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September 26, 2009


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Why is it that bad science can get away with spouting this rubbish (Fatal Medicine) yet a scientist can get into big trouble with the libel laws in this country for revealing the truth? It's an awful state of affairs. Surely these people should be taken to account for the really influential lies they preach to vulnerable people who will literally 'give anything a go' when all other options seem to be exhausted.

Paul Flynn

Thanks Tony. Following that link, I came across this on UNRESISTING IMBECILITY
On faults both gross and evident

September 25, 2009 11 comments

I have had occasion to be reminded of Samuel Johnson’s splendid phrase, “unresisting imbecility”. It occurs in his bracingly splenetic account of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline:

To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation.

This is often shortened in modern citation to something like “There is no point in quarrelling with unresisting imbecility”, which is a useful way to remark that something is extremely stupid (even though this writer goes on to do what he claims there is no point in doing). But the intriguing part of Johnson’s phrase, of course, is that it implies the existence of something that deserves to be characterised as resisting imbecility.

Imbecility that is unresisting, Johnson tells us, is imbecility that fulfils two conditions: its faults are so obvious that it’s not worth pointing them out; and the faults are also so huge that it’s not worth getting annoyed by them [it's not worth labouring the obvious | they couldn't be any worse].1 (Unresisting imbecility is even, you might say, rather cute in a way, like a shockingly ugly puppy, quivering happily in its basket and defenceless against sharp objects.) What is not clear, though, is whether resisting imbecility must negate both of those conditions or only one of them. (Do hidden large faults, or obvious small faults, count?) It is also, I think, highly debatable whether faults so huge that they are not annoying are actually the largest possible faults, which is what Johnson seems to be implying. (Only lesser faults, it seems, would lead to “aggravation”.)

These are not merely idle philological-historical questions, for it seems to me to be crucial to determine into what category of imbecility the work of “Melanie Phillips” falls. Take “her” latest post on Barack Obama and what she terms the “club of terror UN”. Perhaps its faults are too evident for detection and too gross for aggravation, in which case we ought to be guided by Dr Johnson’s ecology of intellectual effort and ignore them. Perhaps its faults are not so large in either dimension, so that it is a case of resisting imbecility, worthy of combat, and we can happily point them out. Or perhaps Johnson was misguided, and the grossest and most evident faults do actually deserve to be held up to intense scorn in the project of making the world a better place. It is a delicate question.

What kind of imbecility do you find resisting, readers?

Thanks to KB Player in comments for pointing out Johnson’s own definition of “aggravate”. «


A book well worth a read is called Unspeak


Reason is the use of words to embody ideas - and how you can make ideas sound worthy without facts to support them

The 'complimentary medicine' industry does not have a body of evidence to support its claims but its careful editing of events can lead to think that it works

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