GnarlyOcelot and chatroom citation standards

December 31, 2010 § 14 Comments

GnarlyOcelot” (GO) is the handle of a Christian epologist, primarily hanging around the CARM chat room. I also go there to mis-spend my productive hours. There, Atheists and Christians cross swords about all sorts of issues, from philosophical arcana, to biological science, and to more important things besides.

A major plank of GO’s strategy in the defense of the faith is citing scholarly work. Unfortunately, the way he does so leaves much to be desired. Often he provides a battery of quotes from luminaries or a torrent of papers, but on investigation it is found that he hasn’t read the works which he is citing or quoting. Further, he often also paraphrases the research of someone else who did cite those sources. However, he does not cite this secondary source.

Doing this in an academic context would be considered both bad scholarship and plagiarism. You shouldn’t cite works you haven’t read in support of your argument. You definitely shouldn’t use another’s work in gathering sources in support of an argument without making clear (via citation or similar) it is theirs and not your own. This came to a head a little while ago when I confronted him about this practice:

The log

[I have redacted the entire log for interests of space, retaining only the 'thread' of conversation relevant to the current topic. See here I've also included the full log for readers to satisfy themselves I haven't omitted something important]

An epologist’s apology

GO argues there is nothing wrong with his behaviour, for no one would reasonably believe that he in fact gathered those citations by himself, so he is misleading no one. Besides, he is ‘only interested in truth’ and not on taking scholarly airs, and this style of unattributed citation is the best way of doing that.

Unfortunately, such a defence doesn’t really add up. For actually citing in an academically appropriate manner would obviate both of these concerns. Citing his actual source (rather than the sources that source uses) would avoid any risk whatsoever of believing “this is a person with a grasp of the primary ERV literature” as opposed to “this is a person who found a website about ERVs and copied the references”. It would, further, actually get allow us to engage with ‘just the facts’ much more quickly. Instead of a list of papers that (GO tells us) supports his contention, we could rather read the secondary source GO has used and assess the argument ourselves – as an added bonus, we’d also know exactly what the citations are being cited in support of, thus if we wanted to ‘check them out’ for ourselves we’d know what we are supposed to be looking for. Further, citing the secondary source (as opposed to a selection of its reference list) is much more time and space efficient.

So why doesn’t he do just that?

Citin’ dirty

In the log I mentioned there are a number of uncharitable suggestions one could make as to why you’d prefer this ‘style’ of referencing as opposed to academic norms. Let’s talk about them.

Bludgeoning by citation

GO’s references aren’t actually meant to be read (he copy and pasted so much text as to exhaust the buffer on the chat room, thus the first lines of the block of references were lost in moments). They certainly aren’t meant to be referred to or consulted. Rather, they are the argument itself. Argumentum ad Gnarlyum1 is something like the following:

1) Here is a large number of citations purportedly to do with X

C) Therefore X

The argument is therefore more of a scholarly battering ram. One hopes to cow ones opponents into submission by flashing the scholarly arsenal at one’s disposal. Needless to say, the more references, the stronger the argument. Thus pillaging secondary sources for their sources is far more effective when deploying an argumentum ad Gnarlyum. Had GO just said: “Biochemist Raz Fana over at Reasons to Believe has an argument that ERVs are compatible with creationism/ID, have a look”2, it wouldn’t have been very effective: “who cares what one creo biochemist has to say? I take Raz Fana and raise him whatever the ERV talkorigins article is and scholarly consensus!” Slapping down a dozen citations to the primary literature carries far greater academic heft.

But of course Argumentum ad Gnarlyum sucks. The fact someone supports X with a dozen references which are supposed to support it give us no reason to believe it is true if we aren’t shown what these references are supposed to lend to the case for X. GO never does this. Worse, he might not even be able to – you don’t need to understand a secondary source to copy its reference list.

So why would GO deploy Argumentum ad Gnarlyum? One reason is that citations look impressive – generally the guy dropping websites is outshone by the guy dropping primary research literature. Doing so lends an authority to the argument or position being accepted. Thus one takes the sources cited on the website and pastes them directly into the chatroom, even at the expense of the argument that used them. Citation padding undergoes an apotheosis into argument itself.

Fake it ’till you make it

Another good reason for this sort of style is it gives a mistaken impression of expertise. GO may think no one could think he actually gathered these sources himself (perish the thought!) but I had him down as a remarkable autodidact until I wised up.

But he wouldn’t be the only benefactor of this fakery. GO might not be in it for personal aggrandizement, but he’s definitely in it to win the day for Christianity. Indeed, his behaviour makes little sense as someone interested in the facts or the truth (why on earth would you cite primary literature before you’ve read it?) but makes much more sense as the actions of an ideological partisan defending their team from inclement data.

Thus the argument before understanding. By his own admission GO hasn’t read the literature he cited. I doubt GO properly understands the concepts (transposible element, retrovirus, restriction, gene control) or the acronyms (LTR, RNAi) in the literature he cited. But there is no need to if you aim is to merely fend of aggressors to your ideological tribe. One can short-circuit the pesky need to know what one talks about by channeling someone who has.

Scholarbot

Indeed, one can play this sort of game without any semantic understanding whatsoever. In parallel to the Chinese room argument, we could program a computer with a table to recognize collections of letters that code for ‘arguments against Christianity’, and provide a look up table of websites for each collection of letters to copy the references and paste them in response.3

But why would anyone want to ‘discuss’ with such a machine? Surely it would be a titanic waste of effort. One could simply do the job of the machine themselves by looking into the stable of Christian/conservative/creationist websites themselves to see what counterarguments are on offer.

