April 08, 2010

So you want to play mind games...


A couple of years ago I happened across the blog of one Denyse O'Leary. One of many, actually - she maintains about fourteen, it seems, and spends most of her time contriving to link from each to all the others in an attempt to create some kind of meta black hole. Mixed in between the links to her other blogs, and the further links to her Amazon page where she hawks her books, she manages to cram in some confused, rambling anti-"Darwinist" screeds, and Intelligent Design apologetics.

I don't remember the exact matter in question, but I left a comment on one of Ms. O'Leary's posts asking what I thought was a perfectly reasonable question. The comment was deleted in extremely short order. I emailed Ms. O'Leary, asking her why she had deleted the comment, to which she replied that she only allowed comments that were truthful, or factual, or some similar descriptor. Funny, that. I had thought the point I raised was factual. What Denyse really meant was that she only allowed comments that agreed with her world view and personal opinion.

I guess those weren't all that common, as her blogs no longer accept any comments at all.

That kind of reaction, censorship in order to protect oneself against uncomfortable and inconvenient realities, is all too common in the world of "Woo." Whether it is religion, or alternative medicine, or conspiracy theory, woo-meisters will always choose to end a dialogue when presented with actual facts that are difficult for them to rebut. On another occasion, I wrote a blog post about a local Homeopath in which I discussed some of the claims she made on her public website. Rather than address my criticism of her claims, she chose to complain to my ISP, and they chose to delete my blog entry with no warning, no explanation, and no recourse.

These events are brought to mind by a couple of similar experiences I have recently had, although not with people who traditionally fall into the category of "woo." At least people who do not, at first look, appear to fall into that category...

The first instance occurred last week, when I was directed to a web forum for audiophiles. Now, audiophilia is generally not grouped in with other "woo" because it really does no harm to individuals - unless you count to the wallets of those who fall under its sway. However, the claims made by audiophiles, and by the companies that make and sell the products they buy, are equally as specious as those of any homeopath, astrologer, or Catholic Priest. On this occasion, I read a forum thread talking about accessory power cables available for high end audio equipment. Never mind the miles of questionable wire the power flows through to get to one's house, apparently changing a three foot power cable from the wall to one's amp can result in remarkable improvemments in sound.

The person who directed me to the discussion - a Grammy winning sound engineer - had spoken up to say that he had done careful listening tests and was unable to hear a difference between different power cables - or any reasonable quality speaker or interconnect cables for that matter. He was looking for some support from some reasonable and skeptical people, so I registered for the forum, and posted a reply.

I did not criticise any of the posters. I did not accuse them of lying, or of being deluded, or of being stupid. I wrote one simple, factual sentence. I said, "if you can successfully tell the difference between different cables in a controlled listening test, you can win one million dollars." That was all.

Being a brand new member, my post was not published immediately, rather directed to the moderation queue, so I determined to come back later to see if there were any replies. Later, I was unable to login to the forum. It appears that the forum moderators/administrators deleted my first and only post, and immediately IP banned me from the forum. For making a simple statement of fact.

The second thing happened just this past weekend. Have you seen the NHL commercials currently airing in which famous plays are "rewound"? The first one I saw was the one that asks, "what if Orr didn't fly," and shows Bobby's iconic goal being "unscored", and Orr flying backwards through the air to land on his feet and retreat from the net. The ads end with the line, "history will be made." I believe the suggestion is that, even if the NHL's most famous plays had never happened, new history will be made, starting in this year's playoffs.

The ads have become popular fodder for YouTube spoofs, with video creators picking out all their favourite imfamous plays, and asking, "what if..." They are being reposted all over the internet. One of my Facebook "friends" posted one to her profile showing the contentious triple overtime goal by Brett Hull that won the Stanley Cup for Dallas over Buffalo in 1999. This spoof asks the question, "what if Brett didn't cheat?" Of course, this "friend" is a Buffalo fan.

I commented on her link, pointing out that Brett did not, in fact, "cheat;" that the goal, though hotly contested by the Buffalo team, was completely legal. She promptly responded that I didn't know what I was talking about, that she was a huge hockey fan, and had been all her life, therefore she knew the goal was illegal, and that "they" had changed the rule right after that game (the inisinuation was that the NHL had somehow tried to post-legitimize Hull's goal).

