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Shkeptical Shermer

After posting the latest Scientific American contents on Tuesday, I felt moved to write a little about their resident ‘skeptic’ Michael Shermer (and I use the single quotes to denote his self-proclaimed title, not my designation). It is quite amazing to me that a publication with the pedigree of Sciam could enlist such an amateur ‘skeptic’ – in my short essay ‘The Shermer Sham‘, I give just a few examples of his biased and weak logic, and ask whether it’s time that Sciam dumped him. Your thoughts?

  1. skepticism vs. zeteticism
    This is why I prefer to call myself a zetetic (as did the late sociologist Marcello Truzzi) rather than a skeptic, perhaps especially because the term skeptical is being abused by organizations such as SI.

    Here is how I see the difference: given paranormal claim A, there are three categories of people with regard to the claim.

    True believers will accept A regardless of any evidence against it.
    “Skeptics” like Shermer believe their job is to debunk or disprove it a priori because it cannot “possibly” be true.
    The Zetetic, as Truzzi noted, neither accepts A uncritically nor assumes a priori that A cannot be, but simply keeps gathering the evidence which leans toward one possibility or the other.

    Furthermore, the true zetetic is as SKEPTICAL of establishment science and claims as he is alternative views. It does not mean the establishment can’t be right, but it doesn’t mean that it must be, either.

    As I view it, Forteans are Zetetics – not Skeptics or True Believers. And that is why I call myself both. And hate being labeled a True Believer, since, as John Keel declared, Belief is the Enemy. Or, as Robert Anton Wilson put it, Convictions Create Convicts.

    Steven Mizrach
    Academic, Pop Culture Junkie, Grail Recycler

    1. Why?
      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for your comments. So why is that these “skeptics” occupy so many high-profile positions? Is it simply due to the CSICOPian ethos of influencing media and marginalising paranormal claims? Is it that their brand of ‘skepticism’ lends itself to deprecating humour which makes for good (though tabloid-ish) copy? Both Randi and Shermer smugly joke about things in a completely unscientific way…see Shermer’s “Sheldrake has never met a goofy idea he didn’t like” for example). It’s a shame Truzzi isn’t still around to provide some real definition to the word skeptic.

      Peace and Respect
      You monkeys only think you’re running things

      1. need to believe
        Whenever I read so-called Skeptical literature, I always see arguments about paranormal claims being accepted because of a “need to believe”. However, as a Fortean, I find that Fortean phenomena, if they exist, suggest a world that is far more unpredictable and unexpected than mainstream science would suggest. I find no emotional or other comfort in that. But I don’t think denial of a world that may be less ordered and simple than we would WANT it to be is the proper approach.

        I think, ironically, that Shermerite skeptics are driven by their own “need to believe”. They really feel like they are crusaders, driven to defend the public from snake-oil salesmen and hucksters. They often write how “irrational” belief in the paranormal leads to fascism, totalitarianism, the Dark Ages of Europe, etc. So they are here to defend, presumably, the Age of Reason against its “enemies”. And don’t get me wrong – the hucksters ARE out there, and they are always looking for P.T. Barnum’s next mark. And there are many forms of para-belief that are dangerous… eugenics is one example that comes to mind. However, these guys paint with too broad a brush, and Robert Anton Wilson nailed their psychology to a tee: their fear of a world which contains the unexpected or the surprising is Freudian. It’s as disturbing for them as the infant who realizes that kaka comes from them and not nowhere.

        Steven Mizrach
        Academic, Pop Culture Junkie, Grail Recycler

  2. Time to give materialists a bloody nose

    You know that I don’t tend to get involved in web discussions so much these days, but I liked your brief essay so much I just had to break my own rules and add a few comments in support 😉

    When I started writing my new book, The Book of the Soul (blatant, unashamed plug) I decided to put in a few early background chapters about NDEs, children who remember past lives, and hypnotic regression in general. I had myself been somewhat sceptical of elements of these when I wrote Genesis Unveiled, but when I really started to research them properly I realised that, despite some aspects that can fairly be criticised, there is far too much evidence already collated that stands up to the closest scrutiny for it to all be dismissed.

    What I also did not realise was just how pathetic materialist attempts to debunk said phenomena are. In the book I quote the efforts of a number eg CSICOP members, and in calling them simplistic and reductionist I am actually being unduly kind! And, as far as I can tell, this is the absolute BEST they can do!! Talk about agendas.

