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Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Discuss PseudoSkeptics and their Fallacies. Share strategies for debating them.

Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby caniswalensis » 12 Oct 2010, 00:53

Reading through the articles on this site, it seems that the Skepcop organization recognizes a difference between a true skeptic who uses logic & critical thinking to examine issues and a pseudoskeptic, or someone that for various reasons denies certain possibilities without good reason.

Wht is makes discussion difficult here is when the articles, or more commonly the post in this forum use the two terms interchangably. Is there a difference or not?

If there is, How can we discipline ourselves to stop supstituting one word for the other? It is confusing and detract from the conversation here.

I am looking forward to hearing what others have to say about this issue.

Regards, Canis
"It is proper for you to doubt ... do not go upon report ... do not go upon tradition ... do not go upon hear-say." ~ Buddha
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby Craig Browning » 12 Oct 2010, 03:15

Long, long ago the majority of skeptics were believers seeking confirmation for the sake of faith; Houdini actually fit that prototype as did Kellar and his protegee' Howard Thurston (who was a seminary student, no less) before him. But, the big $$$ success seen by Houdini and his traveling "debunking the Spiritualist" shows created a new sort of skeptic -- the magician out to make a name for himself.

Of this new group you will find rudiments of "Mental Magic" i.e. magician's tricks that were quite similar to standard fair but offered a veneer of things Psychic and Paranormal around them. You will even find grand stage Illusionist such as Dunninger (prior to his latter glory) blending such themes around effects like the Mummy Cabinet and the Asrah Levitation. Even into the the 1970s we had magicians suggesting the use of hypnosis and telepathic control over their assistants, simply to keep some semblance of mystic-naughtiness in the mix.

These clowns that made this particular split went on to make a name for themselves as "debunkers" even though the majority of that had never been involved in a single genuine investigation; they just trained a girl (usually one of their own kids) how to do the bit. A perfect example would be Francis Willard when she does the Willard Spirit Cabinet -- an illusion she's worked since she was 11 or 12 years of age that her son in law Michael Ammar and his wife Hanna have planned to keep alive as a matter of family legacy... it is a sensational piece of business.

In around this same era you had those Spiritualists that woke up to the fact that they could cash in on their talents by traveling with a magic show or carnival unit demonstrating their abilities as Mind Readers, Clairvoyants', etc... this is where the more traditional world of MENTALISM came to be; though related to stage magic it is not one in the same, nor is it even remotely similar to the aforementioned even though, as we moved into the latter 20th century by about three generations, the segregation of the two forms started to blur -- for economic reasons more than anything else -- Mental Magic is far more lucrative than the other, which is still performed and marketed as being "real" and rarely with the disclaimers the other type of act seems dependent on.

There is a huge rift within the magic & mentalism communities when it comes to these two camps that will probably never get healed, but that's aside the point; the more commercially oriented still side with the debunker and faux-moralists as well as the pseudo-rationalists while the other camp (what I call "Old School"), while retaining a healthy sense of skepticism, still defend the validity of certain aspects tied to the world of Psi & the Paranormal. I stress however, we are picky as to what we support and why; we are not gullible in the sense of buying into any of it... especially at first glance but, we will investigate and give a degree of benefit of the doubt when it comes to various issues. The biggest thing that separates us from the others is that we actually work within and directly investigate claims; often times aiding law enforcement when it comes to exposing and prosecuting scam operators and educating the public about potentially dangerous cult scenarios.

Think about it... who is most likely to discover such predators? Those that actually work in the trenches that are seen as "real", or the clowns with a stage show that refuse to get their hands dirty? The one's the espouse everything St. Randi spews out his hind-side as the gospel vs. personal investment of time and physical presence to study and discern things for themselves?

The Non-Magician Side to it all comes through Academia which has, in a round and about way, created a kind of unspoken symbiosis with the various faces of Atheism about the world. Here again, you have a couple of different types or niches, the primary being those that are strictly book learned and then you have the ACTUAL scientists (vs. those that sympathize with the views of their financiers -- similar to big oil, big tobacco, Global Warming Naysayers, et. al) who tend to not be as die-hard with things, leaving the doors of possibility a bit a-gap. Then you have the wannabes that seem to be more plentiful than all of the insects (a.k.a. pests) in the known world; the armchair experts that want to come off as being educated and "with it" but who tend to have I.Q. levels that hover somewhere between a gnat and a rock... they believe every single thing they read that supports their fantasy of being viewed as "intelligent".

The Pseudo-Skeptic is a relatively new creature which shows some sentient properties but seems to be more akin to the latter form of the above than not; and sadly, they tend to seek to prove out the absurd as being analytical fact.

