The madness of crowds** (and its antidote)

The Knife has a very modest presence on Twitter, so when I tweeted the picture below, I was surprised by how many favourites and retweets it got. I was alerted to it in a tweet from @guywalters, and the author seems to be this Californian paediatrician.

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I have to say, I like that on many levels, the neat portrait of irritating smug middle class hippy parents is one level, and another is because Dr Ginsberg is resolutely pro-science and pro-evidence. It is amazing how true science is so routinely traduced by apparently intelligent or educated people (usually the uber middle class ones). However, as Thomas Sowell (a hero of this blog) so sagely observed:

“Intellect is not wisdom”, and more pointedly “Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important.”

On that note, I happened to be on a train yesterday, in a small carriage with only 8 seats. Three people were carrying on with a non-private conversation. One was a recent university student, the two older academic ones were travelling back from a conference of some sort. The essence of much of it was:

1. There are a group of  scientists secretly meddling ‘with the ionosphere’ to cause earthquakes (I couldn’t find any link to this one)

2. The Climategate email scandal is irrelevant to true climate scientists

3. The proven ‘medieval warm period‘ is utterly meaningless when considering climate history

4. The Fukushima reactor is only prevented from exploding by continuing to pump billions of gallons of seawater underground and nobody knows when or how to stop this, or its effects, but this is ‘a secret’

5 The Dark Net is a web area where you can hire hitmen (possibly true), but it’s OK because they won’t kill women or children

6 There is a cancer surgeon in the US (unnamed) who got metastatic colon cancer, decided against surgery, and cured himself with a vegan diet. He was then struck off by the US medical establishment so he couldn’t expose their ‘cancer racket’ (see here for something similar, with a special offer!)

And there was a lot more: Bitcoins, poetry (Invictus, predictably), more secret cabals of powerful interest groups, and so on. I failed to join in, but on several of these topics I was dying to say if it’s such a bloody secret, how come a few random strangers on a train seem to know all this stuff? But I didn’t really want one of those agonising protracted semi-intellectual discussions, you probably know the kind.

However, the point is that all three were clearly educated people, just like those Californian parents busily spreading measles around the community***. I have to keep quoting Sowell:

“If facts, logic, and scientific procedures are all just arbitrarily “socially constructed” notions, then all that is left is consensus–more specifically peer consensus, the kind of consensus that matters to adolescents or to many among the intelligentsia.”

These are the people you don’t want in charge of you (or your tax code). It’s no surprise that two of my fellow travellers had been at a conference. The last Sowellism of this post rings true:

…people who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything

Sowell: a genuinely great mind
Sowell: a genuinely great mind

**a fine phrase from this prescient work

***Kevin Williamson, a much better writer than me, makes a similar point quite brilliantly, relating it to societal failure

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6 thoughts on “The madness of crowds** (and its antidote)

  1. What a bunch of twats. A PhD doesn’t mean you are immune to a bit of Emperor’s new clothes. That’s why you should go everywhere by road, preferably alone, listening to radio 4 or Beethoven piano sonatas, in the wrong gear, in a very old car.

  2. The campaign against anti-vaxxers is propaganda, to divert attention from the flood of disease-carrying border invaders (who are enrolled at schools despite not having been vaccinated). The U.S. had virtually wiped out measles; now it’s back, along with other diseases brought by illegal aliens.

    1. Migrants may bring diseases, true. But if Californians all get vaccinated, they have nothing to fear from this, that is obviously the point of vaccination. I think they’re really two separate arguments, albeit along a similar theme. My main point is the loony theorising of seemingly intelligent people, and that it can have adverse consequences

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