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Cross-Post at the Directory and the Petition Divide

March 17, 2011

I’d encourage readers following the petition divide to go to the directory to read my post there,
Diversity in the Autism Community: Wandering Behavior.  I’d also, if you’ve followed ASAN’s petition, encourage you to read the Autism Science Foundation’s post.

If you’ve any curiosity after that, I’d go read both petitions side by side, examining the rhetoric. Rhetoric does matter. How we shape our arguments, the use of fallacious appeals and inflammatory rhetoric does matter. Look at the evidence behind the claims and be cautious when there is no evidence offered. I teach my students that the evidence is what matters. Not the person making the claim, not the claim itself, but the evidence for that claim. I wrote two long posts this week looking at evidence and rhetoric. 

I’ve spent two years engaged in the vaccine debate. Trust me that I’m paying absolutely no compliment when I suggest that a recent petition uses the same kind of rhetoric that the anti-vaccine camp uses. We should, if we are evidence-based, want to avoid engaging in fallacious arguments (even though we often fail). We should want sufficient evidence to back the claims.

Despite my support for logically argued, evidence-based positions, it’s clear that inflammatory rhetoric is much more effective at getting people to act; it’s easy when your emotions guide you; all you have to do is follow. While I understand how people can and do get swayed by emotional appeals, if there’s no evidence to back those appeals, then I’m not impressed, and I hope that I will not be swayed.

Knee-jerk reactions feel good; you’ve acted. You feel decisive. You get your adrenalin rush. Yay you.

I’d rather settle for the lower glow of knowing I acted from reason and evidence. Yes, it’s a bit of the turtle versus the hare kinda thing. I can live well with that.

Full Disclosure:

I am facebook friends with both Ari Ne’eman and Alison Singer, both public members of the IACC, and each behind a side in the Wandering Code Debate. I have, in the past, communicated privately through email with each. I consider them to both be allies.

I have signed neither petition. I try to not be knee-jerk about anything I do.*

I did, however, email D. Pickett, as the ASF asked. My email was as follows:

My hope is that you will at least have more balanced, reasonable emails than irrational ones. Please consider the wandering code as relating to autistic children, so that we can begin to get a reasonable assessment of how big a problem this is.
I covered the ASAN petition and followed up at Science 2.0:
Thank you,Kim Wombles

For individuals who choose to email or sign the petition, let me suggest you consider the role of rhetoric in getting one’s concern heard, and also that you consider how you would react when barraged with hundreds of emails, especially ones that are hostile and not evidence-based. Words do matter.

*But I am fallible and do engage in this as well. When I do, I try to fix it. I don’t always succeed.

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