The Scamtific Method

Once again on scientific method – this time comparing it to pseudoscientific method. Used by those who wish to promote their scams relying on the deserved reputation of science – but not its methodology. Guy Chapman calls this the Scamtific method in a post at his blog Guy Chapman’s Blahg (see The Scamtific Method(s)).

As he points out:

Most people are aware of the scientific method, thought by many to be the crowning achievement of the human race. Respect for scientists is not what it was, something the world of SCAM both reinforces and abuses (“scientists don’t know everything, this might not be nonsense, therefore they have no right to criticise it” and variants thereof), but the scientific method is held in high regard even by those who distrust the white labcoat, because it so obviously works.  . . .”

” . . . We live today in the age of Endarkenment, when fraudsters, hucksters, delusional quacks and charlatans of every kind seek to undermine science and medicine – ironically capitalising on the success of the very field they attack. But they still want the trappings of the scientific method. So they use what I would term the Scamtific method.”

The scamtific method

“The scamtific method says, I have an idea, I conduct a test to confirm that idea. I can ignore results that do not confirm it. I do not have to prove the merit of my idea, anyone who wants to challenge it must prove it wrong. My idea is considered equal to scientific ideas because to do otherwise would be disrespectful. You may not demand that I prove my case. Ideas are strengthened by the credentials (bogus or otherwise) of those who support them. Any idea must be given the benefit of the doubt, even if the doubt is manufactured; it remains true until proven false to the satisfaction of the proponent.

The scamtific method is, of course, guaranteed to result in confirmation bias. Indeed, cognitive dissonance will make any other result highly improbable. It’s also perfect for policy based evidence making.”

He contrast this with the scientific method as he describes it:

“The scientific method says, I have an idea, let me think of an honest test that would disprove my idea if it were wrong. If the idea passes the honest test then the idea is strengthened. Other people can also test my idea. If even one test convincingly refutes the idea then it is wrong. Where there is ambiguity or doubt, the idea is not proven. If it is not possible to devise a test that would prove the idea wrong, then the idea is a theory not a fact. A theory is strengthened by the number of tests and other work that support it. Gravity is a theory, as is evolutionary biology. Phlogiston was a theory but was refuted. The corpuscle theory of light, believed by Newton, was also wrong albeit with some interesting side-orders of partially right. Nobody’s idea is taken on trust. Einstein said that the universe was deterministic and not probabilistic (“God does not play dice”). He was wrong.”

Guy mentions areas like homoeopathy as ones that practice scamtific methods. But it’s obviously much wider than that – I am sure you can think of your own examples.

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59 responses to “The Scamtific Method

  1. I love the phrase “policy-based evidence making”. The purpose of a consultation is not to do what people want, but to point to the people who agree with you, even if they are only 1% of the respondents.

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  2. Bean Counter

    Climate change, obviously

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  3. Bean counter – the timidity of commenting in sentence fragments suggests that you either have no idea or no confidence in your idea.

    Why bother?

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  4. Bean Counter

    Good question Ken.

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  5. love this…”“The scientific method says, I have an idea, let me think of an honest test that would disprove my idea if it were wrong. ”

    mmm… let’s see, prozac, vioxx, celebrex… yep the scientific method can sometimes be scamtific

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  6. Ron, you need to explain yourself. I recognize the word prozac for example. What point are you making about prozac?

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  7. Positive prozac stduies were published… negative studies were not… so meta-analyses showed positive results… since negative studies have been brought to light meta-analyses show SSRis’ to be not much different to placebo…

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  8. Ron, I am aware of the differential performance of prozac as indicated by research. There does not seem to be much effect beyond placebo for mild depression but there is a significant effect for deeper depression.

    Unfortunaty because of prejudices about depression all sorts of unreliable stories get promoted.

    The scientific approach enables us to make sense of a complex situation

    Surely thus is much better than just going with one’s own naive prejudice and claiming that science has not yet “caught up.” that is irresponsible but this is what happens with scams like homeopathy.

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  9. Richard Christie

    Ron, You confuse and conflate the scientific method with fraudulent business practices

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  10. But Richard, isn’t that the scam? “The scamtific method says, I have an idea, I conduct a test to confirm that idea. I can ignore results that do not confirm it. [exctly what happened with Prozac/SSRIs] I do not have to prove the merit of my idea, anyone who wants to challenge it must prove it wrong. My idea is considered equal to scientific ideas because to do otherwise would be disrespectful…” The Scamtific method hides behind the scientific method…

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  11. Ken & Richard, British Skeptic, Professor David Colquhoun is on public record that depression “is the subject of disgraceful fraud by the pharmaceutical industry. It is (or should be) a matter for the police not for medicine.”

