The Gaseous Truth in Syria

As I sometimes do, I engaged in some correspondence on a matter of politics and war recently. Specifically it involved an individual who was promoting the idea that the United States has "admitted" that it has no evidence that the Syrian government used Sarin against civilians in 2013 and 2017 [1]. I pointed out that this was a misrepresentation, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis, that this was in reference to the most recent claim, as the U.S. government's own media voice points out [2], noting that "the Assad government has been caught using chemical weapons against the Syrian people before".

My interlocutor proposed that that Sarin gas use in Syria had been carried out by outside rebel forces, supplied by Saudia Arabia, via the United States, based on "leaked documents". I inquired whether they could provide these leaked documents, and if they had any other evidence, such as from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or the United Nations Mission to Investigate Alleged Uses of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic [3], also whether they considered the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Iranian Quds Force, and Russian forces to be "outside forces" as well. Most importantly, I asked whether they used the same standards of evidence for all parties involved in the conflict.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that they not only refused to answer these questions, but rather terminated all correspondence. It is unsurprising because people have this astounding ability to react poorly to information or challenges that is contrary to their beliefs and prejudices, regardless of its veracity [4]. Whilst many beliefs have little practical effects and can be easily ignored, others generate serious issues [5]. Fortunately, there is increasing evidence that reasoning, rather than individual function, is a socially argumentative function [6]; we reason in order to convince others and be convinced. Opinions can become properly grounded if one researches a matter first then forms an opinion, rather than other way around. Propositions need to be tested among a wide audience; the more expert the better. If one does not engage in this process, not only will they be played for a fool by vested interests, it will damage us all.

Social progress depends on truth.


[1] US Finally Admits "No Evidence" Assad Used Sarin Gas,

[2] Pentagon Chief: No Evidence of Recent Sarin Gas Use by Syria

See also: Anthony Deutsch, "Exclusive: Tests link Syrian government stockpile to largest sarin attack", Reuters, Feb 27, 2018

[3] United Nations Mission to Investigate Alleged Uses of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic

[4] Steven Novella, Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills, The Teaching Company, 2012

[5] Randall Munroe, Beliefs, XKCD

[6] Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier, The Enigma of Reason, Harvard University Press, 2017

Commenting on this Blog entry will be automatically closed on May 5, 2018.