The ‘you haven’t read everything I’ve ever written’ fallacy

17 February 2010 by

Several days ago, I came across a link to a web forum hosted by Dorothy M. Murdock, also known as D.M. Murdock, but far better known as Acharya S. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Acharya S is an author and proponent of the Christ myth theory.

But while numerous historians share the position that Jesus was a myth, few go as far as Acharya S, who, from my understanding, believes Jesus was deliberately invented as part of a grand conspiracy. Acharya’s popularity particularly rose after she was prominently featured in the first part of the controversial Zeitgeist film, which became an instant hit among 9/11 deniers. To date, I can’t find any instances where Acharya has made any public statements regarding her own beliefs about who caused 9/11.

But all that is just background. Since I’m not a historian myself, I can’t comment with any authority on the validity of Acharya’s fringe historical claims one way or the other. That is best left up to the experts.

The real purpose of this piece is discuss an argument Acharya used on her forum in response to her critics:

“Acharya’s overreaches and doesn’t back up her work.”

This statement is absolutely fallacious and almost invariably comes from those who have not read my work at all or who have failed to understand that that voluminous material I freely present on the internet frequently represents EXCERPTS from my books, which contain thousands of footnotes and citations of pretty much each and every point I make. (Obviously, the online excerpts DO NOT contain all of the details – that is what the books are for.)

I’ve seen her use this argument on numerous occasions. Now on the surface, this may sound entirely reasonable. And of course she may be right. Again, I haven’t done the research myself and so won’t comment on the veracity of her claims or how much of it is backed by evidence.

And as the excellent atheist blogger Greta Christina points out, it’s unreasonable to expect to receive the totality of a person’s position on a broad topic from just one particular instance:

It doesn’t make much sense to assume that the atheist critique of religion you’re reading that moment is the only atheist critique of religion this writer has ever come up with.

However, it is possible for one to take this rationale too far and conclude that it’s reasonable to ignore or dismiss out of hand any critics who haven’t read everything one has written on a particular subject. Demanding that substantive criticisms and questions must come from those with a complete knowledge of everything you’ve ever written is most certainly not a reasonable expectation. And every author must learn to accept this and take it in stride. If they didn’t, book tours would become a lot more confrontational very fast.

An author or any person promoting ideas in the public sphere should have the capacity to briefly and concisely address reasonable and even some unreasonable criticisms and questions on the spot without having to immediately resort to excuses to invalidate their opposition’s right to ask a question. But too often, I see Acharya and others immediately jump to the “you haven’t read everything I’ve ever written’ gambit.

For instance, I was shocked last year when I saw this tactic so frequently used by Chris Mooney, a usually terrific science journalist and thinker as well as a newly appointed co-host of the Point of Inquiry podcast (Congrats Chris!) when defending controversial passages concerning the growing outspokenness of atheists  in his book, Unscientific America. This was especially troubling because the book had only just come out at the time and Mooney had on countless occasions already laid out his position regarding aggressive atheism on his blog, The Intersection, as well as numerous other news outlets. So demanding critics first read the book before commenting on a general position he’d already presented elsewhere seemed like somewhat of a cop-out. I mean, if he failed to adequately articulate his position in his piece in the LA Times, for instance, then it sounds like an unsuccessful piece. And if that’s the case, why should anyone even bother to read it?

The fact is that if a person states their opinion in the public sphere, that opinion is subject to scrutiny at any time regardless of a critic’s knowledge about the history of the individual making the initial claim. And the same certainly goes for those who make specific statements of fact in the public sphere. If someone thinks that that a statement is factually wrong, they have every right to question it regardless of who the claimant is, what their credentials are, or what they’ve written or said in the past.

Whether the “you haven’t read everything I’ve ever written” gambit is used to deliberately dodge substantive criticism or not, I can’t say. Maybe some people use it as a deliberate dodge while others don’t. But while nobody should reasonably expect an author or anyone arguing their point of view in the public sphere to condense their every thought on a particular subject to a few brief sentences, nor should the author get away with skirting legitimate criticism by dodging critics simply because they hadn’t read that author’s entire every word on the subject. And if you can’t find a way to briefly and politely address sincere questions or criticisms without treating it as a personally attack or without treating the inquirer like an idiot for not being an expert on your work, then maybe you should reconsider your position.



