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10 signs of intellectualhonesty

Posted on April 20, 2013 | 880 Comments

by Judith Curry
Whenitcomestojustaboutanytopic,itseemsasifthepublicdiscourseontheinternetisdominatedbyrhetoric
andpropaganda.Peopleareeithersellingproductsorideology.Infact,justbecausesomeonemaycomeacrossas
calmandknowledgeabledoesnotmeanyoushouldletyourguarddownandtrustwhattheysay.Whatyouneed
tolookforisatrackrecordofintellectualhonesty. Mike Gene
I stumbled across these two posts at DesignMatrix:
Ten Signs of Intellectual Honesty
Ten Signs of Intellectual Dishonesty
For those of you who are ready to violate sign #7 of intellectual honesty, I point out that Mike Gene is a proponent of
intelligent design, albeit an interesting one. From a review of Mike Genes bookThe Design Matrix Tom Gilson:
ThewaythathesupportsIDisrefreshinglyunique,however.HedoesntargueforaconclusionofIntelligent
Designatall.Hearguesmoremodestly,forasuspicionofIntelligentDesign.Hewouldhaveabeefwith
dogmatistsoneithersideoftheissue.Quitehelpfullyhedistinguishesbetweenthestrongevidencerequiredfor
convictionbyacourtoflaw,andevidencerequiredbyaninvestigatingdetective.Adetectivearrivesonthescene
withnothingbutquestions.Hisfirstobjectiveistomovetowardreasonablesuspicions.Alittlehintthere,avague
cluethere:thesethingscanmovehimtowardatheoryofacrimeandfromtherehecanbegintolookformore
definitesigns.Eventually,muchfurtherdowntheroad,proofmaycome.MikeGenebelievesweshouldrecognize
IDisinthedevelopingsuspicionstage:thereisnohardscientificproofofdesign,buttherearehintsandcluesthat
raiseamostreasonablesuspicion,andwhichcanleadtoasearchformoredefinitesigns.
Mike Genes 10 signs of intellectual honesty:
1.Donotoverstatethepowerofyourargument.Onessenseofconvictionshouldbeinproportiontothe
levelofclearevidenceassessablebymost.Ifsomeoneportraystheiropponentsasbeingeitherstupidordishonest
fordisagreeing,intellectualdishonestyisprobablyinplay.Intellectualhonestyismostoftenassociatedwith
humility,notarrogance.
2.Showawillingnesstopubliclyacknowledgethatreasonablealternativeviewpointsexist.The
alternativeviewsdonothavetobetreatedasequallyvalidorpowerful,butrarelyisitthecasethatoneandonly
oneviewpointhasacompletemonopolyonreasonandevidence.

3.Bewillingtopubliclyacknowledgeandquestiononesownassumptionsandbiases.Allofusrely
onassumptionswhenapplyingourworldviewtomakesenseofthedataabouttheworld.Andallofusbring
variousbiasestothetable.
4.Bewillingtopubliclyacknowledgewhereyourargumentisweak.Almostallargumentshaveweak
spots,butthosewhoaretryingtosellanideologywillhavegreatdifficultywiththispointandwouldrather
obscureordownplayanyweakpoints.
5.Bewillingtopubliclyacknowledgewhenyouarewrong.Thosesellinganideologylikewisehavegreat
difficultyadmittingtobeingwrong,asthisundercutstherhetoricandimagethatisbeingsold.Yougetsmall
pointsforadmittingtobeingwrongontrivialmattersandbigpointsforadmittingtobeingwrongonsubstantive
points.Youlosebigpointsforfailingtoadmitbeingwrongonsomethingtrivial.
6.Demonstrateconsistency.Aclearsignofintellectualdishonestyiswhensomeoneextensivelyrelieson
doublestandards.Typically,anexcessivelyhighstandardisappliedtotheperceivedopponent(s),whileaverylow
standardisappliedtotheideologuesallies.
7.Addresstheargumentinsteadofattackingthepersonmakingtheargument.Ad
hominemargumentsareaclearsignofintellectualdishonesty.However,oftentimes,thedishonestyismore
subtle.Forexample,someonemightmakeatokeneffortatdebunkinganargumentandthenturnsignificant
attentiontothepersonmakingtheargument,relyingonstereotypes,guiltbyassociation,andinnocentsounding
gotchaquestions.
8.Whenaddressinganargument,donotmisrepresentit.Acommontacticoftheintellectuallydishonest
istoportraytheiropponentsargumentinstrawmanterms.Inpolitics,thisiscalledspin.Typically,suchtactics
eschewquotingthepersonincontext,butinsteadrelyheavilyonoutofcontextquotes,paraphrasingand
impression.Whenaddressinganargument,oneshouldshowssignsofhavingmadeaseriousefforttofirst
understandtheargumentandthenaccuratelyrepresentitinitsstrongestform.
9.Showacommitmenttocriticalthinking.Nuffsaid.
10.Bewillingtopubliclyacknowledgewhenapointorcriticismisgood.Ifsomeoneisunableor
unwillingtoadmitwhentheiropponentraisesagoodpointormakesagoodcriticism,itdemonstratesan
unwillingnesstoparticipateinthegiveandtakethatcharacterizesanhonestexchange.
Whilenooneisperfect,andeventhosewhostriveforintellectualhonestycanhaveabadday,simplybeonthe
lookoutforhowmanyandhowoftenthesecriteriaapplytosomeone.Inthearenaofpublicdiscourse,itisnot
intelligenceorknowledgethatmattersmostitiswhetheryoucantrusttheintelligenceorknowledgeofanother.
Afterall,intelligenceandknowledgecansometimesbethebesttoolsofanintellectuallydishonestapproach.
Mike Genes post on 10 signs of intellectual DIShonesty is based on a blog post by A.robustus on his blog Informing
the Misled: Repairing the Damage Done by the Truth.
AnewblogbyA.robustustakesaveryinterestingtwistontheTenSignsofIntellectualHonesty.A.robustus
writes:

Ididasearchofthewebtoseewhatinformationwasavailabletoaninquisitivereadertryingtolearn
moreabouttheintellectualhonestyconcept.Theresquitealotmuchofit,unsurprisingly,from
collegesanduniversitiesfromallovertheworld.Thestandoutcandidateappearstobe10Signsof
IntellectualHonestyavailablefromthewebsiteofoneMikeGene.
WhileMikeGeneisanintelligentdesignapologist(whoisboundtobecomethefocusoffutureposts!),I
havetoadmitthathis10Signspostissplendid.Lookingatthenumberofotherswhohavelinkedtothis
particularpageIamnotaloneinthatassessment.Irecommendittoanybodywhoissearchingfora
checklisttoensurethattheirargumentisdevelopedandprogressesfromafoundationofintellectual
honesty.
A.robustusthenoffershis/herclevertwistbyoutliningthe10SignsofIntellectualDishonesty:
From the A.robustus post:
1.ArroganceorIamthemessengeroftruth.Lookforargumentsthatsendthefollowingmessages:
WhatIamtellingyouAREthefactsandthesefactshave,andalwayswill,withstandanytest.
Anybodythatdisagreeswithusiseitherstupidoristryingtoundermineourdedicationandhardwork.
Theyhaveaccesstothesameevidence,buttheyeitherignoreitordeliberatelymisinterpretittosuittheir
ownagendaorhypothesis.
2.HandwavingorYourviewshavenomerit.Lookforargumentsthatdismissotherviewsoutofhand.
OftenaccompaniedbySign#1withtheopponentusuallybeingdismissednotspecificallytheirargument.
3.UnwaveringcommitmentorIknowIamrightwhybotherarguing?Anybodywhorefusesto
acceptthattheymaynotbe100%correct,ormightbelookingattheevidencethroughtheirownpreferredcolour
ofglassesisnotbeinghonesttothemselvesortotheirreaders/listeners.
4.Avoiding/Ignoringthequestionor...andletsnotforgetabout...Anybodywhorefusestoadmit
thattheirargumentisweakinanareaand,worsestill,avoidsansweringdifficultquestionsinthatareaisbeing
intellectuallydishonest.Iftheydontignorethequestion,thesepeopleareeasilyrecognisedfromtheireffortsto
changethesubject.
5.NeveradmittingerrororIam/Wearerightregardlessofyourevidence.Thesearethepeople
whowillneveradmitthattheyarewrongeverregardlessofclearevidencethatdemonstratestheirerror.See
Sign#1
6.EmployingdoublestandardsorYourevidenceisunacceptable(becauseitsyourevidence).
Thisisaquestionofhowhighthebarissetfortheacceptanceofevidencethebarissetatamuchhigherlevelfor
theotherparty,whileitissetfarlowerforhis/herownevidence.
7.ArgumentumadhominemorYourea[insertlabel/stereotypehere]...andyouhaveasecret
agendaThisisafavouredapproachusedbythosewhomightbearguingfromaweakposition.Itistypically
employedtoavoidansweringadifficultquestion(Sign#4)orusedinconjunctionwithhandwaving(Sign#2).

