Epistemic Closure

From an interesting blog post by Julian Sanchez:

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!)

Why is that interesting?  Or, more precisely, why is that interesting to me?  Because it puts a name — epistemic closure — to something I’ve been thinking about.  Something I think about almost every time I check into my Honda Goldwing motorcycle forum.

I signed onto the forum shortly after buying my motorcycle in 2001.  Since then I’ve seen about every crazy-grandpa-with-an-AOL-account hoax email ever circulated, from the dying kid who wants birthday cards to the gangbangers flashing high beams at oncoming cars at night and killing anyone who flashes back, from Obama’s secret Kenyan birthplace to Obama’s secret plan to take our guns.

Almost always, when grandpa posts one of these whoppers, a saner forum member will post a link to Snopes (also known as the Urban Legends Reference Pages), where internet myths, legends, and deliberate falsehoods are debunked.  It almost always kills the discussion, and for grandpa, that can’t be much fun.  Who wants to have a bucket of cold water poured over his favorite nutball theory?

So I’ve been wondering when they were going to get around to Snopes.  Wonder no more — they’ve finally found a way to discredit and ignore the fact-checkers.  And guess what?  It takes the form of a crazy-grandpa-with-an-AOL-account email, posted to the Honda Goldwing forum by one of the crazy grandpas.  Perfect epistemic closure!


For the past few years (http://WWW.snopescom/has positioned itself, or others have labeled it, as the ‘tell-all final word’ on any comment, claim and email. But for several years people tried to find out who exactly was behindsnopes.Com. Only recently did Wikipedia get to the bottom of it – kinda makes you wonder what they were hiding. Well, finally we know. It is run by a husband and wife team – that’s right, no big office of investigators and researchers, no team of lawyers. It’s just a mom-and-pop operation that began as a hobby. David and Barbara Mikkelson in the San Fernando Valley of California started the website about 13 years ago and they have no formal background or experience in investigative research. After a few years it gained popularity believing it to be unbiased and neutral, but over the past couple of years people started asking questions who was behind it and did they have a selfish motivation?

The reason for the questions – or skepticisms – is a result of snopes.Comclaiming to have the bottom line facts to certain questions or issue when in fact they have been proven wrong. Also, there were criticisms the Mikkelsons were not really investigating and getting to the ‘true’ bottom of various issues.

A few months ago, when my State Farm agent Bud Gregg in Mandeville hoisted a political sign referencing Barack Obama and made a big splash across the Internet, ‘supposedly’ the Mikkelson’s claim to have researched this issue before posting their findings on snopes.Com. In their statement they claimed the corporate office of State Farm pressured Gregg into taking down the sign, when in fact nothing of the sort ‘ever’ took place. I personally contacted David Mikkelson (and he replied back to me) thinking he would want to get to the bottom of this and I gave him Bud Gregg’s contact phone numbers – and Bud was going to give him phone numbers to the big exec’s at State Farm in Illinois who would have been willing to speak with him about it. He never called Bud. In fact, I learned from Bud Gregg that no one fromsnopes.Comever contacted anyone with State Farm.

Yet, snopes.Comissued a statement as the ‘final factual word’ on the issue as if they did all their homework and got to the bottom of things – not!

Then it has been learned the Mikkelson’s are very Democratic (party) and extremely liberal. As we all now know from this presidential election, liberals have a purpose agenda to discredit anything that appears to be conservative. There has been much criticism lately over the Internet with people pointing out the Mikkelson’s liberalism revealing itself in their website findings. Gee, what a shock?

So, I say this now to everyone who goes to snopes.Comto get what they think to be the bottom line fact ‘proceed with caution.’ Take what it says at face value and nothing more. Use it only to lead you to their references where you can link to and read the sources for yourself. Plus, you can always Google a subject and do the research yourself. It now seems apparent that’s all the Mikkelson’s do. After all, I can personally vouch from my own experience for their ‘not’ fully looking into things.http://http//www.wikipedia.org//

I have found this to be true also! Many videos of Obama I tried to verify on Snopes and they said they were False. Then they gave their liberal slant! I have suspected some problems with snopes for some time now, but I have only caught them in half-truths. If there is any subjectivity they do an immediate full left rudder.

Truth or Fiction, is a better source for verification, in my opinion.

I have recently discovered that Snopes.Comis owned by a flaming liberal and this man is in the tank for Obama. There are many things they have listed on their site as a hoax and yet you can go to You tube yourself and find the video of Obama actually saying these things. So you see, you cannot and should not trustSnopes.Com, ever for anything that remotely resembles truth! I don’t even trust them to tell me if email chains are hoaxes anymore.

A few conservative speakers on Myspace told me about Snopes.Com. A few months ago and I took it upon myself to do a little research to find out if it was true. Well, I found out for myself that it is true. Anyway just FYI please don’t useSnopes.Comanymore for fact checking and make your friends aware of their political leanings as well. Many people still thinkSnopes.Comis neutral and they can be trusted as factual. We need to make sure everyone is aware that that is a hoax in itself.

Thank you,
Alan Strong

Alan Strong CEO/Chairman
Commercial Programming Systems, Inc.
4400 Coldwater Canyon Ave. Suite
200 Studio City , CA. 91604-5039

Now, mind you, I hadn’t yet read Julian Sanchez’ blog post, and didn’t have a name for epistemic closure. But I knew it when I saw it, and posted this in reply to the anti-Snopes message on the Goldwing forum:

I don’t believe in Snopes because they say the things I want to believe in are false. Plus the couple who run Snopes are Democrats. I don’t believe in global warming because scientists in general are leftists, and Al Gore is definitely a Democrat. Plus that volcano in Iceland is going to cool things down.

Except . . . Iceland is socialist, which means they’re a bunch of pinkos too. So the volcano can’t be true either.

But they’re showing pictures of it on TV.

That’s easy. The media is liberal.

See? You don’t have to believe anything you don’t want to!

I could go back and post something about epistemic closure, but I think I’ll leave well enough alone. Someone would just accuse me of being an egghead, and eggheads, as we all know, are commies.

But before I go, I have to share this forum member response to my post:

You calling me a racist?

I rest my case.

Update (4/21/10): I posted a link to this entry on Facebook, where someone commented on the odd spacing that occurs throughout the Alan Strong email whenever snopes.com is mentioned.  Did you notice that too?  I think it’s because the author didn’t want “smart” web browsers and email readers to make snopes.com linkable . . . in short, he didn’t want anyone clicking on it.  Notice that when he mentioned a site he approved of, Truth or Fiction, he spelled out a complete, clickable URL.

By the way, in case it isn’t blindingly obvious, every accusation in the Alan Strong email is false.  You can get the lowdown on that at FactCheck.  Unless, of course, the editors of FactCheck do not share your own political views, in which case you have my blessing to believe everything Alan Strong says.

© 2010 – 2011, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.


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