    This fraud is through Scamtific method applied in the name of scientific research.

    http://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/11/03/recaring-curing

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  12. Ron, you are ignoring the fact that we know how that meta analysis problem arose. It was bad methodology – or at least inadequate methodology for the original naive interpretation.

    Now we have a better understanding of the efficacy of Prozac. And we got that from continuing and improving the scientific approach. Not by giving it up and relying in prejudice.

    In the end the results that didn’t support the naive analysis were not ignored.

    How else do you know of that problem? Surely it’s only through the scientific approach?

    The scamtific method does hide behind the deserved respect for science – that was the very point I made.

    That’s why it is a scam. In the end it never stands up.

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  13. Ron, have you ever, or any of your family, been clinically depressed?

    To claim that the victims of this affliction are fraudsters is really backward and actually inhumane.

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  14. Richard Christie

    Ron ,your complaint arises from when the scientific method is abused.
    I can only conclude you endorse the method.

    Ken, Scientology has obsession with psycho-pharmaceuticals, it’s captives often level such claims.

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  15. Ken, who said the victims of depression are fraudsters??? I certainly didn’t. There was nothing wrong with the original meta-analysis… what was a scam was that the negative SSRI studies were never published so only the positive ones which were known about were included in the meta-analysis.

    Richard, are you suggesting I’m a scientologist? RATFL… that is scamtific!!!!

    My point is that the ‘scientific method’ rarely exists in the real world. I don’t know any scientist who has objectively set out to prove their theory wrong… quite the opposite… most I know actually argue till the cows come home that their theory is right and will vilify often anyone who disagrees… or even raises simple logical questions…. suddenly the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t do scamtific research, but might be guilty of fraud… what’s the diff?

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  16. You raised the question of fraud, Ron, I raise the problem of the widespread stigmatisation of mental illness which I think intrudes into the questions of anti depression use and over-prescription. (Currently my partner is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer – I am aware that the efficacy of the treatment is low, but I don’t call it a scam or a fraud. I am thankful for what we have got and am not attracted to anti-scientific methods. Unfortunately metal illness seems to raise less empathy than cancer).

    The non-publication of negative results is a real problem in scientific research – but who said this process is perfect. We live in a real world and the scientific process is a very messy one (have a look at my other post Scientific knowledge – reliable but not certain for the crossword metaphor of the process).

    The non-publication, and the naive use of the meta-analysis are problems, but they are not scams, like homoeopathy. Those problems can be fixed – and they were for prozac as you yourself evidence.

    Similarly over-prescription and the profit motive for pharmaceutical companies are social problems (not problems of scientific method) but the are not scientific scams.

    Some people are really just too loose with words like “scam” and “fraud” – and I object to them being used to discredit scientific approaches. Let’s keep them for the real scams and frauds.

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  17. Richard Christie

    love this…”“The scientific method says, I have an idea, let me think of an honest test that would disprove my idea if it were wrong. ”

    mmm… let’s see, prozac, vioxx, celebrex… yep the scientific method can sometimes be scamtific

    Ron, you come into the discussion implying that the scientific method is flawed, yet you still haven’t put up any evidence for your insinuation, except for examples of where the scientific method hasn’t been followed.

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  18. I’m still don’t know what exactly is Ron’s claim.
    Spell it out.
    Back it up with evidence.

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  19. Ken, I wish your partner well. I appreciate that efficacy for treatments for some cancers are low, but I think you would agree if a series of negative studies were kept out of site for commercial reasons that would constitute fraud by omission? Wouldn’t it? Doesn’t that fit your definition of scamtific?

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  20. No, Ron. If a company suppresses information for financial reasons that is a serious problem, maybe even fraud, but not a scientific one.

    I had a problem when doing research with a company wishing to suppress our findings. They used the threat of legal action to get our managers to order our results not be published

    That was certainly a commercial and management misdemeanor – but it was not a scientific scam. Our science was good – the failure was elsewhere.

    Similarly with Prozac any failings of the companies or prescribers should be sheeted home to them – not the researchers. After all the later have shown the situations where Prozac can be recommended and to discredit that by calling it a scam or fraud us to deny the suitable patients help. And the benefit of the science.

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  21. OK, so are we saying that if the science isn’t published because of commercial duress then any results of meta-analysis is sound because the absence of the negative science was not the fault of the scientific method?

    Would it be fair to say that scientific method was compromised by commercial interests?

