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The van Gogh Fallacy [was: Olson's Final

From: Gerald O'Connell <gac.nul>
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2007 11:27:37 +0100
Archived: Tue, 14 Aug 2007 10:31:20 -0400
Subject: The van Gogh Fallacy [was: Olson's Final

>From: Jeff Olson <jlolson.nul>
>To: <ufoupdates.nul>
>Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2007 11:59:38 -0600
>Subject: Olson's Final Statement On ETH Diehards

>I sincerely believe that Jerry, Dick, Stan, David, and even
>Martin Shough represent the dying vanguard of an inextricably
>linked redaction into close-minded medieval theology and
>censorship compounded behind which pitifully rests a new Dark
>Age of UFOs.

Palpable rubbish. I hope it is his 'last word' on the matter
because any more of it would be unbearable.

The individuals named are all distinguished by an adherence to
empirical rationalism supported by a significant degree of
technical sophistication. This makes their work actually better
than 'science', insofar as it is informed by the (rarely found
in actual scientific praxis) formal process that starts with an
honest assessment of evidence/data, moves from there to
hypothesis, and from there to testing (insofar as this is
possible, given the fugitive nature of the anomalous phenomena
in question). Most actual science works rather less effectively,
constructing, out of an ill-defined mixture of theory and
observation, a 'conventional wisdom' as to what is possible, and
then disregarding data that does not fit the template dictated
by this conventional wisdom (From which, of course, we should
conclude that intellectually honest Ufology should not be
licensed to disregard science, but rather should demand better
science in order to explain anomalous data.).

One may find cause to debate a wide range of Ufological and
related issues with these individuals, questioning their
assumptions, analyses or conclusions, but to ascribe such
primitive, wrong-headed and potentially malicious errors to
their working methods or intellectual agendas is absurd.

So how can such a thing come about in the context of a debate
concerning the relative merits of the ETH and ITH (Intra-
Terrestrial, for want of a clearer description) hypotheses?

My own feeling is that this sad state of affairs is driven by a
common fallacy that I call 'The van Gogh Fallacy.' I first
observed it amongst a legion of Sunday painters who produce
various types of artistic garbage, and then, when their efforts
fail to achieve critical acclaim, cheerfully rationalise their
predicament in the following terms: 'Well, van Gogh was ignored
at the time and couldn't sell his work, so I'm in good company.'
This extraordinary leap of illogicality prevents them from
seeking to improve their technique or acquire difficult new
skills, and keeps them, effectively, locked into an unproductive
spiral of smug non-achievement.

The fallacy is, of course, to believe that when one's work is
ignored or subjected to unadmiring criticism, that this somehow
validates it, demonstrating that the world is not ready for such
insights. Let it be said once and for all that no such
entailment is supportable, logically, empirically,
statistically, or even in the realms of fantasy. As Lewis
Carroll might have replied if asked to comment on whether such a
belief is logically sustainable: "It ain't."

All of this occurs because the relationship between data and
hypothesis is such a difficult one in Ufology, where fugitive
phenomena render conventional testing processes unavailable.
Hypotheses like the ETH will always have a 'best intelligent
guess' status under such conditions. This does not, however,
mean that any contradictory hypothesis, such as the ITH, holds
an equally credible status. If proponents of the ITH want to
fight their corner, they need to argue from the data and to show
in some rationally acceptable way how other hypotheses such as
convergent evolution support the ITH to the exclusion of, or
more so, than they do the ETH. Thus far, such an approach has
been conspicuous by its absence.

A final word about James Horak's reference to John Keel in
support of Jeff Olsen's position. It is distressing when a
figure such as Keel is called forth as an authority in the
justification of irrationalism. Keel's great contribution was to
enhance the sophistication of the Ufological enterprise by
insisting that inconvenient or embarrassing data should not be
ignored. Unfortunately, as a journalist, he couldn't resist
over-emphasising some of this data in pursuit of a good story.
As a repository of fascinating data and brave speculation,
Keel's work is as valuable now as ever it was, and we should be
grateful to him. At the same time, it would be unfair to expect
that work to stand as anything other than what it is: brilliant
journalism, and a stimulus to better-informed, more rigorous

Gerald O'Connell

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