Dr. Corso's med blog: Sam Harris, Ironically The Author Of "Lying" Again Defamed By Liars

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sam Harris, Ironically The Author Of "Lying" Again Defamed By Liars

…Please do your part to confront liars in social media

Is honesty in the acquisition, analysis, and transmission of ideas. A person is being intellectually honest when he or she, knowing the truth, states that truth.

Shortly after moving to my new home in Bend, Oregon in 1995, I received a call from a surgeon I had only just met and to whom I had referred a patient. He said, “John...    I fucked up.  I nicked your patient’s ureter while operating and so I had to open him up to repair it.”  This certainly made a small operation become a big one.  In my career, many surgeons have had complications like this occur.  It happens.  Yet no one had ever taken the time to call me and cop to it personally. I have come to trust this man completely.  Honesty is more powerful than many of us realize.  In today’s world of information, such courageous honesty can be applied or denied to the exchange of ideas. I believe all of us have much to gain, or lose, in the battle against liars.

People can and do disagree in good faith. Intellectually honest people will accurately acknowledge and reflect the content and meaning of opposing ideas advanced by others whenever they engage in a dialog with, or quote the statements of, those with whom they disagree.  In other words, they address themselves to the difference in opinion regarding the ideas under discussion.  They are strong enough to understand and present their opponent’s ideas with integrity, while then presenting their opposing opinions and reasoning.

Liars don’t.
The intellectually dishonest knowingly distort, misquote or quote deliberately out of context (or support others who do so) to defame, slander and harm those with whom they disagree, often to further an agenda of their own.  They sacrifice the important, constructive and honest interplay of ideas to rally the support of other, often less-informed individuals.  When unable to successfully defend an idea they dislike, they stoop to lying about the idea itself and attack the person at its source.

I believe that humanity benefits greatly from Intellectual Honesty and that individuals, societies and humanity as a whole are often greatly harmed by the intellectual dishonesty of liars.  This has certainly been proven true of scientific progress.  Distortion of the truth for reasons such as fame, fortune or funding have done significant harm in many fields.

I’m moved to blog about this in the wake of the social media frenzy that erupted after the Bill Maher interview with author and neuroscientist Sam Harris and actor Ben Affleck on REAL TIME, October 3, 2014.  The show was one thing – a bit strange and frankly riveting  but the aftermath is appalling.  Amidst the dishonest post-interview mudslinging by so many individuals, from (supposedly) respectable journalists on down to some not-too-bright flamers on twitter, I have only seen one party to this debate keep their integrity and habitual honesty intact and above reproach.  Ironically that person is the object of the out and out lies deliberately perpetrated against him, Mr. Sam Harris.

You may agree or disagree with Mr. Harris on many points, but you will never see him sell himself down the river by lying or deliberately distorting the views and statements of his opponents.  He will call them out on their many lies (again, an exhausting form of honesty) but will even go to great lengths to clarify anything he might have written that even APPEARS to be misunderstood by his readers.  When he has had his mind changed on a subject, even to a small degree, he is the first to put it out there.  

If you believe yourself to be intellectually honest, I truly hope you will step up and help promote intellectual honestly in the rapidly evolving world of social media.  I don’t ask you to agree or disagree with anyone else’s opinions, only that you aggressively point out lies to those you know have perpetrated them.  IF YOU FOLLOW MR. HARRIS ON TWITTER, and you see that he is once again taking the time to go on record to refute deliberate, knowing distortions of his work, please take a few minutes to check out the situation to your own satisfaction.  When you know that you have found such dishonesty, PLEASE RESPOND vigorously to the liar by replying to them with all the disgust that their action deserves.  Do your best to disseminate the criticism of liars to those in your circle of influence.  Of course this goes for ANYONE who is being misquoted and lied about, even if you violently disagree with them!  Make sure that even those whose opinions you abhor are confronted for the right reasons, not because of a liar.

