A Short Note On Our Being ‘Bought Off’

When “social activists” spread fear-mongering bullshit about some product or technology (e.g., cell phones, artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, GM crops, or whatever), companies in related industries will inevitably defend their products from those attacks. This isn’t sinister or unexpected. You should be equally skeptical of their statements as those of their detractors, but you shouldn’t form your beliefs based on how much you like or dislike a particular source. Look for the best scientific evidence and the most objective analysis of the data that you can find, and then make up your mind.

If it turns out the accusations are scientifically unfounded, you shouldn’t let your feelings about big companies cloud your judgment about the science, even if you don’t like some unrelated business practices. Moreover, just because someone has concluded a technology is safe doesn’t mean they are “working for” the industry that uses it. Don’t assume anyone who disagrees with you is doing so for base motives–this kind of trick allows people to dismiss arguments without meeting the burden of thinking about them. “Why do you I need to listen to you? I already know you’re lying! You’re a shill for Big X!”

If you don’t want to see skeptics and libertarians “taking the side” of “big corporations,” don’t base your criticisms of them on false assertions and pseudoscience. Get your facts straight at the outset, and don’t argue beyond where they will take you. Skeptics don’t have any particular love for industrial giants, either, but what we don’t tend to do is use reasoning that guarantees a certain outcome, regardless of the evidence. Here’s how most reactionary, Luddite thinking works:

1. Assume any new product or technology is guilty until proven innocent.
2. Deny any evidence that could prove it innocent as fabricated.
3. Dismiss critics as deluded or paid off.
4. Invent a conspiracy to explain a lack of mainstream scientific support.

This kind of reasoning is absolutely impervious to reality, and it can be used support any position, no matter how absurd. Whenever you see an insular arguments like this, it’s almost guaranteed to be wrong. Don’t assume what you’re trying to prove–unless you’re trying to prove you’re an idiot. You shouldn’t confuse questions about the science with questions about a particular company, and don’t embrace any argument, no matter how appealing, until you are sure of its validity.

Fallacies to avoid: argumentum ad monsantium.

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Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.

View all posts by Daniel Bier

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