Effective language in skepticism or clickbait journalism
It is nothing new to point out pseudo-philosophical, new age babble or the frequent and incoherent word salad sandwiches prepared almost daily by someone like Deepak Chopra, The Mind Unleashed or David Avocado Wolfe. It’s nothing new to criticize the appeal to nature crowd for their antiscience chemophobia rhetoric in order to push anti-GMO activism or sell organic and supplement products.
But am I the only one to notice that a word like “bullshit” has suddenly become the go to word in science and skeptic journalism lately? Could we not do with a bit more variety and utilize some other language again?
I can see the value of being honest that something is probably wrong, maybe even dangerous, and not candy-coating it. I certainly see the value in providing compelling arguments for why something is probably wrong. I also can understand the frustration which emerges from a recognition of an overwhelming barrage of anti-science, anti-intellectual, pseudoscience and new age nonsense.
But do we really have to just call everything “bullshit” this often now in journalism? Is there no more room to use sophisticated, varied and non-inflammatory language to make a point? Does it not also affect the credibility of an otherwise important message when resorting to fifty cent words? It’s important to caveat this question, recognizing that capturing and collating sufficient data is probably complex enough to not be able to assert knowledge on this claim with any degree of certainly. In that context, this is submitted as food for thought only.
I’m not sure that announcing publicly or telling someone personally that their belief is bullshit is the most effective method of impacting change. Maybe it is sometimes. Maybe some people, some times, need to get it between the eyes to receive the message. That sounds reasonable.
But what of showing a certain degree of empathy and consideration for people? What of tempering the language with a less inflammatory and viscerally-charged vocabulary? Is there not still a place for a certain level of civility, even while vehemently pointing out misapprehensions? Must we color otherwise sound arguments with appeals to emotion and disgust? Is this the most effective approach or language tactic to have the largest net impact?
Call it out, point out why it’s probably wrong. Defend your position with good arguments and sound reasoning. By all means, that is necessary. But the now click-baitish, almost cliche use of the word “bullshit” to describe so much in the world of skepticism might also not be the best approach in terms of achieving the desired results. Maybe it’s effective some of the time. But it has become so frequent as to question the motives of and language selection of the author. Is it fair to wonder if there is also some opportunism present? One might argue, conversely, that strong and sensational language also appeals to a large audience. In that sense, I suppose popularity or virality might provide benefit in terms of a message’s maximum circulation.
But we do know scientifically that a word like shit provokes disgust. It results in a visceral and primitive human response, for well known biological reasons. Trying to attract someone to an idea by appealing to shit might not always be the best choice and might even backfire. Submission for review and critique only as this remains purely personal speculation and opinion.
Photo courtesy of Rolf Brecher via http://public-domain.pictures/