The Drive To Discredit – Who Gains?

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The Drive To Discredit – Who Gains?

May 18, 2009 Dealing with Difficult People Persuasion Politics 7

I’ve witnessed numerous campaigns that have discredit rather than social good as their objective.   They use wild accusations, name calling, fake or biased data and specious linkage to influence how people think about a person, an idea or a group they find threatening.

It’s a dirty business.  This post is my way of outing it and helping you to respond to it.  I’m not out to discredit those who do it, but instead, I’d like to shed some light on the activity of it, and maybe impair the success of these campaigns at least a little, because they only work when people are blind to them. 

As I’ve said before, the best way to protect yourself from persuasive attempts is to think for yourself.  Here are questions I think worth asking when dealing with someone’s drive to discredit.   

Who is behind the campaign?  Who stands to gain by their success?

It may not always be obvious, but it’s still worth trying to see who is there.  A cloak of invisibility around the people driving a campaign makes it easier for a dirty campaign to succeed, just as naming those behind a dirty campaign may be enough to inhibit its influence. 

In the case of CAM,  it’s the established order fighting off a serious contender to its dominance.  And the established order consists of medical societies who rule it,  trade organizations and lobbyists who gain power from it, drug companies who profit from it, diploma mills who thrive where regulation of the alternatives is lax.

In the case of Spector, well, they’ve outed themselves, and their agenda is well known.  They have no credibility outside their ever shrinking circle.  Their only hope is that conditions worsen for the nation (and many of them are, I suspect, hoping for that very thing)

How many people are involved in the effort?   

We know from watching the buildup to the war in Iraq that when you have enough people spouting the same story in enough locations and venues, and no means to counter the campaign, it is remarkably effective at swaying opinion and gaining agreement.  Pro-peace and anti-war sentiment was essentially squelched, with the resulting consequence that we are still trying to figure out how to pay for the economic, political and military weakness that has resulted from it. 

In the case of CAM, there are those who like to play doctor but weren’t willing to work for the title.  They are in unlicensed states, using the same credential, N.D., after paying for a diploma from a correspondence course.  Thousands of these unlicensable ‘doctors’ then contribute to bogus organizations whose sole purpose, besides issuing a certificate of membership that says the ‘doctor’ is ‘certified’ to anyone who qualifies (i.e., sends them money) is to stop the licensing of CAM in order to protect their ability to do what they please.  They are encouraged and supported by people inside the conventional medical community who can’t stand the competition or loss of prestige that has accompanied the many failures of the healthcare system.  This is a well funded group.  

In the case of Spector, their number is known, you can count them any time there is a vote in Congress.  Add a handful of loudmouthed commentators and a few hundred paranoid ‘conservative’ bloggers and you’ve got the totality of it.  Not enough to discredit a long record of moderation and contribution. 

Why are they doing it?   What do they stand to gain?


A good way to get at this is to go to that moment in the timeline where the campaign to discredit might actually succeed, and witness the real-world effects. 

In the case of CAM, the medical establishment’s powers seek to remain large and in charge.  Should it succeed at squelching the interest in CAM, profits, power, and prestige are the benefits.  And the uN.Ds (unlicensable because they didn’t bother to go to medical school) get to continue using a title without having had to earn it. 

In political terms, being in the minority makes it difficult to succeed at this kind of campaign, unless there is strong unity in opinion and message, and no countervailing force.  For the Republicans, this is NOT the case, and their efforts seem to be backfiring now at every turn.  The drive to discredit the defection of Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania is a good case in point.  The more they come after him, the weaker they look, because there are countervailing voices in their own party telling them this is a symptom of a deep problem, not a ‘blessing in disguise’ as those on the far right would have it. 

They are attacking him in order to draw attention away from their own failures, as a way of scapegoating someone else, and to minimize the evidence that they have become a party of extremes.  Moderates are leaving in droves.  Some of them just haven’t gotten around to it yet.  And some are, ahem, still waiting and hoping for a Republican establishment change of heart. 


More in my next post.  Your comments are always welcome!

Be well,



7 Responses

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    It’s a good reminder to always check the source and motivation.

