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Deniers Bad; Herd Followers Good???

The recent dustup surrounding the SMU design conference highlighted a rhetorical tactic that has become fashionable in the anti-ID herd.  This tactic is to smear IDists with the “denier” tag, as if mere denial is self-evidently bad.  Herewith, a reflection on famous deniers in history from another forum in which I participate (used with permission):

I think that there may be some fodder in the current “witch hunt” attitude towards “deniers” for us to use. Consider the following example:
 
There were a couple of doctors who were “stress deniers” in that they denied that stress caused peptic ulcers. They had the audacity to suggest that ulcers were caused by a bacterial infection. As a result, they were marginalized and scoffed at and (so I understand) heckled and laughed at during presentations. The end result: they won the 2005 Nobel Price in medicine for the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. The take home message that we should shout at every opportunity: today’s “deniers” are tomorrows heros.
 
Consider also the following:
 
Copernicus – geocentrism denier
 
Pasteur – spontaneous generation denier
 
Darwin – inheritance of acquired traits denier
 
Einstein - absolute reference frame denier
 
Gould and Margulis – Darwinian gradualism deniers
 
Hawking – Steady State Model denier
 
Conway Morris – purely random evolution denier
 
Woese – universal common descent denier
 
etc.

Based on this, being a “denier” is a grand tradition in science, a tradition that science literally cannot do without. Without the bold “deniers” challenging the status quo, there would be no progress in science.

My colleague invites me (and I invite readers) to add to the list.

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16 Responses to Deniers Bad; Herd Followers Good???

  1. “Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.” -Einstein

    I thought this quote was quite relevant to the topic.

  2. Great quote.
    Here’s one I like;
    “Following precedent is a poor substitute for thinking.” -my father, a lawyer

  3. I’m not sure Darwin was a pure denier of inheritance of acquired traits (I presume you are talking about traits acquired during the process of life). Although he did not subscribe to it fully, I recall that he did give it a hesitating nod as one possible source of variation in The Origin.

  4. Hey,

    Did you see we made the top of the list at http://www.denialism.com

    we believe these sites represent the most prominent or influential ones that have been most effective

    Our weblog is number 1 baby, number 1!!!!

  5. Thomas Gold, astronomer and “brilliant scientific gadfly”.

    He went against popular scientific opinion in postulating that dust covered the moon’s surface, that the source of the human ear’s ability to discriminate between musical notes was the ear itself and not the brain, that pulsars are neutron stars emitting radio waves as they spin (considered implausible at the time).

  6. Umm, Woese does not deny universal common descent. Where are you getting your info?

  7. “Did you see we made the top of the list at http://www.denialism.com

    The denialism.com guys misunderstand or misconstrue the argument being made here. The above list of “deniers” is not evidence that there are no deniers that are kooks. Rather, it’s a refutation of the belief or argument that all people labeled as kooks by the majority are actual kooks.

    It’s also an appeal to at least listen to the claims of deniers, and to have a little humility when deciding who’s a kook and who isn’t.

  8. The story about the peptic ulcer deniers is constantly touted as an example of a causal relationship in medicine when the story is actually a whole lot more complicated. I know it is off-topic, but as a sufferer of peptic ulcers myself I can say with absolute certainty that the helicobacter pylori only take advantage of my system when I am under severe stress. At other times my immune system has no problem taking care of this “cause”. The reason this is relevant is that often what appear to be causal relationships are really only correlations and the bigger picture reveals this. Stress alone doesn’t “cause” peptic ulcer, nor does helicobacter pylori. The two in combination, along with several other correlational factors (how a person handles stresses, individual systemic weaknesses, etc.) CAN come together to produce peptic ulcer disease. Maybe the development/design of species is equally complex and comes about through multiple factors only the tiniest ramifications of which we are actually able to observe or even speculate upon.

  9. Stress alone doesn’t “cause” peptic ulcer, nor does helicobacter pylori.

    If the ulcer consistently goes away after an anti-bacterial regimen is followed, doesn’t that mean that the bacterium caused the ulcer?

    And from the opposite direction, if long periods of treatment with drugs like Tagamet and Zantac didn’t cure the ulcer, doesn’t that mean that stomach acid is not the cause? Aggravating factor, yes, but cause?

  10. “If the ulcer consistently goes away after an anti-bacterial regimen is followed, doesn’t that mean that the bacterium caused the ulcer?”

    Not necessarily. It may be a necessary, but not a sufficient factor. I haven’t reviewed this issue to have a medical/scientific opinion on it myself, just wanted to make the logical point.

