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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 02/08/2013 :  23:34:00  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?

Skepticism is a story without a beginning or an end. Across millennia, across our world, and across our many cultures, humanity has always known the tension between claims that seem too good to be true, and the suspicion that they probably are.


Here's an essay about the skeptical movement, scope and scientific skepticism by Daniel Loxton that I recommend reading. Discussion will follow...


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Why not question something for a change?

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2013 :  13:49:12   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Interesting article. The historical information is really cool. The later bits about what modern scientific skepticism has accomplished are inspiring.

However, it seems to be missing a target. 63 pages of article plus 177 end notes and only once (in end note 119) does Loxton provide a specific example of what he's arguing against. Instead, we are treated to vague phrases like "Newer skeptics" (pg 14), "Some critics" (pg 36) and "common misconception" (pg 40). So it seems to me that a lot of what he's arguing against are straw criticisms.

The vague nature of the article is also going to make it easy for people to read themselves into being the targets of Loxton's criticism, and thus become defensive instead of critical. If Loxton's intent was to promote more discussion of these subjects, I think his choice to avoid specificity will make the environment for that discussion more toxic than it could have been.

His discussion (pp 42-52, at least) of how skeptics shouldn't be "Everythingologists" seems to completely miss the point of those who want movement skepticism to broaden the issues it tackles to include more than just the "canon" subjects of historical organized skepticism. The argument that we can't be experts about everything dismisses the fact that the movement certainly can welcome more experts on more subjects. Loxton is basically insisting, "no, organized skepticism examines Bigfoot and UFOs and alt-med and that's all, there is no room in the tent for skeptics who are experts on the empirical study of feminist issues (for example)." In fact, the idea that there are "fringe claims" related to subjects like feminism, atheism or politics which are amenable to scientific skeptical investigation never seems to cross his mind. Nobody is trying to move Jamy Ian Swiss' tent, they're trying to expand it.

Last, I find it ironic that Loxton should complain about "conflation" (pg 63) of scientific skepticism when he is so very guilty of it. Throughout the piece, he conflates skepticism with scientific skepticism; the skeptical movement with CSICOP's mission, and skeptical activism with skeptical investigations and also with organized skepticism. Maybe he's using a different definition of "activist" than I am, but performing skeptical investigations and publishing one's results isn't at all the same thing as being an activist for skepticism (pg 27), no more than a medical researcher who insists on the highest standards for his experiments is an evidence-based medicine activist.

So again, the article has good history, and inspiring stories for keeping up the various fights, but it's a poor defense of the status quo.

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2013 :  15:35:22   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I thought Loxton made it clear that there is no area that scientific skepticism can't be applied as long as there are testable claims being made about it. I don't get how you got something different in what he was saying there, Dave. The only criteria for it to be scientific skepticism is that the claims need to be amendable to scientific inquiry.

I don't have time now to find you the relevant quotes. I'll do tonight if I get the chance.


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Dave W.
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26012 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2013 :  16:01:13   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

I thought Loxton made it clear that there is no area that scientific skepticism can't be applied as long as there are testable claims being made about it. I don't get how you got something different in what he was saying there, Dave. The only criteria for it to be scientific skepticism is that the claims need to be amendable to scientific inquiry.
I know. He did. And then he made it clear that skeptics should stick to the paranormal (pg 52):
When we stick to the paranormal stuff we do well—our only unique contribution—we occupy a niche. (Loxton's emphasis.)
I don't know why he thinks occupying a niche is a good idea.
I don't have time now to get you the relevant quotes. I'll do tonight if I get the chance.
No need. I agree that he says that scientific skepticism can study anything amenable to scientific investigation. I'm not arguing against that. My problems are that the skeptic movement is not currently limited to those who practice only scientific skepticism (has it ever been?), and that Loxton is clearly reluctant to say that we should get involved with "fringe" claims outside of paranormal subjects (aside from medical claims, he seems all for investigating non-paranormal medical ideas, too. Oh, and non-paranormal dowsing. And evolution denial).

