Internet Arguments

I do not enjoy internet arguments, and yet I keep on being involved in them. I try and keep detached and stay calm, but invariably someone will post something that is such a load of bullshit on a subject that I care about, that I cannot resist responding. I will inevitably feel shitty for days afterwards, replaying the whole thing and other possible responses I could have made in my head. Eventually I will forget about it, but not until I have spent days in purgatory with the argument churning my thought processes.

I have been getting involved in internet arguments for about 15 years now. I started, as mainly an observer, on a usenet message board (alt.fan.pratchett), where the intelligence, wide-ranging experience, and skills of the other denizens were very of very high quality. In other words, I have learned from some of the best debaters and arguers it is possible to find outside of ancient Greece.

Everybody has an opinion – that’s absolutely fine. Everybody is free to express their opinion – also fine. But if your opinion is based on utter bullshit, propaganda, manipulated statistics, and/or it poses a threat to society, then I will call your dumb arse out on it.

Some points for you, whoever you are, when arguing on the internet:

  • It is your responsibility to provide sources that prove your point, not my responsibility to search for sources that disprove mine. And by sources, I mean reputable peer-reviewed scientific journals, not psuedo-science pieces from your favourite website, not piles of manipulated statistics and dodgy graphs from a publisher with an agenda, and not anything that bases its’ arguments on scaremongering, alarmism, or anything that has already been roundly discredited by the vast majority of people and organisations in the field.
  • Resorting to mentioning a conspiracy theory (usually heralded by calling something “big-[industry]”) is a quick way of saying that you have no idea what you’re talking about, but your argument appeals to your prejudices so that’s what you’re sticking with.
  • Calling me “blinkered” or “close-minded” when I insist on using established and verifiable facts to counter your bias is not only hypocritical, it is utterly false. The scientific method demands verification through repeatable experimentation, and if an experiment cannot replicate the results of an earlier one set up to determine the answer to the same question, then it is time to change the answer. Having your mind open to new possibilities, including the possibility that you are wrong, is the cornerstone of science.
  • When you say, “I didn’t ask for a debate with you,” you are telling me that either you are dictating from on-high, or that you are aware your position is flawed and you don’t like being told that it is – usually both.
  • Swearing for emphasis is not the best debating technique, but it sure beats cherry-picking facts and statistics that support your position. It is easy for someone with even a modicum of scientific or even mathematical training to pick apart the holes in cherry-picked information. How big was the sample size? What is the graph actually measuring? Who funded the survey/investigation/experiment, and why, and do they have a financial interest in showing a certain result? What additional information gathered has been left out? What other relevant information that might affect the outcome has been discounted? Ever hear the phrase “lies, damned lies, and statistics”? One of the least-trustable things in existence is a graph from an ideologue in government.
  • Refusing to respond to requests for credible information backing up your claims, calling me a bully because you don’t like being proven wrong, then blocking me from responding, is the technique of someone who has lost the argument and won’t admit it. If ever you can prove me wrong I will change my opinion and views based on that proof. I won’t do it simply to avoid offending someone who has a big mouth and a bigger ego.

The most common offenders who are likely to draw me into an internet argument are anti-vaxxers. These people are not only often biased and ignorant, they are also always endangering public health – as such the only people more worthy of contempt are the Tory cabinet and Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter if you are posting your anti-vaccination scaremongering bullshit for your own interest, or you want to promote a toxin-free lifestyle (yeah, good luck with that – you breathe in more toxins walking down a road with traffic on it than you get in a vaccination dose, so let me know what it’s like living halfway up the Himalayas) to others, or you’re just plain thick as pigshit, whatever anyone posts to the internet is visible to billions of people worldwide, and most of them are not as rigorous as I am in checking facts and analysing information.

In any large sample of people, there will be some who, for whatever reason, cannot be vaccinated. They have to rely on herd immunity to avoid dying from what are now easily-preventable diseases. If one person in a village of one hundred cannot be vaccinated, then they have to rely on the immune systems of the other ninety-nine to interrupt incoming disease vectors and neutralise it. The chance of that un-vaccinatable person catching a preventable disease (ignoring all other factors) is 1-in-100. If ten other people do not have vaccinations, then that leaves eighty-nine people’s immune systems to interrupt disease vectors. The chances of the un-vaccinatable person catching something is now not 1-in-90, it is 11-in-100, more than ten times as great as it is in the fully-vaccinated village.

Now imagine if that un-vaccinatable person was your child. Is it acceptable to you that because of a few people’s ignorance and fear, your child’s chances of contracting a disfiguring/debilitating/deadly disease has increased exponentially? I personally know at least ten people who would say “no,” loudly and forcefully, and can point you at thousands more who would do likewise.

The incidence rate of people (ie. the proportion of people who…) dying or suffering unpleasant side-effects from vaccinations is negligible, far less than 1%. The problem is poorly-made or -administered doses, or bad diagnosis of unsuitability for vaccination. The decline in the incidence/mortality rate for preventable diseases before the widespread introduction of vaccines is not proof that vaccines are unnecessary, it is proof that other factors (such as better education, better nutrition, better access to healthcare) have had an effect – and don’t forget that many vaccinations were first made widely available many decades after their development. The smallpox vaccine was developed in 1798, but was not made widely available until 1853 (in the UK), and is still not compulsory in many American states.

Oh, and the Andrew Wakefield study that “proved” the MMR vaccine caused autism, that many anti-vaxxers use as the basis of their argument? He was paid to write it by a pharmaceutical company who wanted to develop separate vaccines, his experiments were not carried out safely or with due scientific rigour, and it has been utterly discredited by the entire medical profession, with Wakefield himself struck off and no longer allowed to practice medicine.

http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c7452

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136032/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy

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One Response to Internet Arguments

  1. kaptonok says:

    I read the posts on topics that catch my eye and often get no replies.
    What I find disconcerting is a whole host of references and videos for me to watch or read.
    Often a post consists just of a Ted talk. Listen to this man I agree with.him. I like to read the words, the comments , the ideas of the poster.

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