How Phony Experts Succeed

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reader Snedcat tipped me off to an entertaining and informative piece by filmmaker Phelim McAleer that debunks ten myths about fracking. My favorite -- and the one that explains quite a bit about the ability of the others to gain traction -- is the first. The whole idea that anti-fracking activists are open to debate is posturing on their part. Here is just one example:

Or take actor and activist Alec Baldwin. In the run-up to a debate about fracking in the Hamptons that he was taking part in, following a screening of the anti-fracking movie Gasland, Baldwin approached the New York Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) to see if it could suggest a speaker who was not as anti-fracking as the other speakers on the panel. IOGA suggested me as an independent voice, a journalist with an international perspective who has researched fracking for over two years in two continents. But suddenly Baldwin was no longer interested in debate or diversity of opinion, and he vetoed me from the panel. Then, a few hours later, he popped up on Twitter and posted the following:

@phelimmcaleer Come debate me, Phelim, you lumpy old gas whore. Who's paying you?

-- ABFoundation, 1 June 2013

@phelimmcaleer Phelim, you are a dreadful filmmaker. But come debate me, you tired old bullshitter.

-- @ABFalecbaldwin, 1 June 2013
The only regard for reason on the part of the anti-fracking crowd is to put on just enough of an appearance of being rational to dupe the inattentive. Most people haven't given the issue of fracking that much thought. This isn't so much out of laziness as it is due to a couple of facts: (1) Fracking is safe and has been around for awhile. There is no smoke (aside from what is coming from gasbags like Baldwin) because, in this case, there is no fire: Why would they spend lots of time thinking about it? (2) Most people, not having the time to approach every single aspect of their lives like a doctoral student preparing a dissertation, end up relying on experts to help them make decisions about specialized topics. People like Baldwin are aware of this fact and are able to present themselves, often effectively, as the experts ordinary people should turn to. They even get away with spiking opponents and pretending to want to debate them at the same time.

I think that there are cultural reasons Baldwin and his ilk have such an easy time getting away with posturing like this, but part of the remedy is exposure, such as what this article provides.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Coincidentally, I just today ran across an entertaining short blog post on fracking and cigarette smoking by an SF writer I enjoy, Neal Asher.

I submit that it is due to the puritan and punitive instincts of many ‘activists’ who are no better than proselytizing religious zealots. In a transition to a green renewable energy culture the hair shirts must be distributed, to be worn over bodies already self-flagellated by sustainable birch twigs. You must go without cars, beef steaks and must sit shivering in your house squinting at the latest Greenpeace pamphlet in the light of a low-energy bulb, if the power is on.

Gus Van Horn said...

That is well put, and I found it amusing.

I also think there is a lot to be said for the idea that, despite the alleged importance of everyone "doing his part", rituals actually serve other purposes for such puritans. (1) They provide an easy way to see how much control they have over other people, and (2) they reinforce the message by repetition and perhaps even displace time from questioning thought.