If I wanted to hear what Rana had to say, I’d go and email him. If GO thought his stuff was so great, then he should just refer me to his work, instead of channeling him a manner that strips away both the original source and the actual argument in some ill-thought-out paroxysm of posturing. But generally people on a chatroom want to discuss things with other members of that chatroom, and not some cobbled together list of copy-and-paste references. Interacting with GO became obsolete when I learnt how to google.

Defeating the dark side of epologetics

It is now my policy whenever GO cites something to ask two questions. Firstly “Have you read that book/paper/article?” and, if not “what secondary source have you copied the references from?” The purpose for doing so is three-fold.

The least of these (and the reason GO no doubt suspects) is to discredit him. Because this sort of behaviour violates not only academic norms but is contrary to irenic discussion. Of course, if GO really thinks he’s doing nothing wrong, he won’t mind the logs I’ve pasted below, nor me calling out his technique. Some people like myself got sucked into investing our time in the intellectual ponzi scheme that is GO – encouraging others not to take him seriously when he enters this mode is a public service.

The second of these is to encourage a culture of intellectual responsibility. For surely a good norm of discussion, which I’ve mentioned before, is never cite what you haven’t read, and never state what you don’t understand. Behaving like this perhaps forfeits some rhetorical ammunition in the conflict.

The greatest of those, however, is to try and help GO out. For he’s not stupid and he can (and has) done better than behaviour I’ve taken him to task on above. Yet this sort of behaviour is both ridiculous and unacceptable, and casts a pall over what else he might have to say. It also stunts his intellectual development. Consider this from an earlier conversation:

1Christopher Weaver could probably contest that Argumentum ad Gnarlyum should be named after him, as he also bombs CARM with copy-and-paste reference lists. However, unlike GO, Weaver seems to have read at least some of the material he’s cited. Besides, he’s got other claims to internet ignominy.

2CARM doesn’t allow links to be pasted. However, GO could have definitely given a way of navigating there (google keyword, etc), or just cited the title, or offered to email the article, etc.

3Who knows? Maybe GO is not a man after all, but rather an ingenuous attempt to pass the turing test?

[GnarlyOcelot] A vacuum is not nothingness. According to our present-day understanding of a vacuum state or a quantum vacuum, it is “by no means a simple empty space”. [Astrid Lambrecht, “Observing Mechanical Dissipation in the Quantum Vacuum: An Experimental Challenge,” in Hartmut Figger, Dieter Meschede, Claus Zimmermann (eds.), Laser Physics at the Limits (Berlin/New York: Springer, 2002), 197.]

[GnarlyOcelot] Christopher Ray: t is a mistake to think of any physical vacuum as some absolutely empty void. [Time, Space and Philosophy (New York, NY: Routledge, 1991) 205.]

[GnarlyOcelot] Paul Davies: (himself admits) The processes described here do not represent the creation of matter out of nothing, but the conversion of pre-existing energy into material form. [God and the New Physics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983) 31.]

[Noble Brew] man, I need a copy of your notes Gnarly

[tHe KId SoG]

[Thrasymachus] Have you read these books, Gnarly?

[GnarlyOcelot] no

[Phobowute] did you have all that prepared already or something?

[GnarlyOcelot] yes

In other words, GO has compiled notes of citations and quotes from books which he hasn’t read and probably has no intention of reading. Surely, surely something’s gone wrong when you think that’s a productive way of spending your time!

GO is an epologist for evangelicalism. Ironic, then, that it is he who needs saving from himself

Redacted log

[GnarlyOcelot] Caroline Besnier, Yasuhiro Takeuchi, and Greg Towers, “Restriction of Lentivirus in Monkeys,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sci- ences, USA 99 (September 3, 2002): 11920-25; Theodora Hatziioannou et al., “Restriction of Multiple Divergent Retroviruses by Lvl1 and Refl” ΕΜΒΟ joυrna122 (February 3, 2003): 385-94; Clare Lynch and Michael Tristem, “Α Co-Optedgypsy Type LTR Retrotransposon Is Conserved in the Genomes of Humans, Sheep, Mice, and Rats” Current Biology 13 (September 2, 2003): 1518-23; Vera Schramke and Robin Allshire, “Hairpin RNAs and Retrotransposon LTRs Effect RNAi and Chromatin-Based Gene Silencing,” Science 301 (August 22, 2003): 1069-74;

[GnarlyOcelot] Wenhu Pi et al., “The LTR Enhancer of ΕRV 9 Human Endogenous Retrovirus Is Active in Oocytes and Progenitor Cells in Transgenic Zebrafish and Humans;’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 101 ( January 20, 2004) : 805-10; Catherine A. Dunn, Patrik Medstrand, and Dixie L. Mager, “An Endogenous Retroviral Long Terminal Repeat Is the Dominant Promoter for Human ß1,3—Galactosyltransferase 5 in the Colon” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 100 (October 28, 2003): 12841-46; Francois Mallet et al., “The Endogenous Retroviral Locus ERVWE 1 Is a Bona Fide Gene Involved in Hominoid Placental Physiology; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 101 (February 10, 2004): 1731-36.)

[Thrasymachus] Have you read these papers, GO?

[GnarlyOcelot] You know the answer ot that Thrasy, so I’ guessing you’re only asking because you want to make some point. What would that point be, I wonder?

[Thrasymachus] Only that citing things you haven’t actually read is generally considered poor scientific form.

[GnarlyOcelot] I’m citing a Bio-chemist who has read them (and cites them for that purpose)

[Thrasymachus] Then you should cite ‘Biochemist X cites this in support of XYZ’.