11 September 2009 by

Many apologies. If you access Gotham Skeptic through RSS or a reader like Google Reader, I’m afraid you will have to manually update your reader to the new site. With the switch to our new self-hosted WordPress blog, we are experiencing some technical difficulties in forwarding the feed from the older site
Thanks for your readership!

8 Years On and I’m Still Pissed

10 September 2009 by

I’ve recently begun a new job in the financial district.  It’s at some coffee shop that doesn’t pay me enough, and it’s a really long trip to and from my apartment, but you know, it’s a job, it’s a bad economy, I take what I can get.  One of the nice things about the job though, is that it’s an area that I don’t normally get to.  I live at the top of the Bronx, so Battery Park is not normally in my area, but now I get to go on down to the river, walk around in a really great area in the afternoon, it’s a nice part of a sort of crummy job.

Unlike a lot of other people, I had to work on Monday.  The trains, in case you weren’t aware, were totally screwed for the entire day, but I’d made lunch plans with some of my best friends and I was excited for it.  Anyway, after work, I go over to get my train.  Some stupid pink tape has blocked off the Rector Street station on the 1, so I say, “Okay, it’s a nice day, I’ll walk up to Chambers”, and this little walk brought me straight over to Ground Zero.

The thing that still gets me upset about Ground Zero isn’t the tragic loss of life or the ludicrous and unnecessary wars that it launched.  At this point, I’ve been able to accept that those events occurred and move forward.  No, what really pisses me off is that eight years after the tragedy that befell thousands of people and our entire country on September 11, 2001, Ground Zero is still nothing but a concrete hole.  It continues to be a scar upon our fair city, a festering wound that in many ways, the city has still not recovered from.  But what gets me even more pissed off are the god damn 9/11 Truthers, and because tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of September 11th, they’re back in the news.

Part of me thinks that if we just don’t acknowledge their idiocy, they’ll slither back to their basements thousands of miles away from where the damage actually took place.  (Note on my “thousands of miles away crack:” In all my time getting pissed off about their crap, I’ve only met one New Yorker who actually bought into the conspiracy nonsense.  Then again, he lost his wife that day, so I don’t completely blame him.)  But they continue to spout their insanity, claiming that the physics are wrong when they’re not, and that the most elaborate conspiracy ever devised was put into play without anyone noticing.

Their latest volley comes from Charlie Sheen, an actor I very much enjoyed watching in Major League, Hot Shots: Part Deux and his bit role in Being John Malcovich.  Charlie came onto the 9/11 baloney scene a few years back when it was announced that he’d be voicing the newest version of Loose Change, the well debunked 9/11 conspiracy movie that was made when a kid wrote a movie about how 9/11 was a conspiracy and then convinced himself that his own fiction was reality.  I’m not sure whether Sheen ever actually voiced a version or not, I try not to pay too much attention to these assholes, but I do know that he was given a very special thank you in the 2009 edition of it.

Sheen’s insanity has prompted him to put a transcript online of a fake 20 minute conversation he has with President Obama, in which he convinces the president that 9/11 was a conspiracy by the “Bush/Cheney regime”.  He  followed it up with a visit to conspiracy theory collector Alex Jones’s show, and the two are trying to make Charlie’s ridiculous little farce a reality.

Look, I get where they’re coming from.  Stuff like 9/11 is scary.  It’s frightening because 9/11 showed us that there can never truly be safety.  No matter what technology we put in place to stop people from doing bad things, if someone really wants to find some way to kill a lot of people, and they’re really determined, they can do it.  It is easier to face a world where a huge, nigh-omnipotent government needs to orchestrate an event like 9/11, rather than some smelly bastards huddled in a cave with some floodlights pinned to the walls.  But the 9/11 truth movement is just inane.  The idea that while we’re dealing with two wars in the middle east, the biggest push for Health Care since Clinton, and the closest we’ve come to depression since the great crash of the 30’s… that with all that on his plate on top of, you know, running the country, Obama should put aside 20 minutes to talk with Charlie Sheen about 9/11 – that’s ludicrous.  He’s not going to do it, and that’ll just add fuel to the Truther’s fire.  Obama is avoiding the truth.  Maybe he’s in league with the Bush administration.  Ooooo, scary.

