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A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are You

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A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are You

Postby TheParanormalAnalyst » 25 Dec 2013, 06:53

Here at debunkingskeptic.com you guys use the term pseudo-skeptic to describe skeptics like James Randi, Joe Nickell, Michael Shermer and the like.

I'm curious how many of you actually know the history of the modern skeptical movement? It is quite interesting and I have only recently spent the time to understand the history and origins of it.

As Winston frequently points out classical skeptics were critical of virtually everything. Now this did vary and different classifications of skeptics did form, but for the most part skeptical meant a person who questioned all sides, even their own beliefs. These skeptics were arguably the originators of many concepts in critical thinking and logic.

But in the 50's and the following years a new trend emerged, called new skepticism. It started with a book by Michael Gardner "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science" and was popularized by Carl Sagan. In fact Carl Sagan gave it the label that is still used today "Scientific Skepticism." This is a bit of a misnomer because it of course does not mean one is skeptical of science but uses a scientific basis for their skepticism.

So I would argue that technically skeptics like Joe Nickell and the like are not pseudo-skeptics but simply scientific skeptics. The reason we see so many logical fallacies in their work is because their allegiance is to science, not logic. One cannot simultaneously be a champion of science and logic. What we are seeing is the product of a fundamentally flawed sect of skepticism that tries to label itself as a society of critical thinkers while being fierce defenders of science; which often is in conflict, especially in cases of the paranormal.

Scientific skepticism relies on the empirical method for evaluation. This requires proof and reproduce-ability. This is a problem in the case of the paranormal because even the absence of a plausible scientific explanation does not justify the conclusion of a paranormal cause according to empirical methodology. It would require testing in a controlled-environment and verification by independent sources. This would be very difficult if not impossible to do in some cases. Scientific skeptics also have little value for anecdotal evidence which explains why we so often see witness testimony dismissed. Scientific skeptics see the paranormal as an assault on rational thinking and believe that it is of public benefit to destroy these irrational beliefs.

The scientific skeptic is not an objective evaluator of the paranormal, they are simply the voice of the scientific community, not the voice of logic and critical thinking - there is a difference.

Classical skepticism is very divergent from scientific skepticism. It's allegiance is solely to logic and critical thinking. Is is not afraid to question established facts and "truths" while scientific skepticism largely recognizes science as truth.

In fact these scientific skeptics have soured the name of skepticism. I preach objective investigation, the merits of which are virtually synonymous with methodological skepticism.

So for the recognized skeptics out there what type of skeptic are you?

Some types of skepticism can be viewed at the following link:
http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_skepticism.html
Critical Thinking and Logic offer the only sure path to truth.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby SydneyPSIder » 25 Dec 2013, 19:21

The reason we see so many logical fallacies in their work is because their allegiance is to science, not logic. One cannot simultaneously be a champion of science and logic.


Thanks for those thoughts. However, I don't think your definition of science is well founded. Science and logic must agree.

Also, 'Continental' postmodern philosophy provides a slightly different and more holistic way of analysing the claims of sceptics, over and beyond the so-called 'analytical' approach of British philosophers as outlined in the link you've supplied.

Further, Winston's essay on the home page of the site describing the psychology and habits of pseudosceptics is an exceptional treatment of their unscientific and erroneous thought processes, as a kind of empirical instance of the postmodern critique of modernity and the claims of 'rationalism' when in fact they are irrational ego defence mechanisms.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby TheParanormalAnalyst » 26 Dec 2013, 00:03

SydneyPSIder wrote:
The reason we see so many logical fallacies in their work is because their allegiance is to science, not logic. One cannot simultaneously be a champion of science and logic.


Thanks for those thoughts. However, I don't think your definition of science is well founded. Science and logic must agree.

Also, 'Continental' postmodern philosophy provides a slightly different and more holistic way of analysing the claims of sceptics, over and beyond the so-called 'analytical' approach of British philosophers as outlined in the link you've supplied.

