This is the fourth part of my overview of QED 2016. To see the previous entries, please check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
The March of Unreason
Taking a break from the formal talks (and I am sorry I could not see Paul Zenon), I went to a panel discussion discussing the forthcoming British exit from the EU and the “post factual” age we are now apparently in.
The discussion featured NHS Campaigner Emma Runswick, journalist Hugo Dixon, Max Goldman from Sense About Science, broadcaster Michael Blastland and law professor Michael Dougan. The panel was chaired by Geoff Whelan of Manchester Skeptics.
“A lie can run around the world before the truth has a chance to get its boot on.”
Emma observed that on complex political issues people tend to follow the advice of friends over experts.
People are more likely to trust their friends over experts, because they think that experts don’t have their interests at heart.
Michael Dougan broke the Brexit lies down into four parts –
- Telling lies about the here and now: According to the media now, the referendum was won by the working class of northern England. This is not true. The southern English middle class vote was by far the most important.
- Fantasies about the future: Boris Johnson is still being dishonest about “special deals” that Britain will get upon exit.
- Rubbishing anybody who disagrees. The message being put out at the moment is that anyone who disagrees is anti democratic.
- Debasement of parliamentary democracy. A referendum only used when you can’t get what you want in parliament.
Max observed that fact-checking was relatively new to UK politics.
Are we in a “post truth society”?
Hugo Dixon made the point that demagoguery was a direct result of the financial crisis. When politicians don’t seem to be up to the job, voters start looking elsewhere.
In the land of the liars, the authentic liar is king.
Michael Dougan expressed a concern that once people find a way to get their views accepted in the mainstream, it’s only a matter of time before they seek a new target. What next? Global warming? Women’s rights?
Michael Blastland felt that a lot of the post factual talk was a direct result of scandals within the expert community.
There is nothing so damaging to the domain of evidence than the preacher who sins.
The conversation could easily have gone on for a few more hours. It was a packed room and at one stage, about thirty hands went up when the moderator asked for question from the floor. As was clearly evident from the panel discussion, Brexit is causing considerable anxiety to skeptics, scientists and rationalists in Britain and everywhere. This story has a long way to run yet.
Last piece coming up.