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Perusing a Skeptical Handbook

Regular readers will know that, despite the fun we have covering weird topics here on TDG, I do recommend a healthy dose of skepticism before accepting any of it at face value (and not just here…even prominent skeptics can be eager to believe in photoshopped UFO photos Jesus pareidolia when it suits). I also take issue with ‘false’ skepticism, when people take on that mantle mainly to defend their own belief system. So this one is worth checking out for multiple reasons: a new ‘handbook’ for skeptics titled What Do I Do Next? (600KB PDF download, a condensed HTML version is also available). Daniel Loxton of Skeptic magazine put together a list of 100 suggestions for engaging in ‘skeptical activism’ and invited prominent skeptics to comment on them. He received numerous replies from people such as Ben Radford, Eugenie Scott, Jeff Wagg and Jay Novella.

I’m traveling at the moment, so can’t go into too much detail with my own thoughts, but there’s some interesting points in there that might be worth discussing if you want to have at it in the comments. For example, I find some things such as the call to donate to the JREF and other organisations almost embarrassing. Not because I disagree with it in principal – I know exactly how it feels to bust your butt with no financial resources at your disposal. But when you have guys like James Randi earning at least $170,000 a year for acting like a belligerent ass, how can anyone seriously ask hard-working folk on an average wage to donate to that? Ditto for CSI and other organisations that already wield considerable influence.

I also found the call to respect religion rather odd, given the usual attack lines of skeptical groups. I’m not sure where one draws the line between making fun of someone that believes that beings from Zeta Reticuli visited them in their bedroom last week, and respecting another person that believes that some Jewish guy resurrected from the dead 2000 years ago and in doing so absolved the entire world population of its sins. I would imagine this edict is not a consensus view in skeptical circles, although there was little debate about it in this booklet. I guess it ties in to the suggestion to make allies – although again, if that was the case then skeptical groups could make great steps by engaging with the ‘real’ researchers of paranormal claims out there, rather than making fun of them and their topics.

I must be knocking down a straw man there though – according to #21, “the goal of skeptical investigation “isn’t to cast rhetorical doubt on paranormal claims, but to discover what’s true.” I’m not sure how that can be reconciled with the wholesale dismissal of those claims elsewhere in the book without investigation, but it certainly sounds great in theory. In fact, there’s a lot to like in the suggestions made regarding working with people and being polite. I have my doubts about whether it will be embraced though, given my past experience with ‘skeptics’, and the attitude of many of the current leaders of the field – but let’s leave my cynicism to the side and hope for the best.

Feel free to praise the good points, and offer criticism of the bad points, in the comments.

Editor
  1. So sue me
    [quote]I’m not sure where one draws the line between making fun of someone that believes that beings from Zeta Reticuli visited them in their bedroom last week, and respecting another person that believes that some Jewish guy resurrected from the dead 2000 years ago and in doing so absolved the entire world population of its sins.[/quote]

    The line is not drawn by you… but by the lawyers on the payroll of the people you might consider criticizing (Xenu anyone?) 😛

    —–
    It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
    It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

    Red Pill Junkie

  2. Commentation
    No real words regarding your summary. It’s fine. A couple things occurred to me while reading it:

    Randi, Plait and all those who present an obvious negative prejudice rather than a open mind are not skeptics. They’re cynics. They have no place in science, and therefore no place in drawing its boundaries.

    With regards to those who attempt to convolve religion or religion-derived constructs with the entirely independent construct called science:

    If you call yours religion, I will respect it and not enforce a scientific viewpoint upon it. I will trust you, as a person of morals as befits a religion adherent, to respect me and my science, and do the same.

    If you try to call it science, I will evaluate it, inevitably find it to be something other than science, call bullshit at minimum, and call it scientific fraud and have you prosecuted for it if I can.

    Finally: You can come to my science classes and teach your religion when I can go to your church and preach a sermon on relativity.

    … It occurs to me this seems rather negative towards religion. I assure you it and I are not. It’s negative towards attempts to cross and/or refusal to respect thought system boundaries.

    No, I am not the brain specialist…..
    YES. Yes I AM the brain specialist.

    1. Well…
      [quote]If you try to call it science, I will evaluate it, inevitably find it to be something other than science, call bullshit at minimum, and call it scientific fraud and have you prosecuted for it if I can.

      Finally: You can come to my science classes and teach your religion when I can go to your church and preach a sermon on relativity.[/quote]

      How can you show so much certainty that Science will ‘inevitably’ find something wrong with an assertion that tries to link a religious viewpoint with a scientific perspective. That to me sounds like a dogmatic axiom: “You’d better not step into my field, cause I’ll waste you” 🙂

      And I think there’s nothing wrong with a sermon on relativity given to a church congregation. I don’t think many parishers would mind either 😉

      —–
      It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
      It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

      Red Pill Junkie

  3. What Do You Know?
    What does anyone actually know, and can they successfully convey to this anyone else?

    This is relatively easy to accomplish within the boundaries of science, even if those boundaries are constrictive, relying on the various and usually unexamined assumptions or shared beliefs that underlie its methods. Within those boundaries, great consensus tends to arise, only getting upset in a major way once in a long while.

    I believe that reality in general and consciousness in particular ultimately don’t fit within the boundaries of science, however, at least as we consider them in the present era.

    Once outside the (admittedly shifting) boundaries of science, conveying knowledge becomes much more of a challenge.

    Further, we have great fragmentation of belief and much less consensus beyond those boundaries (and beyond certain shared beliefs such as those who adhere to this or that religion, tradition, school, or even a movement of sceptics).