    What about when good scientists remain silent to fraudulent commercial practices? Is that scamtific method by omission?

    Let’s put it another way. Is being a party to with-holding scientific outputs under duress acceptable within the realms of the scientific method?

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  22. OK, so are we saying…Would it be fair to say…What about when…Let’s put it another way….

    Make up your mind how you want to put it.
    Preferably before we all die of old age.
    What is your claim? Spit it out.

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  23. Meta analysis is always problematic and of course is dependent on how efficiently the input data is collected. Sensible use of such analysis must realistically appreciate that.

    We were good scientists, with good science of use to the industry but we remained silent because we were specifically threatened with dismissal. Are we now to be accused of a scam? That would be silly.

    This sort of thing probably occurs more often than we suspect. In our case of course our information couldn’t be suppressed for ever. But even several years later when one of my colleagues wrote a book covering that period he was eventually forced to withdraw and destroy unsold copies by legal action.

    I don’t think we disagree that these sort of things go on – just about calling it a scientific scam. Rather than a dirty business practice.

    For obvious reasons I reject the blame being put on the scientists for such commercial behavior. And in the case of Prozac I think people have been too willing to accept a naive interpretation because of prejudice about mental illness. We now know Prozac does help some people – let them have it free of guilt.

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  24. Ken, this is most revealing confession which highlights that the scientific method may well be ‘pure and innocent’, but the realities of the real world means its outputs are as corrupt and/or corruptible through omission or commission as any other.

    “We were good scientists, with good science of use to the industry but we remained silent because we were specifically threatened with dismissal…”

    In other words the scientific method is corrupted by ‘good scientists’ who put preservation of self-interest above the scientific method; ie, retention of one’s income is more important than truth…

    “…. But even several years later when one of my colleagues wrote a book covering that period he was eventually forced to withdraw and destroy unsold copies by legal action. I don’t think we disagree that these sort of things go on – just about calling it a scientific scam. Rather than a dirty business practice….”

    Maybe it’s both. It certainly highlights that the scientific method is subservient to self-preservation… ie, it is false to lay claim to the scientific method as being “the crowning achievement of the human race… “how ridiculous.

    ” . . . We live today in the age of Endarkenment, when fraudsters, hucksters, delusional quacks and charlatans of every kind seek to undermine science and medicine – ironically capitalising on the success of the very field they attack. But they still want the trappings of the scientific method. So they use what I would term the Scamtific method.”

    That surely explains your sponsor’s and bosses actions and the scientists actions in putting self-preservation above truth. I am aware of the scientific method being scuttled at Auckland University Medical School when pharma interests threatened to withdraw $8 million worth of research funding if the varsity proceeded with a study of selenium food supplements. I had a series of papers in a pharma rag scrapped when Parke Davis as it was then told the editor they not be placing any more ads with them if they ever published any of my work again… despite profuse apologies from the editor, “she had no choice but to accede to blackmail.”

    “The scamtific method says, I have an idea, I conduct a test to confirm that idea. I can ignore results that do not confirm it.”

    That’s exactly what you’ve described… replace ignore with hide…

    “And in the case of Prozac I think people have been too willing to accept a naive interpretation because of prejudice about mental illness. We now know Prozac does help some people – let them have it free of guilt.”

    Surely this applies equally to homeopathic and other so-called alternative remedies. Even if the benefits are the pacebo effect, as is likely the case with most who ‘benefit’ from prozac and homeopathic remedies, why not stop hounding them and let them have it free of guilt?

    for the record, I have never used homeopathic remedies, nor prozac or promoted or advocated use of either.

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  25. Richard Christie

    love this…”“The scientific method says, I have an idea, let me think of an honest test that would disprove my idea if it were wrong. ”

    mmm… let’s see, prozac, vioxx, celebrex… yep the scientific method can sometimes be scamtific

    Ron, you come into the discussion implying that the scientific method is flawed, yet you still haven’t put up any evidence for your insinuation, except for examples of where the scientific method hasn’t been followed.

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  26. Richard Christie

    Without prejudice to my previous comment..

    If you are going to cite personal anecdote you’ll have to do a lot better than

    I had a series of papers in a pharma rag scrapped when Parke Davis as it was then told the editor they not be placing any more ads with them if they ever published any of my work again

    if you are to assail peer review, let alone pulling down the scientific method.

    When, and in what “rag”?