    But to some extent we in the alternative community, or whatever you want to call it, have been our own worst ememies. When we uncritically accept everything on the alternative table, it is easy to attack us as unscholarly. We need to do a hell of a lot of belt-tightening ourselves before we can be taken seriously. Clearly there are brave and insightful researchers from the scientific community itself who are have been pushing the boundaries for decades now, but all too often they are lone voices in the wilderness. And pioneers like Ian Stevenson, whose research into children who remember past lives is a beacon in terms of pushing the envelope from within academia, simply cannot afford to push the boat out too far or they lose all credibility. That is where independent researchers like us come in, because we can add the final few sentences without fear of losing everything.

    You will already know that I am a firm believer that it is time to stop being on the defensive against materialists, and to go all out on the attack. They have occupied the supposedly scholarly high ground unopposed for far too long, and the mass of evidence against them is now absolutely overwhelming. But we, as the opposition, are still too disorganised in our thinking and organisation to act effectively. Having said that, one thing that I do now stress myself, and it is a proposition that I place on the table to be challenged, is that a broad spiritual worldview based on the dual precepts of karma and reincarnation is now, at the start of the twenty-first century, the only LOGICAL and RATIONAL worldview to adopt. Far more so than the materialist worldview.

    But I also believe that for too long we have relied on the revealed wisdom of old. Most of us, even of an orthodox religious persuasion, have now realised that, for example, the concept of hell was a disgusting political device designed to control the masses. But supposedly more enlightened approaches can have many failings too. Most significant of all, in my view, is their lack of appreciation of the true dynamics of karma. As I hope I prove in the book based on a multitude of regression case studies, despite the fact that in my view any soul goes through a repetitive karma stage before moving onto a more progressive stage, even repetitive karma is not usefully analysed as a process of action and reaction, but more ‘right action’, pure and simple. And if that doesn’t make sense yet, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book, cos I’ve banged on for long enough here 😉

    Well done again Greg. Time for a revolution anyone?
    Ian Lawton

    1. Taking Sides
      Thanks for the kind comments Ian, glad to see you’re still hanging about! On a purely emotional level, I agree with you completely (although perhaps bank executives might beat the pseudo-skeptics to being the first up against the wall when the revolution comes ;).

      However, there’s also something about the us versus them mentality which I think we all need to get over if we’re going to progress. I know that in reality this may be impossible…as long as CSICOPs attempt to influence the media then those who disagree with them will probably be forced to create a balancing force. But as Steve mentions above, wouldn’t it be nice if we all just sat under the zetetic banner? Why is it so difficult to remove agendas and bias and simply try to progress based on evidence?

      I certainly don’t have the answer to that question, and unfortunately it is one that depresses me a bit…

      (By the way, you should be justifiably proud of your book…great packaging, and excellent content inside – nice job!). Aw, it’s a big mutual admiration society, let’s all hug.

      Peace and Respect
      You monkeys only think you’re running things

  3. skeptics
    The way I see it is that skepticism is a career choice, like priest or psychologist.
    So if you have a column or website which sets out to debunk wayout theories, then that’s what you do.
    It would be silly to say that you believed in them.
    I don’t for a moment believe that if James Randi had an NDE he would rubbish the whole thing to himself or his wife.
    He may do it on his website, but not in private.
    You do what you are paid to do in this world, and if there is money in what you do, and you do it well, then you continue doing it.
    How many of these skeptics are starving in garrets as they feebly post items on the net decrying Uri Geller who sits in his mansion smoking cigars?
    Skeptics always worry that people with new or different ideas may be making more money from them than they are, so it behoves them to shoot them down.
    Besides, it provides a living.
    The other thing is that the establishment is who runs everything and so it gets to tell people what to think.
    They do this through the media and through directing the laws of the land.
    Any new swing of ideas large enough can unseat governments and cause people to want to think for themselves, which is why we have religions to do this for us, and hand in hand with the governments they have us controlled.
    Skeptics, like sewerage, provide a useful service.
    Without them we would all believe what we wanted to and would be awash in unproven theories, belief in alien beings,and, heresy, the idea that we ourselves can decide what we wish to think or believe.
    Skeptics keep us on our toes, they provide stimulus to our brain by the anger they cause, thus producing better blood flow and make us grateful that we are not alone in this world without the caring people who would save us from ourselves.
    I for one, would prefer not to be saved.


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