Further, Winston's essay on the home page of the site describing the psychology and habits of pseudosceptics is an exceptional treatment of their unscientific and erroneous thought processes, as a kind of empirical instance of the postmodern critique of modernity and the claims of 'rationalism' when in fact they are irrational ego defence mechanisms.


Thank's for the reply. Science has few accepted laws. Much of science today is theory or provisional. Logic would dictate that when considering science in the scope of the paranormal, we acknowledge the possibility of being wrong. We also can look at the scientific community's resistance in accepting ball-lightning, for example, as an indication of the difficulty in providing proof of the paranormal in scientific terms. Logic also requires us to analyze the methods used to ensure the methods themselves might not yield a biased result. For instance the empirical method is great at testing what can be quantified, but what about things that can't easily be quantified or tested in a controlled environment? We may be able to test these things some time in the future, but technological limitation can thereby influence what is and isn't accepted in science. Logic requires acknowledgement of these things, yet the scientific skeptic does not, because you cannot simultaneously be a defender of science and a champion of logic. At some point you will have to admit the weak points of science and limitations of the empirical method, or try to cover these up by letting some bad logic slide. I just don't see how scientific skepticism can follow all rules of logic and simultaneously require empirical methodology as the sole analysis of knowledge. This system demonstrates a clear bias.

On the unscientific practices I think this is more of a problem with the scientific community as a whole than the modern skepticism movement. Their was a great article in the Economist a few weeks back analyzing the lack of substantive peer-review and the number of faults in modern scientific studies. It also highlighted the pressures on scientists to present "exciting new work" and the lack of incentive for producing error-free work or aiding in the peer-review process: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21588069-scientific-research-has-changed-world-now-it-needs-change-itself-how-science-goes-wrong And there no doubt is a bias to prove science in the modern skeptic, but you see this is the scientific community as a whole too: The derision of anyone who is critical of climate change theories, the origin of species or other scientific sacred cows. Scientists are quick to insult and defend sometimes illogically while not responding to genuine criticisms of their work. So I think Winston has highlighted a larger problem in the scientific community today... But perspectives on that can certainly differ.

I'm no expert on continental or analytical types of skepticism and it sounds like you have a better grasp of these than I do, but I would imagine that an analytical approach would be more beneficial when evaluating claims of the paranormal. As for evaluating skeptics claims, that's another thing.

But the main point I was trying to drive home is skepticism is a very broad area. We should be careful to understand the differences between skeptics and not dismiss skepticism as a whole, because it is in fact an act we are all actively engaging in. But I also help but see flaws in "design" of scientific skepticism. It seems to me this was a system created trying to combine logic and science but fails to do so, because it was done without respect to the possible shortcomings of our modern scientific practices. It seems these issues we see with arguments by prominent modern skeptics are the product of a poorly designed system: Along with more recent faults in modern scientific practice influencing these skeptics. Is it appropriate to label them pseudo-skeptical when they are in fact adhering to a skeptical system? Just my thoughts and questions. It is an interesting conversation to have.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby TheParanormalAnalyst » 26 Dec 2013, 00:10

But I'm really curious to see what some of the self-labelled skeptics of the forum would define themselves as. Would you put yourself in the scientific skeptic camp or that of another? Do you agree with their fundamental philosophy?

Does anybody have any grasp on the breadth and depth of scientific skepticism vs. other types in today's world? It seems to me that this represents the majority of self-labeled skeptics today, even if they don't know the term. I have no real idea, so that's why I ask. It is an interesting phenomena.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby Arouet » 26 Dec 2013, 07:31

I'm a self-labelled skeptic and while I'm not terribly interested in trying to place myself specifically in one skeptical camp or another I'll tell you simply how I define skepticsm and therefore my approach:

Skepticsm is the withholding of belief in a proposition absent sufficient reliable evidence.

Sometimes this will involve turning to science, sometimes not. The method of coming up with the evidence will depend on the nature of the proposition. There could potentially be multiple reliable approaches.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby SydneyPSIder » 26 Dec 2013, 08:15

Victor Zammit, for all his faults and failings, accurately characterises many people in the sceptic movement such as Randi and his acolytes as 'material denialists' rather than genuine sceptics.