Well! Anyone who knows me knows that attempting to present me with "facts" based on ideology rather than information is just begging to be schooled. I did the research. I scoured YouTube for every replay of that goal I could find so I could refresh my memory of exactly how it had unfolded. I looked up the rule in question - the crease crashing rule that was in force for only that one year - and read it carefully. I compared the details clearly visible in the replays to the rule. I then returned to comment again. I quoted the exact language of the rule that pertained to Hull's goal, and pointed out where and why in the replay it was evident that the goal was legal. I also explained that the rule wasn't changed in order to validate Hull's goal, but because it was a poorly thought out rule to start with. The rule did, in fact, do what was intended, that is, reduce the instances of players crashing the net in order to distract and impede the goaltender. Unfortunately, it also resulted in dozens of goals being called back that should not have been; goals on which there had been no goaltender interference or distraction, either intentional or inadvertent.

The response to my reply? She "unfriended" me. It was more important to her to preserve her illusions about the perceived massive NHL conspiracy against the Buffalo Sabres, than to engage in honest dialogue about the actual facts of the matter. She was just like the audiophiles, or the Homeopath, or Denyse O'Leary, all of whom chose to avoid dialogue rather than confront reality; to surround themselves with sycophants and toadies and yes-men who were willing to join them in drinking the woo kool-aid.

Me, I choose to live in the world of fact, and deal with uncomfortable realities as they present themselves.


Beth said...

Excellent post, and so dead on. I've been attacked in forums or on threads as being insulting (I can be, but I wasn't in that particular instance), and I've had people unfriend me because they simply refused to acknowledge that their original status was misleading and left out crucial information. I have no problem with people expressing their opinion, but when I include a documented, irrefutable fact, it bothers me greatly that they either ignore it or deny it. Numbers don't lie, and in your case, replays and rules don't lie. There comes a time when you have to face facts and let go of the delusions you've been clinging to all this time. It really puzzles me that people can't do that.

By the way, I just noticed your Jenny McCarthy anti-vaccine widget. I just wrote an entry about that! One of my pet peeves, and I put up the widget, too, but without her picture. I don't think I could stand to look at it every time I update.

Simon said...

Echoing Beth, Paul, in saying that this was an excellent post. I, uh, have nothing in writing or in my extensive annals of research to refute it. (That doubling of the "N" there, very important.)

The sort of "unfriend" you described is the very best kind, really. Not worth your time or effort. I have a friend (former co-worker) who once outed himself to me as a moon landing denier on the basis of photographic "evidence". Decent fellow, pretty easy to get along with, and enormously talented when it comes to his own photography, but we don't really talk about the moon landing stuff. And that amuses me more than anything else.

In the absence of admissions of errors made, or acknowledgement of information previously unfound or ignored, I am willing (in some circumstances) to agree to disagree and continue on with the rest of a relationship, tinged with amusement and bemusement.

Shelly said...

I had that happen in real life. I was reading a print zine about tv that was published by a married couple. It dealt with old tv shows, a nostalgia newsletter of sorts. I got to meet the couple and corresponded with the wife for a few years. We even spoke a few times on the phone.

They wrote an article about an actor from a show in the '60s who'd been killed in the '80s. They wrote that it was a murder/suicide with him and his gay lover. It happened in NYC where I live and I recalled the case and it was no murder/suicide. He'd become an antique dealer of some fame in that field and there'd been a breakin at his townhouse where he had his gallery. He and his lover had been killed. I got a copy of the microfilm of the NY Times article about the conviction of the killers and sent it to the wife so she could print a correction. Not only did she not print a correction, she told me the Times was wrong. I never heard from her again.

Some people hate having their worldview corrected.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

We have become a society of thin-skinners. What ever happened to the days of open and legitimate debate? I recently unfriended someone because I did not find their posts enjoyable, and it was time to declutter. They took it personally. Go figure.

émilie b said...

I don't know if you saw that article Simon linked to a while ago, about geek behaviour. There was a related article, too, which were "Social tips for geeks".

I found most "tips" pretty outrageous, but the one I keep remembering is the 7th: "Don't correct anyone even when they're incorrect or imprecise". What the hell kind of advice is that?! lol
And on the leg of a university website, too.

EmcogNEATO! said...

This may only be slightly related (though your post made me think of it, so it MUST be a relevant comment), but my IP was banned a while ago from a certain Ning social network created for professionals in Indiana. My ex-husband complained to them about some blog feeds that were imported via RSS to automatically show on my profile page. Heh.

100% truth. 100% DEEEE-nied! :)