Friday, July 07, 2006

Ann Coulter

This was going to just be a comment to this Pharyngula post, but I couldn't get TypeKey to work so I gave up. Anyways, PZ notes that:

OK, many people seem to be picking up on Coulter's plagiarism, Karl Mogel picks up on the overt sexism of Coulter's remarks*, but there's far too little discussion of the fact that Coulter's book is a tissue thin collection of lies. Her understanding of science is negligible, and she's simply parroting old creationist nonsense, but almost no one is pointing out that fact. Is science just too hard for the media? Shouldn't the fact that she plagiarizes be a lesser sin than the fact that she is making stuff up?

I suspect that there's a level on which this question is just rhetorical exasperation. But it does bear commenting on: Coulter's dishonesty has been pointed out time and time again, by everyone from tiny blogs to prominent public figures (Al Franken comes to mind). In fact--to be equal parts blunt and crass--Coulter's obvious lack of sanity has been pointed out time and time again. At this point, calling Coulter on her dishonesty is essentially a practice of preaching to the choir. Which is great for, you know, Sunday morning at church, but isn't really a practical behavior.

It's pretty clear at this point that anyone who's still reading Ann Coulter falls into one of the following categories:
  • Reading even though they know she's being dishonest

  • Completely and utterly disconnected from the real world to the extent that they aren't aware of her dishonesty (i.e., not a member of the "Reality-Based Community")

  • Willfully suppressing their better impulses to convince themselves it has any bearing on reality

These are vague categories at best, and I'm sure they and others could be better delineated. But the point is that we have reached our maximum effectiveness by pointing out she's crazy and full of crap. Clearly the media--maintaining the pretense for a moment that such a collective hive-mind as "the media" exists--at this point is unwilling to dwell on this point to any extent. But since this is but one of her many faults, let's focus on another one.

There are clear rhetorical approaches to avoiding claims of dishonesty: some are rooted in the perversion of postmodernism, such as claims that a statement is true within realms of a certain context. One can also embrace ad hominem arguments, or just shout louder than the other guy. But it's a bit more difficult to avoid charges of plagiarism, because it's a relatively subjective crime in the first place. You put two columns of text next to each other: if they consistently look similar, then you're guilty. If they don't, then maybe not so much. Not to mention that plagiarism is a crime that I suspect the media is more sensitive to, since that's exactly the sort of image problem they often worry about the most.

So while I agree that plagiarism is the least of Ann's crimes against humanity (in fact, her tendency toward strained hyperbole probably is ;-P), let's go with this one for now: maybe this time it'll work.


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