    I think most attempts to discredit are either unskilled, primal (no pre-frontal) … or highly skilled. I’m a fan of focusing on the solution and carving out a bigger place for folks to play and be part of the solution.

  2. Hey Rick,

    I thought long and hard on this, especially since I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with misrepresentations of my own work. On one hand there is the ever-present desire to turn the other cheek and convert my response into a teaching opportunity. This works in certain circumstances –often if the skeptic is actually curious about that which they are skeptical of.

    Most are not.

    In most other circumstances, turning the other cheek will often get that side of your head smacked as well. As Ho Chi Minh once said in reference to Mahatma Gandhi, “Had he grown up in Vietnam, he’d have ascended into heaven long before he did.”

    Because these people are often prisoners of their own zealotry their tactics are not very often of the velvet-glove variety. Since they don’t respect that which they are skeptical of, and anything goes and every tactic is permissible

    Of course this automatically brands them as pseudo-skeptics not skeptics, since true skeptics are more than happy to amend an existing opinion with the presentation of new evidence. Most of these guys just feel that modern allopathic medicine (and hence the public) is under attack from vicious, dangerous woo-merchants and it is their anointed job to exterminate this vermin.

    Thus it is unlikely that appeals to reason will ever work effectively, since dialogue is not what they are interested in — anymore than someone would ever be interested in dialoging with a cockroach before they stepped on it. People who dialogue with cockroaches usually don’t step on them.

    Like Ho, Adolf Hitler also had an opinion of Gandhi, remarking once to Lloyd George: ‘Why doesn’t someone just shoot him and be done with it?’

    Let’s call a spade a spade: The more extreme of these ‘anti-SCAM’ pseudo-skeptics will not rest until we’re completely discredited and eliminated.

    Thus their tactics and criticisms are almost always of the ‘gotcha’ variety. This is usually performed by trying very hard to cover their opponents in manure so that they can stand back, point to them and say ‘look, they are covered in manure.’

    Gerhard Uhlenbruck, the worlds leading lectin researcher, and one of the few scientists who has openly acknowledged the value of my work has a nice way of reflecting on the silliness of what these people do with their time:

    “Never chase a lie. Let it alone, and it will run itself to death.”

    Stephen Jay Gould also had a nice way of turning the tables on pseudo-skeptics. This from ‘The Structure of Evolutionary Thinking’ (2002):

    “If none of the foregoing charges can bear scrutiny, strategists of personal denigration still hold an old and conventional tactic in reserve: they can proclaim a despised theory both trivial and devoid of content. This charge is so distasteful to any intellectual that one might wonder why detractors don’t try such a tactic more often, and right up front at the outset. But I think we can identify a solution: the “triviality caper” tends to backfire and to hoist a critic with his own petard — for if the idea you hate is so trivial, then why bother to refute it with such intensity? Leave the idea strictly alone and it will surely go away all by itself. Why fulminate against tongue piercing, goldfish swallowing, skateboarding, or any other transient fad with no possible staying power?

    So, if Uhlenbruck and Gould are correct, why do so many people spend some much time making life miserable for people with new ideas?

    Although we talk of ideas, I believe it all distills back down to power and money. New ideas often threaten the exact type of person who (personality-wise) would go on to make the perfect pseudo-skeptic. The type of person who buys into the existing power structure, hook, line and sinker. Anything that takes away from the reflected light (‘My son the doctor.’) they have spent so much time and money on gaining; for which they so sacrificed and assiduously played the game in order to secure, is not just a threat — it is also a nightmare.

    So what is the answer?

    Like any test of will (and for a myriad of reasons) those with the ultimate staying power win.

    In military terminology there is a tactic called ‘the refuse.’

    Back in the old days, these guys would just line up opposite each other on some level field and go at it. Typically, since most people are right-handed, the right side of an army’s line would often be stronger than the left. Thus the idea of any good commander would be to ‘refuse’ to fight (usually by slowly pulling back) on his left side while trying to press the advantage on his right.

    I stopped writing for pseudo-critics years ago: You can’t please them, they won’t buy your books anyway and the people I really want to help educate don’t want to read that type of stuff.

