Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Michael Shermer the Pseudo Skeptical Propagandist

When it comes to disinformation and pushing official propaganda 'Skeptic' Michael Shermer is perhaps one of the best known talking heads in the mainstream media. With his use of trick arguments, often delivered as sweeping and false generalisations, including blanket denials that are made by appealing (wrongly) to an argument from authority, it sure looks as if Shermer is behaving as an experimental psychologist (his PhD). All too often Shermer's debating influence rests on misrepresentation or psychological/superficial means rather than through sound reason and verified fact.

This short expose will show where two separate researchers identified key problems with Michael Shermer’s arguments showing that Shermer mischaracterises 911 truth arguments, that he does not apply scientific principles, and that he muddles specific issues with all manner of conjecture and other matters not directly related to the specific questions raised by the data.

Shermer claims he follows the scientific method, but this is false.

The second critic of Shermer's listed here, Professor Anthony Hall, pointed out that Dr Shermer’s disinformation operates in large part through ‘guilt by association’ tactics (along with straw men arguments) and characterises this operation as a media performance, in which he (Shermer) peddles generalised or misrepresented dismissals of evidence, claiming academic rigor while obviously not practicing it.

Indeed, Shermer's tarring of 911 critics with the brush of mental illness, when appealing to a mass audience, can fool many people, but to a rational mind this is clearly a method of distraction away from dealing with the hard facts, which he misrepresents. Data or arguments are either substantiated or unsubstantiated - the state of one's mental health has no bearing when you are looking at specific details in science.

The first critic of Shermer quoted here is noted 911 researcher Jim Hoffman who saw through Dr Shermer's attempts at disinformation in 2005. Clipped from his 911 Research site is the following material that addresses Shermer's disregard of the scientific method:

Shermer's Unscientific Method

In fact, Shermer's entire method of attacking "conspiracy theories" is unscientific. Consider his language. Scientists almost never use universal quantifiers such as all to describe inexact phenomena. For being published in a magazine titled Scientific American, Shermer is fond of sweeping generalizations:

The mistaken belief that a handful of unexplained anomalies can undermine a well-established theory lies at the heart of all conspiratorial thinking (as well as creationism, Holocaust denial and the various crank theories of physics).
All the "evidence" for a 9/11 conspiracy falls under the rubric of this fallacy.
All the 9/11 conspiracy claims are this easily refuted.
There are several errors in Shermer's assertion that "a handful of unexplained anomalies" cannot "undermine a well-established theory".

1. A single anomaly can undermine a well-established theory, as illustrated by the success of a single anomaly -- the Michelson-Morley experiment -- in overturning the well-established theory of ether.
2. The unexplained anomalies of the official story are better described as a mountain than a handful.
3. The official story is not well established in any scientific or legal sense, but only in the sense of being endorsed by corrupt government bodies, such as the 9/11 Commission, and unquestioningly embraced by nearly all media.

Shermer's approach is worse than unscientific -- it's fraudulent. He misrepresents his opponent's positions and attempts to associate them with nonsensical and offensive ideas. While failing to identify a single argument of the hundreds made by 911Research, Shermer fraudulently implies that our entire case rests on a straw man argument built on a single fact:

Such notions are easily refuted by noting that scientific theories are not built on single facts alone but on a convergence of evidence assembled from multiple lines of inquiry.
No melted steel, no collapsed towers.
For example, according to www.911research.wtc7.net, steel melts at a temperature of 2,777 degrees Fahrenheit, but jet fuel burns at only 1,517 degrees F. No melted steel, no collapsed towers.
One needs only to read the slides for my talk The World Trade Center Demolition to appreciate Shermer's disregard for the truth. In that talk, we refer to the vast bodies of evidence compiled on the 911Research site and apply them in multiple lines of inquiry, examining:

The historical record on the effects of fires in steel-framed skyscrapers
The evidence-destruction operation at Ground Zero
The failures of the column-failure and truss-failure theories
The unverifiability of the progressive collapse theory
The Twin Towers' collapse features -- the symmetry, rapidity, blast wave, pulverization, and excess heat -- consistent only with controlled demolition
Four proofs that the Twin Towers were destroyed through controlled demolition

[Please visit the original article for linked information on these points.]

David Ray Griffin's The New Pearl Harbor, which Shermer insults as "conspiratorial codswallop," takes a similar approach. Contrary to the column's implication, Griffin explicitly developed his thesis as a "cumulative argument" (p. Xiv), which he summarizes in terms of 24 different lines of inquiry (pp. 132-34).

Shermer's attack could hardly be more hypocritical. He pays lip service to the kind of cumulative argument known as inference to the best explanation, which requires the consideration of all the relevant evidence. But he avoids the vast bodies of evidence cited by skeptics like Griffin, and fails to correctly state even a single one of their arguments. Instead, Shermer embeds mentions of the works of serious skeptics within a tapestry of ludicrous ideas so as to discredit them through guilt-by-association. This approach has nothing to do with science and everything to do with sophistry.

Source: http://www.911research.wtc7.net/essays/sciam/index.html

We should note that there is ALSO evidence of melted structural steel that rational truth advocates cannot not associate at all with Jet Fuel, but only with the independent demolition of the buildings. Regardless of whether Melted Steel is necessary to bring down the Towers it has been identified in abundance.

