Skepticism

That Feeling You’re Feeling

The Skepchicks all got spammed by one prat with the same message today. Only Elyse deduced the winning response.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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23 Comments

  1. Also? DEMOCRITUS WAS WRONG. He had an interesting theory that sounds superficially similar to modern atomic theory. But it was not modern atomic theory. It was wrong. It was wronger than the Bohr model and the Thompson model and all the other atomic theories that were based on evidence and experiment rather than abstract philosophizing but still, also, got things wrong. Modern atomic theory is also wrong, but it is, as far as we know, less wrong than Democritus. And we didn’t get it by having some guy pull something out of his ass and bowing down to worship that guy’s every word. Even Democritus had better methodology than THAT.

  2. HAHA great response.

    @Joshua: That’s what I was going to say! We didn’t just accept what Democritus said and then do no more research. We demonstrated that it was true by a lot of research, and threw out the parts that weren’t demonstrated.

  3. The word our spammer should be using is hypothesis not theory.

    Our spammer is talking nonsense. We all happen to know that atoms are a fundamental concept in science and have been for 100 years. But it was not always so.

    Ernst Mach could say, at the close of the 19th Century, ‘I do not believe in atoms’ and be taken perfectly seriously. His opponent was Boltzmann who had a perfectly good hypothesis that depended on the existence of atoms. Sadly Boltzmann took his own life without knowing that Einstein had already vindicated him. (Ironically, Mach was a great influence on Einstein.)

    Science is seldom neat and tidy. Laws, theories, hypotheses, and hunches come all jumbled up with observations, predictions, and experiments.

    In particular, and this is something pseudo-scientists cannot abide, that ‘irrefutable’ evidence is often a long time in coming. Democritus would have had to wait a long time for Einstein. Galileo would have to wait centuries for direct evidence that the Earth moved around the Sun. Four decades past before the missing solar neutrino problem was solved. Kepler had his ‘evidence’ before he had his laws, but these had to wait for Newton for a theoretical basis.

  4. Sorry, while Elyse is really clever, and we all love her dearly, I don’t find her answer satisfying.

    The spammer is wrong for a number of reasons. One is…

    Really, only extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    If you tell me that your neighbor has red hair, I’d be inclined to believe you. Unless I had evidence to the contrary. Or if there was a lot of money at stake.

    If you said you saw Bigfoot, however, I’d ask for evidence. There isn’t just a lack of evidence for Bigfoot out there; there’s good reason to believe that there is no such animal.

    The evidence to support a new claim has to exceed the evidence for existing claims that it contradicts, for it to be believed. It needs at least some portion of that evidence to even be taken seriously as an idea.

    And that’s the way it should be.

  5. @JeffGrigg:

    I guess you missed the part where Rebecca called him a “spammer”. Notice she didn’t use the term “nice guy asking questions” or “guy who is just confused and wrong”. Spammer was a nice word. “Troll” is a better word.

    And she called him a spammer because he emailed each of us individually on Facebook with exactly the same message and sent us a message through the contact form.

    Maria engaged him only to realize she was being baited.

    I received the FB mail after he used the comment form (which was after Maria had already started a dialogue with him).

    Had I not already known what he was up to, I would have responded to his obvious and pretentious baiting with “LOLWUT”.

  6. Pithy comeback Elyse,and from what I just read on another site about Democritus,he was also pretty kick-ass,and would most definitely fit in with the Skeptical community were he alive today.

  7. The fanboy in me is silly with happiness. The response was perfect. The pedant in me is pissed about the use of theory to describe at best a hypothesis but is probably really just an idea and maybe just a notion. I wish I were this clever.

  8. Yeah, I’m also kind of tickled by the idea that the atomic theory of Democritus was taken without any evidence. If you read the rest of the Pre-Socratics, they all think Democritus was CRAZY.
    If you’re going to spam someone, at least do it with proper information on your side.

  9. The point is: exceptional claims require exceptional evidence. BUT the individual making the claim must be the one providing the evidence, not the individual trying to debunk (or disprove) the claim. If I say extraterrestrials visit me at my home every Saturday *I* must provide evidence showing this to be the case. You are not the one required to show proof that they do not (which wouldn’t be possible anyway…).

    If the research and evidence is too great for one individual to provide (as you seem to indicate), then it is the work of many individuals (like all of science today): evidence is built up, errors corrected, and advances are made. (But one must be willing to correct errors and to change views if the original view is found to be wrong.)

    The problem is that many (most?) in society believe that it works in the opposite way: I make a fantastical claim and it is up to everyone else to prove I’m wrong….

  10. AlanUK hits the nail on the head, but I’ll reiterate-

    The poster does not know the difference between a “theory” and a “hypothesis”. Substitute the words and it changes the whole meaning.

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