8.DestroyingastrawmanorYoumightsaythat,buthowdoyouexplain...?.Usuallyacaseof
shiftingthesubjectandattackingtheopponentspositiononthat,unrelatedorremotelyrelated,topic.Thisis
usuallyemployedinanefforttoavoidaquestion(Sign#4)orwhenthespeaker/writerdoesnthavethe
knowledgetoaddresstheissue.
9.Ignoringtheprinciplesofcriticalthinking.Relyingononesourceofinformationusuallywithout
question.Anybodywhoonlyconsidersinformationfromasinglebook,article,paper,videooranynumberof
thesefromsourcesthatareknowntosupportthatpersonsviewsoropinionsisbeingintellectuallydishonest.Sign
#1usuallyappliesinthiscase.
10.Ignoring[partial]defeatorSeeSign#1Anintellectuallydishonestspeaker/writerwillNEVERadmit
thattheothersidehasfoundaholeintheirargument.Youwillneverseethemcongratulateanopponenton
findingaflawintheirargumentandtheywillusealloftheothersignsifnecessarytodrawyourattentionaway
fromthesubject.
JCslistof10signsofintellectuallaziness
Intellectual DIShonesty is certainly rampant on the internet. In terms of climate science, I think that intellectual
laziness is the bigger problem. Here is my characterization of the signs of intellectual laziness.
1. Oversimplifying a complex problem, and drawing highly confident conclusions from the simplified analysis.
2. Strong personal convictions that are based not upon an individuals personal examination of the evidence, but
rather on the second-order evidence of the existence of a consensus.
3. Failure to continually question and challenge your assumptions.
4. Inadequate attention to characterizing uncertainty and ambiguities.
5. Cherry picking evidence in presenting your arguments; i.e. failure to present evidence both for and against your
arguments.
6. Tribalism that excludes viewpoints from outsiders.
7. Failure to explicitly place your research and its implications in a broader context of previous scientific research
Ok, I only made it to #7; the others I was coming up with variants of signs that were already mentioned. Im sure
you can think of others
JCsummary: While there is nothing really new here that hasnt been discussed on previous Climate Etc. posts
under the ethics tag, there are some fresh perspectives presented here. In any event, we should regularly remind
ourselves of these principles as we get caught up in the debate du jour.
In closing, this statement from Mike Gene bears repeating:
Whilenooneisperfect,andeventhosewhostriveforintellectualhonestycanhaveabadday,simplybeonthe
lookoutforhowmanyandhowoftenthesecriteriaapplytosomeone.Inthearenaofpublicdiscourse,itisnot

intelligenceorknowledgethatmattersmostitiswhetheryoucantrusttheintelligenceorknowledgeofanother.
Afterall,intelligenceandknowledgecansometimesbethebesttoolsofanintellectuallydishonestapproach.
This paragraph hits home for me. I do work really hard at trying to be intellectually honest. I am less worried about
being right, but with my attention to uncertainty I am rarely really incorrect :) . I try to be trustworthy. In the
fallout from Climategate, the climate scientists argued that Isaac Newton was a SOB and this didnt invalidate his
science, which was an argument against paying much attention to the behavior of climate scientists. That argument
is not convincing for the following reason. Because of the complexity of the climate system, there is heavy reliance
on the judgment of experts. The loss of trust resulting from Climategate (see my previous essay here) has had wide
repercussions in the public debate on climate change.

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880 RESPONSES TO 10 SIGNS OF INTELLECTUALHONESTY

brianblais | April 20, 2013 at 10:51 am |


Reblogged this on Professor Brian Blais' Blog and commented:
This post, and others like it, are things I try to communicate to my students. Recognizing, and publicly
acknowledging ones shortcomings, is a big one in my book.

curryja | April 20, 2013 at 11:14 am |


Hi Brian, thanks for stopping by, I applaud your efforts.

donaitkin | April 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm |


Like Brian Blais, I felt that these points should be widely appreciated, and devoted a post to them,
mostly on the work of A.robustus.

DavidSpringer | April 20, 2013 at 4:16 pm |