How To Debunk Just About Anything
· Put on the right face. Cultivate a condescending air that suggests that your personal opinions are backed by the full faith and credit of God. Employ vague, subjective, dismissive terms such as “ridiculous” or “trivial” in a manner that suggests they have the full force of scientific authority.
· Portray science not as an open-ended process of discovery but as a holy war against unruly hordes of quackery-worshiping infidels. Since in war the ends justify the means, you may fudge, stretch or violate scientific method, or even omit it entirely, in the name of defending scientific method.
· Keep your arguments as abstract and theoretical as possible. This will “send the message” that accepted theory overrides any actual evidence that might challenge it — and that therefore no such evidence is worth examining.
· Reinforce the popular misconception that certain subjects are inherently unscientific. In other words, deliberately confuse the “process” of science with the “content” of science. (Someone may, of course, object that science must be neutral to subject matter and that only the investigative process can be scientifically responsible or irresponsible. If that happens, dismiss such objections using a method employed successfully by generations of politicians: simply reassure everyone that “there is no contradiction here.”)
· Arrange to have your message echoed by persons of authority. The degree to which you can stretch the truth is directly proportional to the prestige of your mouthpiece.
· Always refer to unorthodox statements as “claims,” which are “touted,” and to your own assertions as “facts ” which are “stated.”
· Avoid examining the actual evidence. This allows you to say with impunity, “I have seen absolutely no evidence to support such ridiculous claims!” (Note that this technique has withstood the test of time, and dates back at least to the age of Galileo. By simply refusing to look through his telescope, the ecclesiastical authorities bought the Church over three centuries’ worth of denial free and clear.)
· If examining the evidence becomes unavoidable, report back “there is nothing new here.” If confronted by a watertight body of evidence that has survived the most rigorous tests, simply dismiss it as being “too pat.”
· Equate the necessary skeptical component of science with “all” of science. Emphasize the narrow, stringent, rigorous and critical elements of science to the exclusion of intuition, inspiration, exploration and integration. If anyone objects, accuse them of viewing science in exclusively fuzzy, subjective, or metaphysical terms.
· Insist that the progress of science depends on explaining the unknown in terms of the known. In other words, science equals “reductionism”. You can apply the reductionist approach in any situation by discarding more and more and more evidence until what little is left can finally be explained entirely in terms of established knowledge.
· Downplay the fact that free inquiry, legitimate disagreement and respectful debate are a normal part of science.
· At every opportunity reinforce the notion that what is “familiar’ is necessarily “rational”. The unfamiliar is therefore irrational and consequently inadmissible as evidence.
· State categorically that the unconventional arises exclusively from the “will to believe” and may be dismissed as, at best, an honest misinterpretation of the conventional.
· Maintain that in investigations of unconventional phenomena, a single flaw or misstep invalidates the whole. In conventional contexts, however, you may sagely remind the world that, “after all, situations are complex and human beings are imperfect.”
· “Occam’s Razor,” or the “principle of parsimony,” suggests that the correct explanation of a mystery will usually involve the simplest fundamental principles. Insist, therefore, that the most “familiar” explanation is by definition the “simplest”.
· Discourage any study of history that may reveal today’s dogma as yesterday’s heresy. Likewise, avoid discussing the many historical and philosophical parallels between science and democracy.
· Since the public tends to be unclear about the distinction between evidence and proof, do your best to help maintain this murkiness. If absolute proof is lacking, state categorically that there is no evidence.
· If sufficient evidence has been presented to warrant further investigation of an unusual phenomenon, argue, “Evidence alone proves nothing!” Ignore the fact that preliminary evidence is not “supposed” to “prove ”anything*.
· In any case, imply that proof “precedes” evidence. This will eliminate the possibility of initiating any meaningful process of investigation particularly if no criteria of proof have yet been established for the phenomenon in question.
· Insist that criteria of proof cannot possibly be established for phenomena that do not exist!
· Although science is not supposed to tolerate vague or double standards, always insist that unconventional phenomena must be judged by a separate, yet ill-defined, set of scientific rules. Do this by declaring that “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” but take care never to define where the “ordinary” ends and the “extraordinary” begins. This will allow you to manufacture an infinitely receding evidential horizon, i.e., to define “extraordinary” evidence as that which lies just out of reach at any Point in time.
· Practice debunkery-by-association. Lump together all phenomena popularly deemed paranormal and suggest that their proponents and researchers speak with a single voice. In this way you can indiscriminately drag material across disciplinary lines or from one case to another to support your views as needed. For example, if a claim having some superficial similarity to the one at hand
has been (or is popularly “assumed” to have been) exposed as fraudulent, cite it as if it were an appropriate example. Then put on a gloating smile, lean back in your armchair and simply say, “I rest my case.”
· Use the word “imagination” as an epithet that applies only to seeing what’s “not” there, and not to denying what “is” there.
· Ridicule, ridicule, ridicule. It is far and away the single most chillingly effective weapon in the war against discovery and innovation. Ridicule has the unique power to make people of virtually any persuasion go completely unconscious in a twinkling. It fails to sway only those few who are of sufficiently independent mind not to buy into the kind of emotional consensus that ridicule provides.
· By appropriate innuendo and example, imply that ridicule constitutes an essential feature of scientific method that can raise the level of objectivity, integrity and dispassionateness with which any investigation is conducted.
· Imply that investigators of the unorthodox are zealots. Suggest that in order to investigate the existence of something one must first believe in it absolutely. Demand all such “true believers” know all the answers to their most puzzling questions in complete detail ahead of time. Convince people of your own sincerity by reassuring them that you yourself would “love to believe in these fantastic phenomena.” Carefully sidestep the fact that science is not about believing or disbelieving, but about finding out.