[GnarlyOcelot] I dont know if I “should” do that, but w/e.

[GnarlyOcelot] “Biochemist Fuz Rana cites this in support of xyz”.

[Thrasymachus] Well, put it this way: if I did that in any of my papers or essays and I got caught, I’d be in trouble.

[GnarlyOcelot] Thrasy, that because peopl work hard to get credit for their work, that’s their job and there’s money and careers at stake. In here, we’re only interested in the facts.

[GnarlyOcelot] (And the fact is, these so-called ERV’s fit perfectly fine on a creation model for the reasons listed above)

[GnarlyOcelot] Or at least I’m presenting that argument

[Thrasymachus] Actually, the reasons for good citation practise aren’t just avoiding plagiarism. Someone reading that C&P splurge might be mistaken for believing you are marshalling a body of evidence in support of your thesis – that I could look up these papers and ask you questions about them, and so on. In fact, you’re just channelling someone else who has done this. You could convey the ‘fact’s as accurately as referring to the work where he does just this, even if it doesn’t give such an intimidating wall of text.

[Thrasymachus] but w/e.

[GnarlyOcelot] Thrasy, you’re more than welcome to challenge the thesis..

[Thrasymachus] I’m not interested in challenging the Thesis. I was challenging the manner in which you supported it.

[GnarlyOcelot] If the individual in question wanted to read some of this material and challenge me on a part, and I didnt know the answer to that part, then I simply say “Sorry, I’m not a biochemist, this point is brought up by Fuz Rana here; I can give you his contact info if you want details”.

[GnarlyOcelot] Of course, few are going to challenge me on a part.

[GnarlyOcelot] Anyways, so there’s an objection to the ERV argument.. if anyone wants to pursue it, thats a good place to start.

[Thrasymachus] Few are going to challenge you on it because of the wall of text (the top of which left the top of the chat before the last was pasted). The point is that this ‘style’ of citation is tantamount to academic malfeasance. Not only because it steals research of someone else, but it also gives a false veneer of scholarly expertise: that you’re someone who’s up to speed on the relevant literature, rather than copying the reference list from someone who is. The ‘Ruz Fana argues here that ERVs are fine with creation [cite] avoids both of these. I could suggest a number of uncharitable reasons why you don’t do it, but I shan’t. Simply be aware that I’ll be asking ‘have you read these papers? and ‘are you channelling someone who did?’ will be frequent questions of mine from now on.

[GnarlyOcelot] Yeah, uh, Thrasy.. if we polled the room here on who thought I gathered those citations by myself and who assumed I got it from someone else.. i’d expect that pretty much everyone, just like you, knew I got it from someone else. I think your criticism is a little strange. The goal here isn’t to make myself look good or put of a “false vaneer of scholarly expertise”.. all I care about here is truth. That’s what its about.. so again, I think your criticism is out of place.

[GnarlyOcelot] If someone who doesn’t know me comes out thinking I have some undeserved scholarly expertise… then big whoop.

[GnarlyOcelot] (but again, you wouldn’t think that.. nor would Lance.. so I dont see what the problem was — again).

[Thrasymachus] w/e. For my part, I assumed the references you gave represented works you actually consulted. You would also save vast swathes of text by referencing the secondary source which you are actually using, but so be it.

Full log

[GnarlyOcelot] Caroline Besnier, Yasuhiro Takeuchi, and Greg Towers, “Restriction of Lentivirus in Monkeys,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sci- ences, USA 99 (September 3, 2002): 11920-25; Theodora Hatziioannou et al., “Restriction of Multiple Divergent Retroviruses by Lvl1 and Refl” ΕΜΒΟ joυrna122 (February 3, 2003): 385-94; Clare Lynch and Michael Tristem, “Α Co-Optedgypsy Type LTR Retrotransposon Is Conserved in the Genomes of Humans, Sheep, Mice, and Rats” Current Biology 13 (September 2, 2003): 1518-23; Vera Schramke and Robin Allshire, “Hairpin RNAs and Retrotransposon LTRs Effect RNAi and Chromatin-Based Gene Silencing,” Science 301 (August 22, 2003): 1069-74;

[GnarlyOcelot] Wenhu Pi et al., “The LTR Enhancer of ΕRV 9 Human Endogenous Retrovirus Is Active in Oocytes and Progenitor Cells in Transgenic Zebrafish and Humans;’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 101 ( January 20, 2004) : 805-10; Catherine A. Dunn, Patrik Medstrand, and Dixie L. Mager, “An Endogenous Retroviral Long Terminal Repeat Is the Dominant Promoter for Human ß1,3—Galactosyltransferase 5 in the Colon” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 100 (October 28, 2003): 12841-46; Francois Mallet et al., “The Endogenous Retroviral Locus ERVWE 1 Is a Bona Fide Gene Involved in Hominoid Placental Physiology; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 101 (February 10, 2004): 1731-36.)

[Thrasymachus] Have you read these papers, GO?

[Lance] GnarlyOcelot most likely no one is going to read that if you just spam copy / paste :S

[GnarlyOcelot] So maybe the creator put those so-called ERV’s in from the getgo.

[Lance] and zod could you re-send that?

[Lance] GnarlyOcelot maybe, but really what is a more reasonable explanation?

[GnarlyOcelot] You know the answer ot that Thrasy, so I’ guessing you’re only asking because you want to make some point. What would that point be, I wonder?

[zodigital] [zodigital] Lance, then how can you point a finger at Christians claiming that their faith is false because they have not witnessed for themselves the evidence, but yet you can state that you believe in evolution and what “scientist’s” have discovered in a lab without ever witnessing it yourself?