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on Winston when I say this, I see it a lot in the New Age sub-culture and a good deal of it comes from one's need to be a bit of a rebel but on a more passive, pseudo-intellectual level in which you ignore the more questionable elements associated with your sources and resources; you don't scrutinize the over-all scenario and set yourself up to buy into an X-Files style of paranoia. This condition likewise comes from a psychological need to belong to some sort of group that sets your apart from "mere mortals"; you know intuitively, that you can't possibly meet the standards that are typical of the intellectual... you can't keep up with the way that sub-culture communicates, their sense of humor nor, their ability to absorb and compile data. The result is seeking second best -- the lesser plane of the average human being that wants to fill a niche in their life that "explains" all that stuff that's out there that we're puzzled by, can't explain and as such "fear". It's far easier to take this route than to apply yourself, either as someone seeking to improve their intellectual plight in life or (better yet), gain a more logical grip on life itself, by studying those philosophies, such as Buddhism that can give you both, an intellectual edge as well as a more positive way of viewing the world and life.

I have no doubt that Winston will have a different take on this but this is my view as one standing on the outside and looking in. ;)
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby Twain Shakespeare » 27 Nov 2010, 11:09

Canis asks that we distinguish between "soft" and "hard" skepticism, or, as he put it, between "a true skeptic who uses logic & critical thinking to examine issues and a pseudoskeptic, or someone that for various reasons denies certain possibilities without good reason."

I suggest these synonyms, "soft" skepticism," or "skeptical methodology". (Not "true skepticism." "true" is a four letter word) vs. "hard" skepticism, of the "no evidence would convince me" school. We might even rate it, distinguishing between point 4 “extraordinary evidence” skeptics, and “you can't convince me!” point 5s at one end, and Scecop soft point 1s and point Zeroes, inquiring minds who read the Inquirer because they want to know, at the other.

Sagan, for example, was a point 5 hard skeptic when it came to Velikovsky, was softer, about point 4, towards ufos, the archetypical point 3 methodological skeptic as far as science popularization went, and veered back towards point 4 skepticism about government, and point 5 when it came to assessing government claims about the safety of nuclear war.

Craig seems to be a methodological skeptic with a great sense of evidence, a good point 2.5.

Scecop/Winston?, I hope you realize I was ribbing you! ;) You seem to me to be an empiricist, a point 2, or maybe point 1, but I often get the feeling you are chumming the waters, although other times I suspect you are dead on serious. The one thing I am sure of is you do not wish to bias our responses on the basis of your expectations.

Twain strives for point 4. Shakespeare has no problem with any value.
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby Arouet » 27 Nov 2010, 11:46

ugh: skepticism is simply the withholding of belief in a proposition without sufficient evidence. Why overcomplicate it?
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby NinjaPuppy » 29 Nov 2010, 22:06

caniswalensis wrote:Reading through the articles on this site, it seems that the Skepcop organization recognizes a difference between a true skeptic who uses logic & critical thinking to examine issues and a pseudoskeptic, or someone that for various reasons denies certain possibilities without good reason.

Wht is makes discussion difficult here is when the articles, or more commonly the post in this forum use the two terms interchangably. Is there a difference or not?

If there is, How can we discipline ourselves to stop supstituting one word for the other? It is confusing and detract from the conversation here.

I am looking forward to hearing what others have to say about this issue.

Regards, Canis

Because it's a matter of semantics. Arouet says it all:

Arouet wrote:ugh: skepticism is simply the withholding of belief in a proposition without sufficient evidence.

Now back to the 'semantics'. An example. I have personally seen sufficient evidence to believe in 'ghosts'. The problem lies with traditional textbook definitions of the word 'ghost'.

Dead person? Haunting? Soul? Spirit? Hallucination? Entity? Casper? The list goes on with any number of words such as this. Whatever word that floats your boat will become your belief or disbelief to fit your definition. Just like Arouet said, "Why overcomplicate it?". It seems to me that if the correct definition of 'ghost' was "an unexplainable something experienced by someone other than yourself" half of the 'mystery' and debate would become less interesting and volatile. Of course trying to convince someone that you saw your dead uncle Louie in your living room can be a bit more difficult.

Defining 'skeptic' also becomes as muddled depending on your experience.
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby caniswalensis » 30 Nov 2010, 02:27

Semantics it may be, but I feel as though every one that has responded here has missed my point. I am refering to the use and definition of these words in this forum as they are defined by the SKEPCOP organization.

Winston has set up SKEPCOP for a specific purpose; namely, exposing pseudo-skeptics and their nefarious deeds. He rightly says that true skepticism is a good thing. He very plainly differentiates between a skeptic and a pseudo-skeptic in his writings. We therefore have a definition of each term that makes it clear they are not the same thing.

Here is what Winston writes on the subject:

Here are a list of traits that define the true skeptic vs. the pseudoskeptic.