Intellectual Honestly, in an era of manipulative infotainment and propaganda from all sides, is fighting for survival and we need it more than ever for the sake of individuals, society and humanity as a whole.  Please be active in defense of the truth within the important exchange of ideas.  Call out all Liars on their destructive crimes of dishonesty.


Anonymous Matthew Blancarte said...


I, too, was compelled to voice my opinion on this matter (albeit in the form of emails to Sam and Reza Aslan). In the years I have seen them clash, this has been the most troubling exchange.

Sam, and for the love of god (please excuse my vernacular), HUMANITY, deserve fair discourse.

Thanks for the post and I couldn't agree more.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree 100%. I think we have huge issues with how little honesty is actually valued and promoted in western society (hardly at all).

The reason we see this kind of behaviour is simply because the people involved (Greenwald and Aslan) are products of a system in which you can be successful without intellectual honesty. Whereas Sam is the product of a system where you lose all credibility for being disingenous (science).

The fact that in science you're constantly aware that the data can conclusively show that you're wrong teaches a kind of humility before the facts that the wider culture is never forced to develop.

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam Harris sent me here. Good read, thanks.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also got here via Mr. Harris. It's great that someone actually lauds and encourages intellectual honesty, thank you.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not feel that Reza Aslan is dishonest. Sam Harris *did* write those horrible things. Sam puts a lot of disclaimers to what he writes so as to not appear like a fascist, and so he can take umbrage when people call on him.

But let's think for a moment what he is telling us:

(1) Islam is the motherload of bad ideas and extremist beliefs
(2) Beliefs can lead to action
(3) Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them

So what should a rational mind conclude that he is saying? Sam needs to accept the full consequences of what he saying, not come up with disclaimers for every sentence he says.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would love to see a list compiled of writers and tv personalities who commented on the recent debate, divided into the two camps: 1) intellectually honest 2) intellectually dishonest.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Corso,

I agree with you 100%. I'm all for honesty and I do my part.

That said, let's test the limits of honesty. If we are going to be completely honest, shouldn't we point out the context of the "Real Time" confrontation? Marketing, monetization and, some might say, shameless self-promotion.

Everyone involved, including the liars who popped up in the wake of the confrontation, stand to gain personally and financially from this discussion. The show gets ratings/more viewers, Bill Maher pockets a little more, Ben Affleck gets some PR in certain circles, Sam Harris gets some PR and, possibly, more book sales, and the new media/bloggers sell more ad space too. Even your blog, Dr. Corso, stands to gain new readers as a result of Sam Harris' in-kind acknowledgment via Twitter

The lies perpetrated against Sam Harris are, in many ways, over-the-top. I'd add that the attacks directed at Sam Harris appear to be aimed at non-believers too.

I don't think this is speculation on my part because marketing is all about getting a brand in front of the public's eye. That's exactly what happened.

What is certain is the news cycle will move on, this confrontation will be forgotten and those involved will be a little better off for having gone through this particular event (marketing process).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me too

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would respectfully disagree with you. The fuller context of his quote only serves to explain the state of his mind when he wrote it, not to change the thrust of what was written, which is that "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them." The charge against Sam Harris may not accurately capture what he believes today, but it has accurately captured what he wrote, in context. If Sam Harris wants it to stop, he merely has to say that he has either changed his mind since writing the book, or that he wrote misleadingly. He has failed to do either.

Don't forget that any person who says stupid, dangerous, or otherwise untenable things always has good reason to claim that he has not actually said what he really did say.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Social honesty is so important. The world has fallen so far out of touch with the expectation of honest interaction it is sad. Why lie when the truth is so much more interesting?