I might return to the analytical tools of philosophy when I have more time and not on a moving vehicle lol
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby Arouet » 26 Dec 2013, 09:32

SydneyPSIder wrote:Victor Zammit, for all his faults and failings, accurately characterises many people in the sceptic movement such as Randi and his acolytes as 'material denialists' rather than genuine sceptics.

I might return to the analytical tools of philosophy when I have more time and not on a moving vehicle lol


Frankly, people on both sides of the fence seem to spend an inordinate amount of time characterising each other. I'm more interested in looking at the studies themselves, trying to understand them, discuss them, and try and figure out reliable ways to figure out what's going on. The culture war BS is a distraction.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby SydneyPSIder » 26 Dec 2013, 11:22

Arouet wrote:
SydneyPSIder wrote:Victor Zammit, for all his faults and failings, accurately characterises many people in the sceptic movement such as Randi and his acolytes as 'material denialists' rather than genuine sceptics.

I might return to the analytical tools of philosophy when I have more time and not on a moving vehicle lol


Frankly, people on both sides of the fence seem to spend an inordinate amount of time characterising each other. I'm more interested in looking at the studies themselves, trying to understand them, discuss them, and try and figure out reliable ways to figure out what's going on. The culture war BS is a distraction.

hmm, I dunno, I think it's all about the culture war. It's also about epistemology, human ego defence mechanisms and so on.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby Arouet » 26 Dec 2013, 15:05

Yeah, you seem to get off on it, and you're certainly not alone. US vs. THEM keys into our evolved triballistic tendencies. It tends to involve each side thinking almost exactly the same thing about the other, with people rooting for their team, villifying THEM, and each side feeling superior and believing they have both the moral and intellectual high ground.

It's easy to get caught up in, but in the end I'm not sure how well served we are by it. We no longer in modern western society need to fear the other in the way we used to, back when literally the other was the enemy and would harm you if you were caught unawares. I get caught up in it too sometimes. But I think we'd all be better served by pushing those triballistic instincts aside and working together to figure this stuff out - I don't mean without oposing views, I think those are essential, but in a cordial environment.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby SydneyPSIder » 26 Dec 2013, 15:36

this whole site is clearly set up as us vs them -- hence the title, charter, stance, etc etc -- the need fro a Scepcop to counter the Psicop. I don't get off on it at all, just that a bunch of dumb pseudosceps try to argue every little point and need to be refuted. it strikes me that most of the time the pseudosceps are not interested in a Socratic discourse of thesis + antithesis = synthesis at all, but rather keep hammering the material denialist thing, or deny whatever else the topic du jour is, regardless of the evidence base. and of course the bigger world of pseudosceps such as the Randi forums etc is only worse.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby Arouet » 26 Dec 2013, 23:31

SydneyPSIder wrote:this whole site is clearly set up as us vs them -- hence the title, charter, stance, etc etc -- the need fro a Scepcop to counter the Psicop. I don't get off on it at all, just that a bunch of dumb pseudosceps try to argue every little point and need to be refuted. it strikes me that most of the time the pseudosceps are not interested in a Socratic discourse of thesis + antithesis = synthesis at all, but rather keep hammering the material denialist thing, or deny whatever else the topic du jour is, regardless of the evidence base. and of course the bigger world of pseudosceps such as the Randi forums etc is only worse.


You may not appreciate the irony of this post, but I do!

Enjoy the culture way Sydney!
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby SydneyPSIder » 27 Dec 2013, 07:31

Arouet wrote:
SydneyPSIder wrote:this whole site is clearly set up as us vs them -- hence the title, charter, stance, etc etc -- the need fro a Scepcop to counter the Psicop. I don't get off on it at all, just that a bunch of dumb pseudosceps try to argue every little point and need to be refuted. it strikes me that most of the time the pseudosceps are not interested in a Socratic discourse of thesis + antithesis = synthesis at all, but rather keep hammering the material denialist thing, or deny whatever else the topic du jour is, regardless of the evidence base. and of course the bigger world of pseudosceps such as the Randi forums etc is only worse.


