Why You Should Never Take It At Face Value

Yesterday, I watched this show on Netflix called “The Pyramid Code.”  I was looking to see if I could glean any story ideas from it since a type of pyramid appears in some of my current series (or, will, I should say).  However, I came across something else worth talking about.

For example, one of the “experts” shown on the program is Dr. Carmen Boulter from the University of Calgary.

Now, some of the stuff in the program sounds really cool, but I wanted to see what Dr. Boulter’s background was.  I could hardly believe the line of reasoning presented in the program was something being seriously believed by egyptologists, even a minority of them.

Well, it turns out that Dr. Boulter was indeed an instructor at the University of Calgary until 2011 (the program was filmed in 2009).  However, it turns out that she was part of the education department.  In other words, she wasn’t an egyptologist at all.

So, the driving force behind this program, apparently, is someone with no formal training on the subject.

Which would explain why she presented an alabaster platform at the pyramid of Abu Ghurab as actually being made of quartz in the first episode.

However, she’s still presented as an expert on the topic.  Why?

Well, first may well be vanity.  She’s a Ph.D., after all, and probably expects to be recognized as such.  In fairness, it’s not an easy thing to obtain, all things concerned.

Primarily, I think it’s about looking like an expert. How many people would watch a documentary series and simply take its conclusions at face value?  Most people would.  After all, we’ve been taught not to question experts, and the Ph.D. after her name presents her clearly as an expert, right?

Now, I knew something was up when she commented that the round section of this…

…was “laser cut.”

There’s absolutely no way to present evidence that this was laser cut.  At all.

Now, it’s an impressive piece of work, mind you, but it’s also alabaster, not quartz like she claimed.  This is actually important because alabaster is soft and often used for carving.  Quartz, in contrast, is pretty hard.

In fact, throughout the first episode, she often refers to the white stone like that as quartz.

I’m not sure if she’s lying, or just naive.  Either way, she’s someone who looks to have the mantle of authority by virtue of that Ph.D. after her name and that she was working for a major university.

That is, unfortunately, how people become taken in by some things.  If you present something with enough authority behind it, what you say will be taken as gospel.  That’s precisely what Boulter was doing with her program.

She also then presented only one side of the story, probably believing the other had been presented over and over, and conducted interviews with other “experts” who, once one does a little digging, finds a number of New Age shysters who, if they have any legitimate academic credentials somewhere in their background, it’s simply noise to add credence to the pseudoscience they’re not hawking.

For example, Dr. Claude Swanson, an MIT-trained physicist…who now seems to spend most of his time working on this:

His latest research focuses on the force which has been overlooked by conventional Western physics, which serves to unify and explain many of the unusual aspects of consciousness and explains how the “life energy” interacts with the material world. It explains the true nature of the aura and how consciousness and healing forces are able to exert their effects over long distances. Dr. Swanson has recently published his second book, Life Force, The Scientific Basis, which continues the exploration of his first book, The Synchronized Universe.

Then, Boulter throws in a healthy dose of “government cover-up,” mostly through hints rather than outright accusal, and POOF!  Everything people need to believe absolute crap.

Honestly, if you want to watch the Pyramid Code, go right ahead.  It’s probably best to watch it for the comedy value alone and not expect to learn anything.

Unfortunately, the damage this type of program does is very real.

With The Pyramid Code, the claims are pretty outlandish so most people will maintain a dose of skepticism, but will still retain some of the bizarre questions asked, such as who could a quartz “altar” be cut so perfectly round because they’re not really given all the facts.

There are other programs, however, that do so with much more plausible claims.  It doesn’t take much to actually start to believe that GMOs will kill us all, or that vaccines cause all kinds of medical problems or any number of other things.

They all present it the same way.  A bit of pseudoscience, an “expert” presented as the definitive source, and a bit of rebuttal over conventional wisdom, all without really presenting the facts that lead to conventional wisdom being conventional.

