Guest Bloggers

Guest Post: Skeptics Have a PR Problem

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post, from Jenny Splitter, is a good reminder to step out of your comfortable echo chamber and engage with people instead of lecturing at them. 

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece for Grounded Parents called In Defense of Gluten Free. As I’m obsessed with site stats, I was pouring over all of the incoming links that day and at the very bottom I found a link from this post: “Jenny Splitter & Non-Celiac Gluten Free Sensitivity.”

First of all, how important am I to be in the title of a blog post that’s all about my fallacious reasoning skills? Exciting! Can I just say that I love how I manage to get haters before I have fans? Kinda like how exactly no one has asked me hey are you working out? but some lady in my Power Lift class told me I was on my way to looking like a linebacker. SERIOUSLY? Isn’t there a step in between Pillsbury dough boy and linebacker??? Fucking hell.

Kudos, Emil Karlsson, on a very well-reasoned, logical argument. There’s no evidence that gluten free sensitivity exists, and my criticism of the skeptical position fails for various reasons described in meticulous detail at the link above. But my piece isn’t about refuting the skeptical position on gluten free sensitivity. It’s actually about communication.

Time and again, skeptics write pieces that read like—hey, dumb asshole, here’s the science that you just aren’t getting. You suck at life, you dumb asshole. And lo, the troops are rallied and skeptics pump their fists like The Situation in his heyday. But is anyone actually convinced of anything new? Does this win anyone over? Does anyone change their mind?

Ok, the answer is actually sometimes. Clearly, the pro-science ranks have swelled in part because skeptics weren’t afraid to get down, dirty and mean in the trenches. That’s cool. I totally get it. Sometimes I even like it. I just don’t find it very interesting anymore. (But what do I know? I’d kind of rather be watching Vanderpump Rules anyway.)

I just wonder whether there isn’t a point at which you reach all of the folks you’re going to reach, and then the rest becomes just shouting into your echo chamber.

Listen, I get the appeal of the echo chamber. Sometimes I step out of mine and I’m like, holy shit, there are a lot of racist, sexist, transphobic idiot Americans out there! And then I thank God (not literally, you smug atheists!) that I live in an overpriced rowhouse in the hippest neighborhood in America and I celebrate my mother-fucking echo chamber with a mother-fucking craft beer. But then eventually I get bored again. Because echo chambers are boring. Engagement is interesting. Ok, engagement is a buzzword. So how about conversation? I’m just talking about conversation—a conversation with the people not eating gluten.

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jenny

Jenny Splitter is a writer/storyteller and over-scheduled mom of two living in Washington, DC. She spends her glamorous days trying to write whatever she can, counting 1-2-3 in a slow yet threatening manner to her children, playing with gluten and working to eradicate dog hair from the planet (or at least her home). You can follow her on Twitter and Google+.

 

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Mary

Mary

Mary Brock is a scientist who works on drugs you've hopefully never heard of. She enjoys cooking to Blue Grass music, messing with her cats, and hosting the Boston Skeptics' Book Club. She was born in the South but loves living in New England (despite the lack of chocolate chip pizza). Mary does not use Twitter and don't even try to follow her, because she is always looking over her shoulder.

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8 Comments

  1. February 4, 2015 at 12:37 pm —

    A lot of honesty there. Us skeptics aren’t immune to confirmation bias. We’re people, and we make all the same social mistakes, leaps of logic, and unscientific assertions as everyone else.

    All we have is an intent to avoid doing so as a central tenet.

  2. February 4, 2015 at 2:25 pm —

    “All we have is an intent to avoid doing so as a central tenet.”

    YES! And thanks.

  3. February 4, 2015 at 3:58 pm —

    Hmm. My own take on the whole gluten thing is – OK, we know there is a clear genetic disorder that causes problems. Only… we are only **just now** looking at some oddities that may arise as a result of differences in gut bacteria, so… there *is* a possible vector for additional sensitivity problems, related to the same class of foods, and it thus could be from differences in something for which he have done almost jack all of any kind of real research on. That said… I very, very, very, much doubt that dang near every other person I talk to has a sensitivity problem, but, some days at least, it appears as though that comes close to the number of people trying to give me, or someone else, where I work, advice on how much better they feel, now that they became semi-obsessive over gluten.

    The only good thing about the whole mess is that eventually we are almost certainly going to be able to do targeted gene replacements, and its only going to be the gene-fearful equivalent of anti-vaxers who will still even need gluten free, and other similar things. The rest can just fix the bloody gene(s). So, in the long run, this is all just a bloody temporary irritant, I hope…

    • February 4, 2015 at 4:18 pm —

      Your entire first paragraph could describe aspartame just as readily as gluten. The only real difference is that gluten sensitivity has been given credibility (in some cases by those trying to cash in on the fad) while aspartame sensitivity is relegated to the fringes of Natural News.

      It’s all about perspective.

    • February 4, 2015 at 7:43 pm —

      The sensitivity might actually be FODMAPS.

      I know a lot of people who have gone gluten free to treat an inflammatory condition of some kind but that could be anything from a person with a diagnosis like Crohn’s to a person who has decided on their own that their pain is caused by inflammation.

  4. February 5, 2015 at 2:17 am —

    I love the way that article starts with a leap straight from “we don’t currently have any evidence” to “it is conclusively proved” without any intervening evidence. Then proceeds to talk about skeptics who get their logic wrong.

    But that’s of a piece with a rattle-off-the-usual dismissal of something that the skeptic has decided is annoyingly irrational and therefore beneath their attention. Yes, they make valid points about common fallacies, but they don’t link those to the actual article very well. Or maybe that’s just me writing off what evidence they have based on them being so horribly wrong in their starting premise.

  5. February 6, 2015 at 2:27 am —

    What I don’t understand is, why do people even care so much about what other people have chosen for their diets? You don’t actually need gluten to have a healthy diet, so if someone wants to do without it, so what? I think it’s fair enough to point out that gluten sensitivity may not be a thing, but if the person wants to be gluten-free anyway, then … Oh well? And in fact, someone pointed out to me recently that the rise in gluten-free dieters has led to a rise in gluten-free products and gluten-free menu items in restaurants, which is fantastic for people who have celiac disease. People who in the recent past had a hard time finding things they could without destroying their innards, and forget about eating socially — now have a lot more options, which I think is pretty cool. If some of the people popularizing this way of eating don’t actually need to eat that way, I find it hard to care too much.

    • February 6, 2015 at 9:29 am —

      Why should we be okay with psuedoscience? It’s the same mentality that promotes anti-vaxx rhetoric and belief. To allow one form of psuedoscience because it’s “not a big deal” (says whom? and why?) is not okay. It just helps promote yet more anti-intellectualism and lazy thinking.

      Accurate science is necessary, not optional.

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