Manufactured controversy

People love controversies, don’t they? There’s nothing like a good controversy to stir up people’s emotions. But what if you want to stir up emotions on a topic that isn’t controversial? That’s easy: just pretend it’s controversial! This is a popular thing to do on Facebook. There are always people trying to get others to like their page or share their picture in order to drive up ad revenue or visitors to their web site, and making the picture controversial will always work.

I saw one the other day saying something like “I’m proud to wear a poppy to honour our servicemen and I don’t care who that upsets!” Who’s upset about it? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being upset by the wearing of poppies. But there was a web address to a Facebook page at the bottom of the picture.

Carrie Underwood is prettyAnother was the one about atheists wanting to ban a Carrie Underwood song because it (gasp) talked about God. There have been headlines like “Carrie Underwood’s brand new song making atheists mad as hell” or “Atheists outraged by Carrie Underwood’s latest song” or “Atheists viciously attack Carrie Underwood’s new song, want it banned“. No we don’t. Go ahead ā€“ find one atheist who wants to ban the song. Even if we did, what reason could we possibly give for banning it? There is a whole genre of Christian music which includes countless artists and probably millions of songs. No atheists are trying to ban them and no atheist is concerned about this one song. We’re not outraged at all ā€“ but you know who is? The Christians who believed this crap. As a commenter on one of those articles said, maybe it should have been “Carrie Underwood’s new song making Christians mad as hell”. But all of this “controversy” has certainly raised the profile of the song, hasn’t it? There are probably tons of Christians out there who are buying the song and/or album just to spite us horrible atheist bastards. Well played, Ms. Underwood, well played.

The vast majority of scientists know that global climate change is happening and is caused by humans. But a small yet vocal minority of people don’t want to believe that for whatever reason, so they make it a controversy: “Is global warming happening or not? If it is, are we to blame? It’s a scientific controversy!” No it’s not. The scientific consensus is that it’s happening and we’re to blame. Consensus doesn’t mean 100% of scientists, but it does mean that this is the generally accepted position. There is no controversy.

Same as evolution, which is also supported by a scientific consensus. In fact, the vast majority of scientists would say we know evolution by natural selection is happening, to the extent that we can ever know anything in science. We can never prove things in science, only disprove them, but bucketloads of evidence supports evolution and no evidence contradicts it. If our current model of evolution is wrong, it ain’t wrong by much. The whole “evolution vs. creationism” controversy isn’t a controversy at all.

You want a real controversy? You need two things: first, don’t make shit up. Second, avoid science altogether. Should abortion / prostitution / marijuana be legal? Should the death penalty be abandoned? Is Obama a good President? The science says… nothing. Find a topic on which the pro or con arguments are entirely based on opinions. Now we have real controversy.


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