  11. 11
    The Scubaredneck

    Sunbeam,

    Woese has stated several times that life didn’t arise just once but likely arose “millions of times”, diversified and then consolidated to the three realms. According to Woese, the “tree of life” is more like a “bush of life” with at least 2, perhaps 3 main stems.

    The Scubaredneck

  12. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    – Arthur C. Clarke. “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination”. Profiles of the Future. 1962
    restated in: “Technology and the Future”. Report on Planet Three. 1972

    Asimov’s Corollary to Clarke’s Law:
    When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.
    – Isaac Asimov. F&SF. Feb 1977

  13. Eric Anderson wrote @ 10
    Not necessarily. It may be a necessary, but not a sufficient factor. I haven’t reviewed this issue to have a medical/scientific opinion on it myself, just wanted to make the logical point.

    If you’re saying that from a strictly pedantic point of view that the bacterium doesn’t cause stomach ulcers, then you’re correct.

    I could say that the AIDS virus itself never killed anyone, and be just as correct. As you say, it’s necessary but not a sufficient factor.

    I could say that gasoline doesn’t burn by itself and be just as correct. As you say, it’s necessary but not a sufficient factor.

    Being a layman, it’s easier for me to say “X causes Y” instead of loading down every thought with technically correct but otherwise useless sophistry.

  14. its not useless sophistry to see an event as having multiple necessary factors at play to occur. It is complex. In the case of stomach ulcers, it is crucially important if stress is a significant cofactor in the disease, because this knowledge can empower an individual who might be susceptible to this disease to make changes in their lifestyle and psychological functioning which could help them avoid future bouts with the disease. This would be much better than being dependent upon medications, nearly all of which are damaging to the body even when they achieve a short-term and very necessary good. How is this pedantry? Also, it is well known that many ulcers are NOT associated with helicobacter pylori, and further that the vast majority of people who are running around with the bacterium in their systems DO NOT have ulcers, and never develop them.Using causal language in such instances is just strictly false and misleading.

  15. tinabrewer, here is all I know.

    From the National Institute of Health:

    “For almost a century, doctors believed lifestyle factors such as stress and diet caused ulcers. Later, researchers discovered that an imbalance between digestive fluids (hydrochloric acid and pepsin) and the stomach’s ability to defend itself against these powerful substances resulted in ulcers. Today, research shows that most ulcers develop as a result of infection with bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). While all three of these factors–lifestyle, acid and pepsin, and H. pylori–play a role in ulcer development, H. pylori is now considered the primary cause.”

    I welcome any better sources to refute this claim.

    This would be much better than being dependent upon medications, nearly all of which are damaging to the body even when they achieve a short-term and very necessary good.

    That was what was so curious about the discovery of H. pylori. The scientists and doctors who agreed with you advocated long-term non-curative treatment with strong antacids for gastric ulcers.
    Dr. Barry Marshall simply advocated a short-term antibiotic regimen that was curative.

    The “herd” who kept claiming stress was the cause (or that it was a “complex” cause, or whatever) wanted lifetime dependency on possibly harmful drugs.

    A lifetime of ineffective treatment versus a couple of weeks of antibiotics that cures the condition. Which one is potentially more harmful, tinabrewer?

    Also, it is well known that many ulcers are NOT associated with helicobacter pylori, and further that the vast majority of people who are running around with the bacterium in their systems DO NOT have ulcers, and never develop them.

    I don’t know where you’re getting your information. From what I’ve seen, your claim is completely untrue. A John Brown in the microbiology department at the University of Kansas says:

    “Approximately 95% of persons with gastric ulcers, and 100% of persons with chronic gastritis have this bacterium within the stomach. The organism has not been found in healthy persons (no stomach ulcers or gastritis).”

    Once again, if you have better sources that can refute this, I welcome them.

  16. I don’t know how to do the cutting and pasting, and don’t this minute have the time to copy out information but I have suffered from ulcers for years. I only get them after I have been nursing a new baby for 5-6 months with the associated sleep-deprivation and exhaustion, both of which play havoc on the immune system. Then, suddenly, BINGO, I get an ulcer. These are also the times which I subjectively experience as the most stressful in my life, hands down. During these bouts, I have done quite a bit of research on ulcers for two reasons: one, as a nursing student, I am just plain curious about all things medical, and two, I throw up every antibiotic they try to give me. In all of the extensive reading I have done I have repeatedly read that many people have the bacteria in their GI tract but do not develop ulcers. This is the first time I have read someone say that the bacterium is not found in healthy individuals, so I will have to do some looking to respond properly. Later. :)

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