What is debunking?

From the Wordsmith (http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/9302/debunk.htm) comes this definition of debunk:

debunk (di-BUNGK) tr.verb

To expose or ridicule the falseness, sham, or exaggerated claims of:

WORD HISTORY: One can readily see that debunk is constructed from the prefix de-, meaning "to remove," and the word bunk. But what is the origin of the word bunk, denoting the nonsense that is to be removed? Bunk came from a place where much bunk has originated, the United States Congress. During the 16th Congress (1819-1821) Felix Walker, a representative from western North Carolina whose district included Buncombe County, continued on with a dull speech in the face of protests by his colleagues. Walker replied he had felt obligated "to make a speech for Buncombe." Such a masterful symbol for empty talk could not be ignored by the speakers of the language, and Buncombe, actually spelled Bunkum in its first recorded appearance in 1828 and later shortened to bunk, became synonymous with claptrap. The response to all this bunk seems to have been delayed, for debunk is not recorded until 1923.

How to Debunk Just About Anything, by Daniel Drasin.
Mr. Drasin confuses debunking with propaganda. The following quote, from his article, shows in fact what NEEDS to be debunked:

"Put on the right face. Cultivate a condescending air that suggests that your personal opinions are backed by the full faith and credit of God. Employ vague, subjective, dismissive terms such as "ridiculous" or "trivial" in a manner that suggests they have the full force of scientific authority."

Why Debunk Fed Conspiracy Theories, by Dr. Edward Flaherty. This is an excellent example of debunking. The following are some quotes from the article:

"I have three big problems with Fed conspiracy myth-makers. First, their research is remarkably poor. As I investigated their claims, I found their arguments at many times inconsistent and self-contradictory, containing numerous factual errors, embellishments, and outright fabrications. The sources for some of their most serious charges were undocumented, unverifyable, and at the least, dubious. When I began checking their research, I was startled at how easy it was to refute many of their basic premises with information readily available in most any public library. If their arguments can be countered so easily and with information available to anyone, then why did the conspiracy authors themselves not uncover the same things when they did their research? I can only speculate on that answer, but at the very least it is poor research -- a clear case of selection bias: Report the information that supports the thesis, ignore the data that does not.

"The second problem I have with the Fed conspiracy myths is that others promote them without checking on the validity of the claims. If a reader chooses to believe the conspiracy theories, then that is his business. But it seems to me that if he decides to pass along these myths, then he has a responsibility to do some minimal investigation to verify the claims. Probably few, if any, have actually done this because if they had, then like myself, they would have found that a mere cursory examination of the evidence would cast considerable doubt on the conspiracy claims.

"The third problem I have with them is that they divert valuable resources from solving real problems. The conspiracy theorists have obviously motivated many people to political action who might otherwise be politicly inert. This is good. But the efforts of these new activists are being directed at a problem which does not appear to exist. What a waste!"

A good example of debunking is the works of Noam Chomsky. An excerpt from his book on Media Control should be read.

For David Horowitz debunking Noam Chomsky, see The Sick Mind of Noam Chomsky: Part II

Another good example is an article by Michael J. Gilbert at UTSA called Is a "War on Crime," Crime Control?. The following is an excerpt:

This piece points out that crime and delinquency are social problems rather than criminal justice problems. It also points out that street crime is strongly associated with social inequalities of the type documented by Jonathan Kozol in Savage Inequalities (1991) and described by Carl Upchurch in Convicted in the Womb (1996).

The metaphor of war is often used to characterize the struggle to reduce the impact of crime and delinquency upon our society. We now talk about a "war on crime" and a "war on drugs" as if a social control policy were an actual war. A real war is an armed conflict between enemies. Yet, in the war on crime and drugs we rarely ask who is the enemy? When we consider this question it quickly becomes clear that the enemy is characteristically young, male, minority and poor. He is also an American citizen. In this "war" we demonize our citizens, arrest and confine our fathers and sons, and target the children of our most vulnerable social classes for enforcement.

Over the last 20 years we have become very good at waging war against street criminals. Between 1980 and 1989 we built roughly 1200 confinement beds in prisons and jails per week. Between 1990 and 1996 we have build approximately 1600 prison and jail beds per week (Maguire &Pastore, 1997, p. 510; 1996, p. 548; Maguire, Pastore & Flanagan, 1993, pp. 590, 608). At present we confine over 1.6 million people in jails or prisons. This is about one half of one percent the national population and is perhaps the highest confinement rate in U.S. history (Irwin & Austin, 1997). We rarely ask whether this war has produced an equivalent reduction in crime. It is clear from the data that the geometric growth in prison and jail capacity has had little role in the current downward trends in both reported crimes and victimizations. The recent downward trend in crime data is better explained by demographic shifts and the health of the national economy over the last few years than by use of harsh sentences and prison expansion (Irwin & Austin, 1997).

The reasons for this are that deterrence has only a limited influence on offending since most offenses are rooted in emotion rather than intellect; and, attacking offenders does nothing about the savage inequalities to which at risk children are chronically exposed. "Making war" on offenders may be politically popular and emotionally appealing to those seeking revenge but it is solely a reactive response to crime. The popular zeal for punishment of offenders is born out of public anxiety over social diversity, the perception of moral decline within society and fear of victimization (Tyler & Boeckmann, 1997). Furthermore, public frustrations and fears over crime and delinquency are widely exploited for political gain by politicians and for economic gain by both news and entertainment media (Gilbert, 1996; Lofquist, 1997).

A "war on crime" is not crime control because it only attacks the offender. In this sense, punitive wars on crime may be seen as being "soft on crime" because they ignore the underlying social and economic conditions that foster criminality. In order to be truly "tough on crime" we need to relieve the savage inequalities that produce hopelessness and helplessness among those chronically exposed to these social conditions. The "war" effort diverts public attention from the more serious problem of white-collar and corporate crime. It also protects the existing social structure while perpetuating both violence and street crime. Wars on crime are symbolic rather than substantive policies.

(for the full article, see http://www.salsa.net/peace/UTSA/ti-4.html)

For further debunking examples, try these links:

Karma Catches Jesse Jackson Bill O'Reilly debunks Jesse Jackson
Pro-Choice Bigots Nat Hentoff debunks pro abortion arguments (this is particularly good)
Camille Paglia debunks Feminism
Andrew Sullivan.com good debunker; try one of his articles or interviews

Relevant Links:

Skeptic.com -check the news area

Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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