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The Rounding the Gorski Challenge: Avoiding Better Science
The Information Wars Part XXIII
Find out more about the Information Wars here.
It took me a bit of time to decide whether or not this would be a Science Wars article. But at the core of this article is information warfare that obscures any opportunity to breach the domain of Science.
What is the RTE-Gorski Challenge?
Recall my recorded conversation with Debunk the Funk:
It was an okay conversation at the outset, not the best. Dan showed that he could verbally run around in a few circles and pretend the existence of research he couldn't point to. At the outset, I'm out-jargoned to a degree, but that's fine. A good faith conversation overcomes that, and being bad faith on every level is too much of a risk for somebody who seems like their job is to be an intellectual bully while pretending that's not what they're doing. My hope was to steer the conversation toward the foundational basics. When we got there, it became immediately clear that Dan Wilson is mathematically illiterate on the topic on which he was making statistical arguments. Few people of any mathematical literacy could fail to see it.
That's the RTE-Gorski challenge in essence: if you want to project yourself as an expert in a quantitative field, come on for an interview with me. I will ask a fair set of questions and walk through the math/stats.
I'm sure that not everyone will give me credit as a fair judge. However, my conversation with Stuart Buck which involved many points of contention, was quite friendly. I've been able to express friendly disagreement with several guests whom I strongly suspect will say that all parties were always respectful. Further, if somebody came on the RTE podcast and blew my mind with a perspective I hadn't imagined that spun me around, I'd thank them profusely. I have changed my mind, including on multiple issues during the pandemic.
The Gorski challenge has also been offered to Dr. Susan Oliver. She hasn't exactly declined, but declined to answer while flying monkeys came in to white knight her.
I won't lie. In this particular case, I fully expect that Dr. Oliver will fail the challenge. With Dan, I wasn't sure where the conversation was headed, though I knew I wanted to get into the math to see if we could pinpoint differences in data interpretations.
What Does This Have To Do With Gorski?
Glad you asked. I'll share what I previously wrote about Dr. David Gorski:
David Gorski, MD, PhD
Because people who need you to see their credential letters on Twitter are the most secure in their expertise, am I right?
Gorski is an oncologist who may or may not have chosen that profession because he enjoys burning people. He is part of the editorial team at the Science-Based Medicine blog that attacks any sufficiently important target that defies "The Science". He also writes under the pseudonym Orac at the full-stop attack blog Respectful Insolence, where his verbally vicious nature gets a bit more unhinged.
Once upon a time, Gorski claimed to me that he has read "pretty much every HCQ study" (out of around 200?) in November, 2020 (I actually had). So, I asked him four simple questions about the research, and he did not answer any of them, and then blocked me.
I would be willing to host him for a discussion of the hydroxychloroquine research on the RTE podcast. It would include a more complete quiz, including, "For which viruses do you recommend not taking an antiviral until after viral replication is largely complete?"
But Gorski has bigger targets than me. I'm old enough to remember that time that Gorski challenged the world's most well-published microbiologist on Twitter about the Surgisphere dumpster fire.
At some point, I think he must have paid for Twitter bots because his past posts and replies leapt in popularity signals, and pretty uniformly, in a way that belies the natural accrual of popularity. Feel free to examine his retweet army and tell me if you disagree.
Gorski is a much bigger pfish than either Dan Wilson or Dr. Oliver. He has long cultivated an image as a debunker running sciencey-sounding attacks on those not following along with Pharmapartisan narratives. I've often wondered whether somebody else writes his material. But it's clear that when I get to press him on claims of his knowledge, he is unable to answer basic questions where he clearly claimed deep knowledge. He never admits mistakes or apologizes for his verbal assaults.
Recently, Steve Kirsch included me on some email exchanges with Gorski. Yet again, Gorski wilted from the challenge of public discussion. (The topic was whether vaccines might be causing an increase in aortic dissections.)
Gorski did not respond, but continued to debate about aortic dissections with Steve by not addressing the discussion, insulting people, and laying out a laundry list of links without real explanation that presumably justified his point-of-view if you cared to spend 6 hours reading them (and 60 hours dissecting his nonsense). So, I poked him again.
Here is Gorski dodging the idea of a recorded call in which he could demonstrate his authority.
Ultimately, there is little Gorski could do on the level of persuasion that would be more demonstrative than showing his capability as a quantitative scientist. After all, that's a lot of what he pounds his chest about. It would take less than the time of writing one of his articles—maybe even less time than it takes for him to phrase his usual smears that insinuate the lack of comprehension by those he smears. So, I take his dodge as a total lack of veracity and confidence. How could I not?
Thus, I honor Gorski with the challenge title, and it's one that I plan to make in the future, both to those with whom I agree and those with whom I disagree—because it's extremely important for the public to understand the nature of proxy trust. Over time, such displays of the true nature of background skill might not only help people know whom they can listen to, but also get a sense of whether entire fields project a false picture of certain levels of quantitative expertise by members of their field.