Sunday, January 04, 2009

Doggerel #174: "Not Everything is as It Seems!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Woos like to speak this line without thinking about its implications. This skeptic's response to the assertion: Well, duh!

Right now, we are in a torrential rain of tiny, invisible particles called neutrinos. Right now, we are in a sea of light we can't see: Radio waves, microwaves, infrared, ultraviolet, and even some x-rays and gamma rays (hopefully at low, safe levels where you are). There's all sorts of such invisible things going on right now. We know our senses are limited.

But even with all our detection equipment designed to help us sense those otherwise invisible forces, skeptics know that our perceptions are flawed. Our minds naturally try to find order, patterns, and explanations. The trouble is, we're often too good at it for our own good. Some patterns we perceive don't exist. Some relationships are forced when we unknowningly bias towards confirming data points and ignore those that don't fit with perceptions.

That's why we push for scientific rigor. All the methods we push exist to minimize or eliminate biases we have as mortals. We don't just blindly trust that the world is as it seems to our initial impressions. If anyone does, it's typically the woos who spout this doggerel.


Perky Skeptic said...

Yes, this is indeed one of the woos' phavorite phrases. The scientific version is "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that," which is available on a t-shirt at Ben Goldacre's site. When our currency is worth more than warm cheese against the pound, I so want one!!! :)

Anonymous said...

It's a strange phrase, since it implies knowledge is basically worthless, but I've definitely heard and seen it in action.

If not everything is as it seems, then should we call everything into question? Or just the particular bit of woo tortured science they are talking about?

"Sorry, it just seems like your reciever is recieving radio waves, it's actually transcendental cheese. Not everything is as it seems silly skeptic person."

Incidentally, the recent comments section doesn't seem to be updating Bronze Dog, the top one I can see is an old comment from Dunc from before Decemberween!

MWchase said...

(Yeah, it got that way something like a week after that comment, rolling back comments made in the intervening time.)

I suppose it might be something like "question authority". Take that to its logical extreme, and you get, well, people who think Google searches are inherently more powerful than a degree. (They can be, but you kind of hope such a situation is relatively rare. And at least partially stems from somebody going against what they learned.) In that respect, it looks like they've gotten pithy enough to be vague. A quick patch-job would be to question authority/reality in inverse proportion to corroborating evidence.

Bronze Dog said...

Sorry about the comments widget. This has happened before, but it's on a new record for duration. I'll try a few things later on today.

MWchase said...

Also, implicit undertone: "Not everything is as it seems to you. I, as an enlightened being, have the TROOF."