Now, if you believe something against conventional wisdom, then so be it.  I hope you actually looked at the information out there and really digested it, and not just the hysteria that often surrounds some of these topics.  Frankly, I’m not going to discuss those topics.

What I am trying to do is to how the logical fallacy of “appeal to authority” can be used in a documentary-looking program to sway people into believing things that just aren’t true.

They present someone as an authority, then present a one-sided version of the discussion as if it were the complete and total truth.

Where it gets tricky is when the experts actually look like experts.

For example, a nutritionist talking about the benefits of going vegan can be incredibly appealing.  Especially when they’re paired with a doctor, a biologist, and so on.

With Dr. Boulter’s so-called “work,” it’s easy to find how wrong it is.  Even cursory searches will find the falsehoods (oddly enough, she’s also trying to crowdfund a similar documentary on Atlantis that I have no doubt will be done to the same *ahem* rigorous standards).  With others, it can be far more difficult.

So what can you do?

Well, frankly, I think any documentary should be checked with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Check the facts, actively look for criticism, things like that.

Whatever you do, don’t take things at face value.

 

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18 thoughts on “Why You Should Never Take It At Face Value”

  1. Hmmmmm…quick to point out the appeal to authority logical fallacy, but then falls prey to the inductive generalization fallacy, thus providing aid and comfort to the “My ignorance is as valid as your knowledge” crowd. Not an excuse for Boulter and Swanson’s behavior, but I find the concluding caveat to be painted with too broad a brush to be accepted without being subjected to some rigor of its own….

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    1. How do you figure?

      I wasn’t talking about all documentaries, only those who present biased, or often wrong, information under the guise of being an informational documentary.

      I also attacking all academics, only those who hide a portion of the qualifications to present themselves as something else.

      I’m trying to remember what generalizations I made.

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    2. But, I should add, if there’s a generalization there, it wasn’t an intentional one.

      As for “providing aid and comfort to the ‘My ignorance is as valid as your knowledge’ crowd,” I don’t see how an admonishment to do your own research is such a bad thing.

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  2. A tighter presentation would help, particularly in eliminating some vague wording that might *You* know what you want and mean to say, and you feel that you’ve done just that — but that doesn’t mean that what your readers see and read is what you believe you conveyed. Case in point: “Where it gets tricky is when the experts actually look like experts.” Now, if you’d written “Where it gets tricky is when the ‘experts’ actually look like experts” your point would have come across quite clearly — you were referring to people who are presented, or present themselves, as experts but in fact aren’t. As it is, the presence or absence of those quotes around the first use of “expert” gives those two renderings of the same wording very different meanings indeed, the one without the quotes appearing to offer up the idea that the legitimacy of any and all experts who appear in documentaries is questionable. I’m not inferring that is what you meant to write, but I am saying that is how it can be read. Hence my remark about offering aid and comfort to the willfully ignorant.

    The “broad brush” comment also stems from the apparent, if unintentional, characterization of the whole class of authorities who contribute to documentaries as well-meaning buffoons at best, charlatans at worst. The attention whores for whom being able to write PhD after their name isn’t sufficient validation are out there, to be sure. The allure of being on camera and being presented to an audience that could not unrealistically number in seven figures is irresistible to some people — in particular those who are unlikely to get noticed in any manner otherwise. They’re the bane of not only every legitimate documentary maker, but also every legitimate expert, and frankly, it’s as frustrating as hell to find yourself sharing screentime with one of them — and it’s bloody infuriating to find oneself associated with them and their nonsense as a consequence of having done nothing more than appear in the same production with them. (Over the years I’ve walked out of five productions after learning who else was contributing material to them. One time, upon hearing the name brought up of a certain pseudo-expert, I actually stood up while I was on camera, took off the lavalier, said, “That fat bastard doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. If he’s going to be in the program, we’re done here,” and walked out of the studio. The final production was, shall we say, less than sterling and far from memorable.) I firmly believe that true authorities on any subject have an obligation to draw distinctions between themselves and the pretenders — and they fail not only themselves but also their colleagues and peers if they fail to do so. What made my unhappy in reading this blog was the lack of any sort of caveat that the pretenders comprise no more than a small fraction of the legitimate authorities and experts who appear in documentaries. What I was reading — which I’ll grant was probably not what you meant to say — was that the pretenders are far more pervasive than is the actual case. Unqualified blanket statements such as “Whatever you do, don’t take things at face value” does, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, as much harm as the false experts. If it had been toned or shaded into something like “Whatever you do, when in doubt, don’t take things at face value,” that simple qualification would have a much more effective — and valid — statement.

