allies far more often than you direct it at those against whom we should be united.

For example, what on earth could have been your purpose with this post? In it you pick an intentionally unflattering picture of P.Z. Myers and portray him as the unwanted “face of atheism,” likening him to the shock-jock Don Imus and saying:

They’re usually angry, grumpy, uncharismatic male loners with a passion for attacking and ridiculing religious believers. Any fellow atheist who disagrees with their Don Imus rhetoric, they label as appeasers.

Now, believe it or not, I was probably in the minority around ScienceBlogs in that I was not down with P.Z. on the whole “cracker” incident at all. Indeed, I lost a huge measure of respect for him that day and viewed his stunt as childish and crass. I continue to view it as such. The only reason I never blogged about it is because other things were going on in my life at the time, and, quite frankly, the whole stunt disgusted me. However, your intentional use of his appearance in that picture, along with a few choice names, shows me that you are behaving hypocritically. You castigate those with whom you disagree for being too negative or calling people “names,” but when it suits your purpose you are perfectly happy to sling the mud yourself, “framing” be damned! You’re perfectly willing to cite a radical ideologue like Bill Donohue, if it suits you to attack P.Z.

In fact, your behavior seems to be an implicit admission that “framing” isn’t always the right tool for a given argument. Certainly you seem quite willing to abandon it either when you become angry or when you think you can gain some sort of tactical advantage by doing so. Why should it be that, when it comes to anti-evolutionists, antivaccinationists, global warming denialists, or various other opponents of established science and proponents of ideology-driven ideas that it’s never right to call bullshit bullshit?

I doubt any of this will make any difference to you. In fact, your response tells me that, having provoked the desired reaction from a few of us, you’re going to hide again behind the “I’m too busy” canard, coupled with the “look how many talks I’m giving to promote my idea–gee, aren’t I awesome?” bit. Indeed, I doubt you’ll even approve this comment. But at least I’ll know you’ve seen it.

Again, remember that I used to be down with your whole framing idea. I still see some potential value in it. However, you clearly don’t have the faith in your own idea to stick with it consistently, as your own penchant for name calling when it suits you to do so shows.

Consider this an open thread for anyone whose comments have not been approved my Matt. In fact, I don’t even care if you think I’m a complete idiot and that Matt is clearly right. Unlike him, I’ll publish those comments. Who knows? You might even change my mind on this matter back to where it was in April 2007.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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