[zodigital] I’m not trying to be facecious (I think I spelled that wrong)

[Lance] zodigital

[Thrasymachus] Only that citing things you haven’t actually read is generally considered poor scientific form.

[GnarlyOcelot] I’m citing a Bio-chemist who has read them (and cites them for that purpose)

[Lance] zodigital which beliefs exactly are you talking about? I don’t think every belief a Christian has is false because they have not witnessed it for themselves.

[Thrasymachus] Then you should cite ‘Biochemist X cites this in support of XYZ’.

[GnarlyOcelot] I dont know if I “should” do that, but w/e.

[GnarlyOcelot] “Biochemist Fuz Rana cites this in support of xyz”.

[Thrasymachus] Well, put it this way: if I did that in any of my papers or essays and I got caught, I’d be in trouble.

[zodigital] Lance, I’m speaking in general. You have obviously chosen a side, have you not? Non-Christian, am I correct?

[Lance] zodigital anyways though, I believe on faith yes, but I have no certainty in this belief. And if you proved that such things were not the case I would have no problem rejecting them.

[Lance] zodigital yes I am not a Christian

[GnarlyOcelot] Thrasy, that because peopl work hard to get credit for their work, that’s their job and there’s money and careers at stake. In here, we’re only interested in the facts.

Lance] zodigital and yes I do take things on faith, but there is a differance between believing something in faith out of conveniance, and believing something in faith out of necessity–because there really is no actual answer.

[Lance] and having certainty in faith, upposed to a loose belief in faith

[Lance] I am in no way certain that we evolved, the level of certainty I have in the theory of evolution is the same as the level of understanding I have in the theory of evolution

[GnarlyOcelot] (And the fact is, these so-called ERV’s fit perfectly fine on a creation model for the reasons listed above)

[GnarlyOcelot] Or at least I’m presenting that argument

User JimmieD has logged in.

[Thrasymachus] Actually, the reasons for good citation practise aren’t just avoiding plagiarism. Someone reading that C&P splurge might be mistaken for believing you are marshalling a body of evidence in support of your thesis – that I could look up these papers and ask you questions about them, and so on. In fact, you’re just channelling someone else who has done this. You could convey the ‘fact’s as accurately as referring to the work where he does just this, even if it doesn’t give such an intimidating wall of text.

User Lance has logged out.

User Lance has logged in.

[Thrasymachus] but w/e.

[Lance] ugh cut out again

[zodigital] Lance, Belief in faith is just as you stated, belief in that which is faith itself. Christians believe in Jesus Christ. A man who actually lived, proclaimed to be God in the flesh, did miracles, was prophesied about in writings long before His birth, died for the sin(s) of His people, rose again from the dead, and then ascended into the clouds in front of 500 eyewitnesses to return once again

[Lance] zodigital Do Christians have a loose belief that Jesus is God, that it most likely is true but maybe could be false, or do they have absolute certainty that Jesus is God?

[GnarlyOcelot] Thrasy, you’re more than welcome to challenge the thesis..

User Cloud has logged in.

[Thrasymachus] I’m not interested in challenging the Thesis. I was challenging the manner in which you supported it.

[Lance] zodigital you say that I have the same level of faith in evolution as you (atleast thats what I think you’re saying) but that isn’t true at all.

[Lance] *as you do in God

User Studyingpreterism has logged out.

[GnarlyOcelot] If the individual in question wanted to read some of this material and challenge me on a part, and I didnt know the answer to that part, then I simply say “Sorry, I’m not a biochemist, this point is brought up by Fuz Rana here; I can give you his contact info if you want details”.

[GnarlyOcelot] Of course, few are going to challenge me on a part.

and resurection for the forgivness of sins which our very consciences testity of.

[GnarlyOcelot] Anyways, so there’s an objection to the ERV argument.. if anyone wants to pursue it, thats a good place to start.

[Lance] GnarlyOcelot do you think that because the Creationist model can explain how ERV’s happend, makes it as viable a position as any non-creationist position?

[Lance] zodigital well then, I think that proves my point

[zodigital] testity = testify

[zodigital] Lance, what is your point?

[Lance] my point was that my faith in the theory of evolution is not in any way comparable to your theory in God

[Lance] as I thought you were claiming

[Lance] maybe I misunderstood you

[GnarlyOcelot] Lance, thats not a sufficient condition for such a thing. All it does is nullify any significant advantage common descent would have gotten from this “evidence”. That’s all it’s meant to do.

[zodigital] Lance, you are misunderstanding. You’re looking at Christians from your worldview. We do not have any control over our belief in God. That is a work of God that He causes a man or woman to believe.

[Lance] zodigital okay

[zodigital] Lance, you can’t understand these things in the flesh. Intellectually you can, but until God, the true and living God changes your heart, it will always be foolishness to you.

[Lance] thats where this conversation ends

[zodigital] Lance, I know

[Lance]

[Lance] thats a claim I shall never accept

[zodigital] It’s where it always ends.

[zodigital] Lance, you can’t accept it.

[zodigital] It is a work of God.

[Lance] its a cop out

[zodigital] I know it this to be true from my own salvation.

[Lance] and maybe its both

[Lance] but neither of us shall know untill we die and meet God ourselves

[zodigital] Lance, I expect you to say these things because of what Scripture testifies.

