To continue with our week of being skeptical of the skeptics, we have another prime example: the latest eSkeptic newsletter (produced by Michael Shermer and Skeptic magazine) comments on the recent Larry King Live feature on UFOs, in which Shermer was one of the invited guests – along with others including Stanton Friedman and Buzz Aldrin. In this newsletter, there’s some commentary from Shermer about the show that is galling to say the least.
Firstly, Shermer puts on display some of the emails he received after the show, which is simply an attempt to portray the ufological audience as angry little believers who can’t even spell. Instead of such a weak tactic, perhaps it might be better for Shermer to address some of the actual arguments outlined by the real researchers out there? Really, I could paint a false picture of about any group I wanted, based on some of the whacky emails that turn up in my Inbox each day. Shermer – who supposedly carries enough scholarly authority for his very own column in Scientific American – instead portrays himself as the non-scientist that he is.
Shermer also has the gall to say that he finds participation in such shows “to be a frustrating experience”, which is why instead of arguing the facts presented, he “brought along the little toy aliens” which he waved about “to break up the gravitas of the conversation”. Now who is being unscientific here – ufologists want to be serious about the topic and discuss the research, and yet the ‘skeptic’ waves about alien toys to ‘break up the gravitas’? And as for finding such shows ‘frustrating’, once again we find the trusted fall-back of the ‘skeptics’ that somehow they are forced into participating in these shows, to save humanity from its own irrationality. This is disingenous to say the least – Shermer is known as the leading media whore of the skeptical movement (at least in the US…Richard Wiseman might argue from the UK), and he has more than a minor financial stake in ‘keeping up appearances’. So, Mr Shermer – if you find such events frustrating, perhaps it’s time to change jobs?
Lastly, Shermer makes a direct attack on respected ufologist Stanton Friedman, suggesting he is an “incompetent researcher”. Now, I don’t personally agree with Friedman’s conclusions on a number of issues, but Shermer (the panel member who waved around the alien toys) could probably do with some humility when suggesting such a thing. Friedman is well known as the guy who picked up $1000 from UFO skeptic Philip Klass, after Klass wagered that Friedman couldn’t find early government documents in the same typeface as some of the MJ-12 documents. He has a long history of researching deeply into these topics, and we can assume quite confidently that his knowledge of ufological history – not to mention scientific theory, such as nuclear physics – dwarfs that of Michael Shermer. I would accept ‘probably misguided in his conclusions’, but ‘incompetent researcher’? Pure hubris on Shermer’s part – and for anyone that isn’t aware of Shermer’s past history in ‘skeptical defence’, you might like to revisit my essay from a few years back, “The Shermer Sham“.