1023: suffering from the Dawkins effect?

by endlesspsych

Richard Dawkins is a man who, at the least it would be fair to say, divides opinion. For some he is an evangelical atheist with a deep hatred and mistrust of religion and yet others find him tiresome still because of his criticisms of religion and the religious. Now I’m not going to blog too much about Richard Dawkins – though no doubt that could start some reasonably active and impassioned debate…

What I want to blog about is something I’m going to call the “Dawkins effect” this is where what someone says – the content and logic of their arguments seem to be treated as secondary to what people think their motivations and intent is.

Or rather that peoples preconceptions and stereotypes about a person or group of people overrides what they actually say and encourages attribution of motives that may or may not be there to the person/group.

In the case of Dawkins it’s that he hates religion and is wedded to some form of extreme militant evangelical atheism – now I don’t think Dawkins particularly likes religion but “hate” might be a little too strong. Also accusations of evangelical atheism seem a little unfounded to me – I’d be more than willing to see evidence supporting these assertions however.

Thus what Dawkins actually says, his carefully constructed philosophical and logical arguments count for naught as people already think he is a god hating dick. Someone who has made up their mind and it’s now closed to all other options. (I hasten to add that I don’t though and the public reaction to Dawkins frequently suprises me!)

In the case of 1023 the campaign runs the risk of looking like a bunch of bully’s running around telling people what they should think. This is emphatically not the case of course but there seems to be a number of people who hold that position. The more this happens, the more neutral people who are turned off by the debates on the #ten23 hashtag the worse it is for the campaigns aims of public engagement.

There appears to be an odd view of scientists/science and skepticism as part of the establishment – either at the extremes of being in the pay of big pharma ( a homeopathic fantasy) or know it all arrogant gods of certainty dictated to other people what they should or shouldn’t believe. This is not one of the aims of the campaign and is perhaps a problem with conducting a debate or campaign based on scientific evidence rather then polemic and political concerns. For one thing it perhaps associates evidence with opinion and then we all end up looking like dicks going “no your wrong and here’s why…” it doesn’t matter that we are producing evidence. It doesn’t matter that we are right.

People without any knowledge or appreciation of science aren’t going to care. They will give almost equal weight to homeopathic evidence as they do scientific. Thus we run the risk of looking as bad as each other…

We can bleat on and on about how our position is based up science, reason and evidence and that the homeopaths position is based upon anecdote or hearsay. But unless our audience knows something of the philosophy, logic and rationale underpinning the scientific method… Well it just looks like we are trying to claim some sort of special status for our opinions and testimony. (I advance this view a little better in this previous blog.)

It probably makes us look a little bit like a group of sneering elites coming down from our ivory towers to dispel the foolish notions of the ignorant proles.

This is not true, but perhaps we should all work a little harder to stop people coming to that conclusion?

We perhaps need to be a little more proficient in the dark art of image management…

Maybe tone down the self-righteousness and accept the frustration that comes from having our requests for evidence and the like ignored by the homeopaths in favour of yet more of the same linkspam.  We shouldn’t be matching the homeopaths bile with bile of our own. It’s hard when we are being accussed of being in the pocket of big pharma of being bigoted and of somehow threatening freedom of speech or choice… But we really should cool off a little and perhaps take the moral high ground here.

Otherwise the net result of 1023 will be turning Joe Public off of not just homeopathy and alternative medicine but also science and evidence.

Play nice guys.