    I just refused to do it.

    Now, while most magazine articles critical of my theories have long-ago been relegated to the landfill, despite being twelve years in print you can still buy my first book only in hardcover.

    Why? Because the theory works in many people and they go on to tell other people.

    Now, if I need to buy a new hammer I’d be somewhat interested in reviews that tell me which hammers ‘not to buy,’ but ultimately if my best friend tells my which brand of hammer he’s happy with, I’m probably going to go with that advice. I would also find questionable reviewers who had nothing good to say about all hammers in general.

    Let’s commit to always doing the hard work. Let’s accept the fact that we practice a revolutionary form of medicine and let’s stop looking for approbation from the very people whose preeminence we threaten and who cannot appreciate the strides we’ve made and the struggles we’ve endured in order to put this profession back on its feet.

    Let every patient see the value of what we can do. These pseudo-skeptics will always have their coffee claches; their little goldfish bowls, where naturopaths do nothing right and allopaths nothing wrong. But let’s refuse to make it into something bigger than it really is, because that is not the main battlefield.

    Instead, let’s wake up every day determined to redouble our efforts to improve the lives of our patients.

    I’ll end this diatribe with two more Vietnam Era quotes, which to me seem oddly relevant since US health care is currently in a Vietnam-like quagmire.

    The first is from Lyndon Johnson, a fundamentally un-quotable president. Johnson did once say something I thought was of note. In dealing with criticisms of his Great Society program, he was heard to say:

    ‘It takes a master carpenter to build a good barn. Funny thing though, is that any fool with a match can then burn it down.’

    Let’s remember that we are master carpenters. The public can be trusted to see the benefit of good barns. Let’s also refuse to put the matches in the hands of our opponents.

    The second quote is from a meeting between a Vietnamese general and an American general in Hanoi several years after the war ended.

    ‘You know’ said the American general, ‘you never beat us in a single battle.’

    ‘Yes, that is true.’ replied the Vietnamese general, ‘however it is also irrelevant.’

    Remember water always beats rock. That’s because water can go around rock. Let’s refuse to butt heads with rocks.

    And as the quote goes “Medicine progresses funeral by funeral.”

    And they were referring to the doctor’s funeral, not the patient’s.

    Take care and good luck with the new book.


    PS no need to publish if you feel it is too inflammatory.

    • Peter
      Thank you for your terrific comment and quotes. I found your diatribe persuasive and informative! I hope you’ll comment again!
      And thanks for the good wishes on the new book. PUblisher seems very happy about it, so as you might imagine, so am I!
      best wishes,

    • In an airport, reading what you wrote again, Peter. Wow, terrific, well stated, nicely thought out and full of gems.

      You’ve inspired me! So let me speak directly to those who seek to discredit that which is good, just and essential to progress.

      You cynical defenders of the status quo are almost always on the losing side of history. Blinded by self-deception and addiction to habitual thought, you accuse others of your own failings, and fail to see the coming change until it is upon you. By then, it is too late for you. You leave a bitter legacy for those foolish enough to believe you. Foam and sputter, it changes nothing. Count the days before you are revealed as the charlatans, for you cannot draw attention away from your lies and ignorance by pointing at others. Your ability to dominate, intimidate or manipulate the system to favor your own view is leaving you with nothing but your fear which you express as anger, and a feeble hatred for that which undoes you. Spew your venom, you strain at the gnat and swallow the camel. You change nothing.

      Do you not understand that, in this age of discovery, more and more of us see you for who you are? You live in a house of mirrors inside a house of cards. You are undone by your own blindness. The old paradigm fights until its dying breath.

      “All truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Shopenhauer

      And on that thrilling note, back to a line at the airport! Thanks again for your comments, everyone.

      Best wishes,

  3. Money Is The Root Of All Good says:

    A negative campaign will usually drive people away. Any negativity shows that the party fears their competitior and this is unattractive in my eyes.

    If you are focusing on an opponent it shows that you have nothing valuable to offer.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      A little more black and white than I might put it, but a good point. If all you have is opposition, that’s a pretty good indicator that you don’t have much going for you.

      Best wishes,

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