[Thrasymachus] Few are going to challenge you on it because of the wall of text (the top of which left the top of the chat before the last was pasted). The point is that this ‘style’ of citation is tantamount to academic malfeasance. Not only because it steals research of someone else, but it also gives a false veneer of scholarly expertise: that you’re someone who’s up to speed on the relevant literature, rather than copying the reference list from someone who is. The ‘Ruz Fana argues here that ERVs are fine with creation [cite] avoids both of these. I could suggest a number of uncharitable reasons why you don’t do it, but I shan’t. Simply be aware that I’ll be asking ‘have you read these papers? and ‘are you channelling someone who did?’ will be frequent questions of mine from now on.

[zodigital] Lance, you’re correct.

[zodigital] May I remind everyone that this room is reserved for Evangelical/Christian Chat?

[zodigital] Debates, go to debates

[Lance] zodigital I don’t think the admins enforce that

[zodigital] This is where the Christians come to fellowship

[zodigital] If you’re in here, then we will proclaim the Gospel to you

[Lance] each of the rooms can become general, there are other rooms people could go to

[zodigital] That’s not what I was told

[Lance] ohkay

[GnarlyOcelot] Yeah, uh, Thrasy.. if we polled the room here on who thought I gathered those citations by myself and who assumed I got it from someone else.. i’d expect that pretty much everyone, just like you, knew I got it from someone else. I think your criticism is a little strange. The goal here isn’t to make myself look good or put of a “false vaneer of scholarly expertise”.. all I care about here is truth. That’s what its about.. so again, I think your criticism is out of place.

[Solidfaith] That’s right… Turn or burn baby! Huzzah!

[Lance] well Diane hasn’t said anything yet

[Solidfaith]

[zodigital] Solid, they can’t turn

[Solidfaith] Repent and Beleive Wretches!

[zodigital] I couldn’t turn

[GnarlyOcelot] If someone who doesn’t know me comes out thinking I have some undeserved scholarly expertise… then big whoop.

[zodigital] It’s only by God’s grace that He’s done and is still doing a work in my heart.

[GnarlyOcelot] (but again, you wouldn’t think that.. nor would Lance.. so I dont see what the problem was — again).

Solidfaith agrees with GO

[Solidfaith] That’s right, Zod, but still it’s an essential part of the Gospel in my mind for someone to be told to Repent AND Believe…

[zodigital] Diane is probably being smart and sleeping, exacltly what we should be doing!

[Solidfaith] eh who know’s I’ll be right back I’m almost done with my work ;p

[zodigital] Solid, I’m down with that!

[zodigital] Man, that’s why Christians are being persecuted. Because they proclaim Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins to the world, but the world is dark wants to have no part of the Light, which is Christ.

[zodigital] We proclaim Christ, and BOOOOOMMMMM we get shut down, or shot down.

[Thrasymachus] w/e. For my part, I assumed the references you gave represented works you actually consulted. You would also save vast swathes of text by referencing the secondary source which you are actually using, but so be it.

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§ 14 Responses to GnarlyOcelot and chatroom citation standards

  • GnarlyOcelot says:

    Hey Thrasymachus, thanks for the heads up on this blog entry (and no, I don’t mind you posting our conversation at all).

    I have to be honest — your criticism does puzzle me[1]. I suppose for an atheist-agnostic who wants to debate for the personal challenge of it, my citing arguments/papers without telling you who *gathered* the citations, or who *invented* the argument, would be like my playing online chess with you, but not telling you that I’m actually repeating your moves against some Chess software I have up, and parroting its responses in our Chess game.[2] In other words, in your eyes, I’m cheating — the victory came not from my abilities, but from the Chess AI which I didn’t credit. I’d get upset in that situation too. Why? Because Chess is a competition between *persons*; there’s some pride at stake. However, my goal in a rinky dink apologetics chatroom with 2-4 chatting people (who half the time are teenagers) is not to build my personal reputation up; it’s not about me, it’s about the truth. I’m doing it because I want to help people and I’m commanded by God to “give an answer/defense [apologia]” for Christianity (1 Pet 3:15). Giving arguments/answers simpliciter is all I care about.[3]

    Still, perhaps I was wrong to flood the chatroom (which wasn’t busy)? But wait… all this talk about my overloading the chat buffer might be misleading. I tested it — my two “blocks” of text (both of which are about the same size as this paragraph) could have both fit in the chatroom 4 times over before chatroom clears off the preceding text! In fact, 4 such blocks of text could fit in the small *unmaximized* chat interface without even having to scroll to see them all. It was hardly flooding… more like a typical harmless quote that takes two or three posts to get through.

    But perhaps I’m guilty of wanting to “cow you into submission” with these citations? Guilty as charged! And its pretty typical in academic publications. Sure enough, you submitted to the facts (as best I can tell). I take it for granted that you now know and agree that “Recent advances indicate that this class of non-coding DNA regulates gene expression and helps the cell ward off retroviral infections by disrupting the assembly of retroviruses after they take over the cells machinery”. Mission accomplished.

    If you’d like to challenge the relevance of any of these citations or the argument I gave, you’re just as welcome to do that now as you were last night.

    ~GnarlyOcelot

    - – - – -
    [1]Unfortunately, I also find your criticism at some points to be highly and irresponsibly exaggerated (e.g. “Argumentum ad Gnarlyum sucks [...] we aren’t shown what these references are supposed to lend to the case for X. GO never does this.” But wait, in this case, I didn’t expect it to be that controversial after I gave the citations and you didn’t even ask. In a chatroom setting, its natural to ask if you’re skeptical or can’t tell immediately how a citation supports the case for X from the title or abstract. Frankly, an interlocutor would sooner get upset if I *did* press on to “show how” each of those citations supported the case without his prompting, permission, or request. I think the “GO never does this” comment is just false and uncalled for. I do it when I’m asked.
    [2]This mindset is evident enough from where you explained that “Interacting with GO became obsolete when I learnt how to google.” Incidentally, I might be able to get the information/answers to you faster than you could just using books or google. If I weren’t able to do that, then you’re right, I’m useless to someone who just wants to “play chess”.
    [3]Ironically though, you write: “his behaviour makes little sense as someone interested in the facts or the truth (why on earth would you cite primary literature before you’ve read it?)” Surely this can be answered with childlike simplicity: I cited this primary lit. that I haven’t read because I believe Dr. Rana when he says it supports the proposition in question, such that if you were genuinely interested in the answer to your objection you could see for yourself that what I’m saying with respect to ERVs is correct. What’s the problem? As far as I’m concerned, the answer was given and, again, the mission was accomplished. Let me know if you have any questions.

