Sunday, 17 August 2014

Not listening - deniers are like teenagers

Well, a lot like this one anyway.

The loss of rational thought - hmm.  I'm not sure deniers actually lose that power, they just mangle it up.  The power of logic is commonly harvested by scientists and mathematicians to progress their work.  Deniers, on the other hand, twist logic into strange knots and accept the answers it gives, even if the answers are complete rubbish.
Let me show you an example of how using pure logic badly can yield ridiculous results:

 Time for a real world example.  Regular readers of this blog might know that Christopher Monckton is a common target for ridicule.  Let me not, therefore, be accused of anything like originality by mocking the Lord Monckton again.
This time it is not for his panacea snake oil substitute, or for his downright wrong views on climate change or his odd comments on academic behaviour.  No, I'm talking about Monckton the birther.
For those who live on the real planet Earth, a birther is someone who, for some reason, doesn't believe that Barack Obama was born in the USA.  So far as I can understand, this is the result of the man's skin not being the required flesh tone, and his politics not being the required fruitcake teabagger kind.  I won't bother explaining why the birther movement is wrong.  It's just so stupid.  No, I want to use a moment of supreme stupidity to explain why deniers are like teenagers.
Monckton wrote an article for the slightly deluded World Net Daily (correction of title 17/8/14) with the headline Obama eligibility odds: 1 in 62.5 quintillion.  The guff under the headline says that Monckton has crunched the numbers.  Well, he certainly crunches some numbers but you know one thing about those numbers just by looking at them.  I won't spoil it for you.  Go and have a look.
On second thoughts, since its Monckton, don't bother.  Just look at this, a list of some probabilities that Monckton created from thin air deployed in his calculation of the probability that Obama's birth certificate is genuine:
He cites:
  • The fact that the registrar’s signature-stamp on the electronic form can be moved about: 100:1 against.
  • Registrar’s date-stamp ditto: 100:1 against.
  • Multiple 1-bit monochrome layers and one 8-bit color layer: 60:1. (Experts twice found no such pattern in 600 file-optimization programs: I allow for 10 anomalous programs to exist.)
  • “Lavishly funded bureaucracy uses wonky typewriter:” 10:1
  • Human error: Certificate number out of sequence: 25:1
  • Incorrect birth date of father: 40:1
  • Use of “African” contrary to written form-filling rules and 20 years before the term came into common use: 25:1
  • Miscoded statistical data: 25:1 (official government estimate).
  • White halo around letters: 10:1
  • Chromatic aberration absent: 100:1
  • Other identity documents: Anomalously worded abstract on short-form birth certificate: 100:1
  • Two-digit year on selective service stamp against DoD written rules: 100:1 (actually impossible: no two-digit example other than that of Kenya’s “son of the soil” is known)
  • Non-citizen of Connecticut holds Connecticut social security number: 100:1.
Now, any number of things should give the game away that these numbers are not, shall we say, real.  They have no basis in reality.  My favourite is the last one.  A 100-1 chance that a non-citizen of Connecticutt holds a Connecticutt social security number would imply that 1% of all Americans would have such a thing.  That would be something like 2 million Americans.  I think the minions in local government in that state might have some explaining to do. 
The point is, of course, that the birth certificate was produced because the birther movement demanded it as proof or otherwise that Obama was born in the USA.  When it was delivered, the birther movement would not accept it.  They poured over it in microscopic detail to find anomalies that the rest of us would accept as those little accidents that life throws up.  As a for instance, my uncle, who died in 1982, had his name misspelled on his coffin lid.  The mistake was only noticed after the coffin had been lowered into the grave.  These things happen.  You can do what I did when I read that a "lavishly funded bureaucracy uses a wonky typewriter" - laugh and wonder who said it was a lavishly funded etc and why wouldn't a typewriter be wonky.  Inkjets and laser printers have made pecking at a typewriter a thing of the past, along with their imperfections.
Back to teenagers.  Those of us who encounter them on a regular basis know that, just like Kevin, between the ages of 13 and 19, teenagers commonly know everything and they know it best.  Deniers do that too.  I will grant that some teenagers are knowledgeable, just as some deniers are.  But that does not make them infallible.  Many teenagers are firmly sure they are infallible.  Deniers are just like that.  Confronted by the truth, deniers just dig deeper and deeper in an effort to find another flaw.
One of the great things about being human, in my opinion, is finding out that the centre of the Universe lies some distance away from me.  That there is so much more to explore than just the backyard.  You also learn that things don't always go as planned.  Some days it rains and you can't play in the garden.  And you learn that making stuff up doesn't always work.
I won't debunk Monckton's drivel.  That is done eloquently here and here.  Just to say it is indicative of his mindset and that of lots of deniers, if not all of them.  The denier thinks that just asking awkward questions is enough, and that making stuff up is acceptable.  But most of all, the denier thinks that reality is something that can be ignored.
When told the truth, deniers live up to their name.  They deny.  I first encountered the idea of deniers when I stepped innocently into the so-called Apollo moonlanding conspiracy.  There wasn't one.  The evidence is mountainous that NASA did land men on the Moon.  Six times.  That seems to be forgotten.  And the ignorance of the deniers is something that doesn't diminish.  No matter how often they get told, deniers don't learn.
I have maligned teenagers by comparing them with deniers.  Teenagers are actually more like octopuses - putting their tentacles out in all directions, learning in the same way a sponge absorbs water.  They don't act like deniers - they question because they don't know, not because they are trying to score points all the time. 
I've used Monckton's mathematical fantasy to illustrate the mindset of a denier - no matter what the truth is, they will still deny it.  As Monckton says of his own mental maths:
Don’t be misled by the simplicity of the method. It’s simple but sound. The result is solid.
How wrong he is.