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      1. Nope – I’m with you on this.

        As Mark Twain would say (and my dad would quote):

        “Believe none of what you hear* and only half of what you see”

        (*or read, or watch)

        Liked by 2 people

      2. “I’ll take your comments under advisement.”
        Tom, don’t bother.

        If in doubt, one already is skeptical … it’s when one reads something that appears to be put forward by an expert (i.e. “97% of scientists say whatever, whatever, whatever …”) that one needs to put their skepticism on high alert.

        Mimi M’s post here truly is (for me at least) the watchword of the 21st century.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Damn. The joys of WordPress. The first sentence of my second post should have read in its entirety: “A tighter presentation would help, particularly in eliminating some vague wording that might be presenting something other than your actual intent.”

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    1. Mr. Butler, if you are going to criticize someone about clarity, generalizations, and meaning it seems to me that your argument should be a shining example of all three, or, at least, better than the work you are criticizing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I recently ran across a case where experts in a different field using their expertise and tools of their trade appear to have made a dramatic breakthrough in interpreting carvings at a unique archeological site, Gobekli Tepe. Perhaps it’s the sort of twist that would work for your stories.

    Search the web for pre-2017 material on Gobekli Tepe and you’ll find a wealth of information on this ancient site that predates Stonehenge by 6,000 years. National Geographic has some great material, here’s a typical account from the November 2008 issue of Smithsonian: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gobekli-tepe-the-worlds-first-temple-83613665/

    All the stories note that it’s an ancient site, maybe the world’s first temple, with strange carvings, especially those on the “Vulture Stone,” etc. In short, a puzzle with lots of missing pieces. Of course there’s a lot of wild speculation on the web too, stuff that will make one’s head explode, but that’s to be expected.

    Then last month Phys.org published an article on a research paper prepared by a team from the University of Edinburgh who speculate that the Vulture Stone pillar was created by the people of Gobekli Tepe and now appears to have served as a means of commemorating a devastating event—perhaps a comet breaking up and its remnants crashing into the Earth. They linked the carvings to what prominent constellations would have looked like at the time and the timing of the onset of the Younger Dryas, a worldwide cooling period that may have been caused by a comet impact. Here’s the article:
    https://phys.org/news/2017-04-ancient-stone-pillars-clues-comet.html

    This is not a case of von Däniken-Gone-Wild, but of highly credentialed researchers describing the methods, tools, and data used to arrive at their rather dramatic conclusions.

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  5. Well, here’s the scoop from her bio page where Tom linked. I think it says it all. We pretty much have a grievance studies monger.

    “Carmen is the author of Angels and Archetypes: An Evolutionary Map of Feminine Consciousness. Over the past decade, Carmen has been a university professor developing online curriculum. Her latest achievement is Interactive-U.com, an online learning and social action network.”

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  6. Good luck… Even the Amazing Randi has trouble stopping such fools. There is a teacher with a web page that states such stupidity and never publishes my comments.
    She claims emphatically that Abraham was not the first Jew, she doesn’t know who is but she claims he couldn’t be, because there are no Jewish Institution that he could associate with…. Brilliantly idiotic… So I comment upon the fact that if he was the first, there wouldn’t be any Jewish institutions for him to associate with therefore that’s more of an indication that he was the first…. She writes that because people didn’t call Abraham a Jew at the time, that he was not the first Jew…
    Did trees not exist until people started calling them “trees” I comment…. Never published.. .
    probably teaching a college religion class right now….

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