The X for X: How to succeed without facts

I was going to write this brief comment about a specific book I borrowed from the library–and, after reading it, wondered why it was in the 620s rather than the 0-something “UFO and similar stuff” class. (Hey, I’m no Dewey expert. I find it amusing that librarianship is right next to UFOs.)

But I’m not going to name it after seeing some of the Amazon reviews. The true believers might choose to hound me.

What I found interesting was the methodology–whether intentional or not–used to get from, um, sketchy “facts” to assured conclusions.

  1. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” If enough people are asserting something, it must be true! (The birther theme song…)
  2. “If there’s not much smoke, it’s being suppressed.” When it turns out that a rather small number of people are asserting something, and most people with appropriate backgrounds are dismissing it as nonsense, there must be Some Important Group Silencing People.
  3. “You can tell all about a person from two words in a transcript.” This one’s fairly specific, but the general idea is there–all it takes is a couple of words (in this case, “I see”) to allow a really good “nonfiction” author to tell us somebody is clearly honest and well-informed, or whatever.
  4. “If a person seems likable, he or she must be correct.” There are no crazies with good social skills.
  5. “Observe the progression: Anecdata becomes Possible truth becomes Probable truth becomes Known facts.” This takes place over several chapters of a book…and sometimes the anecdata is actually lack of anecdata because, well, see #2.
  6. “Where there’s smoke there must be fire.” This one’s important enough to repeat. Over and over.
  7. “If your pet theory is associated with the lunatic fringe, it’s because The Powers That Be are putting out disinformation.”
  8. “Scientific laws are just theories, and mostly wrong.” This one has to be kept lowkey, but it’s always there.
  9. A respectable journalist in one field is qualified to make scientific and political judgments in all other fields.
  10. And, in the end, “where there’s smoke there must be fire.” Rinse and repeat.

There are more that are somewhat specific to this case….and to some similar cases. I won’t go into them.

But, of course, face The Facts: My brother worked for Lawrence Livermore Laboratory for several decades, which means that my own security-clearance possibility was investigated, which means I’m probably Part Of The Powers That Be. So this is just more disinformation standing in the way of The Truth. Who knows? Maybe all of Livermore is affected by mind-altering drugs, probably spread through the water by Zone 7, our water supplier (which, of course, is a pseudonym for Area 51).

2 Responses to “The X for X: How to succeed without facts”

  1. ksol Says:

    The beauty of a conspiracy theory is that any evidence to the contrary is simply evidence that the conspiracy goes much, much farther than we thought. It’s like the weather sensor for use directly inside tornadoes I heard one scientist built — he designed it so that the harder the wind blows, the more it sticks to the ground.

    There’s also a saying that to be Galileo, you also have to be correct.

  2. waltcrawford Says:

    Conspiracy theory? Who said anything about…nah, you’re right. This particular book doesn’t so much dwell on the conspiracy aspect as it is suffused with the usual. Good comment. Thanks!


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