Ad Hominem: Attacking the Researcher Just as Effective as Discrediting the Research

Do facts upset you? Do you not like the results of Scientific research? Boy do we have great news for you!

That’s right, instead of analyzing studies for flawed methods or bad data, you can just call the researcher a dick!

A study conducted by Ralph Barnes , Heather Johnston , Noah MacKenzie , Stephanie Tobin , and Chelsea Taglang—presumably not dicks—sought to discover if “ad hominem” attacks on researchers have any effect on whether or not the actual research is considered valid by the public.

Two separate experiments were conducted involving a group of 439 college students and a group of 199 adults, both reading various research claims.  Each claim was accompanied by either a direct attack upon the empirical basis of the science, or a personal attack on the scientist who made the claim, and sometimes both. The individual participants were then invited to express attitudes about the claims.

“ hominem attacks may have the same degree of impact as attacks on the empirical basis of the science claims…”


Ad Hominem Attacks on Science Meme
This is an Ad Homineme

From the study, via PLOS One:

Results indicate that ad hominem attacks may have the same degree of impact as attacks on the empirical basis of the science claims, and that allegations of conflict of interest may be just as influential as allegations of outright fraud.

Ouch. Keep in mind though that this mostly applies to non-scientists trying to interpret (or misinterpret) the results of research, based simply on the impression that there was a conflict of interest.

The results of the current study indicate that laypersons significantly reduce their confidence in a claim due to knowledge of a conflict of interest. This has practical implications, as 91% of anti-vaccine websites explicitly claim that the bio-medical field is rife with conflicts of interests and this communication tactic may play a part in the success of the anti-vaccine movement.

The important takeaway is that when dealing with a science denier’s nonsense, this is yet another thing to keep an eye out for. Expecto Stupidum.

Sources and More Info

The Study on PLOS One

Ad Hominem – Wikipedia (if you’re a stupid dummy head)

I don't write articles for people who read Vox or the New Yorker, I write articles for people who read microwave pizza instructions more than once but are significantly more dangerous as a group. Head Knuckle at Bullshido
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