"The notion that fatty foods shorten your life began as a hypothesis based on dubious assumptions and data; when scientists tried to confirm it they failed repeatedly," writes John Tierney [via Bird Dog at Maggies Farm] in the NYT Science Times. "It may seem bizarre that a surgeon general could go so wrong. After all, wasn’t it his job to express the scientific consensus? But that was the problem. Dr. Koop was expressing the consensus . . . He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade." (Beauty-in-unexpected-places image, above, of our most recent batch of butter-and-lard pie dough in wax paper)
"When we come to look into the matter, so-called universal opinion is the opinion of two or three persons; and we should be persuaded of this if we could see the way in which it really arises," the NYTs John Tierney quotes 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in a fascinating explication of the informational and reputational "cascades" of sheeplike belief formation that cause flat-earthers to crowd the cultural ether in every era. Al Gore's lie-laced "Inconvenient Truth," together with his Academy Award and rumored Nobel Peace Prize and presidential run come to mind:
We should find that it is two or three persons who, in the first instance, accepted it, or advanced and maintained it; and of whom people were so good as to believe that they had thoroughly tested it. Then a few other persons, persuaded beforehand that the first were men of the requisite capacity, also accepted the opinion. These, again, were trusted by many others, whose laziness suggested to them that it was better to believe at once, than to go through the troublesome task of testing the matter for themselves.
When opinion reaches this stage, adhesion becomes a duty; and henceforward the few who are capable of forming a judgment hold their peace . . . there are very few who can think, but every man wants to have an opinion; and what remains but to take it ready-made from others, instead of forming opinions for himself?
Those "few who are capable of forming a judgment" but "hold their peace" are the doublethinkers of Natan Sharansky's "fear societies," whose failure to speak up facilitates the politically correct true believers' groupthink. Those who do speak up -- Sharansky's dissidents -- are dissed and ridiculed as the messengers of bad news. Informational and reputational cascades emanating from elite institutions drown out or shut out the voices of seekers of wisdom and truth.
More beauty in unexpected places, this time at the kitchen sink down Goomp's last Sunday where the lowering autumn sun backlights a freshly rinsed translucent bowl.
Some notable recent examples of informational and reputational cascades:
1. In the global warming/climate change "debate," the pile-on led by Scientific American's factually challenged attacks on the credibility of skeptical environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg.
2. In the pro-choice vs pro-life debate, liberals' loud and unseemly trashing of Clarence Thomas for straying off the black-as-victim reservation, both during the confirmation battle that took him to the Supreme Court 16 years ago and again as "liberals now are girding to insinuate that Justice Thomas is so angry about the personal attacks on him during his confirmation hearings that he must be unfit to sit on the bench."
3. In the culture wars, the Gray Lady's freezing out of prominent feminist scholar and public intellectual Phyllis Chesler when -- in her own words -- "I began writing in defense of Israel and America and about the hijacking of the western university by a virulent form of Stalinist Palestinianism and postmodernism." Re the Times' fear-society dynamics, she adds "If a film, opera, ballet, concert or book is reviewed in its pages -- the work exists. Otherwise the work and its creator are rendered almost invisible."
I am thrilled that you are joining PajamasXpress. As it happens, I am a fan from way back, having bought Women and Madness when it first came out over three decades ago. In those days I was still able to stomach the New York Times and am sure it was their Book Review section that introduced me to your work. Nobody's all bad.
Thank God for the internet. I have often cited your FrontPage review of The Sheik's New Clothes: the Psychoanalytic Roots of Islamic Suicide Terrorism to reinforce one point or another on my own blog.
"As a culture warrior on the front lines, so to speak, I have to read the Times," notes Phyllis, who reads the NYT so we don't have to:
But now, I first read The New York Sun, Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, Commentary, Middle East Quarterly, the American Jewish media, the online Israeli and Middle Eastern papers and then check about twenty five other internet websites beginning with FrontPage and Pajamas Media [Yay!] in order to steel myself for the ordeal of reading The Paper of Record -- yes, the same paper which buried news of the Holocaust on its back pages; the one which today chooses, positions, and captions photos in such a way that over time, its readers have come to believe that Israel is really an "apartheid" nation state and that every single Palestinian, including the suicide killers, their handlers, and their billionaire funders are barefoot, unarmed, and innocent victims of Israeli and Jewish aggression.
Be sure to check out Phyllis Chesler's official website for links to all her writings. Her accomplishments are boundless. As Siggy says, tongue in cheek, in a joint interview of Phyllis with Fausta in a Fausta's Blog Talk Radio podcast, "I really hope you start working on your resume."
Update: Pajamas Media links.
Update II: Speaking of distaff culture warriors whose accomplishments are boundless, our own Dr. Sanity is up to her usual high-energy tricks with the latest Carnival of the Insanities now open for business.
Update III: Never too late. Ace of Spades HQ links seven years later:
Sisu explores Schopenhauer's postulate that what we call our view of reality is in fact usually nothing more than an opinion formed by three people, who stated it with confidence, and then got other people to believe it, thinking the first three had rigorously tested it and proven it to be true, when in fact they just pulled it out of their asses.