Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chris Mooney: "Anthony Watts and Defensive Reasoning"

I came across this article today and believe it's worth sharing.
Tip of the hat to Chris Mooney and

Anthony Watts and Defensive Reasoning: Three Episodes
Chris Mooney, November 16, 2011 ~

"Over the last year, I’ve had numerous blogospheric encounters with the conservative climate “skeptic” Anthony Watts, the author of WattsUpWithThat.
"In the process, I’ve been particularly struck by how Watts handles inconvenient evidence.
"Twice now, I’ve seen Watts make a mistake, and then seem to rationalize it, rather than simply correct it. 
"I’ve also seen Watts shift the goalposts, refusing to accept inconvenient evidence even after saying he would do so.
"What’s up with that?
"Look: We all make mistakes. And we all adopt beliefs that later turn out to be incorrect. There's nothing wrong with that per se; it's actually quite natural. What really matters is what we do after we’re proven wrong. So let’s see what Watts does:"
~ ~ ~
"Research on Astroturfing. A while back, I introduced the blogosphere to a social science study on online anti-global warming astroturfing. Watts then leapt in, accusing the researchers of having “setup fake websites to gather fake data."
"Note the underlying point here. Watts launched a baseless attack on the astroturfing study. When his error was pointed out, he tried to blame the study authors, and came up with new criticisms, including protesting that they should have conducted the study in a way that he himself had previously claimed would have been deceptive and misleading, or even unethical."
~ ~ ~ 
"On to episode two:
The BEST Study. I just wrote about this one, and it is quite telling.
A while back, Anthony Watts wrote of the headline-grabbing Berkeley BEST study that “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.”
But when the study came out and he didn’t like its findings, Watts instead engaged in  a phenomenon called goalpost shifting. Look at how he now talks about the BEST work: In a recent post, he referred to the “incomplete and rushed, non quality controlled, error riddled BEST science.”
Are we noting a common theme here?"
~ ~ ~
"On to episode three:
The Republican Brain: My next book will not be out for about 6 months. Nevertheless, much like the Astroturf study, Watts attacked it without reading it. He justified doing so by claiming that someone else had reviewed the book, so he could rely on that review instead: link"

"Why is all of this significant?

If you can’t admit it when you’re wrong,
 you also can’t know when you’re right.
If you don’t hold your opinions and beliefs tentatively, subject them to scrutiny, and then try to parse out which of them truly hold weight, then you run the risk of rushing headlong into all manner of self-serving biases."
~ ~ ~ 

"And please note: This has nothing to do with whether or not you’re smart.
Smart people (like Watts) are in fact particularly vulnerable to this problem, because they’re extra good at rationalizing their views. Even as they’re super awesome at finding apparent problems with the arguments of those who disagree with them, and arguing back against their opponents, they're often oblivious of their own biases.

But it doesn’t matter how many great arguments you can spin out to defend what you believe, if you can’t also perceive where your beliefs might be untrue.

Without self criticism, all your self-supporting arguments amount to little more than spinning your wheels—while you remain stuck in the mud."

Chris Mooney
As posted at DeSmogBlog

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