You may not appreciate the irony of this post, but I do!

Enjoy the culture way Sydney!

Well, there you go. Apparently it works both ways... I was being tongue in cheek -- not all antipseudosceptists use a strong evidential base, and some of the claims on this forum are on occasion moonbat crazy, but in fact underneath it all there is a very worthy aim of revealing that pseudosceps are not actually open-minded scientists, but people living in denial who think they have the last word on what constructed reality should be. And the evidence is definitely there, what is funny is watching the pseudosceps religiously (and I use the word advisedly) deny it. But sure it's important to debunk hoax psychics running expensive phone toll lines and everything David Icke says and maybe even crystals and ear candling, but the baby is often thrown out with the bathwater with the wide-ranging topics on this site in particular.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby SydneyPSIder » 27 Dec 2013, 07:45

justintime wrote:What kind of skeptic are you? Does it really matter? According to the link below:
Weak Skepticism - "Confronting the World’s Great Unrecognized Crisis"
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/abo ... zed-crisis

The author clearly states it is weak skepticism and weak skeptics that are compounding the problem. Even among skeptics there are divisions and fractures. You have good skeptics and bad skeptics which further diminishes skepticism.

According to the author. " Skepticism is positive and constructive.

1. "Skeptics who are mean and arrogant aren’t doing it right."
2. "good skeptics are the first people to admit that they do not know what they do not know."
3. "Being a good skeptic is not dependent on extraordinary intelligence or formal educational accomplishments."

But the author falls into the same trap that every skeptic gets caught in. Inadequate knowledge, lack of extraordinary intelligence and a lack of personal educational accomplishment which the author alludes to in points 2,3 that skeptics do not depend on or are must have qualities to be a good skeptic.

Without those qualities such as knowledge, intelligence or formal educational accomplishments, how can the average skeptic.....?
"Encourage others to rise up with you. Spread the word about the benefits of skepticism. Promote science and reason with your words and enthusiasm. Become an advocate for science literacy. Make skeptical thinking a public issue."

The article is full of contradictions. We don't need more skepticism or skeptics weak, good or otherwise. We just need people who are better informed (know more), intelligent and most importantly with some formal educational accomplishments.

The theory should match the data. Unfortunately modern skepticism/skeptics insists that data should match the theory.

eg. There is no data on extraterrestrial intelligent aliens but the theory behind Carl Sagan's billions and billions of star and galaxies and by applying the statistical probability of another theory/hypothesis 'the Drake Equation" the data will conform to the theory and extraterrestrial intelligent life must therefore exist.....ironically Carl Sagan called the approach "scientific skepticism".

Agreed. I think promoting scepticism as a 'thing in itself' to be admired and somehow concentrated and put in a bottle is a mistake. We do need to apply a sensible amount of scepticism around everything in our daily lives -- whether we're actual working scientists, or avoiding flim-flam motivational gurus or unreasonable car payment plans, or listening to politicians, especially American ones. In fact, a good scientist is an open-minded scientist who is willing to run with new theories on the strength of empirical observations or further theorising, an overly sceptical scientist would probably never get anywhere creatively as they would always be mentally shutting every new line of enquiry down -- you need a sense of wonder and the desire to pursue the unknown to make new discoveries, not the desire to live in denial and retreat into a cave. A sceptical scientist is the kind of guy who will just do drudge work their entire career as it's safe and they've been told how it works by an authority figure -- e.g. working in the back of a path lab running tests.

Of course if you go to any new age market you can have a field day of scepticism, going in to paroxysms of ridicule -- ear candling, cupping, crystals, false or amateur psychic readings, you name it. A good friend of mine worked selling advertising space for a new age magazine, and I asked him whether he believed any of the therapies could work and how he could live with himself aiding in the selling of unproven wacky stuff all day with a strong placebo component. He simply said 'if people get a benefit out of the treatment, and they enjoyed it, that was the value of the transaction'. In other words, he could compartmentalise the woo as something people were just happy to engage in and be left alone in their lives.

