Close your minds, people!

I am subscribed to the Facebook page “I Fucking Love Science” mainly for the posts with scientific updates and posts showing inspirational and beautiful things in nature. However, sometimes a post comes along that brings about all sorts of discussion and controversy, and I enjoy those too. For example, there was the recent post where the owner of the page showed her face and a lot of people were surprised that she was female. These reactions made the news for their implications on feminism and women in science.

Earlier today, there was another one of those posts: a Venn diagram denoting various types of “bollocks”. There was a lot of discussion on that one, and I joined in a bit myself. I may have been a bit more active and a bit more vigorous than I would typically be in online discussions, because I found myself representing the side of the minority, which I felt needed more exposure. The comments I disagreed with got more likes than the ones I agreed with, something which is unusual for me, on the internet.

The majority of comments were along the lines of how ignorant the post was, how closed-minded it was, and how it showed a lack of imagination. Here are some examples.

 Eric Buckley I would insist you retract this post, there is plenty of evidence for a number of these, denying any evidence because you dont understand it is a sign of a weak scientific mind. Forshame.

 Guy Russo I usially like your posts but this is close minded rubbish

 Ben Hoese While I don’t actively believe in most rubbish, I love that we’re teaching people to have a closed mind, ’cause that’s how science works right? Everything we don’t understand or have not proven does not exist.

 April Dawson Mayes Sorry, but this is diagram is bollocks.

 Deanna Gonzalez I think I’m gunna unlike this page now.

 Alex Beckwith Haha astrology isn’t real?? Whatever you want to tell yourself to sleep at night

There were some others as well, of course, defending opposing views, but this was indeed the majority opinion.

Most of the posts I was making were defending the idea that it’s okay to call something “bollocks”, and that this notion does not oppose the principle of science. Yes, science should be open to new ideas. Yes, new evidence can make science change its views on things. Yes, things have been called bollocks in the past, only to turn out to be true. Yes, it’s true that science can never absolutely prove or disprove anything. However, when it concerns things that have already been studied a lot and have been found to lack any merit, there comes a point where the sensible thing is to let it go and say that it is, in fact, bollocks.

It seems to me that people are too hung up on being open-minded. In fact, I think people should be reminded sometimes that there is such a thing as being too open-minded. (“So open-minded that your brain falls out.”) At best, it’s impractical to go around leaving every remote possibility open, let alone believing in them. At worst, it’s harmful, if not on a personal level then on the level of humanity and science as a whole. I think for every time someone tells another person to be more open-minded, something like three people should tell someone to be less open-minded. And yet, you just don’t see as much of that.

What you should be open-minded to is new evidence that comes to light. Things that point out that a view you held turns out to be wrong. You need to accept those things, if they’re sound. I think this is something where I myself have grown quite a bit – I used to have more trouble with that sort of thing. Now, I’m confident in saying that even my most strongly held beliefs are available for re-evaluation, given enough evidence. Of course, some of those very strongly held ones are held that strongly precisely because so much evidence already supports them, so they would also require a lot of evidence to discredit. That’s only fair. But it’s still possible. That’s a good way of being open-minded.

What’s not a good way is to just believe in whatever crap sounds nice. That would be an example of taking it too far. The same is true of keeping options open in spite of evidence to the contrary, or, as is perhaps more accurate in this case, in spite of a lack of evidence to support it – certainly when such evidence has been looked for. This seems closer to being closed-minded, to me. You have to be open-minded to the possibility that something is not so, as well.

It may well be that some of the things labeled in the Venn diagram as bollocks of some type really are real. That would be unfortunate, and it would be fair as an argument against the validity of the diagram in some way. However, I think the post as a whole could still be considered valuable just for this message: that it’s okay to call something bollocks at some point, and that there is such a thing as being too open-minded. (That, and the message that scientology is really silly.) Also, it’s good that there’s discussion, and people are sharing their points of view. And finally, it’s inspired me to add some new topics to the list of things I want to read scientific articles about, such as chiropractics, acupuncture, and homeopathy, if only so I no longer have to qualify my comments with “I may not have looked into this much, but…” So all in all, I’m happy this post was made to the page I Fucking Love Science, even if I’m not as happy with the general tone of the responses.

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4 responses to “Close your minds, people!

  1. I’d stand up and applaud this, but that would be rather silly. The sentiment stands, though. I am very, very tired of seeing the knee-jerk response of “you’re so close-minded!” when you dismiss someone’s pet woo as, well, woo. The people who respond that way never seem to be open to the possibility that they might just be wrong themselves.

    Thanks for putting into words what goes through my mind whenever I come across someone who insists that crop circles/homeopathy/the Shroud of Turin must be the real deal and anyone who disagrees must be a sad, mean, close-minded jerk.

    • Thank you for your kind words! Even if the writing of the post itself wouldn’t already be worth it for myself, a comment like yours would still have made it worthwhile. Cheers!

  2. The thing is when you lump together the stuff that really is bullocks with the stuff that may or may not be, and the stuff that actually isn’t, you end up devaluing stuff without even giving it some critical thinking. These people aren’t being “too open-minded” as you say, they’re simply rejecting being too close-minded. It’s easy to just denounce stuff as bollocks, it’s difficult however to try and understand and comprehend something that is outside of your current scope of understanding. The venn diagram and recent periodic table of bollocks aren’t just close minded, they’re anti-intellectual.

    • Well, it won’t surprise you to hear that I don’t agree with that sentiment. The thing is that these things HAVE been given critical thought, and they have been found to be more or less bullocks. Given that, I don’t think you can call it anti-intellectual to call it by those terms. I think the people who tend to reject such things generally use more critical thought than the people supposedly being “open-minded” about them, which in practice typically is closer to just being overly attached to a “pet woo”, as Alice put it.

      Mind you, I’m not saying that’s the case for you, and it may be that you’re just more generally opposed to calling things bullocks. In that case, I would ask, after investigating more and more without finding anything, at what point does it become a waste of time and thought to continue considering and researching something? I would say there is such a point, and it’s been reached for at least the vast majority of things here.

      I agree that you can be too close-minded, obviously. My point was just that the opposite is equally possible (which, as was also pointed out in these comments, may in fact just be a different type of close-mindedness).

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