Thursday, November 08, 2012

Blacklisting 'nutters' and 'menaces' - me

According to Karl du Fresne writing in the Nelson Mail:
I recently had what might be termed a difference of professional opinion with some of my fellow journalists. It was touched off by a newspaper editorial that took a whack at "enthusiastic amateurs" sounding off on such issues as climate change and fluoridation.
Everyone was entitled to their opinion, the editorial writer loftily pronounced, but not all views should be accorded equal weight. The views of people with years of study and experience behind them were worth more than those of non-experts.
"Everyone is free to disagree but ignorance does not have an equal right to be heard," the editorial concluded.
A member of an internet journalism discussion group to which I belong applauded the editorial, saying she couldn't agree more. "These amateur know-it-alls are a menace," she declared.
I thought this a peculiar position for a journalist for take. I mean, aren't we supposed to believe in freedom of speech?
Another member chimed in that the Sensible Sentencing Trust's Garth McVicar should be added to the "list of nutters". Then someone else suggested a couple of other names for what was shaping up as a blacklist: David Round and Lindsay Mitchell.

It makes me cringe when people describe me as an expert. But it makes me cringe even more when they suggest I am a nutter. I cringe on their behalf. Because ostracising  is the lazy resort of the blinkered mind. There is nothing I like more than a debate over what a set of statistics might mean; the clear or cloudy distinction between cause and correlation. It's embarrassing and humbling when I get it wrong but error and correction is one pathway to understanding.

To get beyond "amateur" status would require, I suppose, an expensive university education in the social sciences, saturated  in doctrinaire leftist thinking. No thanks.

Kudos to Karl for defending the right to be heard of those who don't dance to the beat of the dominant drum.


WWallace said...

This seems to be an increasingly common tactic among those too lazy to engage in intellectual debate: dismiss the opposition as too thick, or mad.

I see it happening whenever someone with willingness and ability to investigate comes to a contrarian conclusion, and has the communication skills to put their viewpoint into the public domain.

Classic examples: Ian Wishart, John Ansell, Christopher Monckton.

The attacks on the man, rather than the message, signal a complete unwillingness to engage on the facts.

Anonymous said...

I read Karl's piece and thought his comments were spot on. you merit his positive comments.

i have long believed journalism has gone off the rails over the years.

A good friend of mine always wanted to be a journo ans started at the Evening Post in Wellington back in the sixties working on the loading dock before he was allowed to beging making the tea and running errands for the reporters of old. he ended up as the industrial reporter on the Herald back in the eighties before giving it all away for a simpler life in the Hawkes bay. Many memorable nights have we spent talking about the "Old Days" with good booze and a smoke.

instead of serving an apprenticeship working from the ground up. Todays young darlings come out of polytech and get given BYLINES as a right. objective reporting by mature minds has basicly gone the way of the dinosaur.


Kiwiwit said...

This sort of ad hominen attack is a pretty standard weapon for those on the left of politics. They believe in free speech only to the extent that anyone exercising it accords to their view. Climate change has been the worst area for this, where not only enthusiastic amateurs but highly experienced and qualified experts such as Professors Bob Carter and Murry Selby have been dismissed as cranks simply because they have the gall to publish research that does not accord with the party view. It is a short step from this intolerance to Khmer Rouge-like re-education camps.

Take consolation from the fact that you are esteemed company. The ultimate example was Winston Churchill, who was dismissed as a militaristic crank for his warnings about forthcoming war right up until the point that Hitler invaded Poland.

Anonymous said...

@kiwiwit, how scary your comments are when you consider the average age of journalists in NZ.


Anonymous said...

Kiwiwit is right.

The lefties are completely unable to discuss issues in a calm and reasoned way, so they resort to mudflinging. It's the only way of communicating that they

The right, on the other hand, are old hands at producing a clear and reasoned argument (more often than not also backed up with facts).
No wonder the lefties get pissed off.

Anonymous said...

Possibly you've become a victim of the people who sometimes comment here, many of whom are pretty unpleasant. Everyone is tainted to some degree by the company they keep.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

"...the company they keep" indicates choice.

My comments policy says, "Non-deletion of comments does not imply approval or agreement with the sentiments expressed."

If readers think I agree or sympathise with every commenter they are wrong.

I'm simply not prepared to proscribe freedom of speech...unlike those who are the subject of this post.

Michael Wynd said...

I think the "lofty" editorial writer was just showing frustration that they did not have control of the issues of the day as they had before blogging became widespread. That loss of control causes them the yearn for the days when the public at large could not comment in a public forum. The climate change is a good example where groupthink of editorial writers who take their cues from fashionable dinner party conversation is challenged.

Mike Steinberg said...

I think part of the reason for dismissing someone like MacVicar as a "nutter" is that it avoids having to actually consider his arguments.

Why would any intelligent person want to avoid opposing arguments? Because they might threaten a sacred value. You see the same thing in discussions of religion. The response is to simply demonise the heretic.

There was a fascinating article in the NY Times a year ago about Jonathan Haidt's talk on sacredness and bias in social science research.

Haidt notes:

The fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology have long attracted liberals, but they became more exclusive after the 1960s, according to Dr. Haidt. “The fight for civil rights and against racism became the sacred cause unifying the left throughout American society, and within the academy,” he said, arguing that this shared morality both “binds and blinds.”

“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.” It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.

“Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist,” Dr. Haidt said. “Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed. Only in the last few years have liberal sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along.”