Anyone who engages in public commentary and debate is often tempted to color facts to better fit his position, to overstate his case, or to do something which might be intellectually not-quite-honest. In a post titled Ten Signs of Intellectual Dishonesty Mike Gene lists ten good rules to follow when participating with others in an exchange of ideas.
Here are three of the ten with his explanation:
Be willing to publicly acknowledge where your argument is weak. Almost all arguments have weak spots, but those who are trying to sell an ideology will have great difficulty with this point and would rather obscure or downplay any weak points.
Be willing to publicly acknowledge when you are wrong. Those selling an ideology likewise have great difficulty admitting to being wrong, as this undercuts the rhetoric and image that is being sold. You get small points for admitting to being wrong on trivial matters and big points for admitting to being wrong on substantive points. You lose big points for failing to admit being wrong on something trivial.
Demonstrate consistency. A clear sign of intellectual dishonesty is when someone extensively relies on double standards. Typically, an excessively high standard is applied to the perceived opponent(s), while a very low standard is applied to the ideologues' allies.
My own experience has been that even when I think I'm doing the best I can to abide by the rules Mike describes I sometimes find myself teetering close to the boundary nonetheless. Luckily, I have friends and students among my readers who are not shy about calling me on it when they think I've transgressed. Sometimes I think they're wrong, but sometimes not.
I think it's wise to keep in mind that none of us is perfect and to watch carefully how we express ourselves in discussions on matters we feel strongly about. I've printed out Mike's Ten Signs of Intellectual Dishonesty and have them posted over my computer. Maybe it would be a good idea for all of us to do that.RLC