Re: [asa] Intellectual Honesty

From: Nucacids <>
Date: Thu Oct 23 2008 - 00:09:05 EDT

Re: [asa] Intellectual HonestyHi Dennis,


I don't think anonymity is a sign of intellectual dishonesty. At the most, it might raise a red flag because of the potential for intellectual dishonesty. But the signs I outlined render that concern moot. Rather than worry about potential, just look for the actual signs. From my own personal experience, a real world identity doesn't seem to correlate with a higher incidence of intellectual honesty.


Yet I can certainly understand your dislike for anonymity, as that is a concern for many across the board. So let me open that can of worms and address this.


As I see it, what anonymity purchases is freedom. But it helps to think of this from a Christian perspective, as this freedom stands in relation to humanity's fallen nature.


On the upside, anonymity allows more freedom from the fallen nature of others. Human beings are deeply social beings, and our fallen nature, more often than not, infuses itself into this social reality. As a result, tribalism and the need to see the world in terms of the in-group and out-group are normal parts of human reality. The pressure to conform can be great and can be policed with rather sinful behavior (rumors, vindictive grudges, shunning, etc). Anonymity allows people to express a variety of controversial opinions, thoughts, and arguments without have to pay the unjustified price of some form of immoral retribution. It allows a greater chance to break out of the group think and pressure to conform. Some might say this is cowardice, but that's another topic I'd be happy to explore.


Another upside is that anonymity makes it easier to turn the other cheek. Over the years, I have been lied about and subjected to some pretty nasty attacks. If this was launched against my real world identity, I would feel a stronger need to very aggressively defend myself.


On the downside, the fallen nature of the anonymous person can more freely express itself. Anonymity removes social constraints and responsibility, which, when dealing with fallen beings, usually means trouble. And this is what gives anonymity its bad reputation (further evidence of our fallen nature, BTW).


There are two primary ways in which anonymity is misused in a sinful way.


First, the anonymous person engages in deception. He/she pretends to be something he/she is not. Whether it's the con man selling a product, or the internet loudmouth pretending to be an expert, or the sock-puppet pretending to be multiple people, it's all deception.


Second, the anonymous person can use his anonymity to launch vile personal attacks on other people. The anonymous person can more freely spread lies, gossip, and even stalk someone. He becomes like an assassin in the shadows.


As a Christian, my solution has been to rely on my faith to hold my fallen nature in check.


On the first point, I do not make any claims of having any type of real world expertise. When I first put up my web page, I added the following prominent disclaimer:


"Warning: Buyer beware. The internet is loaded with all kinds of kooky theories and arguments and who can say I am any different? My advice would be simply this: don't trust me as any type of authority and balance my views with those who don't agree with me. If you are interested in origins, learn as much biology as possible and then attempt to arrive at your own informed conclusions about the arguments presented on this site and elsewhere. And grains of salt come in handy."


And to book end this, my book also clearly states at the beginning:


"Of course, since I make no appeal to qualifications or relevant training, you, the reader should not treat me as an authority. You must decide for yourself if the evidence and arguments make sense and if need be, track down the references that may support them."


Furthermore, as you noted, I "have consistently used [my] nom de plume for a long time and have even published using it." In other words, I have not changed identities every year or so, meaning that I have allowed a lengthy track record of public behavior to attach itself to my handle (which, BTW, could quickly transfer to my real identity at any day given the potential of being outed).


As for the second point, I try to steer clear of the personal attacks and don't take on the role of assassin. Over the years I have been periodically aggressive (the internet is often like the wild west), and may have crossed the line because of emotion, but I have tried hard to minimize that and reserved it for a) defense against another anonymous person (very common in cyberspace) or b) a major, public media figure (someone like Dawkins). I don't stalk or harass people with emails. Again, here the consistent use of the same handle comes into play. On the internet, ALL you have is the reputation you get from being on the internet. Those of us who stick with the same handle year after year can't afford to burn that reputation with grudges or obsession.


In the end, I try to put my anonymity under the lordship of Christ, as I am NOT anonymous in his eyes. I often fail, but at least I try.


