Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Everybody got a gris gris.

That's a Penn Jillette line.  A gris gris is an amulet bag which originated in Africa.  It'll usually have an inscription on it and some stuff in the bag.  Believers thought it would ward off evil spirits, prevent unwanted pregnancies, whatever.

Gillette's point was that everybody, no matter how rational they hold themselves out to be, has some irrational belief of some sort.  A belief that is immune to evidence.

Among skeptics, one of those irrational beliefs, the skeptic's gris gris if you will, is that science is constantly under assault by the forces of ignorance and that every story backing up that belief is true until proven otherwise.

Today's example of that gris gris comes from Skeptical Inquirer, the journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, among the largest and most influential skeptic organizations in the world.  In addition to the full journal, the Skeptical Inquirer has an active Facebook page.  Today, they reprinted a story alleging that actress Kate Mulgrew has narrated a "documentary" by some anti-science nutter or another.

There are several problems with this.

First, Raw Story, the story's source, isn't exactly the Wall Street Journal, if you follow me.  Second, even that story acknowledges that one of the scientists said that he had been quote-mined and did participate in the making of the documentary.  Third, the story is based on a trailer which has all of *one sentence* uttered by Mulgrew.

Now a reasonable person might think, "Wow. I wonder if Ms. Mulgrew actually did this or if she was quote-mined too?"  But the Skeptical Inquirer is not reasonable on the subject of attacks on science.  Neither is alleged skeptic Phil Plait, who repeated the same story, though he at least held out the possibility that Ms. Mulgrew was merely narrating as an actress, not as an actual endorser of the "documentary's" subject.  That's an important distinction because Ms. Mulgrew was the star of Star Trek: Voyager, and therefore has more visibility in the science community than other actors and actresses. It would be like Leonard Nimoy hosting a TV series perpetuating every myth and conspiracy theory and half-assed fakery in existence.  Oops.

And here's where the problems of skepticism and the problems of blogging intersect.  See, Bloggers are physically allergic to checking facts with their sources.  Seriously!  That's the only explanation I can think of for the frequent failure of bloggers to check with original sources.  Both the Inquirer and Dr. Plait reported this story without bothering to contact Ms. Mulgrew, despite there being no indication in the original story that *anybody* had attempted to do so.

I've taken the same approach with this story as I did with the avocados.  I've tweeted Ms. Mulgrew and if that doesn't work I'll contact her more directly to see what's up.   I hope to follow up this post soon.

This post contains one or more links to an affiliate page at Amazon.com.  If you make a purchase though the linked page I will receive compensation from Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Well, that was quick. From Ms. Mulgrew herself. She did in fact "narrate" the documentary but was misled as to it subject matter. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10151985862292466&id=7122967465

    Would it really have been so hard for some of the organizations who spread this story to contact her *before* spreading it?


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