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2013 :  20:09:00   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave:
I know. He did. And then he made it clear that skeptics should stick to the paranormal (pg 52):

[i]When we stick to the paranormal stuff we do well—our only unique contribution—we occupy a niche.[i]


No no. He's saying that no other community deals with paranormal claims the way skeptics do. That can't be said about most of the claims we challenge regularly. And that's what makes it a niche that scientific skepticism fills. No one else is doing it. That's the reason CSICOP came into being. He's not saying that other testable claims shouldn't be challenged. Other testable claims are challenged all the time.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2013 :  21:40:18   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave:
However, it seems to be missing a target. 63 pages of article plus 177 end notes and only once (in end note 119) does Loxton provide a specific example of what he's arguing against. Instead, we are treated to vague phrases like "Newer skeptics" (pg 14), "Some critics" (pg 36) and "common misconception" (pg 40). So it seems to me that a lot of what he's arguing against are straw criticisms.

Are you suggesting that the accusation that skeptics avoid criticism of religion is not pervasive in some circles? Or that Loxton should have provided more than one example?

Let me ask you a question. What exactly does it mean to be called an accommodationist?
Dave:
In fact, the idea that there are "fringe claims" related to subjects like feminism, atheism or politics which are amenable to scientific skeptical investigation never seems to cross his mind. Nobody is trying to move Jamy Ian Swiss' tent, they're trying to expand it.

Myers called atheism a subset of skepticism. Did he mean "scientific skepticism?" Atheism is a conclusion. In fact, it's a metaphysical conclusion. Arriving at atheism might be by way of reason and critical thinking. But atheism is no more testable than pantheism is. While specific religious claims can often be tested, and rejected upon failing the test, just how does that make atheism a subset of skepticism? In order for atheism to be a subset of skepticism, wouldn’t we have to drop “scientific” from the equation?

Exactly why is it not sufficient enough that there is an atheist movement, in greater numbers than the skeptical movement, and there is sometimes overlap? (Testable claims.)

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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  09:19:31   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil
Let me ask you a question. What exactly does it mean to be called an accommodationist?
I usually see it broadly defined as someone who thinks religious faith is compatible with science.

Now I have a question. What's the difference between the "paranormal" and the "supernatural?"

Myers called atheism a subset of skepticism. Did he mean "scientific skepticism?"
No.

Atheism is a conclusion. In fact, it's a metaphysical conclusion.
So it is. Do you feel skepticism cannot be applied to metaphysical claims?

Arriving at atheism might be by way of reason and critical thinking. But atheism is no more testable than pantheism is.
But it's more reasonable, and as a hypothesis it fits the evidence better than all others. It makes less assumptions, and does not multiply entities beyond necessity. These details should matter to a skeptic.

While specific religious claims can often be tested, and rejected upon failing the test, just how does that make atheism a subset of skepticism?
Because skepticism is a philosophical position. Science is merely one tool used to inform that position. It is not the only tool.

In order for atheism to be a subset of skepticism, wouldn’t we have to drop “scientific” from the equation?
I, for one, have no idea what that "scientific" is doing there in the first place, as I think it's redundant. Testing testable claims is already called science. Evaluating claims is skepticism. (Science, which is the testing of empirical claims, is therefore a large, but still limited, subset of skepticism). Claims that cannot be directly tested by science can still be skeptically evaluated.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 02/10/2013 09:32:35
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  10:35:48   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Humbert:
Because skepticism is a philosophical position. Science is merely one tool used to inform that position. It is not the only tool

But it is demonstrably the best tool because it relies in empiricism. It's hardly redundant because in reality, it delivers facts rather than conjecture. It's objective by its very nature. I have no problem with applying logic and critical thinking to questions about god. And I have reached the same conclusion as many skeptics have. I'm an atheist. But it seems to me that insisting that those other methods carries the weight of scientific skepticism is simply wrong in matters of empiricism. No one is saying that other methods can not be used to get as close to a logical conclusion as we can with regard to those things that we doubt. But skepticism, the brand, deals with claims that can be empirically tested.