One final thing (for anyone still reading). I do have a sincerely held belief that I also laid out in my book:


"As I have repeatedly argued on the Internet, I am not going to make any appeal to qualifications or training. If I have no qualifications or relevant training, this may cause some to dismiss or overlook a good argument for this reason alone. If I do have qualifications and relevant training, this may cause some to embrace a bad argument for this reason alone. I would rather let the arguments stand on their own to be evaluated without prejudice. The Internet functions in such a way that it allows us to strip most of the extraneous material from an argument (a person's reputation, degrees, popularity, etc.) and focus instead on the core of the argument and the data used to support it."


Think of it this way. If you knew my real identity, would it change the validity of my arguments and position?


- Mike Gene

  Hi Mike,

  Thanks for this. I agree completely.

  Ironically, the first thing I thought of after reading the list was one addition.

  11. Use your real name when presenting your arguments. Using a pseudonym might lead you to say things from your position of anonymity that you would not say if your identity was known.

  Now, please hear me: I do see your specific case as a bit different than Timaeus in that you have consistently used your nom de plume for a long time and have even published using it. You also conduct yourself very well. If you did not I would likely be of a different mind, but everything I've seen from you has been fine.

  Still, I'll admit to not liking the anonymity thing - no more than I enjoy talking to folks with paper bags on their heads. C'est la vie, I guess.


  On 21/10/08 8:58 PM, "Nucacids" <> wrote:

    When it comes to just about any topic, it seems as if the public discourse on the internet is dominated by rhetoric and propaganda. People are either selling products or ideology. In fact, just because someone may come across as calm and knowledgeable does not mean you should let your guard down and trust what they say. What you need to look for is a track record of intellectual honesty. Let me therefore propose 10 signs of intellectual honesty.

    1. Do not overstate the power of your argument. One's sense of conviction should be in proportion to the level of clear evidence assessable by most. If someone portrays their opponents as being either stupid or dishonest for disagreeing, intellectual dishonesty is probably in play. Intellectual honesty is most often associated with humility, not arrogance.

    2. Show a willingness to publicly acknowledge that reasonable alternative viewpoints exist. The alternative views do not have to be treated as equally valid or powerful, but rarely is it the case that one and only one viewpoint has a complete monopoly on reason and evidence.

    3. Be willing to publicly acknowledge and question one's own assumptions and biases. All of us rely on assumptions when applying our world view to make sense of the data about the world. And all of us bring various biases to the table.

    4. Be willing to publicly acknowledge where your argument is weak. Almost all arguments have weak spots, but those who are trying to sell an ideology will have great difficulty with this point and would rather obscure or downplay any weak points.

    5. Be willing to publicly acknowledge when you are wrong. Those selling an ideology likewise have great difficulty admitting to being wrong, as this undercuts the rhetoric and image that is being sold. You get small points for admitting to being wrong on trivial matters and big points for admitting to being wrong on substantive points. You lose big points for failing to admit being wrong on something trivial.

    6. Demonstrate consistency. A clear sign of intellectual dishonesty is when someone extensively relies on double standards. Typically, an excessively high standard is applied to the perceived opponent(s), while a very low standard is applied to the ideologues' allies.

    7. Address the argument instead of attacking the person making the argument. Ad hominem arguments are a clear sign of intellectual dishonesty. However, often times, the dishonesty is more subtle. For example, someone might make a token effort at debunking an argument and then turn significant attention to the person making the argument, relying on stereotypes, guilt-by-association, and innocent-sounding gotcha questions.

    8. When addressing an argument, do not misrepresent it. A common tactic of the intellectually dishonest is to portray their opponent's argument in straw man terms. In politics, this is called spin. Typically, such tactics eschew quoting the person in context, but instead rely heavily on out-of-context quotes, paraphrasing and impression. When addressing an argument, one should shows signs of having made a serious effort to first understand the argument and then accurately represent it in its strongest form.

    9. Show a commitment to critical thinking.

    10. Be willing to publicly acknowledge when a point or criticism is good. If someone is unable or unwilling to admit when their opponent raises a good point or makes a good criticism, it demonstrates an unwillingness to participate in the give-and-take that characterizes an honest exchange.

    While no one is perfect, and even those who strive for intellectual honesty can have a bad day, simply be on the look out for how many and how often these criteria apply to someone. In the arena of public discourse, it is not intelligence or knowledge that matters most - it is whether you can trust the intelligence or knowledge of another. After all, intelligence and knowledge can sometimes be the best tools of an intellectually dishonest approach.

    - Mike Gene

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Received on Thu Oct 23 00:09:44 2008

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