The Sciences

The "Shaggy assertion" - just pretend you're right

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanMay 2, 2012 4:06 AM


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As most long time readers know I generally screen to at least a cursory level comments by people who have not posted before. Except for purposes of entertainment only I won't publish Creationist comments. Naturally some comments are offensive, but a surprising number I just don't let through are "not-even-wrong" or "too-stupid-to-understand-the-original-post" class. But yesterday a comment was in the mod queue which really confused me. My initial instinct was to spam it, but I was moderately intrigued, so I let it through. In response to my assertion of having read material which indicated that Gaelic was the language of the Irish peasantry before 1800, Paul Crowley asserted:

What you have read is quite wrong. It is a common misconception (especially in Ireland) based on wishful nationalistic thinking. Farmers and peasants do not drop their native language and learn to speak another without extreme compulsion. While there was some pressure, there was no compulsion. The ancient ruling class — as represented later by the Irish Earls, and as seen in the courts of local chiefs — spoke Gaelic, and it is they who left nearly all the records. Illiterate farmers leave very few records, but what little there is suggests that English has been tongue of the great bulk of the Irish peasantry for as far back as we want to go. The rebels of 1598 all spoke English. Walter Raleigh had no difficulty understanding the speech of local people in Cork in the 1570s. The great difficulty with the records is that the ‘data’ on this matter reflects aspirations rather than facts. Since the ‘English’ (actually the Norman-French) invaded in 1172, every self-respecting Irishman has declared his deep love and respect for the language so cruelly taken from him....

There were statements in the comment which I'm very skeptical of (e.g., "Farmers and peasants do not drop their native language and learn to speak another without extreme compulsion" is obviously plain bullshit, there are plenty of ethnographic and historical counter-examples to this!). But the commenter asserted forcefully, in cogent English. I don't know the area, so though I was very skeptical I let the comment through. Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ responded rather well, with citations. In hindsight I made a mistake in letting the original comment go through without citation. But I assumed that Paul & Paul would respond to Paul (the Irish are not creative in first names?), and they did. Paul Crowley's success it getting through my bullshit filter indicates the power of assertive coherency; far too many nuts exhibit standard nut style. Pegging someone as a nut by style rather than substance is far easier. In the case of substance you have to have a relatively good grasp of the field. Irish historical linguistics is not a field which I'm very deeply knowledgeable in, so I used my style bullshit detector, despite my misgivings. This is analogous to the "Shaggy defense." Make shit up in the face of overwhelming evidence, and see if anyone buys it. It worked with me. Live and learn.

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