05 January, 2012

Propaganda: Gentle Reader Series #3 PhD? So What?

Gentle readers:

People who use Mr. Clowes’ article as evidence to support their anti-gay biases sometimes note that the author holds a PhD. Indeed, Mr. Clowes holds a PhD from a reputable US school in Civil Engineering. Some people, however, like to believe that because a PhD wrote the article, it's conclusions somehow have more weight.

Let me bring you in on a little secret. Persons with a PhD are not infallible - especially when they are commenting on science outside of their area of expertise. And even when PhDs are commenting within their field, they can make mistakes. That is why we give the highest credence to articles and studies that are peer reviewed.

Now I draw your attention to the following points:

1. Mr. Clowes' anti-gay claims involve social science and behavioural psychology.

2. Mr. Clowes is neither a social scientist nor a behavioral psychologist. In short, he is a civil engineer commenting outside his area of expertise.

3. While the article notes the fact that Clowes holds a PhD, nowhere does it disclose his area of expertise (you need to go to another website for that information).

It is a common trick among propagandists to misuse academic credentials in this way. Their intent is to lend a greater air of authority to what is nothing more than a very poorly reasoned opinion article.

If a PhD has written something, it means very little until we can understand if it is written in an area where the PhD has expertise. And even if it is within the PhD’s area of expertise, we should closely examine methodology, and logic etc…. Trust me, even when a PhD is not an active participant in creating propaganda, they are capable of error.

In any case, argument from authority is always an inherently weak argument - regardless of the authority.



  1. Martin:

    I am very disappointed to read what appears to this observer as fatuous ramblings by someone I think is capable of much better.

    If you care to understand where Brian Clowes is coming from, rather than choose to invent some malevolent intent in what he has researched and written, you might find your conclusions change.

    Mr. Clowes is a respected individual in the Catholic Pro-Life movement, the intent of which is to protect the right of all individuals to life from the moment of conception to natural death.

    This particular article is about refuting some of the propaganda rhetoric used against the Catholic Churches authority and related to the issue of celibacy.

    It is not an anti-gay article, but one focused on proving that the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is an issue of homosexuality, not pedophilia.


  2. Hi Michael,

    Patience. We will begin examining his anti-gay claims in tomorrow's installment.

    Let me remind you that I originally focussed on Mr. Clowes' article in response to another commenter on this blog (Paul) who cited this article as evidence that there is credible evidence that gay men pose a real threat of harm to children. I could have selected any number of other articles from any number of other "Catholic" websites as evidence.

    I make no claims about whether or not Mr. Clowes is deserving of respect in the Pro-Life movement or elsewhere. I am only examining what he has written and concluding that it is an example of anti-gay propaganda.

    You are free to draw your own conclusions, but if I am correct in my assertion that the evidence cited by Mr. Clowes does not support his anti-gay views, then it certainly raises a number of valid questions. One of these questions is: If Catholic writers have to resort to misrepresenting science to make their case, then can there be any real substance to their claims?

    I look forward to your reaction once we move into the guts of Mr. Clowes' article.


  3. Martin
    I have spent considerable time on Mr. Clowes article, and also returned to the scene of the crime as it were, in November 2011.

    It seems that you want to define as anti-gay, any statement or series of them that touches on your pro homosexual sensibilities. You're quite capable of knowing what the Catholic Church teaches about same sex attraction, and about he disordered nature of homosexual sexual activity, as it does about the disordered nature of non marital, and even some marital sexual activity.

    It seems that you are trying to produce your own propaganda to make black white.

    Move along. There is nothing to see here.


  4. Hi Michael,

    If I claim that most Catholic preists are pedophiles, would that count as an anti-Catholic claim?

    If I support that claim by misrepresenting social science, would you call that anti-Catholic propaganda?

    How do you define anti-gay claims? Better yet, can you give me a concrete example of what you would consider an anti-gay claim?

    I ask because I am struggling with how you construct your rhetorical universe. My point that Clowes makes anti-gay claims is pretty self-evident to anyone who has read his article. Today there are 2 posts that show preceisely why I think he is misrepresenting facts to support his claims. Do you think my criticisms are unfair? If so, how?


  5. Hi Michael.

    I came the same conclusions long ago in that thread and checked out. Its not that Martin was presenting a bulletproof argument that I went silent, I just came to the realization that responding to it was pointless and just encourage more negativity. I found myself getting increasingly frustrated and bitter as the thread went on and on so I stepped back to consider if its worth the stress. The debate had become toxic so I chose to shake the dust from my sandals so to speak. I'll leave it for the "gentle readers" to discuss.


  6. Hi Paul,

    Perhaps your self-enforced silence was inspired by your inability to acknowledge your errors, take personal responsibility for them, and to apologize.

    I am heartened that some Catholics are capable of self-reflection and are able to take personal responsibility for their inappropriate words. Here is a quote from Cardinal George, who recently compared LGBT citizens to the Klu Klux Klan:

    "I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused,....Particularly because we all have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian. This has evidently wounded a good number of people. I have family members myself who are gay and lesbian, so it's part of our lives. So I'm sorry for the hurt. When I was talking I was speaking out of fear that I have for the church's liberty and I was reaching for an analogy which was very inappropriate for which I'm sorry. I didn't realize the impact of what I was saying...Sometimes fear is a bad motivation."

    Paul - Is this inspiration enough for you to finally do the right thing?

    Michael - we all know that if you had even the semblance of a counter-argument, you would be well and truly on your way to making it.

    I patiently await your responses gentlemen....



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