Mirroring

by Ben Albahari 26. November 2009 03:35

Mirroring your critic's criticisms is an important rhetorical tactic.

Here is a quote from Liz Greene, one of the pioneers of astrology:

...I don’t think [research] is valid from the point of view of trying to prove that astrology works, because if you have the kind of mentality that is dead-set against astrology, you will try to blow holes in the statistics anyway. ... if I took that research to somebody who defines statistical research in a more "scientific" sense, they would say: "Three hundred people is nothing. What you need is 3,000 and a neutral control group." Whatever you do, they’ll find a way to set other tests.

With tiny tweaks we can reverse the position of her quote yielding a common critique of astrology:

...I {do} don’t think [research] is valid from the point of view of trying to {dis}prove that astrology works, {but} because if you have the kind of mentality that is dead-set {in favor of} against astrology, you will try to {ignore} blow holes in the statistics anyway. ... if I took that research to somebody who defines statistical research in a {less} more "scientific" sense, they would say: "Three hundred people is nothing. What you need is 3,000 and a neutral control group." Whatever you do, they’ll find a way to set other tests.

OK, here is an ACTUAL EXCHANGE I had with a creationist on TakeOnIt. I replied to him 4 times, each time mirroring him. Here was the first exchange (the full, bizarre thread is here):

What is called scientific evidence by hard core evolutionists is in reality a combination of very tenuous theories and extrapolations arrived at by using faulty or limited forms of dating methodology. The truth of the matter is that advocates of evolution display a very peculiar unscientific fanaticism in their cherished assumptions, as much and more so than advocates of any given religious belief system, thereby severely hindering their theoretic platform.

True science will not arrogantly postulate, but will rather make clear the numerous uncertainties and weaknesses contained in any unproven theory. We don't see such humble attitudes among evolutionists today. Those who academically challenge the theory of evolution are doing real science a favor. At the same time they are exposing the blind fallacy of propping up this paradigm as though it, and it only, is the sole legitimate answer to origins and the explanation of life on earth.

To which I replied:

What is called scientific evidence by hard core creationists is in reality a combination of very tenuous theories and extrapolations arrived at by using faulty or limited forms of biblical methodology. The truth of the matter is that advocates of creationism display a very peculiar unscientific fanaticism in their cherished assumptions, as much and more so than advocates of any other religious belief system, thereby severely hindering their theoretic platform.

True science will not arrogantly postulate, but will rather make clear the numerous uncertainties and weaknesses contained in any falsifiable theory. We don't see such humble attitudes among creationists today. Those who academically challenge the theory of creationism are doing real science a favor. At the same time they are exposing the blind fallacy of propping up the creationist paradigm as though it, and it only, is the sole legitimate answer to origins and the explanation of life on earth.

Handicapped by reality, it can be hard for scientists to compete with the fiction writing skills of their opponents:

What emerges is a consensus that vaccination is not consistent with the principles of homeopathy, even if it is a crude application of the law of similars.

Vaccination is the crude medicine? Homeopathy is a crude version of a vaccine in the same way a rubber ducky is a crude version of a duck.

OK - a little armchair psychologist theorizing here. While I think mirroring is a rhetorical tactic, I also think it's a natural response when someone is cornered. A person knows, even if only subconsciously, that they're cornered. Because they need to maintain that they're right, a way out for them is to reframe reality - their opponent is in fact cornered; the helpless caged animal! Their mirroring of your arguments is in fact flattering - they have implicitly acknowledged the effectiveness of your cage.

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