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  27. Richard… RATFL… Read Ken’s confession… and who’s been talking about the peer review process and literature… that’s another whole can of worms which also brings shame on science… especially medical science. Current publication practices may distort science… eg… http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050201

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  28. Ron – that is just dishonest and personally offensive. I have not “confessed” anything of the sort. I have pointed out a commercial practice that is relatively common. You are blaming honest scientists for this – covering up for the real problem. As I said dishonest.

    Open your eyes. Every day you see science being misrepresented and distorted for commercial reasons. It’s called advertising. It’s a fact of life. Unfortunately there is an even worse distortion going on – that done for ideological reasons. Practiced by people who wish to discredit human investigation and promote anti-science ideas.

    Don’t blame the scientific method for that.

    You have contributed no evidence of corruption of scientific method – none at all. Just attempted to shift the blame away from the commercial dishonest practices. Why?

    Charging me with thinking “retention of one’s income is more important than truth” is slanderous and unsupported. When have I denied the truth?

    What about some criticism of the manufacturers and managers who actually suppressed information.

    And stop your silly dramatization – the fact is that employers do exert this sort of power. They actually can legally suppress information – legally they own it. And the law can be and is used to this effect when profits appear threatened.

    It is childish to turn these facts around and accuse honest employees of promoting a scam. You describe the situation imposed on me and my colleagues as “scientific method is subservient to self-preservation”. Well where is your support? There was no change in our scientific method. We produced our report and our managers suppressed it.

    Now if we had changed our findings to satisfy commercial interests rather than correspond with reality that would have been corruption of scientific method. It didn’t happen.

    I obviously can’t comment on the Auckland example – but again it seems like commercial malpractice – not corruption of scientific method.

    And what is it with your promotion of homeopathy and resentment towards Prozac. Sure homeopathy offers nothing more than placebo. And this is the same for Prozac and mild depression. But Prozac has been shown to help in many cases of serious depression. It’s obviously something that medics can consider in treatment. It is unscientific, ignoring the facts, to naively extend it’s lack of real effect for mild cases to more serious cases.

    I suggest you are yourself attempting to deny that tool by misrepresenting the actual science in this case. And them blaming the scientific method by calling it a scam.

    What is your motive? When commercial interests distort or ignore evidence you won’t criticize them. Instead you accuse the scientists of ignoring evidence not fitting their bias.

    Unfortunately that is a human failing and scientists are also human. But the scientific method of validating ideas against reality and the social nature of the scientific endeavor is basically why science works and is so powerful. It helps overcome, reduce the influence, of human failings.

    It really is a crowning achievement for humans.

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  29. Here’s the silliness of your position, Ron. You describe a situation that happened to you which is basically similar to what happened to me. And I know of other examples. In all these cases commercial interests interfered with publication, dissemination of research findings. In nonr of these cases do I see any scientific scam or distortion of the scientific method. The interference has come at the dissemination stage.

    Now should I be childish and call your story a “confession.”? Or should I be adult about it and sympathise with your plight by criticizing the real villians – the commercial interests?

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  30. Richard Christie

    Ron, providing some evidence for your argument will serve you better than laughing like a hyena.

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  31. Ken says I have contributed no evidence of corruption of scientific method – none at all. Just attempted to shift the blame away from the commercial dishonest practices…. the reality is that in the real world with competitive funding, with commercially driven science it is impossible to separate the scientific method and commercial interests… The scientific method is not some sterile/perfect system… it is a tool used by human beings… good people, even good scientists, such as Ken, become caught up in commercial corruption in order to protect their own interests…

    The scientific method isn’t some belief system… or is it? Bold statements, such as, “Most people are aware of the scientific method, thought by many to be the crowning achievement of the human race,” are more akin with belief systems.

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  32. Richard Christie

    The scientific method isn’t some belief system… or is it? Bold statements, such as, “Most people are aware of the scientific method, thought by many to be the crowning achievement of the human race,” are more akin with belief systems.

    Careful, with talk like that, you might wake up Cedric.

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  33. Again, Ron, this is silly and slanderous – without justification: “scientists, such as Ken, become caught up in commercial corruption in order to protect their own interests… ”

    As silly and slanderous as some accusing you as becoming “caught up in commercial corruption in order to protect their own interests” based on your story of the Auckland situation.

    Again you are diverting attention from the real problem by slandering a method which helps us pay attention to the real world rather than personal bias and commercial interest. The scientific method.

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  34. Ken, the scientific method is an inanimate theoretical tool… that’s all… it can’t be slandered…. it has no feelings…

    Pray tell. How would you separate the real world of personal bias and commercial interest from the use of the scientific method?

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  35. I look forward to your response, but won’t be contributing any more as explained by email.