Of course there has been an enlightenment, the discovery of principles of physics and chemistry etc that we can utilise to transform the physical environment. Not everyone is trained in these areas, and not everyone needs to be an expert in them to survive in society -- there is also a space for peddling woo. I don't see why it's so important to get to hung up about people indulging their irrational side.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby TheParanormalAnalyst » 29 Dec 2013, 05:15

justintime wrote:What kind of skeptic are you? Does it really matter? According to the link below:
Weak Skepticism - "Confronting the World’s Great Unrecognized Crisis"
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/abo ... zed-crisis

The author clearly states it is weak skepticism and weak skeptics that are compounding the problem. Even among skeptics there are divisions and fractures. You have good skeptics and bad skeptics which further diminishes skepticism.

According to the author. " Skepticism is positive and constructive.

1. "Skeptics who are mean and arrogant aren’t doing it right."
2. "good skeptics are the first people to admit that they do not know what they do not know."
3. "Being a good skeptic is not dependent on extraordinary intelligence or formal educational accomplishments."

But the author falls into the same trap that every skeptic gets caught in. Inadequate knowledge, lack of extraordinary intelligence and a lack of personal educational accomplishment which the author alludes to in points 2,3 that skeptics do not depend on or are must have qualities to be a good skeptic.

Without those qualities such as knowledge, intelligence or formal educational accomplishments, how can the average skeptic.....?
"Encourage others to rise up with you. Spread the word about the benefits of skepticism. Promote science and reason with your words and enthusiasm. Become an advocate for science literacy. Make skeptical thinking a public issue."

The article is full of contradictions. We don't need more skepticism or skeptics weak, good or otherwise. We just need people who are better informed (know more), intelligent and most importantly with some formal educational accomplishments.

The theory should match the data. Unfortunately modern skepticism/skeptics insists that data should match the theory.

eg. There is no data on extraterrestrial intelligent aliens but the theory behind Carl Sagan's billions and billions of star and galaxies and by applying the statistical probability of another theory/hypothesis 'the Drake Equation" the data will conform to the theory and extraterrestrial intelligent life must therefore exist.....ironically Carl Sagan called the approach "scientific skepticism".


Knowledge is important but I think what the author was alluding to is allegiance to the logical systems and critical thinking principals that define skepticism is more important than knowledge. There are plenty of very smart skeptics that exemplify logical fallacies and lazy science. Critical thinking and logic is the foundation for skepticism; knowledge is applied on top of it. If we take knowledge first, we have scientific skepticism; a dedication to what we know or think we know. This dedication cannot come at the cost of logic and reasoning as it often does. Every skeptic must understand the possibility for human knowledge to be wrong and they must entertain hypotheses that existing knowledge is right and wrong; thus they can explore all possibilities. The scientific skeptic only advocates the hypothesis that assumes scientific knowledge is correct and always applicable. This is because of this science-first attitude they have.
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Re: A Lesson in Modern Skepticism - What Kind of Skeptic Are

Postby really? » 30 Dec 2013, 00:36

Arouet wrote:
SydneyPSIder wrote:Victor Zammit, for all his faults and failings, accurately characterises many people in the sceptic movement such as Randi and his acolytes as 'material denialists' rather than genuine sceptics.

I might return to the analytical tools of philosophy when I have more time and not on a moving vehicle lol


Frankly, people on both sides of the fence seem to spend an inordinate amount of time characterising each other. I'm more interested in looking at the studies themselves, trying to understand them, discuss them, and try and figure out reliable ways to figure out what's going on. The culture war BS is a distraction.


A noble ideal too be sure, but as you've seen exemplified on another forum anything short of fully embracing the psi hypothesis is met with anger and will create an adversarial relationship. And though that site is just a small percentage of all similar sites it is representative of many sites.
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