Monday, February 23, 2015

Today's Worst Post Of All Time: Dawn Eyestone: Wikipedia, Controversy, And The Myth of Neutrality

   This is what happens when people in English and Communications try to do epistemology...
   It ain't pretty.
   Hell, philosophers aren't all that good at epistemology. Even epistemologists are usually pretty crappy at it... And by the time you get to the communications department, it's invariably an unmitigated disaster.
   [However: the author rightly calls bullshit on anti-Gamergate bias in the media. She's absolutely right that the stories she cites say false things in an effort to make it sound as if GGers have some kid of grip on Wikipedia. Good on her for that. She gives an objective account of what the stories say, then an objective account of the facts...then goes on to give a bunch of bad arguments for why objectivity is impossible... Which is, of course, weird...]
   (That's the Archive.Today link, incidentally, so that they don't get the hits...but just in case the link decays, here's the original: (note: do not click on it!): link)
   No time to say much about this now...and I probably won't waste minutes of my life on it later even...but this is just crap [almost] from beginning to end.
   It's a common ploy on the intellectual left: when you're losing the argument, start asserting that there's no such thing as proof, no such thing as knowledge, no such thing as truth, no such thing as objectivity...or, in this case, not even any such thing as neutrality... (The right has its own ploys and sicknesses, of course...but this isn't one of them...)
   In this crappy article, the author cites some of the worst epistemology and philosophy of science of the last quarter-century (by, e.g., Donna Haraway, Evelyn Fox Keller) and asserts it as if it were obviously true. It's the philosophical equivalent of simply asserting, snidely, dogmatically, and without batting an eye, that ancient aliens populated the Earth with battle leprechauns, and it is they who wiped out the dinosaurs. (In fact, the leprechaun thing is way more plausible than the  Haraway and Keller stuff...)
   I'm too tired and insufficiently interested to say anything much about this now, but: basically everything in that post is wrong. First, consider her inconsistent, ad hoc appeals to skepticism. Skepticism for thee but not for me is a common strategy in this sector of the web. The other thing I'll just gesture at is what is, roughly, a kind of confusion of skepticism and views like relativism and "social constructionism." After gesturing vaguely at skepticism--I mean har har objective truth amirite?--such folk will often proceed as if they've said something in support of the view that mumble mumble mumble is "socially constructed." But this is never so. First, "social construction" is approximately the most confused concept (if, indeed, it even rises to the level of a concept...) in the vicinity of philosophy. The term is so confused that it virtually means nothing at all. However, and more importantly: however much skepticism is appropriate with respect to the claim that (e.g.) trees are objective, physical, mind-independent things, about 100 times more skepticism is appropriate with respect to the claim that we make trees up with the magical power of social agreement. Physical, mind-independent objects are puzzling in certain ways. Objects created by human agreement are...well...entirely fictional...  So do not--ever--fall for this argument: Nobody's refuted skepticism...therefore everything is relative...or reality is socially constructed...or battle leprechauns extinctified the dinosaurs...  Whatever the ultimate fate of skepticism, the following argument is a non-sequitur of Biblical proportions:
We cannot be absolutely certain that trees are objectively real....therefore the craziest theory you can think of must be true.
   Don't fall for that shit. It's stupid.
   Also, don't fall for the "perfect" ploy, which Eyestone deploys in that trainwreck: perfect objectivity is not possible, therefore objectivity is not possible. The premise could be true (though I doubt it), but the conclusion doesn't even come close to following. Compare:
The perfect crime is not possible, therefore crime is not possible.
   And as for Eyestone's claim that neutrality is not possible: utter nonsense. I'm completely neutral about all sorts of things, and so are you. I'm neutral as to, say, whether Toyota or Honda makes better cars. I simply don't care. Not in the least. I'm also neutral with respect to the question of whether gyrfalcons or peregrine falcons are faster. It's not that I don't care--I do kinda care, and I might just look it up when I'm done here. But I don't care care. I don't have a dog in the fight. I'm not biased with respect to the question because I don't have the kinds of beliefs and desires that undermine neutrality.
   I probably should be so cranky and condescending about all this stuff....but, ya know...that post on the other end of the link is just irresponsibly bad. It's the intellectual equivalent of being an anti-vaxxer or something. Or a Scientologist.


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