Jive Talkin'

We've all seen it, but we don't have a word for it. That moment when someone who appears to be an expert, holding forth incisively and clearly, makes a small slip...revealing themselves to be a complete fraud.

I have a friend who writes and speaks on politics, often straying into hot-button scientific issues of the moment. After showing me one particularly clearly argued piece, on why it doesn't matter whether climate change is caused by industry or sunspots, he mentioned the sun heating atoms of air.

"Atoms of air". Riiiight. It transpired he didn't know what atoms or molecules were, and had never heard of elements or the periodic table. And he had no idea of how global warming or global dimming actually happened.

I shouldn't have been surprised. This is the same man who once telephoned to ask whether chemtrails and floridation conspiracies were real. And who called another time to ask whether he'd won a free laptop - because a popup said he had.

Recently, a creationist in youtube comments was throwing around technical terms, "proving" the bible was written by god. And anywhere the New Testament text was unclear, this was because it was written in idiomatic Koine Greek, and thus to be read by the people of the "Koine district".

"Koine" means "common" - as in "common language". It was the Business English of its time, a simplified form of Greek used for international trade. But this initially plausible self-declared expert in all matters biblical and exegetical didn't know this basic fact.

Perhaps it doesn't matter when an idiot on the internet or an essayist with a thousand readers is fraudulent in a minor way. But leaders in the field also do it.

Richard Carrier is a mathematician and historian who literally wrote the book on the historicity of Jesus. He uses the brilliantly simple - but bizarrely counter-intuitive - Baysian analysis to cut through the waffle and confusion in historical epistemology.

He also gets confused between the Analytic/Synthetic and A-Priori/A-Posteriori distinctions, getting him mired in different confusions.

Analytic statements are true by definition. Synthetic statements are true if they follow logically from true assumptions. A-Priori statements are assumptions. A-Posteriori statements are drawn from observation.

Carrier conflates A-Posteriori with Synthetic, which is like conflating "Two matchboxes on the table plus another two results in four matchboxes on the table in this case" with "2+2=4 because 1+1=2".

I've read more than once in biographies of Ludwig Wittgenstein that he "founded the Vienna Positivist circle" - presumably by time travel. I've heard linguists declare English is a latinate language, because it's a germanic language with a lot of imported latinate vocabulary. And we've all heard arguments over which soap opera or which operating system is "objectively" "better".

The process of research is largely a search for sources you can trust. Because most of them you can't. Usually not because they're deliberately lying to you, but because they don't know how little they know.

Almost no one knows what they're talking about.