Over at Map’s place (which has a vibrant comments community) discussion goes on about the Uncensored Symposium and the consensus (admittedly not a scientific survey) is that attendance = bad; protest outside = good.
I’m not sure what to think about that.
I’ve never been much of a protester; I can count the number of protests I have been on with the fingers of one hand. In part this is because I don’t like crowds (one explanation for this is that my lack of peripheral vision makes being in a crowd an uneasy sensation) and in part I’m not necessarily convinced protests are the answer. An answer to some questions, yes, but not the be all and end all of reactions to things you don’t like.
And I agree. You hardly want to fund these people. That seems intuitively wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people like ourselves shouldn’t attend. It might be a necessarily evil act (or rather, if I am being philosophical, it might be a morally suspicious but not necessarily morally wrong act) to attend but that cost might be outweighed but some perceived benefit, i.e. the chance to debate these people.
A quality debate, however, needs both quality and certain quantity of people; if, say, I went and no one else like-minded did, then I would be the lone nut in the room (I speak from a little experience in re how I was ignored by certain members of the Skeptics after that conference last year) and thus I would be drowned out by the noise.
Ah, the noise of anti-semitism and racism…
I’m fully aware that the debating practices, if they can be called that, of people like Doutré is based upon the notion of the info dump; if I present a credible critique of his position he will be liable to then list factoid1 after factoid, drowning out my critique with excessive verbiage2.
Which makes me think that attendance may not be the best option in the circumstances and, thus, you could, there is a credible case for not paying money to go; the cost and the style of debate would not be conducive to the aim of people like us3.
Yet turning up to the debate rather than simply protesting it seems to be a good in its own right. Doutré, Eisen, Gray; all these people claim that our silence and failure to debate them on the issues they think most critical shows that we are aware our positions are fatally flawed. Protesting will only confirm that view. Attending, even if we are seemingly defeated, may make the more duplicitous members a little more wary about presenting again.
Yet for organised resistance within the symposium to work you will need not just interested individuals but quality debaters; you will need rhetoricians who can play the game. Now, I consider that I am such a person, being both a critical thinker and a trained public speaker (due to years of speech therapy and speech and drama training) but I would, ideally, want a similarly qualified archaeologist, local historian, medical expert, et al. You would then want them to research their particular speaker, look at what they’ve argued in the past and what you would reasonably be expecting them to present at this symposium, et al.
It is, as they say in the trade4, a tall order.
Which is why I’m all for putting as many blocks in the way of the conference, of course. I think Map’s idea of approaching the city council about the use the hall is being put use to is superb and getting the anti-fluoride campaigners off-board, so to speak, could be a wonderful blow.
Maybe what this debate about the symposium shows, at least to me, is that we need an organisation of well-prepared intellectual types ready for the next ‘engagement.’ The ‘Rationalists and Humanists’ are definitely out; the Bill Cooke fiasco shows that they can’t be trusted to provide a spirited defense (and their lack of presence these days somewhat confirms that they are a dying organisation (which also seems to have become a libertarian article clearing house, in re the publication known as ‘The Open Society5‘). The ‘Skeptics…’ Well, whilst some of their membership seem on to it (I’m looking at you, Vicki Hyde) others are what I would describe as keen fans of science; they like science but aren’t particularly sure how it really works.
I.e. we should definitely make a secret society of our own. We can have a name, and badges and passwords and everything.
Which is where my thoughts end (temporally). I should probably get back to work; I have a table to make.
- I use the term factoid to refer to something that is taken to be a fact when it is nothing of the kind.↩
- Which is how Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates work.↩
- If you are reader is is not a member of our special ‘academic other’ cabal, I apologise.↩
- And don’t they say it in the Trades… Thanks “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.”↩
- Karl Popper, I suspect, would not be pleased.↩