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  36. What a tool this Ron is.
    It’s just idle babble.

    The scientific method isn’t some belief system… or is it?

    Are you making a claim about something…or not?
    Hmm.
    Let’s all ponder this most seriously.
    (yawn)

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  37. Yes I agree, *yawn*

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  38. Ron, your last question was really pointless. I think our different positions are clear from our comments. Happy to leave things stand as they are.

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  39. Richard Christie

    Oh well, Ron had an arguable point that scientific method is sometimes not followed to in some areas of society and industry (in his eyes – often not followed) but I don’t know why he insisted on equating that observation with it being a flaw in the method.

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  40. I am actually sickened by the likes of Ron who smear honest scientists trying to show that greenhouse gas emissions are causing catastrophic changes to our climate system.

    Does he not realise that levels of CO2 are unprecedented in thousands of years?

    Guys like Ron are playing Russian Roulette with our environment.
    Does Ron have children or grandchildren?

    Probably not, or at least none that he cares about.

    It sickens me to the stomach.

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  41. I am actually sickened by the likes of Ron who smear honest scientists trying to show that greenhouse gas emissions are causing catastrophic changes to our climate system.

    Ron didn’t mention greenhouse gas emissions.

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  42. Ron didn’t mention greenhouse gas emissions.

    Oh yeah but we can read the subtext eh?
    Are you blind Cedric? Can’t you sniff them out?

    Really?

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  43. Oh yeah but we can read the subtext eh?

    Who is this “we” you speak of?
    I don’t know you from a bar of soap.
    Your ability to read subtext may be very poor indeed.

    Ron didn’t mention greenhouse gas emissions.
    You did.

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  44. Well why don’t we ask Ron then eh?

    There is clearly an agenda here. Just sad you can’t see it…..

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  45. Well why don’t we ask Ron then eh?

    Who is this “we”? It’s only you.

    If you want to ask Ron something then go ahead and ask him by yourself.
    No need to wait for an invitation.

    There is clearly an agenda here. Just sad you can’t see it…..

    It’s not hard to understand.
    Ron didn’t mention greenhouse gas emissions.
    You did.
    Only you.

    You sound…concerned.

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  46. Someone suggested I have a look at recent posts. Michel, you are dead wrong on all three counts… I have children… I have grand-children, and I don’t deny the earth is warming. Your contributions are scamtific!

    Cedric, thanks for supporting a tool! :-)

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  47. How do you support a tool?

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  48. Well why don’t we ask Ron then eh?

    If you want to ask Ron something then go ahead and ask him by yourself.

    (…time passes…)

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  49. Ok, Ron, how do you support a tool?

    You thanked Cedric for supporting a tool, so I am wondering what you mean by this.

    Ron?
    Are you there?

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  50. Oh sorry Ron, I mistook you for someone else, my bad.
    I didn’t mean to insult you

    By the way, how do you support a tool?

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  51. Ron.

    How do you support a tool?

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  52. Hi Michel

    If you read Cedric’s responses it becomes self evident.

    Ron

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  53. If I read Cedric’s responses, it becomes self evident

    Thanks for supporting a tool.
    You are a tool?

    Are you claiming that you are a tool Ron?

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  54. Michel, you are an interesting poster… if only for your gift to motivate people to get exercise by shaking their head in wonder.

    You need to stop trying to read between the lines… you have a proven track record of screwing up when you do… can I suggest you take an interest in something else before Cedric jumps to conclusions and calls you a tool, too?

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  55. Well, if I were called a tool, fair enough.However, Cedric wasn’t supporting me, he was supporting you.

    Therefore, the statement “thanks for supporting a tool” doesn’t make any sense at all.

    I am confused.

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  56. I guess one could argue that Cedric was defending facts… he wouldn’t have defended me for the sake of if… the fact is you made a tool of yourself by accusing me of saying things I never said… Cedric was pointing out to you that you had made the claims up… they were false… the claims had no substance… can I suggest you let sleeping dogs lie… I think it would be fair to say that we all agree that you are confused… let’s leave it there, shall we?

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  57. Hmm, curious.

    Oh well, some questions remain unanswered in life.
    I now have to go through life not knowing the meaning of “thanks for supporting a tool”

    It will torment me for eternity.

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  58. Don’t waste any energy over it… otherwise the ice-caps, glaciers, and land-locked ice sheets might melt and get you in deeper water… even hot water!

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  59. My concern for the phrase “thanks for supporting a tool” will cause the ice caps to melt?

    I hadn’t considered that scenario.

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