Argument # 13: Skepticism is not cynicism. It is a method of rational inquiry.
This statement is often found in introductions or FAQ’s sections of skeptical websites and books. Here is an example from the website of The Skeptics Society:
“What does it mean to be a skeptic? Some people believe that skepticism is rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse “skeptic” with “cynic” and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas-no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position.”
What these skeptics don’t understand is that people in general don’t have misconceptions about skepticism as a concept, nor do they have any problem with it. The cynicism that people see in so called “skepticism” is not due to their misunderstanding of the word itself, but due to the cynical BEHAVIORS and ACTIONS of the PEOPLE who call themselves skeptics but are in fact pseudoskeptics who fit the list of criteria here. These people do not inquire, but seek to discredit and debunk anything that lies outside of the establishment paradigm, including all paranormal and psychic phenomena. Yet never once do these pseudoskeptics use any skepticism on anything that comes from the establishment.
According to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, a skeptic is:
"One who is yet undecided as to what is true; one who is looking or inquiring for what is true; an inquirer after facts or reasons."
Pyrrho, the founder of "Skepticism", intended for it to be about open inquiry and suspension of judgment.
“In classical philosophy, skepticism refers to the teachings and the traits of the 'Skeptikoi', a school of philosophers of whom it was said that they 'asserted nothing but only opined.' (Liddell and Scott) In this sense, philosophical skepticism, or Pyrrhonism, is the philosophical position that one should suspend judgment in investigations.”
But rather than inquiring, or asking questions to try to understand something, they seek to debunk, discredit and ridicule anything that doesn't fit into their belief system. And rather than suspending judgment, they make accusations of fraud and delusion of all paranormal claimants. Hence, we call them pseudoskeptics (a term coined by the late Marcello Truzzi) for their actions and behaviors are the complete antithesis of what skepticism truly means.
When pseudoskeptics make cynical arguments such as those presented in this book, they portray to others a cynical closed method of thinking, dismissing anything that they don’t understand or consider possible. That’s where this impression comes from. Cynics who masquerade behind science and skepticism often reveal their cynicism through their words, thinking methodologies, closed system of beliefs, and dogmatic assertions. The six common flawed tactics described in the introduction of this book are the kind of things that give others the impression of cynicism. This is why even some of the well known skeptics and leaders of organized skeptic groups are perceived as cynics, including James Randi (the famous magician, author, debunker, and nemesis of Uri Geller), Michael Shermer (editor of Skeptic magazine), Joe Nickell (one of the leaders of CSICOP), Martin Gardner (psychic debunker), Susan Blackmore (University of London Psychology Professor and proponent of the Dying Brain Hypothesis of NDE’s), etc. These people use closed ways of thinking to dismiss data that don’t fit into their hypotheses, which is prevalent from statements made in their articles/books. Therefore, these closed-minded skeptics are the ones that have the misconception of mistaking their cynicism with true skepticism.