In Defense of Shilling

WHY MY COLLEAGUES ARE IDIOTS

– Rant # 163 – 

IN DEFENSE OF SHILLING

For the 312th time – yes, I decided to start counting – I have no interest whatsoever in weighing in on the global warming debate. Nor, for that matter, in the debate that seems to have replaced that debate, namely the one over whether there is a debate, though I have to say I am looking forward to the debate I’m sure is coming next, namely the one over whether there’s a debate over whether there’s a debate over … Damn! Now I’ve forgotten what the original debate is about.

Doesn’t matter. Cuz whatever it’s about, what I do remember is that each side is accusing the other of being shills. Those who argue against – ah yes, now I remember, it’s global warming – are shills for Big Oil. And those who argue for – by which, correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t meant they want global warming but rather they’re claiming that it’s happening – are in the service of the publishing industry. Apparently sales from what the industry calls its Chicken Little shelves have been through the roof, with no end in sight. And/or they’re in the service of each other, by which is meant that the peer review process, both for publications and grants, has become a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours.

Now then, I have no opinion on whether one side does more shilling than the other, and if so which. But I’m a firm believer in where there’s smoke there’s fire. So by the sheer volume of the accusations being flung thither and fro, I’m pretty sure there’s a fair amount of it going on. But that’s not my beef. My beef is with the suggestion that’s given the two sides common cause, namely that there’s something morally suspect about being a shill.

Those who believe this aren’t just prudes. They’re hypocrites. They’re hypocrites because they’re pretty damn selective about the shilling they condemn versus the shilling they take for granted as just an unremarkable-because-necessary component of a free and democratic society.

For example, they don’t condemn Matt Damon or George Clooney for endorsing Nespresso, notwithstanding neither would be caught dead sipping such swill. They don’t condemn Vince Shlomi, the over-the-top TV spokesman for Sham Wow and Slap Chop. They don’t condemn lawyers who defend clients they know to be guilty as hell. They don’t condemn politicians who couldn’t possibly believe the scurrilous things they say about their opponents. They don’t condemn the wingman who talks up his buddy to try to get him that blind date. They don’t condemn phone sex lines. They don’t condemn undercover cops. They don’t condemn canned laughter. They don’t condemn Bill Clinton standing behind Hilary, clapping and nodding like a bobble-head on a dashboard, when in fact he hasn’t listened to a word she’s said for years. They don’t condemn ventriloquists. They don’t condemn professional mourners. And they don’t condemn the prostitute who assures her client, in the throws of faux orgasm, that “Oh baby, that feels so good!”

Why, then, should they condemn the post-doc who needs to convince his new colleagues he’s one of their peeps so they’ll back his application for that NSERC grant? Or the also-ran who couldn’t get a post-doc and so he took a job with Big Pharm because he already has a family to support. Or the senior scientist who’s just lost his entire life savings in a nasty divorce and now he’s looking to do just a tad better in his retirement than a pantry of cat food.

There but for fortune go you or I, buddy. And come to think of it, who are you shilling for?

In any event, it seems to me that a charge of shilling is just an ad hominem circumstantial. Let’s suppose I don’t believe that p, but I assert that p nonetheless because I’ve been paid to assert that p. Now if you believe that p just because I’ve asserted that p, that just makes you an idiot. Presumably, then, you’ll want to hear my argument for p, and you’ll want to evaluate that argument. Will any part of that evaluation hang on my having been paid to assert that p? If so, that just makes you an idiot.

I have colleagues down the hall – most on one side of the global warming debate but a few on the other – who think they’ve scored some kind of three-pointer by charging their opponents with shilling. That’s the 163rd reason my colleagues are idiots. Tomorrow I’ll offer you the 164th.

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