"It Has Been Debunked"

Mikael Kindborg and Gösta Lindwall, May 18, 2020

You present an alternative idea to a friend or colleague, and you are met with the words, "It has been debunked". What do you do in this situation?

In this post we will look at some examples of what debunkers say and how to respond.

Summary of How to Respond

The phrase "It has been debunked", can be used in a definitive and authoritative way that does not invite constructive investigation.

This can be problematic, so let's begin with a summary of how you can respond to debunking statements and refutations:

  • Do some research (googling) before responding (if you wish to respond).
  • Ask for specifics regarding the refutation. Don't settle with assertive statements that attempt to dominate the discussion.
  • Make your own assessment of the source text presenting the refutation claims. Does the text refute the central point of the idea being debunked?
  • Use your own logic and intuition when assessing the source text. Avoid becoming emotional and falling into the trap of making a counter attack (e.g. using name-calling and ad hominem arguments).
  • Try to have a curious mindset. Perhaps you will learn something new, even if you dislike and/or disagree with the refutation?

In the following, we will go into further details regarding how to deal with refutations.

Debunkers Have the Upper Hand

Debunkers almost always have the official narrative on their side. That is why they can take an authoritative position and get away with it.

It makes them take for granted the right to call you things like a "nut" or a "tinfoil hat".

Being "alternative", by definition, means questioning established beliefs and officially endorsed viewpoints and values. This is valuable for advancing human knowledge, but puts the alternative researcher in a vulnerable position.

It should be noted that being skeptical definitely has its place, and there are of course refutations that do present relevant claims. Serious and informative debunkings definitely exist.

And it goes without saying that proponents of alternative theories also fall into the habit of using the argumentation techniques outlined below.

That said, let's have a look at some of the classic debunking tactics that mainly aim for discrediting what is presented.

Attacking (Irrelevant) Details

One category of discrediting is related to attacking an isolated aspect of the work being debunked. Not presenting the whole picture, but rather leaving out facts, mistakenly or on purpose, and making claims based on that.

An example of this is attacking proponents of the Piri Reis world map showing Antarctica, by suggesting that Piri Reis could not even draw his own home country correctly. But Piri Reis did make a fairly accurate map of the Mediterrainaen, which includes Turkey. Thus it is unfair to write off Piri Reis on the grounds he was not able to map the part of the world where he lived.

It is always possible to find something to question, and this can be taken to absurd levels.

It frequently happens that an argument evolves into an endless series of arguments and counter arguments. When the alternative theory has been able to provide evidence for some aspect that has been questioned, another issue is put forward by the skeptics.

It is often said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Why is that? Why is not the generally accepted level of evidence sufficient? And who has the privilege to define what is "extraordinary"? It might just as well be mainstream theory that is making "extraordinary" claims.

It is almost always possible to find "glitches" in any theory, and then require these glitches to be backed by evidence before accepting the theory worthwhile for consideration.

This seems to be at the essence of debunking, to keep questioning ad infinitum - and never be curious about the alternative idea presented.

Attacking the Person

"Argumentum ad hominem" is a type of argument used by debunkers, where the subject matter is avoided, and the focus is moved to the person presenting the alternative idea or theory.

Here are some examples that fall into this category:

  • Ridicule the other person, using pejorative words and phrases that are unrelated to the subject matter and only serve to insult, such as "Oh, here we go again", "Aww, pity-poo", "Get a life, folks", "Duh".
  • Labeling the other person in a way that implies a derogatory attitude, for example "mystery enthusiasts", "mystery lovers", "nutter, or "tinfoil hat".
  • Attacking the (lack of) education and prior experience of the other person.
  • Shaming and discrediting the other person. For example, someone presenting an alternative historical analysis is also into UFO research. The UFO connection is used to discredit the historical analysis.

Domination Techniques

There are several techniques used to dominate the discussion and take away power from the ideas presented. Some examples:

Not responding seriously to what is presented. Ridiculing the subject and using irony to make fun of and to take away from the claims presented.

Labeling the findings and ideas put forward using negative wording, like "bizarre claims".

Claiming "interpretative prerogative". Granting yourself the right to be right because you are right.

A derogatory/pejorative attitude, either implied or explicit.

Claiming and asserting superiority in the field.

Making assertive and authoritative claims that are not backed up by evidence or reasoning. For example, "That is false".

The phrase mentioned in the introduction, "It has been debunked", is an example of an assertive statement used to dominate the other part.

Levels of Disagreement

To better understand what level an argument is on, you can use the "Hierarchy of Disagreement" model by Paul Graham.

The levels Graham propose are:

  • Refuting the Central Point
  • Refutation
  • Counterargument
  • Contradiction
  • Responding to Tone
  • Ad Hominem
  • Name-calling

Refuting the central point is the most precise form of "debunking" something, and probably will be more productive for advancing knowledge than the other levels.

Note the concept of "central point", because you can also refute some minor point, or even refute a "straw man" (a point invented by the opponent, not even mentioned by the presenter).

