Archive for April, 2013

RitchieFruitBat on Integrity

April 3, 2013

So I watched RitchieFruitBat’s video on integrity inspired by our conversation and now I feel I’ve been misrepresented!

Let me explain. Read these 3 questions about how his audience will perceive his portrayal of my remarks  to see how I’ve been misrepresented.

QUESTION 1) Will his readers think that I ultimately think “the scientists decided to attack Taubes and pretend they were misinterpreted”? I think YES

Do I think they wanted to pretend to be misinterpreted to justify an attack? NO.

QUESTION 2) Do you think, after watching, that his audience thinks I ultimately think the other scientists “were either dishonest or dumb”? I think YES.

Do I really think they were dumb or dishonest? NO.

QUESTION 3) Will his readers ultimately think that I “was going to keep an open mind” about either our arguments about misrepresentation or the vegan diet, as in I was coming around to Richie’s way of thinking? I think YES.

Is this what I wrote? Not really. Our arguments ended on the Ansel Keys 7 countries study and so my open mind was chiefly limited to saturated fat. I did write the following sentence immediately after one about a set of conflicting saturated fat studies:

“It’s why I am not convinced of any particular diet yet and keep an open mind.” 

However writing about an open mind without referencing the scepticism suggests that I’m open to adopting other radical diets when in reality I’m only moving to a middle ground between theories and being repelled by the main ones. Further, specifically at the end of the debate, I was not backtracking on my thoughts on the views of the offended scientists. In fact Richie acknowledged that we ended this agreeing to disagree.

Richie: “Ok, we’ll agree to disagree on the misrepresentation.”

Explanation of Questions 1 and 2

So let’s backtrack.

I started by giving an example of how he may have logically quoted their work in a way that may be would be misrepresented but would be of no consequence.

“Your piece hasn’t proved anything. I might want to show that proposition A shows B which shows C… or more concisely A->B->C . You might be a scientist who has shown that A->B->X . You might disagree that B->C, but me quoting your work that A->B is completely justified, and you showing that B->X says nothing about whether B->C. This is not cherry picking, but logic 101. The fact that these scientists are ‘misrepresented’ is neither here nor there in the fat debate.”

I felt this was a legitimate explanation of why the scientists may have felt misinterpreted, while at the same time Gary would have done nothing wrong.  Richie then challenged me if I thought that that meant that misrepresentation in general is okay. I said not all kinds, I then thought about it and qualified my example again (replacing with A, B, X):

“I quote A->B and attributes it to you, but omit any reference to whether or not you agree that B->C. Is that misrepresentation? Only if you think the audience is likely to infer it. Dumb readers will, smart readers won’t.”

Skipping a little for brevity, Richie then wanted to know if I thought that meant the upset scientists were dumb if they couldn’t forgive Taubes by this explanation. I thought that was one possibility, but I don’t want to suggest that people are dumb if there are other explanations, so I suggested yet another: That they did so because it was in their incentive to do so for funding reasons. Now I realize that at this point I wasn’t happy with either of those explanations, because it generally shifts bad faith from Taubes to the other scientists. The reason I was suggesting these explanations at all is because I was alarmed at the speed at which RichieFruitBat concluded that Taubes was guilty, and that he operated in bad faith (was a liar).  At least the possibility that it may have been the other scientists should give one pause. Of course I dislike suggesting that anybody operated in bad faith if there are other options, so I wrote:

“Those are two hypotheses. But they are not the ones I would pick. I think that they understood perfectly well that he used their work appropriately from a logical point of view. However, they worry about how it will be interpreted by the public at large? Academics often worry about this. They claim he misrepresented their views TO THE PUBLIC. However, Gary was aiming his article at the discerning reader… . Nobody operated in bad faith, just at cross purposes.”

Richie pressed me to explain why they would be upset if it was only Taubes’s conclusions that were wrong, that may lead the non-discerning public down the wrong path. I responded:

“You are trying to make out that being wrong is simply an intellectual consequence of academic debate, and that being wrong has no real world consequences. It’s exactly because of the real world consequences to real people that when one’s work is referenced (logically) to support a cause one doesn’t believe in, that it’s worth speaking out.”

Now Richie seemed to be unhappy about this explanation because he thought it didn’t justify the scientists attacks. In his words

“Reaven and the others are smearing Taubes’ name to punish him because they believe Taubes is wrong? Sorry, but this is just not convincing.”

I thought that worrying about Taubes articles causing early deaths in my estimation is something to worry about. Richie continued:

Ok, we’ll agree to disagree on the misrepresentation.

We agreed to disagree because I don’t think the scientists want to “pretend” to be misinterpreted at all. However, Richie can’t rationalize it any other way.

BOTTOM LINE

Do I feel misrepresented by his integrity video? YES

Am I upset that I’ve been misrepresented? Yes, a little. Not quite so much as if I’d been referenced in the New York Times. The harm done in this context is minimal. Misrepresentations here will not lead to early deaths in my estimation.

Is it okay that I’ve been misrepresented? YES!!! At least in the sense that I don’t blame Richie, thinking that he has done this wilfully. He’s simply made a mistake interpreting my responses, which is okay! and does happen especially on Youtube. I did suggest taking our conversation onto email, because I feel it offers tools for better clarity, but he declined.

Is it possible Richie is a liar? YES

Will I be calling Richie a liar from here on in? Absolutely not! and I hope he now respects the difficulty of reflecting other people’s remarks in the context of producing his own piece for publication.

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