  • YHWH says:

    GO, it baffles me how you think citing something you haven’t read at all somehow validates your position.

  • Peter says:

    Interesting post Thrasymachus.

    On the Scholarbot point, have you seen this?
    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=2324

  • Thrasymachus says:

    GO,

    I don’t think you get it. This might well be due to me expressing myself poorly. Permit me another go.

    I’m not challenging “ERVs do all sorts of useful stuff”. Indeed, if you’ll recall, it wasn’t me who raised the matter of ERVs. I even said as much at the time: my interest was in your conduct. So all this faintly patronising “Sorry you feel like I’ve cheated to win (which I did). Glad to see you’ve conceded that I was right though, but ask me if you have any questions” is both off target and gives the lie to you positioning yourself as a fearless quester after the truth as opposed to someone wanting to win the rhetorical game.

    You’ve studiously avoided answering why citing the secondary sources you have read rather than the primary sources you haven’t would hinder the cause of the truth. Indeed, your response here corroborates some of the less-than-charitable suggestions I made of why you’d want to do this. As you say yourself, you are ‘guilty as charged’ of trying to cow your opponents with citations, and that you only provide the argument behind the citation list if asked. In other words, argumentum ad Gnarlyum is the primary strategy, and argument is only offered if you’re challenged.

    Hence we see why the logic of your citation style. “Look, XYZ about biology because a creationist biochemist said so!” although representative of the research you’ve actually done, informs the reader of the source so they can evaluate how confident they are of it’s scholarship, and informative about the argument actually being presented, just won’t convince anyone of much. Citing the reference list reaps the rewards I mentioned before: it pads your ‘citation’ (and you) with additional scholarly gravitas, it obscures your source (not a survey of the primary research literature, but some creo biologist), and it disguises the fact your ‘research’ on the issues is all-too-often partisan hackery.

    The problem is that you don’t know what you’re talking (or citing) about. Why on earth would I come to you if I had any questions? You don’t have the skill set to critique a paper in the biological sciences (even if you did read them in the first place), you know precious little biology – I doubt you’ve read even some of a University-level textbook, nor resources online, nor a good review article. The only thing you could do if I posed a question/objection is to a) hurry off Reasons to Believe/Discotute/whatever to see if there was a rejoinder you could copy the citations from without attribution, or b) give me the email of the guy you were channelling beforehand. I can have the same ‘discussion’ faster with my search bar.

    Let’s be plain. This behaviour isn’t on. Citing the citations of secondary sources without attribution is academic malfeasance which would get you hauled up in front of a disciplinary committee in any seat of learning worthy of the name. There is no reason why citing honestly and straightforwardly would harm your attempts to move towards the truth of the matter, but every reason why you’d want to do this sort of pseudoscholarship if you’re just interested in shilling for your ideology. This reflects poorly on you and the Christianity you want to advocate.

    One of the benefits of the internet is it is a court of public opinion, and (to your credit) you are candid about what you do. So it’s up to others to judge this sort of behaviour (and those who do it) for themselves. Given other conversations I’ve had, I suspect you’ll find others feel much the same as I.

  • GnarlyOcelot says:

    P = “Recent advances indicate that this class of non-coding DNA [ERV's] regulates gene expression”

    Sorry Thrasymachus, I still don’t get it. If I say that P, what’s wrong with my posting a list of papers which are uncontroversial examples of P as justification? Saying “You could’ve just posted the source of that list instead of the list itself” doesn’t answer that question.
    –Am I lying? Nope… I honestly believe these papers list said examples.
    –Am I being dishonest in a more subtle way? Perhaps I implied that I read all those papers personally. Nope. I never implied that.

    You write: “you don’t know what you’re talking (or citing) about. Why on earth would I come to you if I had any questions?”
    First, you don’t have to come to me if you don’t want to.
    Second, the only relevant question type would be “how does paper x support P?”. As it happens, in most cases, I think we can both tell immediately how a particular paper supports P (e.g. from the paper title and/or abstract). However, if one weren’t so clear or if you have an objection, you could come to me so that I could in turn do my best to find out for you (e.g. by “hurry[ing] off Reasons to Believe/Discotute/whatever to see” or by giving you “the email of the guy” who compiled the list [or asking the self-same guy myself and reporting back to you]). Each of these could well be much faster and/or easier for you, but they could also be done if you lacked motivation to look for yourself (which is typically the case with interlocutors in the CARM chatroom; I’d add that quite a few have found my services helpful, and I was glad to give it). This might be a good time to also reconsult my first point.

    Next you charge me with “academic malfeasance”. A curious charge indeed. When you publish something in an academic setting without attributing a source, the implication is that the thought/work originated with you (and there are good reputation/monetary/historical reasons for academia doing it this way). Such reasons disappear, however, in an casual apologetics chatroom. It’s worth repeating then that:

    “my goal in a rinky dink apologetics chatroom with 2-4 chatting people (who half the time are teenagers) is not to build my personal reputation up; it’s not about me, it’s about the truth. I’m doing it because I want to help people and I’m commanded by God to “give an answer/defense [apologia]” for Christianity (1 Pet 3:15). Giving arguments/answers simpliciter is all I care about.”

