Tuesday, May 14, 2013

10 Signs of Intellectual Honesty

by Judith Curry
When it comes to just about any topic, it seems as if the public discourse on the internet is dominated by rhetoric and propaganda. People are either selling products or ideology. In fact, just because someone may come across as calm and knowledgeable does not mean you should let your guard down and trust what they say. What you need to look for is a track record of intellectual honesty. – Mike Gene


I stumbled across these two posts at DesignMatrix:
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 Gene’s book The Design Matrix – Tom Gilson:

The way that he supports ID is refreshingly unique, however. He doesn’t argue for a conclusion of Intelligent Design at all. He argues more modestly, for a suspicion of Intelligent Design. He would have a beef with dogmatists on either side of the issue. Quite helpfully he distinguishes between the strong evidence required for conviction by a court of law, and evidence required by an investigating detective. A detective arrives on the scene with nothing but questions. His first objective is to move toward reasonable suspicions. A little hint there, a vague clue there: these things can move him toward a theory of a crime; and from there he can begin to look for more definite signs. Eventually, much further down the road, proof may come. Mike Gene believes we should recognize ID is in the developing suspicion stage: there is no hard scientific proof of design, but there are hints and clues that raise a most reasonable suspicion, and which can lead to a search for more definite signs.

Mike Gene’s 10 signs of intellectual honesty:

1. Do not overstate the power of your argument. One’s sense of conviction should be in proportion to the level of clear evidence assessable by most. If someone portrays their opponents as being either stupid or dishonest for disagreeing, intellectual dishonesty is probably in play. Intellectual honesty is most often associated with humility, not arrogance.

2. Show a willingness to publicly acknowledge that reasonable alternative viewpoints exist. The alternative views do not have to be treated as equally valid or powerful, but rarely is it the case that one and only one viewpoint has a complete monopoly on reason and evidence.

3. Be willing to publicly acknowledge and question one’s own assumptions and biases. All of us rely on assumptions when applying our world view to make sense of the data about the world. And all of us bring various biases to the table.

4. Be willing to publicly acknowledge where your argument is weak.Almost all arguments have weak spots, but those who are trying to sell an ideology will have great difficulty with this point and would rather obscure or downplay any weak points.

5. Be willing to publicly acknowledge when you are wrong. Those selling an ideology likewise have great difficulty admitting to being wrong, as this undercuts the rhetoric and image that is being sold. You get small points for admitting to being wrong on trivial matters and big points for admitting to being wrong on substantive points. You lose big points for failing to admit being wrong on something trivial.

6. Demonstrate consistency. A clear sign of intellectual dishonesty is when someone extensively relies on double standards. Typically, an excessively high standard is applied to the perceived opponent(s), while a very low standard is applied to the ideologues’ allies.

7. Address the argument instead of attacking the person making the argument. Ad hominem arguments are a clear sign of intellectual dishonesty. However, often times, the dishonesty is more subtle. For example, someone might make a token effort at debunking an argument and then turn significant attention to the person making the argument, relying on stereotypes, guilt-by-association, and innocent-sounding gotcha questions.

8. When addressing an argument, do not misrepresent it. A common tactic of the intellectually dishonest is to portray their opponent’s argument in straw man terms. In politics, this is called spin. Typically, such tactics eschew quoting the person in context, but instead rely heavily on out-of-context quotes, paraphrasing and impression. When addressing an argument, one should shows signs of having made a serious effort to first understand the argument and then accurately represent it in its strongest form.

9. Show a commitment to critical thinking. ‘Nuff said.

10. Be willing to publicly acknowledge when a point or criticism is good. If someone is unable or unwilling to admit when their opponent raises a good point or makes a good criticism, it demonstrates an unwillingness to participate in the give-and-take that characterizes an honest exchange.

While no one is perfect, and even those who strive for intellectual honesty can have a bad day, simply be on the look out for how many and how often these criteria apply to someone. In the arena of public discourse, it is not intelligence or knowledge that matters most – it is whether you can trust the intelligence or knowledge of another. After all, intelligence and knowledge can sometimes be the best tools of an intellectually dishonest approach.