The Hierarchy of Disagreement model is presented in this article:

Here is a wikipedia entry with a diagram showing the levels:

This model can be useful for identifying the level on which a discussion is taking place. It can also be used to avoid falling into disagreements that feed conflict rather than promote fruitful discussion.

How to Respond to Debunking Statements

So how do you respond to "It has been debunked" and other forms of arguments aimed at discrediting your favorite alternative theory? The first thing is to understand that you have been gifted with something the skeptical debunker does not have. He or she does not think in the same way as you do. You are genuinely curious. That is a rare gift.

You have the right to be interested in what you are researching. No matter how far off and "alternative" it is. It is not your responsibility to confirm and defend the established narrative. You are the explorer who is not afraid of the unknown.

Being curious is a good starting point for any investigation. If no one would propose alternative points of view, humanity would not evolve much.

The second thing is to not fall into the trap of countering the debunking arguments. Instead ask for specifics. Ask for sources. Then you will learn more about the subject you are studying.

There can be a certain level of reluctance involved in doing this, because it may not feel good to read arguments that question your beliefs. There is something called "confirmation bias", which means that people tend to prefer and look for information that confirms what they believe.

When reading debunking articles on your subject, you may find yourself ending up questioning the very theories you endorse. You have to be open minded in the sense of having an interest in new viewpoints and new evidence. But you also have to be aware of not letting doubt take over. Trust your own logic and knowledge. Intuition is important for guiding us, in particular when evidence is missing.

The third thing is to avoid becoming emotional and getting dragged down when someone is questioning you. Forbidden Archeology and Ancient Mysteries is meant to be fun. Focus on the sense-of-wonder and the amazing past and present of this planet.

Why Do People Get Upset by Alternative Theories?

Some people tend to get upset when presented with alternative ideas and theories (and some are just not interested at all).

Why do people get upset?

One reason is that when you present something that questions someone's beliefs, you indirectly question that person.

If a person strongly identifies with their beliefs, they may view a challenge to their beliefs as an attack on their person. As a result the person may feel insulted and become angry.

Shaking the foundation of one's beliefs can be an uncomfortable experience. Rather than facing this, one may go into denial and defence. Sometimes, people will protect their belief system at any cost.

There is also an element of loss of investment, and hurt pride. If you have invested personally in an idea you strongly believe in, perhaps for the better part of your life, having to throw that idea away can be depressing, and can also result in loss of credibility and status. So people tend to defend their positions.

Silencing Opposition

People who are free thinkers have always been a target for the authorities, who want to silence opposition to secure their power.

In order to avoid trouble, people in general can be hesitant to support free thinkers and instead criticize them, in hope for a share of the privileges given by the power.

Destruction of historical monuments of previous rulers is an example of this. To keep people engaged in debates and conflicts is also a way to control and split the population, and draw their attention away from sensitive issues.

The Wright Brothers

Orville and Wilbur Wright invented and built the first engine-powered airplane that achieved full maneuverability, including controlled takeoffs and landings, in 1903.

It is said that the Wright brothers had lots of discussions between them.

The story goes that when they disagreed upon something, they first had a round of discussion where they each defended and refuted the idea at hand. Then they switched roles, so the refuter became the proponent of the idea, and vice versa.

This has been said to give them an advantage when inventing their airplane and arriving at the various solutions in their construction.

(The source for this story comes from a book one of us read many years ago. We have not found it again, but it is a good story nevertheless.)

Becoming Conscious of Your Own Mindset

We tend to think that we live in the most developed time in human history. We take the scientific knowledge we have today as a true representation of the world we live in. But is it?

When telling people that 400 years ago earth was believed to be the center of the universe, they tend to smile and say "they did not know better". What makes people believe that we know everything today?

If we plot development of human knowledge over time in a diagram on a scale from 1 to 100, where 1 is the stone age and 100 is today, what says that the scale won't continue way beyond 100? To 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000? And how can we be certain that the knowledge level is at its peak today? Might it be that it was at 1,000 many thousands of years ago?

By reflecting on our beliefs and letting go of them, we can open up for new perspectives on our past, present and future.

By stepping out of habitually judging everything we see and hear, and instead become curious observers, we may let go of our rigid mindsets, and make unexpected discoveries.

It is about stepping out of the true/false mindset, and adopting another basis for making sense of the world. What about thinking in terms of likely and less likely? Then the difference between "right" and "wrong" is not so dramatic anymore. Our minds become open for possibilities.

An Ancient Civilization Based on Mindfulness?

In his book "America Before", Graham Hancock suggests that a civilization existed at the time of the cataclysmic event 12,800 years ago that was based on psychic abilities, rather than on technological advancements.

What might such a civilization have accomplished? A society with its roots in shamanism and plant medicines, cultivating advanced spiritual practices and in-depth exploration of human consciousness. Where subjects modern science frown at were taken seriously.

Was it a "better" world then? We don't know. But what if their society was based on curiosity rather than critical thinking? What if they supported each other rather than spending lengthy hours refuting each other?

This article has also been published on Facebook in the group Forbidden Archaeology and other Mysteries.

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