Talking about pseudoscience does not always bore me, but it often does. Not because it begs a far from obvious question, but because of its unsexiness. This kind of talk belongs to what I shall call, in honor of the famous WPM International, SpeedoScience:
SpeedoScience. N. An activity where its proponents exhibit too much of themselves, oblivious of the potency of their epistemic appararus.
SpeedoScience connotes the posturing we often see in the “but pseudoscience” crap, but it also encompasses a more general phenomenon. To substantiate this tentative definition, let’s try to build a good stock of examples.
Nassim Taleb‘s online swag sweaths SpeedoScience. Consider this semi-random swipe:
That tweet triggers SpeedoScience with knowledge claims about the location of Aleppo, Nocera, and skinless pundits in general. Our swan-like windbag‘s mythology extends from skin to balls and brains: not enough balls maketh the mathematician, too much the mafioso, too little of both the economist or worse the journalist. With plenty of both traders win, bombasts our ex-hedge-fund manager.
Salon scientists sport Speedos to parade, proclaim and provoke. What better way to display mano a mano bravado than a debate: :
As if macho always meant mucho or that swayed audiences Gish-style signified anything sciencey. One sneaky side-effects among many is that staging jousts favors the one who shrinks from sourcing stuff:
(Michael Brown should soon storify this specific ClimateBall exchange which involved a debate challenge.)
Chest thumps may sound like SpeedoScience, but shading or showboating comes in all tones. Take for instance how Hunton & Williams lawyers wonder about What Is Science over the tweeter:
Since nobody really equate science with consensus and the decisive bit is a myth, this contrarian line of counterargument is empty. Thus the hallmark of SpeedoScience seems to be that it leaves out too much to show too little. While Pseudoscience rests on the demarcation problem, SpeedoScience flourishes when what’s outside the Speedo and what is in becomes blurry.
There are of course many other indicators. Boxologizing quadrants. Bathing in pathos. Patiently parsing phrases. Raising concerns about people’s perception of words. (It may not be science, but it’s important.) Driving-by to peddle one’s ebook. Recycling the same graph over and over again instead of making an explicit argument. Blowing kisses, like Dimitris does just about every time someone mentions his work. Erecting a strawman to fire down a whole discipline, like Paul did a few months ago. Going emeritus to leave a riskier life with Mr. T, like Judy just did. I’m sure I’m missing more than a few huffs and puffs, but let’s end with SteveF’s Galileo gambit:
The most general version of SpeedoScience could be formulated by the acronym CRAP: using claptraps C from some region R of knowledge to make self-serving assertions A for one’s position P.
According to Jennifer Egan, it is technically impossible for a man to look better in a Speedo than in swim trunks. Our man in Australia tells me Ian Thorpe may disagree, or not. The aesthetic canons underlined by Egan’s theorem still apply to SpeedoScience. With the proviso that contrary to swimming garment, it is quite possible to indulge into SpeedoScience while being the greatest scientist ever.