Mike Gene’s 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."

A new blog by A.robustus takes a very interesting twist on the Ten Signs of Intellectual Honesty.  

A. robustus writes:
I did a search of the web to see what information was available to an inquisitive reader trying to learn more about the intellectual honesty concept.  There’s quite a lot – much of it, unsurprisingly, from colleges and universities from all over the world.  The stand-out candidate appears to be 10 Signs of Intellectual Honesty available from the website of one Mike Gene.
While Mike Gene is an intelligent design apologist (who is bound to become the focus of future posts!), I have to admit that his 10 Signs post is splendid.  Looking at the number of others who have linked to this particular page I am not alone in that assessment.  I recommend it to anybody who is searching for a checklist to ensure that their argument is developed and progresses from a foundation of intellectual honesty.
A. robustus then offers his/her clever twist by outlining the 10 Signs of Intellectual Dishonesty:
From the  A.robustus post:

1. Arrogance or “I am the messenger of truth”.  Look for arguments that send the following messages:
  • “What I am telling you ARE the facts and these facts have, and always will, withstand any test.”
  • “ Anybody that disagrees with ‘us’ is either stupid or is trying to undermine ‘our’ dedication and hard work.” 
  • “ They have access to the same evidence, but they either ignore it or deliberately misinterpret it to suit their own agenda or hypothesis.”
2. Handwaving or “Your views have no merit”.  Look for ‘arguments’ that dismiss other views out of hand.  Often accompanied by Sign #1 with the opponent usually being dismissed – not specifically their argument.

3. Unwavering commitment or “I know I am right – why bother arguing?”  Anybody who refuses to accept that they may not be 100% correct, or might be looking at the evidence through their own preferred colour of glasses is not being honest to themselves or to their readers/listeners. 

4. Avoiding/Ignoring the question or “  . . . and let’s not forget about . . .” Anybody who refuses to admit that their argument is weak in an area and, worse still, avoids answering difficult questions in that area is being intellectually dishonest.  If they don’t ignore the question, these people are easily recognised from their efforts to change the subject. 

5. Never admitting error or “I am/We are right – regardless of your evidence”.  These are the people who will never admit that they are wrong – ever – regardless of clear evidence that demonstrates their error. See Sign #1

6. Employing double standards or “Your evidence is unacceptable (because it’s your evidence)”.  This is a question of how high the bar is set for the acceptance of evidence – the bar is set at a much higher level for the other party, while it is set far lower for his/her own evidence.

7. Argumentum ad hominem or “You’re a [insert label/stereotype here] . . . and you have a secret agenda” This is a favoured approach used by those who might be arguing from a weak position.  It is typically employed to avoid answering a difficult question (Sign #4) or used in conjunction with handwaving (Sign #2).

8. Destroying a straw man or “You might say that, but how do you explain . . . ?”.   Usually a case of shifting the subject and attacking the opponent’s position on that, unrelated or remotely related, topic. This is usually employed in an effort to avoid a question (Sign #4) or when the speaker/writer doesn’t have the knowledge to address the issue.

9. Ignoring the principles of critical thinking.  Relying on one source of information – usually without question.  Anybody who only considers information from a single book, article, paper, video – or any number of these from sources that are known to support that person’s views or opinions is being intellectually dishonest. Sign #1 usually applies in this case.

10. Ignoring [partial] defeat or See Sign #1  An intellectually dishonest speaker/writer will NEVER admit that the other side has found a hole in their argument.  You will never see them congratulate an opponent on finding a flaw in their argument and they will use all of the other signs if necessary to draw your attention away from the subject.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Debbie (upon obtaining your permission to reproduce content from this post), I WISH I had the time to tweet what you've posted concerning Intellectual Honesty. I will certainly cite this on huffingpost! . . .Excellent information!

Debbie Buchanan Engle said...

Please Anon - use this information liberally! I borrowed it from another source which is cited in the post.