Wednesday, 19 June 2013

On crying coyote, and the annoyances of twitter, and why we don't use Piltdown man to prove evolution.

So I will begin with by saying that I hate twitter, fucking hate it. It seems impossible to make a coherent point while at the same time not coming across as overly aggressive and entrenched in one's stance. One often has to use strong wording, without sufficient space to explain one's points and the reasoning thereto. Also though occasionally something interesting is posted there, I often find upon rereading my tweets I come across as even more of an asshole then I actually am. That being said it is a useful medium for contacting people otherwise out of reach, and despite that we obviously don't agree on things, I've had (brief) conversations on there with Matt Dillahunty, Ricky Gervais, Richard Dawkins etc. whom I otherwise would never have had the chance to do so, so it's useful for connection and a couple quips, as well as the promotion of blogs etc.

Speaking of which, Matt on the off chance you visit my blog again, I'd love to have an email or skype exchange with you sometime. I know we haven't always agreed, and you've had to correct me on a couple occasions, but I do thank you for taking the time to have the conversation, as I know your day is a lot busier than mine, and I agree with you on most things.

So that being off my chest, I'd like to discuss "crying wolf", or in my case, crying coyote. I grew up on a farm, and just about anyone who has in north america has had to deal with some sort of predator, coyote, wolf, jaguar, mountain lion, etc. the fuckers dwell on forested or unfarmed lands and sneak in at night to kill livestock, the bane of any livestock farmer.

Now as we like to eat or sell our meat ourselves, most farmers keep some sort of firearm, whether it be a rifle or shotgun, to deal with these. I've never shot one myself, though I've killed quite a few groundhogs in my day, but generally its legal to shoot them on your farmland, and if a large pack is spotted, usually the township arranges some hunters or game wardens to do a culling (controlled killing off of a significant portion of their population.). Sometimes though, you get a bunch of them (or just one, in the case of the large cats) on your lawn and you don't want to or can't deal with them yourself, so you call Jim, Bob and Bubba to get over with their guns so you and your flock don't get eaten by whatever.

Now we all know the story of the boy who cried wolf, falsely claiming wolves until it was to late and no one came to his aid, and he was devoured. So what does this have to do with coyotes or anything else you ask? Well, this morning I was checking my twitter feed and this came up from the aforementioned Mr. Dillahunty.

"For the 999th time, it doesn't matter if specific case X is true if it is representative of actual problem Y."

(For some reason I cant get tweets to embed on here, but I will link to it)

Here is where the problem is, Matt, If we are talking about the real world, not a thought experiment, then the truth of a claim is what matters, regardless if it represents another problem or not.

Consider when the boy was killed by wolves, it did in fact proves wolves exist, but it was too late for him wasn't it? By misrepresenting someone else's problem as your own, you cause all sorts of other problems, I'm going to list a few here.

1) The honesty of the "crier" is an important thing to consider when evaluating future statements from them which cannot be proven by means other than their word. If you want people to take your word at face value, without presenting backing evidence (or in the face of other evidence), it's generally best to tell the truth. If you want people to take action when the coyotes arrive, don't lie about it when it does not happen.

2) Although it does not disprove a claim, a claimants benefits from things such as speaking engagements, t-shirt sales, ad revenue and the like might warrant one to take a closer look at a particular claim.

3) Myself and most atheists I know are atheists because so because of our desire for the truth. Evaluating a perceived problem based on a false or dubious claim should not sit well for anyone on the side of reason, especially if better evidence is available. If problem X is really such a problem, it shouldn't be hard to find an actual case of it occurring to use as our example. Evolution occurs, no one uses Piltdown man to prove it, because even though we know evolution occurs, using a hoax to prove it does not inspire confidence in our evidence. As with the boy, if he had shown wolf tracks, wolf poop, missing livestock, a picture of a wolf, video of a wolf and a half dozen there people who had seen wolves in the area, people would have been a lot more likely to believe him, and keep coming to his aid.

4) Even if every other case is in fact true, a single false claim will cast doubt on the problem in it's entirety, and it may in fact cause there to be a lack of response, as is the classic example in the story.

5) The opposite occurs, and there is an overreaction instead of an under-reaction, a good local example is the Ontario pit bull ban, even though more than 99.9% of all pit bulls never had any problems, the government banned them instead of placing the onus on their owners, where it belongs.

6) Worse off we get a huge overreaction, and we get a witch hunt (coyote hunt?) for non-existent coyotes, or people go around condemning every dog that looks like a coyote. This will probably turn around and lead a great deal of people whose expertise might be useful in dealing with the coyote problem to number 4.

7) A great deal of people who are otherwise worthless will make money from ad-revenue related to coyote related incidents, even though they live in a city on an island 1000 miles from the nearest coyote.

8) Asshole humans who support coyotes will use it as a rallying cry to band together against "oppression" against them.

9) For some of us, like me, we do not believe that Y is not a problem, we simply find it odious that Subject Z is lying about Y. I had thought you one of those people.

I hope by now you're getting the point. In a thought experiment, in a construct which is not the real world, then it doesn't matter, but we don't live in a thought experiment, and real people suffer real damage when subject Z lies. And yes, just because X claim is false does not mean Y is not a problem. For the record, Y is a problem, it is not nearly as bad as subject Z claims, and that subject Z would fabricate (whether in whole or in part) such a claim is repugnant. Just because there are wolves out there, doesn't mean you get to go shouting about them in the town square without consequence.

Stand up and Fight!

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