Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Irritation with Supposed Skeptics

On the face of it, I have no real objection to professional skeptics. Debunking pseudo-science, conspiracy theories and the like is something I do here fairly often, so I should, in theory, be quite comfortably in their camp. Even the objections I have to some of their stands seeming a bit didactic, rather than skeptical (eg arguing skeptics MUST be atheists*, or calling those rejecting scare tales of AGW and the "hockey stick" nonsense "deniers"**), should not make me completely opposed to them. But there is one thing I have discovered about professional skeptics which truly makes me reject joining their ranks.

There was once a quote heard among socialists, communists, liberals and others. "There are no enemies to the left." In short, if someone is moving society leftward, he is an ally, no matter how much you disagree with his methods, his specific approach, his policies and so on. In practice, it never really worked out, it was mostly used by communists to curry support among more moderate leftists, while the far left still completely repudiated their "reactionary" liberal allies. But the theory did exist, and, in a way, it reminds me of what I find objectionable about skeptics.

You see, I have recently noticed that skeptics have a strange blind spot. They are willing to accept nonsense***, so long as the goal is "noble". This came to my attention mostly in terms of performer Derren Brown. It seems since Brown is willing to debunk mentalists and psychics, supposed skeptics completely ignore the fact that he has, through his act, created equally absurd beliefs in NLP and other pseudoscience.

Now, people claim Brown "admits" to using trickery, but this is something of a dodge. He admits to using "trickery, deception and suggestion", and it is that last one that leads to my objection. People see Brown and think he really does somehow hypnotize others, or "force thoughts" into their heads, where, in truth, he is using simple sleight of hand, or the stage hypnotist certainty an audience member will play along. But, because of his NLP patter, and this disclaimer, we hear people say "He admits it is all trickery, he just uses suggestion", and fail to notice, they have themselves been misled.

And that is what offends me. Because Brown opposes the "right" people, supposed skeptics refuse to denounce his own misleading act, which itself encourages belief in new age nonsense such as NLP. And that, along with a few other objections, would prevent me from ever seeing myself as a skeptic.


*  For a discussion of this, see "Atheism's Circular Reasoning", "Is The Flying Spaghetti Monster From Canada?", "Materialist Arrogance" and "A Bit Disappointed in CSICOP - The Difference Between God and UFOs". It was always my belief that God, and his existence or nonexistence, not being falsifiable, was not a proper question for scientific inquiry, and thus outside the realm of scientific debate supposedly proper to skeptics. To hear them embrace outright atheism seemed to me a bizarre position for a group demanding proof in support of any espoused belief.

** I am not denying the climate changes, or even that man may have some effect on the climate. What I argue is that (1) the "hockey stick" by hiding, for example, the Medieval Warm Period, cannot be an accurate model and (2) that most current models do not track well going backward in time and thus, I am not convinced we know enough to accurately predict the future climate or man's effect on it. For more details see "A Brief Thought on Skepticism", "Why "Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst" is Bad Policy", "Some Global Warming Links", "Debunking "Debunking Global Cooling"", "Very Quick and Simple Logic", "Skeptics? Really? I Beg to Differ" and "More About the Hockey Stick Graph".

*** Then again, in accepting the obviously misleading "hockey stick" and supporting M&M even when they refused simple peer review requests, it seems many scientists were willing to accept bad scientific practices if they liked the results, so maybe I am being naive in thinking the truth matters in academia (or to skeptics) any longer.  Perhaps skeptics have gone from debunking obvious fallacies to doing so part time, while spending more of their time supporting specific agendas, such as atheism and AGW.


Update (Later the same evening): Apparently I am not alone, someone else is complaining about the impression Brown gives that NLP works. And, despite the claims of some that he "admits" to trickery, the number of "NLP is real" and "he uses suggestion" comments show this is pretty much true. Also, I found a copy of an article I found quite interesting on archive.org, apparently the original is no longer available.

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