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08/10/2011 / Pedanto

Appealing to My Own Authority

I have recently been dragged into a few arguments with people on the internet, and just like the angry thirteen year old I have decided to become, I thought it best to justify my position in front of the whole world. Now I know that simply saying “I’m almost a Doctor” is a pretty obvious logical fallacy in the form of an appeal to authority, so let me justify myself.

My revision for finals had taken a rather unexpected turn

 Where I’m wrong

I do not claim to be right all the time, in fact I’m happy to learn from my mistakes. I hope to approach all the debates I go into with an open mind, ready to receive some new information which will make me change my mind. I, like everyone else, am prone to confirming my own biases, not questioning information which agrees with my prejudice and doing some fantastic backflips of cognitive dissonance when I am quite obviously wrong. Hell I like to continue arguing even when I’ve realised that my opponent is right (more often in a face to face argument) because I’m a bit of a contrarian twat. Probably not the easiest thing for a lot of people to live with.
For this I now send out an eternal apology to everyone I might offend in the future by needlessly bating them.
Right now that that’s covered back to why I am right all the time (at least on the internet).

Where I’m right

It’s always nice that people will believe bullshit they read on the internet and assume that doctors have no idea about science.
Here’s an example from my old stomping ground. That article essentially tells the dear reader some absolute bullshit about how vibrations in water molecules hold the memory of whatever has been in it. That’s fine, it’s from and it’s nothing less than I’d expect from them. No real references, no papers, not a single proper name drop of anyone with a little bit of credibility that might agree with the author. Fine. I don’t care – that is what natural news is about. As I’ve previously touched on, natural news, like many pseudo-scientific naturopathic websites out there, are primarily well designed store fronts for Big CAM. They will be making plenty of profit from the shit they’re selling. Ben Goldacre has refered to this as “a self administered tax on the scientifically illiterate” and I’m growing more inclined to agree. So here it is. If you’ve read all the evidence (or even a respectable summary of the evidence with as little bias as possible in it) and you’re happy to disagree with me – go ahead. You’ll be wrong, but I will bear you no ill will. The problem is if you haven’t spent the  three minutes required on Google to form an opinion based upon anything more than what the nice man who raps and sells you vitamin D says, then please don’t start to argue with me. Even worse, don’t use my education as a point against me.

A little about me

So here’s where I stand with my understanding of science. Two years of sixth form concentrating on the sciences followed by five years of a medical degree.

Just a quick aside: for any prospective medical students out there that half-arsed pretentious nonsense about medicine being both a science and an art is absolute humbug! Humbug I say! It’s a science practised (in general) by people with enough social competence to allow them to explain very complex ideas to the very stupid and poorly educated. To be clear I am not calling all patients stupid. I am calling SOME patients stupid, as inevitably some people who get ill fall at certain points on certain bell curves and that inevitably leads me to meet some stupid people. I also meet some extremely clever people who leave my intellect in the dust.

If we decide to count GCSEs, that comes to almost ten years of my life spent gaining a measurable competence in understanding science. I also like reading about science, but only the really cool stuff that really confuses that gaping existential vacuum within me. I have not conducted any real (i.e. published and peer-reviewed) research first hand, but being the pedantic skeptic I am I have familiarised myself with the methods of research quite thoroughly. I may not be an authority on any given subject but I most certainly am able to comment on whether an assertion is unsupported or whether the wrong conclusions have been drawn from a paper.

This opinion does not wash with anyone who I happen to argue with on the internet about pseudoscientific nonsense. Apparently having such a strong faith in the sciences means that I do not have the ability to objectively step back from the views of mainstream science and accept what I’m being told by someone who considers having a child with ADHD a qualification.

Oh wait.


That’s complete and utter bollocks.

I would like to state categorically that no true scientist (name that logical fallacy!) would be happy to say they have faith in anything. It runs against the ethos of science to place faith in a particular idea, as someone might well turn around tomorrow and tell you that they’ve discovered neutrinos going faster than light speed. Then where would we be had we raised Einstein to the status of an infallible god? We question, we hypothesise and then we test. If the hypothesis doesn’t stand up to the testing then we go back to questioning.

I will readily admit that I have a bias towards provable scientific theory, I have spent a lot of my life using it. Sticking to the floor and that! However if tomorrow someone can show me some good evidence that the crap CAM pushers peddle is anything more than a very effective cash cow I will (to quote time Minchin) “carve it on the side of my fucking cock!”

In Summary

I stand here with three hundred years of the enlightenment at my back, thousands of points of data supporting my views, and with the brightest minds of all time on my side. I am most certainly standing on the shoulders of giants, not sitting around thinking that life is too confusing to actually put in the effort to actually find out what the fuck is going on.

Life is big, scary and difficult and that’s what makes it so wondrously, blindingly brilliant.

Here’s the funnies:


  1. Sign up to the Anthony Nolan Trust if you haven’t. If you want to show how much of a man you are try to beat my donation of 5.6 units of bone marrow to someone who needs it. If you don’t want to show how much of a man you are (for example if you are a woman) then it’s worth signing up to because you could really help someone who needs it, and you get some pretty sweet freebies for donating.
  2. Don’t be a twat.

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