March 04, 2004

Weasel Words We Use A Lot
Or: Not All Controversies Created Equal

from - smijer

I'm as guilty as anybody of using the occasional weasel word:

"It's a matter of opinion"
"Some people think..."
"People like so & so believe..."
"But such & such is biased"
"It could be that..."

... and on and on. I use them a lot, especially when children ask me questions that I don't want to answer. I may well know the answer with certainty, but I weasel, out of respect for other people in the child's family who may have an opinion contrary to the answer I know. I figure telling the children absolutes without being able to take the time to intensively demonstrate them will confuse them anyway, or turn them off.

Other times, there really is a matter of opinion. I may have good reasons for my own opinion, but they don't always provide absolute certainty, or else the subject is too complex and nuanced to single out the areas where there is cause for certainty from the areas where there is not. That's the approach I took a few days ago, when I pitted Myers against Vinod in one of my entries. Of course I agree with more of what Myers said than what Vinod said, but I considered the questions to be far too nuanced for me to start singling out issues and arguing them. I thought there would be more value in just having a closer look at the two viewpoints.

Unfortunately, my approach sometimes leaves a little too much uncertainty in the minds of the people I speak to. Also, some people grow to expect such a weasley attitude as a matter of "fairness to both sides". Usually those are people on the wrong side of an issue.

For instance:
Creationists and Intelligent Design Proponents ask the state schools to "teach the controversy" about evolution. The answer is "no". There are not two "scientific theories". There is one well-supported scientific theory, together with voluminous scientific facts that have been threshed out through blood sweat and tears by generations of brilliant and hard-working scientists. That's evolution. Then there is a set of various religious ideas, centering around the concept that there was a supernatural element in the creation of human life and the world we live on. That's religion. Then there is religiously motivated obfuscation about the science of evolution. That's claptrap. State schools are supposed to teach science. They are not supposed to teach religion. The "controversy" is between science and religion. The "scientific" controversy around the key elements of evolution has long been settled. Black and White.

Bush, on global warming, says "more research is needed". That's a weasel word. More research is needed - on how problems can be fixed. More research is needed - on the mechanisms for climate change. More research is NOT needed to show that human activity is having an adverse impact on climate change. Black and White.

Supporters of Bush, on Bush's misuse of science, suggest that this is "only the opinion" of politically motivated scientists. "Who's to say," they ask, "whether Bush is politicizing the scientific process or whether the scientists who dislike Bush are politicizing the scientific process?" Well, here's Exhibit ZZZZ. Bush fires the scientists (and ethicists) who don't agree with him from his advisory panel. I guess that's one way to make sure you hear the scientific advice you want to hear.

Today, I just want to throw out a reminder that there is such a thing as black and white, correct and incorrect, and right and wrong - and even when there are elements of opinion involved, there is often a call to vigorously support one position against another - at least when you are talking to grown-ups.


Posted by smijer at March 4, 2004 07:44 AM

verr well put, sir. i generly dont have much respeck fer folks that reduces everthang to black n white, but aint it funny how them same folks (with us or agin us types) lacks to say black n white thangs they dont agree with needs more study or is not black n white?

univar.jpg Posted by buddy don on March 4, 2004 08:22 AM
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"Today, I just want to throw out a reminder that there is such a thing as black and white, correct and incorrect, and right and wrong"

Sounds like a fundamental baptist arguing against homosexual marriage to me.

Smijer are you familiar with Fred Reed? Try out his latest article here

You won't agree with him but he is funny. To paraphrase one of his quotes concerning evolution

"Manhatten, tulips and seahorses. Just what one would expect from a large cloud of hydrogen gas left unattended for a long period of time."

univar.jpg Posted by boortzlistener on March 4, 2004 11:15 AM
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BL -- I hadn't run across him before. He does seem to be the exception among evolution-deniers: that is "funny and smart". But yes, still hilariously wrong.

univar.jpg Posted by smijer on March 4, 2004 11:32 AM
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Anyone who denies evolution loses all credibilty in my opinion. There still remains the question of why the universe exists, so creationism isn't a defunt belief.

univar.jpg Posted by Tim on March 5, 2004 02:07 PM
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"Anyone who denies evolution loses all credibilty in my opinion."


Is it possible to question evolution and not be considered a denier of the faith?

univar.jpg Posted by boortzlistener on March 6, 2004 04:17 AM
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"Is it possible to question evolution and not be considered a denier of the faith?"

Tim said "denies evolution" not "questions evolution". Questioning evolution is what scientists do. Everyday they put new questions to it. Every day they re-examine this or that part of its theoretical structure.

I suppose those scientists are deniers of the faith of creationism, but I don't think that was the question you were asking...

univar.jpg Posted by smijer on March 6, 2004 09:38 AM
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I see evolution as being a possible form of creation so I don't really have a problem with either.

Evolution is a theory. No more. No less.

No problem here.

univar.jpg Posted by boortzlistener on March 7, 2004 01:34 PM
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