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How Not to Argue Like a Complete Fool

February 23, 2010

Dedicated to cancer quack, Andreas Moritz

You may be aware that WordPress had blocked a science blog after a spurious threat of libel action from the even more spurious cancer quack, Andreas Moritz.

(See earlier story here, Cancer Quack v. WordPress #1)

Well, I am happy to note that WordPress have now seen the light, and reinstated the blog.

It is now possible to read the post which originally seems to have motivated cancer quack Andreas Moritz’s eventual threats of a libel suit:

Andreas Moritz is a stupid, dangerous man, by Mike Hawkins

Moritz shows up in the comments to defend himself….

And fails miserably.

Moritz’s arguments are so terrible that I feel compelled to quickly offer some advice to him and his fans about presenting arguments.

Yes folks, free of charge as always, and courtesy of WordPress, we now present: this handy reference list for things not to do if your cancer quackery has been discovered and is being circulated to a wider audience beyond your surviving followers.

1. Calling someone a schmuck, etc, is indeed an insult, and if it isn’t backed up by reasons (like it is in the linked article), then you can fairly call foul and not bother responding to the jerk who wrote it. However, being called a schmuck and criticised clearly and fairly does not give you a free pass to ignore the criticisms. Argue back. Don’t just grizzle like a spoilt brat.

2. Should you decide to play the why are you so full of rage card, you should be aware that this is, despite its subtlty, even worse than calling someone a schmuck. You are insinuating that the person’s motives are dishonest, and you assume that you know more about these than the person himself. It is also a feeble attempt at manipulating the person into a corner. Of course it makes also makes it sound like you are not full of rage, but be honest, can you even say the word “rage” without feeling just a teensy bit of rage yourself? A little self awareness can go a long way in such situations.

3. Related to this, the person may indeed be full of rage, and that may be a perfectly appropriate response. Don’t take it on yourself to “talk him down”. Just ignore it as best you can and focus on his arguments. While answering them, you may indulge in the odd twist of the knife yourself, if you haven’t already complained about his tone.

4. If this rage filled heathen you are arguing with has criticised a paper you have written, don’t defend yourself by saying he should have read your book as well. If you are incapable of presenting your case in the length you have chosen for your article, then you should not have published it in the first place.

5. If you claim a study supports your position, cite it correctly, or where possible link to it.

6. If you are bold enough to link to a study, make sure it does actually reach the conclusions you say it does.

7. The fact that you have worked with a supposedly reputable doctor at some point does not automatically make your entire practise – or even a part of it – reputable. Similarly, should you have a science degree does not make all of your statements scientific.

8. Use the word proven only if something is proven.

9. Don’t insist your interlocutors must comprehend your entire paradigm before making statements about your factual claims and assertions.

10. Don’t tell them they are not true skeptics for not doubting well researched or documented conclusions. Skepticism is not a permanent state of doubt. It is about developing an informed opinion after carefully checking the evidence, or reserving judgment if the evidence is insufficient.

11. After you have tried all of the above and been called out on it, don’t threaten to sue for libel. You might even manage to shut the odd person up, but it will show you up as a disgusting, insincere creep who has no answers to the criticisms leveled against him.

12. And this is still relevant, after threatening to sue for libel, don’t do it. You may become as famous as the British Chiropractic Association and find yourself having to pull a whole lot of scandalous advertising material from the web before it becomes too widely publicised what you’re really doing and claiming.

13. Realise that the internet is a public forum and anything you write and any statements you put on You Tube will be available not only to your close cirle of fans or target audience, but also there for nasty wicked heathenous skeptics to potentially laugh at and call your bluff with.

14. Related to this, the manipulative tricks you can get away with in the cafe or at a party do not translate well onto the internet. At a party you can say “studies have shown….” and no one can really challenge you on it unless they are familiar with the subject. On the internet, however, people can easily challenge you to dig up the study and you can’t run away. Or worse, they can find it themselves and skewer you with your own words, which incidentally, they can now quote back at you, which they also can’t do at a party. Times have changed!

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