    So “I” don’t exist. I’m a nameless, faceless, answer-provider. Please *do* think of me as something akin to the suggested Chinese Room (or an advanced Search Engine bot). I’m there in that apologetics chatroom primarily to help provide answers to the best of my ability so people can come away with information or knowledge they didn’t have before.

  • Nocterro says:

    “Please *do* think of me as something akin to the suggested Chinese Room (or an advanced Search Engine bot).”

    That’s exactly the problem. Why not just read the books and papers? People never ask you “What are 10 citations that support X?”…they ask “What is the justification for X?” You can post all the citations you want, but if you have not read them, you will not be able to answer questions about them. Why gimp yourself like this?

    So yeah. The problem isn’t the citations themselves, really. It’s that you post them without *reading* or *understanding* the material. To be quite honest: given the huge amount of time I’ve invested into educating myself in philosophy; if I present my defense of some idea, and someone responds with nothing more than a previously generated list of citations, I take it as a bit of a personal insult. if I can devote the time to learn this stuff, so can you. Get reading.

  • GnarlyOcelot says:

    Nocterro, I think you’ve misinterpreted the situation. This wasn’t like the all too common and unfortunate instance of one chatter opting not to defend his claim in favor of derisively telling his interlocutor to “just read xyz and get back to me” or something. No. This was me making a claim that I wouldn’t expect to be controversial, so that I could move on to use it as a premise in an argument that could be controversial. It would be more like me saying “We discovered fossil(s) abc a year ago in location xyz [insert paper], and now here [insert argument] is my argument which make use of the now uncontroversial existence of those fossils.” Just like posting the relevant papers which show fossils abc were found in location xyz, after posting the relevant papers in support of P, I wouldn’t dream of P (defined above) as being uncontroversial. So there shouldn’t be anything about P; it’s just a simple fact that P (but a fact which deserved citation evidence). I needn’t read the paper(s) which are instances of P, just like I wouldn’t need to have read the paper(s) which discuss the details on instances of fossils abc being found in location xyz. All I need to do is that they DO report such fossils.

    Hope that helps. (I’m having fun with this, I hope you guys are too).

  • Nocterro says:

    Gnarly:

    Ok, let’s say there’s a quote from some paper that reads thusly…

    “over the past four years, we’ve discovered fourteen tricerotops jawbone fossils at digsite Discovery, section 3F.”

    That’s all well and good – but if you use this as a premise in an argument, I’m certainly going to want to know much, much more. I’ll want to know their age, what dating methods were used, how close together they were, if any more fossils were found there, how old they were when they died, and what conclusions the authors of the paper are drawing.

    So, what would you do once I asked all these questions? Well, since you have not read the paper, you would have to tell me to read it. The existence of the fossils might be uncontroversial, but the conclusions you draw in your argument from it might be, depending on the answers to all these questions. The mere fact of the fossils existing might very well not support your conclusion at all! Furthermore, why wouldn’t you read them anyway, just for the sake of knowing? It’s an interesting field of study – if you don’t agree that’s fine; but then you probably wouldn’t be discussing it at all if you found it uninteresting.

    “This wasn’t like the all too common and unfortunate instance of one chatter opting not to defend his claim in favor of derisively telling his interlocutor to “just read xyz and get back to me” or something.”

    It really is.

  • Thrasymachus says:

    GO: You have no idea whether the papers you’ve cited are ‘uncontroversial examples of P’. You haven’t read them! It is preposterous to say reading the abstract and the title is sufficient to establish the merit (or not) of a scientific paper.

    To spare spilling further type, I note no explanation has been presented as to why citing properly would hinder the agenda of truth. Given there are fairly straightforward explanations as to what motive there is for citing improperly if you want to shill for Christianity, I think the conclusions we should draw are clear.

  • GnarlyOcelot says:

    Nocterro,

    I don’t see how you can say “I’ll want to know their age, what dating methods etc.” without knowing the argument (which doesn’t exist because I didn’t give one in the example). Why would knowing the age etc. be relevant to an argument only seeking to establish, say, that jawbones are able to fossilize on the continent of digsite Discovery, section 3F? It wouldn’t be relevant, so in fact you *wouldn’t* need to know those things. To make your criticism apply here, you’ll really need to show me what details in the cited papers are relevant to my argument that uses P other than the simple fact that these papers are examples of P.
    You write “So, what would you do once I asked all these questions? Well, since you have not read the paper, you would have to tell me to read it.” You’ll want to read previous posts here more carefully. I’d point out that your questions were irrelevant and if one was relevant, it would be my job to find the answer and get back to you.