True Skeptics / Open-Minded Skeptics

* Asks questions to try to understand new things and are open to learning about them
* Applies critical examination and inquiry to all sides, including their own
* Are nonjudgmental and do not jump to rash conclusions
* Seeks the truth and considers it the highest aim
* Thinks in terms of possibilities rather than in preserving fixed views
* Fairly and objectively weighs evidence on all sides
* Acknowledges valid convincing evidence rather than ignoring or denying it
* Possess solid sharp common sense and reason
* Are able to adapt their paradigms to new evidence and update their hypothesis to fit the data
* When all conventional explanations for a phenomenon are ruled out, are able to accept paranormal ones


PseudoSkeptics / Closed-Minded Skeptics

* Does not ask questions to try to understand new things, but judges them by whether they fit into the established order
* Applies "critical thinking" only to that which opposes the status quo, but never to the status quo itself
* Carries a fixed set of unchanging beliefs which all data must conform to
* Are not interested in truth, evidence or facts, only in defending the views of establishment
* Cannot think in terms of possibilities, but views their own fixed viewpoints as constant
* Are willing to lie and deceive to preserve establishment views, which are their true master
* Automatically dismisses and denies all information that contradicts materialism and orthodoxy
* Is judgmental and quick to draw conclusions about things they know little or nothing about
* Scoffs and ridicules what they oppose instead of using objective unbiased analysis and examination
* Insists that everything unknown and unexplained must have a conventional materialistic explanation
* Uses semantics and word games with their own rules of logic to try to win arguments
* Are unable to adapt their paradigms to new evidence but instead denies data which doesn't fit into them
* When all conventional explanations for a phenomenon are ruled out, are not able to accept paranormal ones


Yet many folks here routinely use them interchangeably, even in the same post. Winston is as guilty of this as anyone. For purposes of a discussion on the nature of skeptical thought, the effect is much the same as is someone were to use the words "correct" and incorrect" interchangeably.

So, is there a difference or not? Are they the same thing or not? I just want to know what I am reading. Particularly when Winston himself abuses these terms. It makes me question if he still agrees with what he said in his treatise, or if he no longer differentiates between the two and considers all skeptics to be bad.

The nature of belief and the critical examination of evidence are complicated subjects. I feel that we need to maintain a certain level of consistency in our terminology if we are to understand each other well.

regards, Canis
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby Arouet » 30 Nov 2010, 02:57

I started a thread awhile back where I started to dissect those lists of characteristics SCEPCOP proposed. I didn't finish (though I should get back to it at some point. Read this thread and tell me if that's what you are getting at. Feel free to post in that thread too! Didn't generate as much discussion as I wold have liked!


viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1379&hilit=penn
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby NinjaPuppy » 30 Nov 2010, 03:14

Has anyone PM'd Winston and asked him to check out this thread? I will do so and we can see what he has to say since he is the only one who can shed some light on the subject.
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby Scepcop » 30 Nov 2010, 16:08

Well I should think it's obvious why "skeptic" and "pseudoskeptic" are used interchangeably. Yes we do differentiate between the two terms. But the problem is that the pseudoskeptics all call themselves "skeptics" (just like all sales people claim to be honest lol), so when I refer to them, I call them "skeptics" cause that's what they want to be called. If I use the word "pseudoskeptic" every time, it will look like I am being antagonistic. So even if I consider them "pseudoskeptics" I still use "skeptic" just cause it's shorter and more polite.

That's why the two terms are muddled. Hope you understand.

There are some skeptic blogs out there that claim that pseudoskeptic should not be a word cause it makes no sense. That is BS. They are just trying to remove that term so it can't be used to attack them. There are pseudoskeptics, or cynics, scoffers, debunkers, whatever you want to call them, who masquerade under "skeptic". What else are we to do about them? People use the term "pseudo-science" so why can't we use the term "pseudo-skeptic" too? Anything that is false or fake should be allowed to have a "pseudo" in front of it.

Anyway, I hope this discussion doesn't go around in circles.
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby ProfWag » 30 Nov 2010, 21:38

Can you give us an example of who a true "skeptic" is? I don't mean a physical description, but a name. Or, are all people who tend to question the paranormal "pseudo-skeptics?"
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby caniswalensis » 30 Nov 2010, 22:08

Scepcop wrote:Well I should think it's obvious why "skeptic" and "pseudoskeptic" are used interchangeably. Yes we do differentiate between the two terms. But the problem is that the pseudoskeptics all call themselves "skeptics" (just like all sales people claim to be honest lol), so when I refer to them, I call them "skeptics" cause that's what they want to be called. If I use the word "pseudoskeptic" every time, it will look like I am being antagonistic. So even if I consider them "pseudoskeptics" I still use "skeptic" just cause it's shorter and more polite.

That's why the two terms are muddled. Hope you understand.