I’m tired of their crap.  I’m tired of them trying to scare my country with this garbage.  I’m sick of the scars of 9/11.  Give me my memorial and will someone please shut Charlie Sheen up.

Stay tuned

9 September 2009 by

Gotham Skeptic will be getting some work done today. A little nip here, a little tuck there. And hopefully by the end of the day, a fantastic new look will be revealed.

In the meantime, take our skeptics survey!

All the links will be redirected shortly, but you can view the new look now!

New York City Cricket Crawl

8 September 2009 by

No, this is not a frat boy pub crawl in cricket costume. On September 11th, the night before NECSS (have your tickets yet?), Discover Life in conjunction with the American Natural History Museum is sponsoring the first New York City Cricket Crawl,  “an aural expedition and a celebration of life in the leafy jungles of urban and suburban NYC and surrounding area.” More specifically, these organizations are urging people to wander their neighborhoods, with ears cocked, listening for the burring sounds of crickets and katydids. Under the hum of cars, stereos, screaming kids, droning air conditioners, and laughing hipsters, how many species do you think you can identify in your neighborhood?

Read the rest of this entry »

Something To Share

7 September 2009 by

Sometimes you find something and it just makes you smile.  And then, you realize that you have to write a blog for Monday, so you share it with everyone who reads the Gotham Skeptic.  Which is… um… what I’m doing right now.

Please examine the picture below.

stupid UFO pic

I found this gem on All News Web, a great website if you want to just smack your head fifteen times in a row.  What I really love about this particular article is the way that the whole thing is framed around a false dichotomy.

For those who don’t know, a false dichotomy is a bit of spurious logic where the person being asked is forced to choose between two black and white choices when there are probably more options out there.  And what I really love about this particular use of the logical fallacy is that in this case, both options are crap.  “UFO or Cryptid, what do you think?” Read the rest of this entry »

Take our survey

6 September 2009 by

Don’t forget to take Lisa’s quick survey. We will be analyzing the results openly on the blog. Be a part of this interesting project.

Take our survey!

Flash Friday – 4 September 2009

4 September 2009 by
  • There is only 1 week till NECSS 2009, and tickets are still available! NYC Skeptics quickly sold out of its stock of tickets, so head over to Ticketmaster or the French Institute box office to get yours today. If you are planning on purchasing your tickets the “day of” you might be out of luck, as the auditorium is already 90% sold out. We’re expecting a full house, so don’t  miss out!
  • Don’t forget about the special Drinking Skeptically taking place the evening before NECSS at Dewey’s Flatiron in Madison Square at 8PM (click here for more info). Attendance is free; there is no need to purchase a NECSS ticket to attend (however, we encourage everyone to attend the conference!).
  • If you haven’t already, please join the NECSS Facebook group and subscribing to the NECSS and NYC Skeptics Twitter feeds. It’s the best way to stay informed about the conference and be aware of up-to-date goings on!

Redeeming “Atheism”

4 September 2009 by

Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins at its launch in London

I “came out” as an atheist a few years ago, after years of shilly-shallying.

The basic Protestantism of my upbringing yielded, as a teenager, to an orthodox but rather devout kind of new-age pantheism; this drifted imperceptibly into a “spiritual but not religious” phase, followed by a lengthy spell as an agnostic. If people understood the word “agnostic” as it’s meant to be understood — the view that God’s existence isn’t provable one way or the other, so we should reserve judgment — I might have been willing to leave it at that. But in reality, most people think agnostic means “undecided,” as if its proponents just haven’t made their minds up yet. In either case, “agnostic” began to seem annoyingly timid, the soft option. So I took a deep breath and embraced the big, scary “A” word. Read the rest of this entry »

Psychic Finds Public Breaking Point

3 September 2009 by

You’ve probably already heard about Jaycee Lee Dugard, the now 29 year old woman who’d been held kidnapped, raped repeatedly, and become a mother twice over the past eighteen years.  It’s astounding that Miss Dugard has been found alive, I’m sure I speak for all of the New York City Skeptics when I say that we hope she will be able to move forward in her life, and that one day, maybe she’ll be able to attain some totems of normalcy.  But, this is not the sympathy blog, this is the Gotham Skeptic, so we’re actually here to talk about Dayle Schear. Read the rest of this entry »