    Thrasymachus,

    You write “I note no explanation has been presented as to why citing properly would hinder the agenda of truth.”
    (a) It’s question-begging to say I’m citing improperly. I’m noticing an unfortunate trend here: You’re heavy on rhetoric and weasel words but light on actual argumentation. (b) When did I say citing the way you suggested would hinder the agenda of truth? If you had one, it looks like your argument would go like this:
    1. Gnarly’s doing Y would be better than Gnarly’s doing X
    2. Gnarly did X
    3. Therefore Gnarly did something wrong.
    Multiple problems:
    (a) The hidden premise here which Thrasy has still failed to substantiate is that I did anything wrong at all. Here’s a successful reductio: Fill in “Y” with “donated $200 to a charity” and fill in “X” with “donated $100 to a charity”. According to Thrasy-logic, my donating $100 to charity is morally wrong just because I could’ve donated $200; this is absurd. The take home lesson is this: Even if it would’ve been better for me to cite the secondary source, that doesn’t mean citing the secondary source is wrong.
    (b) Premise 1 is unsubstantiated and even false; it’s not better for me to cite the secondary source. By “better” we of course mean “better” for the truth-seeking of my interlocutor. So first, there’s no good reason to think it’s better. Second, it’s not better because my casual chatroom interlocutor is much less likely to pick up the secondary source and then look at the primary source(s) as a result (all ultimately for him to realize the truth of P) than it is for him to realize the truth of P as a result of me just giving him the primary source(s). It’s a lot easier on his time and wallet.

    Hopefully (or I’m guessing) the unanswered objections in my previous point went through, so with this new post things should be about wrapped up. Thanks for the discussion guys, it was fun. I also encourage more such criticisms. While I think this particular critique was a failure, sometimes you’re definitely right and it gives me the opportunity to learn and be a better person as a result. Thanks again.

  • Thrasymachus says:

    GO: The reasons why this style is bad have been covered in chat at the time, in the post, and in the comments. It is not just bad as in sub-optimal (“Wouldn’t it save a lot of space just to cite the secondary source?”) But bad as in counterproductive to getting to the truth of the matter: it conceals the actual source to not let us check it, allows us to see the argument, and so on and so forth. These reasons have been ennumerated before, and I tire of repeating myself. If you want to find still more reasons for citing properly, feel free to survey a uni honour code.

    The adverse influence is that going so far out of your way to cite in this manner (as in, *not* citing the secondary source but copying out the references) is far more time and energy intensive then following academic norms. Yet doing so furthers a useful ends for ideological shilling (again, enumerated above, and again, not answered). So even if your behaviour was merely sub-optimal it would be sufficient to draw this inference. But it is more than that.

  • GnarlyOcelot says:

    “It’s not just bad as in sub-optimal”.
    It’s not bad in this way at all. cf. previous post.

    “[It is] bad as in counterproductive to getting to the truth”
    I’ve addressed whatever arguments you have in support of this (and offered unaddressed arguments which in fact show the opposite).

    “It conceals the actual source to not let us check it,
    What are you talking about? I didn’t conceal anything. I told you where I got the citations from as soon as you asked.

    “[It conceals the actual source to not] allow us to see the argument”
    What are you talking about? I didn’t conceal the argument, I was presenting the argument.

    “If you want to find still more reasons for citing properly, feel free to survey a uni honour code.”
    (a) Calling it improper citation begs the question. (b) I addressed this University Honor Code objection above. I agree that it’s inappropriate to offer a citation list like this without crediting the compiler *in an academic setting*. But whats appropriate in a casual chatroom setting needn’t be identical to what is appropriate in peer review etc. It would be inappropriate in peer review to be posting smiley faces, but how does that imply that it is inappropriate in a chatroom. Like I said: “When you publish something in an academic setting without attributing a source, the implication is that the thought/work originated with you (and there are good reputation/monetary/historical reasons for academia doing it this way). Such reasons disappear, however, in an casual apologetics chatroom. It’s worth repeating then that: “my goal in a rinky dink apologetics chatroom with 2-4 chatting people (who half the time are teenagers) is not to build my personal reputation up; it’s not about me, it’s about the truth. I’m doing it because I want to help people and I’m commanded by God to “give an answer/defense [apologia]” for Christianity (1 Pet 3:15). Giving arguments/answers simpliciter is all I care about.” ”

    [You went] “so far out of you way to cite in this manner”
    What are you talking about? And what manner? I just *very simply* posted the list of citations which I already had in my notes. It wouldn’t take me any more or less time to cite the secondary source. So what’s this “so far out of your way” business?

    “doing so furthers a useful ends for ideological shilling”
    I guess I don’t know what this means. What I did is useful for selling my ideology or beliefs? i.e. “your giving the primary source citations in support of a proposition you accept has a lot of persuasive power!”? So what?

    So again, imho, this whole critique of yours is just really strange.

  • I agree that it is strange to provide citations to something you have not read in your offering a defense of some position. Unless, of course, you were to preface it with a disclaimer saying something like: “I’ve not read these, but they look relevant/interesting/…”

    Why can’t you do this? I mean, maybe there’s nothing morally wrong, but it’s academically unacceptable and though you’re not in an academic context, why not be scholarly? It couldn’t hurt. Like I said, sure you might not “have” to, but it’s a better attitude to not just do the “bare minimum” required, so to speak. Not sure if that’s the thinking process here, but it seems plausible to me.

  • GnarlyOcelot says:

    “Why not be scholarly”, you ask, and say “I haven’t read these but they look relevant interesting”.
    Well, after challenging your notion of scholarly, I’d say something like the following:
    Because it’s not that I have some willy-nilly suspicion that these are “relevant” or “interesting”. Rather, I am fully convinced, based on trusted expert testimony, that these papers should uncontroversially demonstrate that “Recent advances indicate that this class of non-coding DNA [ERV's] regulates gene expression”.
    It’s just as if I were citing a list of papers complied by talkorigins.org which purportedly demonstrate bacterial resistance to antibiotics. I already know that bacteria do such a thing without having read any of the papers, and insofar as I trust talkorigins on this point, I wouldn’t feel guilty at all posting such a list provided by them (if such a proposition were a premise in my argument) despite not having read the papers myself. As it happens, I have done this very thing for Christians who have misconceptions about evolution (despite being skeptical of neo-Darwinism myself).

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