There are some skeptic blogs out there that claim that pseudoskeptic should not be a word cause it makes no sense. That is BS. They are just trying to remove that term so it can't be used to attack them. There are pseudoskeptics, or cynics, scoffers, debunkers, whatever you want to call them, who masquerade under "skeptic". What else are we to do about them? People use the term "pseudo-science" so why can't we use the term "pseudo-skeptic" too? Anything that is false or fake should be allowed to have a "pseudo" in front of it.

Anyway, I hope this discussion doesn't go around in circles.



Hi Winston,

Thank you for the detailed response. I do understand what you are saying better now.

I agree that pseudo-skeptic as a word makes sense. There are many people that claim to be skeptics that are simply cynical doubters. they do not use critical thought in reaching their conclusions, but simply make guesses at them based on their own biases. I think that is why it is so important to not use the two terms interchangeably. They have two different meanings. When you interchange them, you are saying they are the same thing. This argues against the word's value.

Have you considered that you might be coming off as antagonistic by interchanging the two terms? By muddying the waters, you will make any true skeptics that read your words assume that you make no distinction between pseudo-skeptics and themselves. Thus, all your criticisms of pseudo-skeptical tactics are being laid at the feet of true skeptics as well. As that would be rather unfair, you run the risk of alienating the true skeptics.

Just some food for thought. :)

regards, Canis
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Re: Nomenclature: Pseudoskeptic vs. Skeptic

Postby Craig Browning » 01 Dec 2010, 12:27

ProfWag wrote:Can you give us an example of who a true "skeptic" is? I don't mean a physical description, but a name. Or, are all people who tend to question the paranormal "pseudo-skeptics?"


I think EVERYONE has the obligation to question ALL OF IT. . . INCLUDING the apparent answers they end up with!

While it is best seen in aspects of Buddhism, the art of questioning can be found in most all primitive spiritual traditions; especially when it comes to those holding closer to shamanic and/or Gnostic foundations. The essence of this "ritual" if you would, is to contemplate an issue or thing from every possible point of view. This is done by asking some very elementary questions once you think you've come to the conclusion of your quest... the most common question to ask is "Why?" Why is this the answer and why do I think it the "true" conclusion? But for as simple as that sounds, it goes deeper... we can't just say something like, "Science says it is so and therefore it must be so." Such a retort is not "truth thought" but rather justification for dogma -- permission given by the individual, to be controlled by another belief system. So in this little ritual you are obliged to question such conclusion and in so doing, impose other points of view, contemplating why they are right/wrong as well as applying the essence of these alternative disciplines to the issue/question...

... the objective is to exhaust ALL possibilities INCLUDING those that may be viewed by the intellectuals of our present, as "rubbish", doing so with fairness (free of contempt and the subconscious desire to prove it wrong - that is not the purpose of this exercise. Rather, you are seeking to learn about your core issue/question from every possible aspect in order to have an "honest" sense of personal evaluation or "Testimony" as it were.

When one attempts to walk down this particular path in a manner that is honest and receptive, he/she is most likely to discover that there are many truths tied to each "thing" and no one answer is the complete and perfected sum, but rather a part of a much greater whole -- one aspect to a universe of possibilities.

This is why I can personally identify as being a genuine Skeptic and still, as many skeptics of past generations did, retain my spiritually-based sense of faith, which includes belief in things "Magickle" and "Fantastic" -- Psychic & Surreal. But, as most of you know by now, I likewise draw some rather wide lines in the proverbial sand, especially when it comes to "blind faith" and the extremes of fanaticism regardless of personal claims (believer or "skeptic"). Along those lines I have sided with a growing number of skeptics who've taken affront to the more evangelic and harsh attitudes of the "new generational grouping" of folks that identify as being "skeptics" but who are in fact, Cynics and in the majority of the harder instances, outspoken and aggressive Atheists who have ulterior motives when it comes to using the idea of being a "skeptic/debunker and pseudo-investigator". Sadly, most of those fitting this niche were inspired by the crueler, colder and cutting antics put forth by James Randi, Penn & Teller and of course Iain Rolland & Derren Brown in the UK. "Showmen" that are able to poke fun at god while making their audiences laugh with agreement... a rather unique use of NLP-like tactics designed to slowly reshape public view. But the thespians aren't the only guilty parties on this front or manipulating situations; academia is just as guilty and not just at the collegiate level.

Yes, what I'm saying is a hint of personal bias and suspicion, but it is likewise a set of views shared by a growing group of concerned individuals that see themselves as "legit" Skeptics and who do not wish to be categorized by the public, with these more blunt, seemingly non-feeling and arrogant types. I think this is something that need be weighed within this particular thread as well; not just what the difference is and why this new mind-set has cropped up in the past decade or two, but defining which kind of Skeptic one may be and why. ;)
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