Saturday, 14 March 2009
Not sure if I am getting the hang of this but I picked this up (admittedly late) from Damian tonight. Here Ben Goldacre of The Guardian's Bad Science is talking to Aric Sigman, about a claim, sort of made by Susan Greenfield, that social networking sites addle the infant brain.
I have no opinion on whether they do or not - there is so much competition in addling - but the argument is peculiar in that while the two gentlemen debate with passion via the blessed Paxman neither is saying diametrically the opposite of the other, though each seems to be claiming or assuming the other is. So Sigman is not exactly claiming that long-term exposure to such sites rewires a child's brain, or at least no more than hours of solitude in a room with TV would, he just has a hunch it might be bad for them, nor is Goldacre exactly claiming that it doesn't harm children just that you can't be certain that it does. Neither claims certainty. That does not seem a vast difference to me except as an example of 'package thinking', the kind of situation where one person thinks that if another thinks A he must think, B, C, D and E as well, the swine.
As it happens I'd probably trust Goldacre more than Sigman, but that's only by hunch. Fortunately I am not in a position where I would have to trust either with my life.
It often happens that arguments develop their own dynamics in a faintly addictive way, both parties sharpening the difference and playing down the common ground. I even understand the attraction of this. Disagreement is a way of testing a proposition. It's just that the dynamic then takes over from the proposition.
I expect it's a male preoccupation rather than a female one, at least conducted over the kind of issues Goldacre and Sigman are debating. It's amusing, it's creative and, occasionally, it leads to blows.