Ill-Conceived Notions

An experiment in digital humanities

A mixture of hard facts, anecdotal evidence, quoted experts and generalised speculations are offered by each creator. In some cases, the creators pose their feelings about the facts, or push feelings founded in facts, though it is not always clear which is the case. Facts are used to frame what the creator believes is the most necessary information to understand, versus what can be glossed over or broadly generalised. Molyneux’s facts most often center on key dates, locations and specific figures, where as ContraPoints offers definitions and descriptions of key concepts.

Going by the speech alone, it can seem that ContraPoints and Molyneux equally omit appropriate citations and sources from their videos, since Molyneux does not name his sources (some are in the video description) and ContraPoints offers most references or examples on-screen without directly saying they are being displayed. I include on-screen citations as a note for ContraPoints because it is important to show the difference between the demonstrated rigour of investigations by the two. For example, in ‘Incels’ she makes what seems a vague statement about how incels are portrayed negatively in the media, but has images of headlines from The Guardian, Elle, Glamour and The Star which exemplify this (2:21). As contrast, ‘Mandela’ contains only vaguely referenced sources, and it is not specified where he is reading from during the video.

Molyneux does offer a visual reference in ‘Crusades’ for the size of the Muslim caliphate, but there is no source for the map, nor does he go into any specifics, simply remarking “that’s quite a lot of non-grey [Muslim-controlled lands] in the map here” (13:12). His listed facts in this narrative include the years of battles involving Muslims in Europe, the names of Christian capitals with some of their leaders (Emperor Tervel 5:23; Emperor Aurelion 7:52; Pope John X 9:30), and listing acts of violence and treachery that Muslims inflicted on Europe. At 17:32 he asserts “the idea that the Christian crusades were some unprovoked random aggression on behalf of bloodthirsty Christians is madness; it’s blowback for 400 years of ever-expanding ever-invading Islam.” This fact is recurrent in each description of Muslim-Christian battles, as details are only offered on the side he feels needs justification.

ContraPoints frames many of her facts as information that is commonly known, or information that is true but does not need much detail. At 13:12 in ‘Incels’, she references the definition of ‘catastrophizing’ by psychotherapists, but there is no information of where this definition originated, how valid this definition is, and how accepted the theory is as a whole. ContraPoints tends to include references to individuals or sources that are directly relevant to the topic she is discussing (in ‘Peterson’, the Cathy Newman interview at 2:03), and even some philosophers that have potentially relevant insights (in ‘Peterson’, Judith Butler 18:47), but it’s unclear why she chooses not to do this for some concepts. She is clearly capable of researching and articulating ideas that add depth to her inquiry, and presenting these references on-screen or with direct quotes, but for more general ideas the audience does not always see where she is drawing her knowledge from. Her content is closer to an offering of organised speculations than it is an insistence of truth, but that does not dismiss these occasions where suggested readings could help her audience understand her reasoning.

The needs for justification are equally important to both creators, but sought differently. To Molyneux, names, dates and statistics are the foundation of his perspective. To ContraPoints, facts are not as solid as they seem, so understanding a broader context is more important in building a theory.

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