The problem is if conjecture and reason is conflated with empiricism, which is admittedly a narrow and intended application of skepticism, the word "skeptic" as it's been traditionally applied, while not being throw overboard, will become fuzzy in meaning and scope. How many atheists are skeptics? I see atheists who believe in many fringe claims but think of themselves as skeptics simply because they are atheists. So the whole thing becomes a muddle. "Skeptic" should mean something. And to that end, scientific skepticism is rock solid in its approach to untenable claims and not subject to opinions. All other uses of the word "skeptic" cannot produce incontrovertible results. And to my thinking, it's worth not conflating the two kinds of skepticism as one thing and call them all "skepticism" because it devalues empiricism.

Anyone can be skeptical about anything. True. But occums razor is sometimes wrong, Only testing produces rock solid results. Skepticism, by way of science, is the only tried and true method for sorting out bogus claims.

I'm not saying you can't doubt the existence of god or that it isn't a reasonable conclusion. I'm just saying that when we speak of skepticism, the brand, I think it's best to keep its scope limited to testable claims. That is hardly a redundancy, because most scientists are not actively skeptics and don't feel the need to be activists in that arena.

There is enough overlap that atheism can and should be an important part of the bigger tent we call "freethinking" and "humanism" and so on. But the push to broaden the skeptical tent to include untestable claims will just water down what it means to be a skeptic, the brand.

If a claim is testable, sure, its something that skeptics have not shied away from. Again, there is some overlap.

Humbert:
So it is. Do you feel skepticism cannot be applied to metaphysical claims?

Sure. If the claim is testable.

Humbert:
Now I have a question. What's the difference between the "paranormal" and the "supernatural?"

There is no difference. Any testable claim will be tested, no matter whether they are presented as paranormal or supernatural. We simply leave those claims that can't be tested to other methods, outside of traditional scientific skepticism, for consideration. I have explained the reason for that above.

And personally speaking, I call myself agnostic/atheist because of my skepticism. Before I became a skeptic, I called myself an atheist. It was the high regard that skepticism places on empiricism that caused me to rethink my position and include the skeptical take on the question of god in my self identity. Agnosticism is my nod to a lack of empirical evidence on the question. Atheism is my conclusion. Atheism might be informed by my agnosticism, but it's the agnosticism part that is the skeptical position.


Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  10:49:41   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Kil, what, in your opinion, is the difference between a scientist and a scientific skeptic?


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  11:03:51   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by H. Humbert

Kil, what, in your opinion, is the difference between a scientist and a scientific skeptic?


Scientists do science. Some scientists are also skeptics and apply there science to skepticism.

Yeah. Skepticism is a part of science. But scientists don't generally spend there time and use their expert knowledge to debunk fringe claims. Skepticism is a bit of a calling. Carl Sagan was actually accused by some scientists of wasting his time.

I should add that there are other experts who are not scientists, but use scientific protocols to debunk fringe claims. Randi is an obvious example of that.

Most of us are amateurs. Our job is to support the people doing the heavy lifting and to promote science and skepticism and a skeptical attitude in general.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  11:33:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil
Anyone can be skeptical about anything. True. But occums razor is sometimes wrong, Only testing produces rock solid results.
Testing produces evidence. Evidence, unconnected to any guiding philosophy, is useless, since there is no metric by which to evaluate that evidence. Skepticism is what allows us to turn a disjointed collection of facts into a conclusion.

Science can only demonstrate there is no evidence for ESP. Skepticism is what allows to conclude ESP does not exist.

Science can only tell us that all animals share a common ancestor. Skepticism is what allows us to conclude that evolution is true.