    We have what amounts to unexplored territory. It’s not so much that others haven’t explored it over the millennia, but rather that owing to its nature, each and every individual must approach this territory in their own way.

    What can be shared are methods and techniques that enable knowing in a non-scientific way and whatever anyone availing themselves of them can relate. (If ten people share a powerful telepathic experience as the result of practicing some particular technique or method, they’ll share a certain knowing — but woe to them if they attempt to convince anyone else of this!)

    Still, this can be great fun! Anyone sufficiently motivated to explore the nature of reality and aware of the limitations of science, or religion, or philosophy, and whether of a sceptical mind or not, has an opportunity to be their own Lewis, their own Clark, their own Odysseus!

    Of course any incredible discoveries they make may be ignored, derided, or scoffed at by others.

    In the end, does this really matter? I can provide wild tales of my own adventures beyond the constraints of a scientific worldview and few will believe me. The adventures themselves were/are much more fun and much more provocative than going to great lengths in usually completely futile attempts to convince others of their validity.

    Some of my adventures have been of a solitary nature, some of them shared with others, while I delight in reading of any number of such adventures created/experienced down through the ages.

    A channelled sage once said: “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it!”

    I can’t always abide by his advice, but I recognize the merit in it, particularly as it applies to any and all areas treated with disdain by those who consider themselves sceptics.

    A sceptical outlook can be a practical and effective tool and can also serve as a useful reference point.

    Overdone or exaggerated, however, it’s really equivalent to having a closed mind.

    Bill I.
    RealityTest

  4. Just to point out…
    Greg, you said:

    “I have my doubts about whether it will be embraced though, given my past experience with ‘skeptics’, and the attitude of many of the current leaders of the field – but let’s leave my cynicism to the side and hope for the best.”

    Which I agree with. But I can’t help but wonder about the attitude in your own Daily Grail News Briefs for 14-04-2009 where Jameske links to a Holocaust Denial article at Holocaustdenialvideos.com, and the comment for the day is, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” I’d have to say that’s pretty ham-fisted right there. Not the tone I’m used to. And even though many people have commented on it, nobody from the Grail has responded as yet.

    What kind of attitude are you guys expressing? Am I missing something?

    1. Hey, RonB
      I’ve expressed my opinion regarding that matter on this comment. I also would like to point you to what I further express here.

      Saludos.

      —–
      It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
      It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

      Red Pill Junkie

      1. Greg’s away
        Greg has been away from the internet the past week, and to be honest I barely glanced at Jameske’s news briefs this week. I noticed the quote, but thought nothing of it as it can be applied to a multitude of things — and I figured Jameske was waffling on about 9/11.

        For the record, I find Holocaust denial very distasteful and downright deceitful. I like to think I’m in the middle with all the other sensible, balanced individuals — the Holocaust was a terrible thing, it did happen, but I have no doubt there are those milking the sympathy generated by the Holocaust for their own gain, as there are others denying the Holocaust for their own questionable motives.

        If Jameske called the Holocaust a lie, then it’s really up to Greg to deal with (sorry Greg!). And I repeat: the views expressed by other admin and members do not necessarily reflect my own.

        1. Ooops here too
          RPJ had commented there and to me directly and I missed it, so “oops” on my behalf. And Jameske didn’t really call anything specifically a lie, but the link is to a holocaust denial site that is propaganda laced and the quote for the day was kind of creepy to me in the context.

          But RPJ most definitely commented and I’m blind, so um…oops. 🙂 But Holocaust Denial is a wolf in sheep’s clothing to me and I feel the need to call it out every time. But sorry if I over-did it.

          1. No worries
            No worries RonB, I know how you feel.

            Has the link been deleted? I can’t see it in Jameske’s news. And was it directly linked to the quote of the day? Plenty of other stuff he could be talking about — GW, Mars Rover, etc. And he’s fond of the 9/11 stuff.

            Anyways, water under the bridge. If anyone has issues with admin posts on TDG, please email Greg. 😉

          2. Twas this
            The link was, “Buchenwald: a dumb dumb portrayal of evil.” which is a series of videos at Holocaustdenialvideos.com. There are a lot of kind words for jewish people at the link and it claims it is definitely against what Hitler did in Europe. It tries to package the Holocaust Denial in a very nice tidy analytical package which shouldn’t offend any rational thinking person. The videos aren’t however even-handed, they are propaganda even more rigorous than what they claim occurred during WWII. So while it pretends to be a scientific, skeptical look at a historical issue, it’s really just an attempt to push an opinion. Which is fine if it weren’t a hidden agenda for racism and hate. Perfect for Holocaustdenialvideos.com.

            And the quote for the day by Jameske was, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth. Lenin.” Obviously I was making an assumption by drawing the two together since there were several links posted for the day. But I’m not going to go further in the discussion here, I just found it worth noting.

          3. sidetracking for a bit…
            I wrote a comment on this stuff, about the holocaust denial thing.

            I know where my father is, he had nothing to do with this. He was just a little bit to young to get involved. I go visit his grave sometimes.

            BUT his classmate Silberstein dissapeared right around the critical time. And the socialist, or band-wagon follower Althaus made a nice carreer.

            Again I ask, where is Silberstein?

            And I ask where are all those Jewish people who used to live in my old hometown?

            For all of you who say the holocaust did not happen, you owe me an answer.

            So tell me.

            —-
            It is not how fast you go
            it is when you get there.

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