Shermer and many skeptics have outright denied, or tried (and failed) to explain away the molten steel through the use of false arguments (the jet fuel one) or to portray this as a feature of the post collapse fires. However, melted steel is present and no ordinary fire, even later ones in the rubble pile, can produce this result. This fact further contributes to the cumulative nature of the evidence in favour of the controlled demolition of the Twin Towers (not to mention WTC7).

At a later date we find further criticism of Shermer this time from Professor Anthony Hall who outlines the basic nature of his phony arguments in 2010.

Professor Hall identified a similar fraudulent approach being used by Shermer in an essay titled 'Scholarship, Scams and Credentials in an Academic House of Cards'. In essence Shermer is found guilty of misrepresenting key 911 truth arguments by using false associations (ie melted steel to jet fuel, and 911 conspiracy theorists to Holocaust deniers). Hall writes that:

    I was not prepared for the virulence of Shermer’s verbal attacks on the wide array of targets he groups together with his McCarthyesque tactics of guilt by association. Shermer places a tent of his own imagination over a vast array of thinkers who have addressed a broad number of issues. Rather than dealing with individual thinkers as such, or dealing with the specific elements of this or that contention, hypothesis or theory, Shermer simply groups together the targets of his ridicule as an undifferentiated mass of “conspiracy theorists.” For Shermer conspiracy theorists include all those who question the lone gunman theory concerning the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, those who believe that the US moon landing was a staged event, those who address the possibility that Earth has been visited by creatures from outer space, and those who challenge various aspects of the government interpretation of what happened on 9/11. As he conflates all these issues, Shermer projects multiple power point slides showing images of human brains. These images seemed to me to be calculated to convey the message that mental illness forms the common denominator of those Shermer collectively condemns as crazed conspiracy theorists.

Shermer does major violence to the laws of evidence and proof by making vast and unsubstantiated generalizations about so-called conspiracy theorists rather than addressing the diversity of good, bad, or indifferent work done by thousands of investigators exploring scores of circumscribed problems. Shermer’s circus of pseudo-skepticism sets a terrible example for students and junior researchers. They would and should be blocked from advancing up the ladder of professional scholarship if they were to replicate Shermer’s unique brand of materialist evangelization aimed at turning the zeal of his converts against the demonized others. The complex of alleged connections said to link all thinkers with whom Shermer disagrees draws vital intellectual energies away from the tried and true methodology of setting out specific research problems that are narrowly enough defined to be comprehensively addressed with careful reference to relevant academic literature.

Shermer adds insult to injury when he indicates that all those addressing subjects that he has decided are closed to further critical examination belong in the same category as Holocaust Deniers. Here Shermer really crosses the line from mere malevolence into outright slander. As I see it this despicable smear tactic, one too frequently deployed in the effort to discredit those calling attention to certain categories of human rights violation, demeans and exploits the horrific legacy of the Nazi efforts to annihilate European Jewry. Such semantic abuses do severe injustice to the sanctity of the memory of a terrible event in history that illustrates the depths of depravity to which human beings are capable of stooping.

The key point to remember with 'Skeptics' like Michael Shermer is they will use a mixture of approaches that, although not constituting a rational argument, can seem reasonable to the undisciplined thinker - especially to those not familiar with the subject matter:

1. They mix together real examples of debunked, or highly questionable belief, with the current issue under review, in order to generally slander a particular line of legitimate inquiry. To these 'skeptics' there are no distinctions between the various subjects under examination - everything is the same! It is guilt, or ridicule, by association rather than addressing the specific evidence (or lack thereof) of each case. This is an exercise in presumptive dismissal. It is an unscientific and illogical approach and good observers will realise its use by pseudo skeptics to avoid whole issues as well as providing cover against answering a specific question.

2. In specific arguments the 'skeptics' often claim they are using the scientific method but instead propagate a false analogy or 'explanation' in order to dismiss the argument being made or the evidence cited. Often their false 'scientific' arguments rest on wrong assumptions. They can go into great detail, but when their basic premises are in error, they are not talking about the relevant issue.

For example, regarding the jet fuel or office fire argument that contends that the fires didn't need to melt steel but only weaken it in order for the Towers to collapse - this is an example of a false argument designed to cover for the fact that melted steel was actually found. Great detail can be made in explaining how normal fire temperatures cannot melt steel in order to avoid the fact that it was found.

The 911 truth argument is simply that there is evidence of large quantities of molten steel found in the rubble pile - that it clearly came from melted beams or columns, that there were pools of melted steel, and large amounts of iron spheres found in the dust. The obvious and logical implication here is that incendiaries must have been involved since office fires and jet fuel could not cause such phenomena.

It is apparent that Shermer's overall approach seeks to discourage rational thought (via misplaced ridicule) and to hide or obfuscate key evidence that points to inside involvement in the crime with false arguments.  However, by carefully following the Shermer line of argument, and asking if he has adequately addressed the specific points of key evidence (this sometimes requires a bit of research on the part of the observer), anyone can deduce whether what is being put forward is credible - especially when it comes to basic points like melted steel or the freefall collapse rate of WTC7 (not to mention the recorded sounds of explosions and the witness testimony to these events).

Any rational witness to intrinsically false arguments, such as the ones advocated by Shermer, will almost always be able to recognise them. This leads us to suppose that Michael Shermer, who is obviously not unintelligent, more than likely realises the bankruptcy of his own arguments and is, as the critics above suggest, an agent of disinformation.

More Debunking the Debunkers blog posts relating to Shermer.