Science tells is there is no evidence for supernatural agency. Skepticism is what allows us to conclude supernatural agents do not exist.

To paraphrase Einstein, science without skepticism is lame. Skepticism without science is blind.



"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 02/10/2013 11:34:09
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  11:40:25   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Humbert:
To paraphrase Einstein, science without skepticism is lame. Skepticism without science is blind.

Again, skepticism is a part of science. Einstein in the very broadest sense is describing scientific skepticism. But really he's talking about how skepticism serves science by way of the sci-method of peer review and criticism within science.

Science can only demonstrate there is no evidence for ESP. Skepticism is what allows to conclude* ESP does not exist.

No it doesn't. Skepticism allows us to conclude that a specific claim is bogus. While it's unlikely to exist, based on all the failures in testing,
ESP still can't be ruled out. That's why we keep testing it. A conclusion about the existence of ESP is not skepticism. Doubt (even strongly held) about the existence of ESP is skepticism.

And so on...

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  12:54:23   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

No no. He's saying that no other community deals with paranormal claims the way skeptics do. That can't be said about most of the claims we challenge regularly. And that's what makes it a niche that scientific skepticism fills. No one else is doing it. That's the reason CSICOP came into being. He's not saying that other testable claims shouldn't be challenged. Other testable claims are challenged all the time.
They certainly are, but Loxton lauds skeptical inquiry into testable paranormal claims, and in contrast has negative things to say about "when we branch out."

Also:
Are you suggesting that the accusation that skeptics avoid criticism of religion is not pervasive in some circles? Or that Loxton should have provided more than one example?
I'm saying that Loxton is arguing about the relation of skepticism to several subjects, but only provided a concrete example of a single false accusation (fairly low-hanging fruit, too) regarding the movement's treatment of religion.
Let me ask you a question. What exactly does it mean to be called an accommodationist?
As I understand it, an accommodationist is a skeptic who is willing to overlook even blatantly false religious claims because the claimant has something else of value to the skeptic.
Myers called atheism a subset of skepticism.
He's wrong.
Did he mean "scientific skepticism?"
Undoubtedly not.
Atheism is a conclusion. In fact, it's a metaphysical conclusion. Arriving at atheism might be by way of reason and critical thinking. But atheism is no more testable than pantheism is.
Some noted skeptics disagree, like Richard Dawkins. Apply a Bayesian analysis to the empirical evidence at hand, and the result is that it's highly unlikely that any gods exist, and even less likely that any specific gods do. More to the point, on page 42, Loxton wrote:
We cannot demonstrate that Carl Sagan’s neighbor has no invisible, undetectable dragon in his garage—but only proceed, as a methodological matter, on the basis that we are unable to discern any difference between an undetectable dragon and no dragon at all.
So why would any scientific skeptic be a theist or deist? For all practical purposes, there is no difference between untestable gods and non-existent gods. In our role as consumer-protection advocates (not a skeptical position, by the way, but a philosophical one roundly applauded by Loxton!), we should be warning people away from religions in exactly the same way that we warn them away from any other field plagued with fraud.

"We can't tell you with certainty that Uri Geller doesn't have telekinetic powers, but we don't think he does and can show you how to do exactly the same things that he does without such powers" is precisely analogous to "we can't tell you with certainty that God doesn't exist, but we don't think any do and can show you how to get all the supposed benefits of religion without one." The large skeptic organizations and many individual skeptics certainly do avoid saying that. Why? From an empirical standpoint - the evidence and methods for arriving at both conclusions - they are identical.
While specific religious claims can often be tested, and rejected upon failing the test, just how does that make atheism a subset of skepticism?
You should ask PZ Myers.
Exactly why is it not sufficient enough that there is an atheist movement, in greater numbers than the skeptical movement, and there is sometimes overlap? (Testable claims.)
Exactly how does a skeptical, rational, tentative conclusion about the existence of gods differ from the same sort of conclusion about faries?