· Trivialize the case by trivializing the entire field in question. Characterize the study of orthodox phenomena as deep and time-consuming, while deeming that of unusual phenomena so insubstantial as to demand nothing more than a scan of the tabloids. If pressed on this, simply say “but there’s nothing there to study!” Characterize any serious investigator of the unorthodox as a “buff’ or “freak,” or as “self-styled” — the media’s favorite code-word for “bogus.”
· Remember that most people do not have sufficient time or expertise for careful discrimination, and tend to accept or reject the whole of an unfamiliar situation. So discredit the whole story by attempting to discredit part of the story. Here’s how: a) take one element of a case completely out of context; b) find something prosaic that hypothetically “could” explain it; c) declare that, therefore, this one element “has been” explained; d) call a press conference and announce to the world that the “entire case” has been explained.
· Find a prosaic phenomenon that superficially resembles the claimed phenomenon. Then suggest that the existence of the commonplace look-alike somehow forbids the existence of the genuine article. For example, imply that since people often see “faces” in rocks and clouds, the enigmatic Face on Mars must be a similar illusion and therefore cannot possibly be artificial.
· Accuse investigators of unusual phenomena of believing in “invisible forces and extrasensory realities.” If they should point out that the physical sciences have always dealt with invisible forces and extrasensory realities (gravity, electromagnetism, etc. . . ) respond with a condescending chuckle that this is “a naive interpretation of the facts.”
· Label any poorly understood phenomenon “occult,” “paranormal,” “metaphysical,” “mystical” or “supernatural.” This will get most mainstream scientists off the case immediately on purely emotional grounds.
· Ask unanswerable questions based on arbitrary criteria of proof. For example, “if this claim were true, why haven’t we seen it on TV?” or “in this or that scientific journal?” Never forget the mother of all such questions: “If extraterrestrials exist, why haven’t they landed on the White House lawn?”
· Remember that you can easily appear to refute anyone’s claims by building “straw men” to demolish. One way to do this is to misquote them while preserving that convincing grain of truth; for example, by acting as if they have intended the extreme of any position they’ve taken. Another effective strategy with a long history of success is simply to mis-replicate their experiments or to avoid replicating them at all on grounds that to do so would be “ridiculous” or “fruitless.” To make the whole process even easier, respond not to their actual claims but to their claims as reported by the media, or as propagated in popular myth.
· Hold claimants responsible for the production values and editorial policies of any media or press that reports their claim. If an unusual or inexplicable event is reported in a sensationalized manner, hold this as proof that the event itself must have been without substance or worth.
· When a witness or claimant states something in a manner that is scientifically imperfect, treat this statement as if it were not scientific at all. If the claimant is not a credentialed scientist, argue that his or her behavior cannot possibly be scientifically correct.
· If you are unable to attack the facts of the case, attack the participants or the journalists who reported the case. “Ad-hominem” arguments, or personality attacks, are among the most powerful ways of swaying the public and avoiding the issue. For example, if investigators or chroniclers of the unorthodox have profited financially from activities connected with their research, accuse them
of “profiting financially from activities connected with their research!” If their research, publishing, speaking tours and so forth, constitute their normal line of work or sole means of support, hold that fact as “conclusive proof that income is being realized from such activities!” If they have labored to achieve public recognition of their work, you may safely characterize them as “publicity seekers.” Take care not to inadvertently apply such judgments to those pursuing, in similar fashion, orthodox activities.
· Fabricate supportive expertise as needed by quoting the opinions of those in fields popularly assumed to include the necessary knowledge. Astronomers, for example, may be trotted out as experts on the ET question, although course credits in ufology have never been a prerequisite for a degree in astronomy.
· Fabricate entire research projects. Declare that “these claims have been thoroughly discredited by the top experts in the field!” Do this whether or not such experts have ever actually studied the claims. or, for that matter, even exist.
· Declare that there is no proof that life can exist in outer space. Since most people still behave as if the Earth were the center of the universe, you may safely ignore the fact that Earth, which is already “in” outer space, has abundant life.
· Argue that all reports of humanoid extraterrestrials must be bogus because the evolution of the humanoid form on Earth is the result of an infinite number of accidents in a genetically isolated environment. Avoid addressing the logical proposition that if interstellar visitations have occurred, Earth cannot be considered genetically isolated in the first place.
· Equate nature’s laws with our current understanding of nature’s laws. Then label the concept of interstellar travel a mere “flight of fancy,” “because obviously it would violate nature’s laws.’
· Argue that extraterrestrials would or wouldn’t, should or shouldn’t, can or can’t behave in certain ways because such behavior would or wouldn’t be logical. Base your notions of logic on how terrestrials would or wouldn’t behave. Since terrestrials behave in all kinds of ways you can theorize whatever kind of behavior suits your arguments.
· Point out that the government-sponsored SETI program assumes in advance that extraterrestrial intelligence can only exist light-years away from Earth. Equate this “a-priori’ assumption with conclusive proof; then insist that this invalidates all terrestrial reports of ET contact.
· Maintain that there cannot possibly be a government cover-up of the ET question . . . but that it exists for legitimate reasons of national security!
· Accuse conspiracy theorists of being conspiracy theorists and of believing in conspiracies! Insist that only “accidentalist” theories can possibly account for repeated, organized patterns of suppression, denial and disinformational activity.
· In the event of a worst-case scenario — for example, one in which the ET question is suddenly acknowledged as a major mystery of millennial proportions — just remember that the public has a short memory. Simply say dismissively, “Well, everyone knows this is a monumentally significant issue. As a matter of fact, my colleagues and I have been remarking on it for years!”
How To Debunk Just About Anything From “The McDaniel Report” by Stanley V. McDaniel (North Atlantic Books: 1993),