Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Lunatic Fringe

The current issue of Birding publishes an interesting survey by Hayes and Hayes of opinions and beliefs about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and the recent reports. At least statistically speaking, the "lunatic fringe" turns out to be the hard-core atheists who are certain of the species' extinction (<4%), not the true believers who are certain of its continued survival (21%). Just in reference to the actual recent evidence that has been made public, both of the "definite" camps are small minorities (<10%) each, with the large majority (>80%) clustered in the "possibly/probably" middle awaiting further developments or lack thereof. The fact that this contrasts so sharply with the impression given by the blogosphere and mass media of extreme polarization should not be a surprise to anyone who has paid much attention to mass culture and cyber culture in recent decades. Hyped (often deliberately manufactured) polarization that overwhelms and supresses the reality of more rational, diverse, and flexible feelings is the way of things now. This is true for culture, politics, religion, popular science, and everything else. Just tune it out.

Over at the Lunatic Fringe Home Page, Tom Nelson has already begun his attempts to discredit one of the article's authors.


At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Lunatic Fringe Home Page"

Major understatement. The article appears rather neutral and balanced to me. So why would pompous Tom be trying to discredit one of the authors? They even usurp his little quote from Carl Sagan. I'll bet the other author will be attacked next. Little wonder most of Tom's buddies have abandoned him. Maybe they fear him. He obviously has an axe to grind.

At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess you can't claim the moral high ground anymore when you brand all non-believers as lunatics.

As we both know, the polls have no bearing on whether or not the bird exists, yet somehow you seem to think the poll bolsters your "believer" bent of thinking.

Consider that when the news came out, "belief" was nearly 100%, and as more people take a closer look at the building body of "evidence", belief is steadily eroding. It will continue to erode.

People wanted to believe this story, at least I did. After looking at the facts, my faith is long gone.

By they way, if Hayes actually believed tmguy, and apparently he did, he is/was more of a believer than most believers. I do think the poll was fair, reasonable and interesting though.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

These are the ony two unsigned/anonymous comments that I'll allow on this thread. The second fellow has both (a) missed the point and (b) missed the joke. The point is that the hugely mainstream view in the birding world is the middle ground, in spite of the tendencies for the internet forums to portray a war between two entrenched, rigidly delineated camps. And in fact the position FARTHEST from the mainstream is the belief that the species is definitely extinct. The whole point of this particular article is evaluating public opinion and how accurately media and cyberspace have represented it.

As for the humor: Geoff Hill himself brought the term "lunatic fringe" into the discussion when he said he wouldn't wear IBWO-emblazoned hats, shirts, etc. yet because he didn't want to be mistaken for the "lunatic fringe." It's a joke, dude.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

As a p.s. here...

I note that about a quarter of the recent postings on Nelson's blog are nothing but links to articles that express opinions that agree with his way of thinking. So much for public opinion being irrelevent, eh?


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