Also:
But it is demonstrably the best tool because it relies in empiricism.
No, science is demonstrably the best tool for investigating empirical claims. It is utterly worthless for examining philosophical claims. Skeptics have other tools for that. People who apply skepticism only to empirical claims do not, I suppose they have to guess.
But skepticism, the brand, deals with claims that can be empirically tested.
No, that's scientific skepticism. Are you claiming that scientific skeptics get to own the word "skepticism?" That was the subtext of the arguments against Skepticon's name.

(Here, by the way, is a decent post from PZ Myers on anti-atheist bigotry within the skeptic movement.)
The problem is if conjecture and reason is conflated with empiricism, which is admittedly a narrow and intended application of skepticism, the word "skeptic" as it's been traditionally applied, while not being throw overboard, will become fuzzy in meaning and scope. How many atheists are skeptics? I see atheists who believe in many fringe claims but think of themselves as skeptics simply because they are atheists. So the whole thing becomes a muddle. "Skeptic" should mean something. And to that end, scientific skepticism is rock solid in its approach to untenable claims and not subject to opinions. All other uses of the word "skeptic" cannot produce incontrovertible results. And to my thinking, it's worth not conflating the two kinds of skepticism as one thing and call them all "skepticism" because it devalues empiricism.
"Skepticism" means something, and "scientific skepticism" means something more specific. You're guilty of trying to conflate the two, while ironically arguing against conflating terms. "Empiricism" means something different from "scientific skepticism," you shouldn't conflate them, either.

And in fact, if you (and others) would quit conflating those terms, then calling atheism a skeptical conclusion (for example) would do nothing at all to devalue or muddle what scientific skepticism is and does.
...Only testing produces rock solid results.
Actually, it does not. Scientific experiment is the best way to approach empirical truth, but it can never reach 100% certainty. You know this (even though it is a philosophical position, and not an empirical one).
But the push to broaden the skeptical tent to include untestable claims will just water down what it means to be a skeptic, the brand.
The scientific-skeptical tent already includes untestable claims, like that science activism, education, warning people away from con-men, or even saving lives are good things, goals to be supported. So it is demonstrably true that some untestable claims are welcomed within the tent with open arms, while others are shut out. The dividing line over what's welcome and what's not is certainly not testability.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Why not question something for a change?
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  12:57:02   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Again, skepticism is a part of science.
Skepticism is necessary for science. Science is not necessary for skepticism.

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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  13:09:54   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil
Again, skepticism is a part of science.
I think that's entirely backwards, and probably a large source of our disagreement. It is my contention that science is in fact an extension of skepticism. Specifically, science is skepticism applied to empirical matters.

Science can only demonstrate there is no evidence for ESP. Skepticism is what allows to conclude* ESP does not exist.
No it doesn't. Skepticism allows us to conclude that a specific claim is bogus. While it's unlikely to exist, based on all the failures in testing, ESP still can't be ruled out. That's why we keep testing it.
Nothing can ever be "ruled out." This is true whether a claim in empirical in nature or not. We are always forced to keep our conclusions tentative, but they are still conclusions. We keep testing things because our tentative conclusions are subject to revision if new evidence is presented.

The scientific skeptics seem to be alleging we cannot ever come to any conclusions about anything, that all we can ever say is some claim is supported while some others are not. That's not skepticism as I recognize it. That's merely putting claims into categories. It's a classification system at best. It doesn't tell us how to deal with unevidenced claims. Do we reject them? Accept them? What does evidence matter, anyway?

Skepticism, if it is to be of any practical value, must be a means of evaluating claims for the purpose of coming to tentative conclusions. If it is not, then there is no point in making the evaluation in the first place. And that's entirely the problem with scientific skepticism as it is presented, it doesn't allow us to conclude anything. It's useless, essentially.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 02/10/2013 13:17:46
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2013 :  13:17:41   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Did you read the article, Humbert?

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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