Sam's tweet sent here and I'm glad.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You for that Dr. Corso.I woke up this morning feeling that there are more bullies in the world than I knew. Disheartening to say the least. I will send this off this morning ..to those on both sides! Everyone else please do the same. Thanks Again. Caroline

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a well written important topic I fear won't get enough vision to those that need it.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a SH supporter, and substantially agree with your blog, but must reluctantly argue that SH failed this honesty test with his clarification of his "boyfriend" remark about Greenwald. He has suggested he was alluding to the Islamic mistreatment of homosexuals, and therefore Greenwald's irrational defense of these beliefs. Surely, that was a stretch. I wish Sam had just copped to his mistake, which was clearly an attempt at an out-of-character personal insult/shot.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for a balanced view of the issue. You are more tolerant than I am. I'm not even a scientist, but I detest this non-scientific approach to doing medicine. I have complained to the AMA ethics committee about Dr. Oz (man, what an appropriate name for a man who purveys nonsense). And don't get me started on alternative medicine. Ask Steve Jobs how that worked out.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Intellectually Honest People
2) Liars

This isn't right.

What about honest self-deceivers? Human minds come equipped with powerful cognitive biases. We unconsciously convince ourselves that we are always right.

Of course deliberate liars exist, but self-deception is usually a more parsimonious explanation than intentional, deliberate lying.

4:18 PM  
Blogger John Corso said...

About the above comment re: self deceivers...I agree that we often lie to ourselves unconsiously. I still believe such actions, when put out in to the public forum need to be confronted. People of good intentions can be helped to learn techniques of responsibly representing people with whom they disagree and feedback, even harsh feedback can be instructive. In the case in point, the offenders, Mr. Aslan and Mr. Greenwald retweeted a disgusting lie they knew to be false. This was not self deception. This was a viscious dishonest attack on a man who has already assumed significant personal risk in employing free speech to discuss controversial subjects. They have caused real harm and they did so in a proactive way.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Olsonic said...

oh god. You're practically announcing your incapable of complex argument.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for drawing some people's attention to the issue of intellectual honesty, which I agree is sorely lacking in this debate.
The frustrating thing for me is that Sam Harris' detractors seem to spend about 5% of their time addressing the the actual thrust of his arguments and 95% trying to dress him up as a crazed lunatic. This is extremely tiresome because I'm one of the people who is leaning towards agreeing with Harris, but I'm still not entirely convinced that Islam is the predominant cause of the violence and terrorism we see today. I actually WANT to read good counterarguments to Harris' thesis because there is a good chance that a convincing argument backed by good evidence will cause me to change my mind in a meaningful way. Sadly these writers make me sift through pages of garbage to pick out the little tid-bits of actual evidence that I'm looking for. Typically these crumbs appear within a single sentence that simply dismisses Harris' entire argument as self-evidently wrong, with a link to maybe one or two actual research papers that appear to sort-of address the underlying premise of Harris' argument (invariably these are technical academic documents that I am not in a good position to interpret due to a lack of expertise in the area). If these people actually explained why Sam Harris is incorrect with the same level of clarity as Harris does himself, there's a good chance I would come to agree with them (I am quite a pacifist by nature), but sadly no-one has done this yet.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well put sir, and what a fine blog post indeed. It is a noble and inspiring plea you make to all who despise the embarrassing and tragic inclination to egotistically seek praise and followers on a dishonest and dishonorable basis by deliberately, and without shame, distorting, misrepresenting and perverting the truth (i.e. the objective truth and the full truth).

When the time comes where your image and persona has become more important to you than the course of humanity and the general zeitgeist, and when your agenda begins shift in language and methods to work against humanity - consciously or subconsciously - then that is the time people need to correct you and hold a mirror to your words, actions and image for you to feel the shame for the lack of honesty and nobility that you apparently lost or sold along the way.

4:00 AM  
Blogger Vic said...

Thanks for this post - also ironically, I had just recently blogged about the importance of disagreement and resolution - apparently Reza and Ben don't care about honesty or formal process, just invective...

9:51 AM  
Blogger Helmi said...

If you don't know why it's dishonest (to put it lightly), it's because it's very unlikely that Aslan/Greenwald really thought that Sam Harris was expressing the ideas that they claimed he was expressing.

They took single sentences out of a context which describe idea "X" and strongly implied (or outright stated) that they were describing idea "Y".

In my book, that's lying.

4:43 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home