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Re: [evol-psych] Geertz' fallacy

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  • Donald H. McBurney
    A note on Geertz s Fallacy: This has gone by the name of the fagot theory in parapsychology. A fagot (or faggot) is a bundle of sticks. Each stick
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2001
      A note on Geertz's Fallacy: This has gone by the name of the fagot theory in
      parapsychology. A fagot (or faggot) is a bundle of sticks. Each stick
      represents some piece of evidence for a proposition, such as "ESP exists."
      Individually, each stick has a weakness, but together the fagot cannot be
      broken. Although all scientists use this approach to some extent (the
      principle of the "preponderance of evidence," I suspect is basically the same
      idea) it has an obvious flaw: a lot of bad evidence adds up to bad evidence.

      Donald McBurney
      University of Pittsburgh

      William George Irons wrote:

      > Gene Anderson and Keith Sutherland are exactly right about Geertz and
      > interpretive anthropology. Interpretive anthropologists make a virtue out
      > of believing what the want. Their anthropology is strongly associated with
      > a feeling of self-righteousness. It is morally correct to believe what
      > they want to believe and immoral to challenge it. This is a general
      > characteristic of true believers including not only Mussolini, but also
      > Hitler, Lenin and Stalin. There however also good true believers I
      > think. The problem with true believers is that they close off thought. If
      > it is for a good cause, you never know when it may morph into a bad cause
      > and you're not allowed to criticize it when it does.
      > The major reason why the true belief of interpretive anthropologists is a
      > scandal is that they are scholars who should be pursuing the truth (which
      > can sometime be know), but actually they interfere with the pursuit of
      > truth. Scientific methods are the best tool for overcoming true belief and
      > other common human biases, but they attack science and not only false but
      > morally incorrect. They close off the best method for reexamining their
      > own thinking and they encourage others to do the same (with some success).
      > Shorter version of Geertz' fallacy: you can prove a point with bad data as
      > long as you have a large mass of bad data.
      > Probably in Geertz' case we need also not that you can prove politically
      > correct points with just about any kind of data (even with pure assertion),
      > but you need huge amounts of perfect data to prove a politically incorrect
      > point. If you point is politically incorrect any imperfection in your data
      > invalids you knowledge claim. If all else fail, imaginary imperfections
      > will do.
      > I also note that Geertz' was by no means the first to commit what I have
      > labeled Geertz' fallacy. However, he get the honor--I would argue--for
      > being so explicit in stating it as general principle--with the usual
      > interpretive equivocation of course.
      > Bill Irons
      > William George Irons
      > Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. USA
      > w-irons@...
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