Non-Mainstream Methodology


Hi again, everybody!

Non-mainstream writers and others who accept the veracity of highly controversial claims are often quick to condemn skeptics and the mainstream more generally for assuming (or proclaiming without adequate argumentation) that mainstream methods of investigation and assessment are superior to (more reliable than) non-mainstream. However, there are many cases in which it is instead the non-mainstream methods that blatantly invite criticism along these lines. Two examples, from opposite ends of the ‘respectability’ spectrum:

The maverick amateur Liam Jones (discussed last time) deflects critical questions by likening himself to the 20th-century English philosopher and populariser C.E.M. Joad, who used to commence his analysis of amateur proposals and queries (e.g. on radio shows) by asking for the background assumptions behind the discourse – and hence the key aspects of its meaning – to be made explicit. Jones asks professional linguists and philosophers to apply this approach to their own questions regarding his obscure statements; he declines to respond to these questions unless this is done first. But these questions are, typically, already as ‘paradigm-free’ as possible, making the minimum of assumptions. And Jones’ own material is largely unintelligible in the absence of answers to these questions. This is special pleading on a grand scale.

Even more judicious and astute authors who endorse non-mainstream claims sometimes seem to assume that positive reports on the outcomes of experiments or other studies (for example, reports made by the investigators themselves) are veridical. For instance: in his tribute to the polymath and parapsychologist Archie Roy (Seriously Strange [Association For The Scientific Study Of Anomalous Phenomena] 142 (2013), pp. 14-15), Hugh Pincott says that Trish Robertson and Roy demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the ‘messages’ from alleged deceased persons in question in their studies were more relevant to intended recipients than others. Now Pincott is fully entitled to his own assessment of what R&R demonstrated – but surely his wording should have acknowledged that skeptical commentators on R&R do not accept their own very positive interpretations of their results. Even if he believes that he could overturn the skeptical objections, or indeed that they have already been overturned, it would be reasonable to mention that they have been raised. (Of course, no-one is saying here that R&R MANIPULATED their data.) One would hope that writers of all views on such matters would acknowledge thoughtful disagreement.

For samples of skeptical comment on R&R, see:

More ‘Hall Of Shame’ at the weekend!


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3 Responses to Non-Mainstream Methodology

  1. Goran Hammarstrom says:

    My experience may have something to do with the problem. I am a kind of mainstream linguist but I am a skeptic in relation to Chomskyan linguistics because I say that it is all nonsense. Chomsky and his followers are not “quick to disagree” because they do not respond to my criticisms or to other criticisms. One of them even said that they would not accept criticisms from linguists who.where not of the Chomskyan orientation.
    Goeran Hammarstroem

    • marknewbrook says:

      Point taken, Goran – but (as I think is clear) I was NOT speaking HERE of Chomsky et al., who (I agree) do tend to ignore rather than to condemn intelligent/well-informed non-Chomskyan opponents (see earlier posts). Mark


      • Goran Hammarstrom says:

        I did not think you were thinking of Chomsky, One can add that it is bad not to listen to criticisms wherever it comes from. Because they do not listen, Chomskyans will go wrong for ever. This should not be taken literally because their linguistics has no future. Goeran

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