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Philo
Skeptic Friend

57 Posts

Posted - 02/28/2018 :  12:43:42  Show Profile Send Philo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Some problems of the skeptic movement: https://www.skeptiker.ch/some-problems-of-the-skeptic-movement/

Do you agree with this criticism or not?

Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13408 Posts

Posted - 02/28/2018 :  21:45:56   [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 Philo

Some problems of the skeptic movement: https://www.skeptiker.ch/some-problems-of-the-skeptic-movement/

Do you agree with this criticism or not?
That link doesn't work for me.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Philo
Skeptic Friend

57 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2018 :  11:13:41   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Philo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
That's strange, it works fine for me.
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25939 Posts

Posted - 03/02/2018 :  20:35:19   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I kinda doubt that the author would be upset with us copying his post wholesale, so here it is, formatted for our forum:

Some problems of the skeptic movement


Marko Kovic / 27.02.2018

Thoughts about the present and the (best) future for rational skepticism.

Introduction


For about the last five years, I have been the president of the Swiss Skeptics, a nonprofit based in Zurich, Switzerland. Now, as I am stepping down, I feel inclined to reflect, and there is much reflection to be done. Besides the failings of me as a leader (of which there are many), I have been thinking about the skeptic movement in and of itself a lot.

Coming into contact with rational, scientific skepticism (as opposed to the irrational flavor of skepticism, as in “climate change skeptics”) has probably been the most important part of my personal intellectual development. Rational skepticism has influenced my thinking much more profoundly than, say, my academic education and work (including my PhD). The way I think about the world and about my own thinking has been radically shaped and improved by skepticism: Had I never come into contact with the skeptic movement, I might still be mostly unaware of how fallible the human mind is when it comes to forming beliefs and making inferences about the world. I owe a lot to the skeptic movement.

Over time, however, I have grown somewhat disenchanted with the skeptic movement. I don’t want to diminish the work of the skeptic community: Many amazing people put a lot of effort into rational skepticism. But I believe that there are several problems within the skeptics movement that ultimately hold it back from being truly effective. In the following sections, I will try to describe some of those problems.

Skepti-what? Ill-defined basic concepts


Individuals and organizations who subscribe to the notion of rational skepticism probably have roughly similar ideas about the way they try to understand the world. But what exactly does skepticism mean? Surely there is some definition (or family of definitions) that explains what exactly is meant by rational skepticism? Unfortunately, and surprisingly, that is not the case.

Here is how the late and great Carl Sagan understood skepticism [1]:
What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and, especially important, to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premises or starting point and whether that premise is true.
For Carl Sagan, skepticism seems to be mostly about proper logic. Another influential definition is that coined by Michael Shermer in his “skeptic manifesto” [2]. In this manifesto, a rational skeptic is referred to as a person with the following traits:
One who questions the validity of particular claims of knowledge by employing or calling for statements of fact to prove or disprove claims, as a tool for understanding causality.
This understanding of skepticism seems to be somewhat different from the first one. In this definition, skepticism means questioning the validity of “claims of knowledge”, by relying on “statements of fact” to prove or disprove claims. Also, skepticism is a tool for “understanding causality”. Another definition that you are likely to stumble upon on Google is the following one by Brian Dunning from the website Skeptoid [3]:
It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.
This definition is similar to the first one, but the focus seems to be on the fact that one should arrive at valid conclusions in an open-minded manner instead of trying to support what they already believe to be true. Yet another definition that I have found several times is one proposed by the clinical neurologist and skeptic Steven Novella [4]:
A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.
In this definition, there is once again the element that we should avoid believing things that we merely want to believe and that we should instead seek valid “beliefs and conclusions”. In addition, there is an emphasis on the “pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception”. Finally, another definition that Google might redirect you to is one found on the wiki page RationalWiki [5]:
Skepticism (or scepticism) is the art of constantly questioning and doubting claims and assertions, and holding that the accumulation of evidence is of fundamental importance.
In this definition, the focus seems to be that within skepticism, “claims and assertions” are constantly questioned and that evidence is regarded as important for evaluating those claims and assertions.

The above definitions are only a limited sample, and they might be a biased, not very representative sample. But I think they demonstrate that definitions of rational skepticism are, ultimately, rather vague. Logic seems to play a role, as does evidence (Scientific evidence should be regarded as more pertinent when it comes to evaluating a claim than, say, feelings and wishful thinking.). These definitorial fragments, however, do not form a clear and coherent definition. If the skeptic movement has no somewhat clearly defined idea of what it is the movement adheres to, that is an obvious problem. Most skeptics, of course, don’t spend their time thinking about what skepticism is they are actually doing practical (and important!) work. The absence of a clear conceptual basis of rational skepticism, however, means that skeptics are ultimately unable to effectively communicate what it is that they do, and that they themselves rely on intuition and heuristics for justifying their skeptical work.

The skeptic movement needs to work on its basic concepts. I understand that most skeptics want to address real-world problems and do things, but getting the basics right (in the sense of accurate and precise definitions) is tremendously important for applied, practical skeptical work. In our organization, the Swiss Skeptics, we have tried to get the ball rolling in this area. In a discussion paper [6], I define skepticism as the process of applying critical thinking. Critical thinking, I propose, is a metacognitive skill applicable to the evaluation of truth claims. The metacognitive skill that is critical thinking, I further argue, consists of three components:
  • minimization of logical fallacies
  • minimization of cognitive biases
  • probabilistic epistemology
Working on definitions of core concepts might seem “boring” to some degree, but this is the foundational work upon which rational skepticism ought to be built. If we forgo this work and simply do applied skeptical things (that is, essentially, how things are now), then we risk not knowing why we are doing what we are doing, what exactly we should be doing, and how we should be doing it.

Goals, means, and prioritization


Skeptics do many things in many ways. In my opinion, the amount of work that members of the skeptic movement do all over the world is nothing short of amazing. Impressive though the work of the skeptic community is, it is also very heterogeneous. There is a whole lot going on in the skeptic movement, but in all that activity, it is hard to so what exactly the goals that are being pursued are. This problem of unclear goals in the skeptic movement is at least threefold:
  • Which goals are to be pursued?
  • Which goals are more important that others?
  • How should goals be pursued?
The first question is very difficult to answer in general. Often, we do things because we feel that doing them is the right thing, but we don’t necessarily specify what exactly it is that we want to achieve by doing them. In the skeptic movement, the main goals that are pursued seem to me somewhat vague. In general, skeptics pursue a melange of different kinds of goals. One of the goals seems to be to provide corrective information about claims that might have some form of negative consequences (Think of, for example, health charlatans.). A second goal of skeptics, it seems to me, is to spread awareness for science and the scientific method. A third goal of skeptics, I believe, is to provide general information about skepticism / critical thinking. Finally, a fourth goal of skeptics is to create a sense of community among fellow skeptics.

In a way, these goals are all valuable. But they are very broad, meaning that there are many potential specific sub-goals that can be pursued in order to achieve these meta-goals. There are not only many sub-goals, but also many means to achieving those goals. The means (or you could call them instrumental goals) that members of the skeptic movement employ span many different activities, such as blogs, websites, podcasts, conferences, books, and so forth. Skeptics want to achieve many different things and they do many different things in order to achieve them.

The multitude of goals that skeptics pursue is a consequence of the general nature of skepticism / critical thinking. Skepticism does not apply to one specific domain or issue, so skeptics have a lot of things to do. That is a big challenge, and that challenge is probably holding the skeptic movement back. There are so many goals skeptics pursue (at least tacitly) that deciding which goals to pursue and how to pursue them is difficult. I call this the prioritization problem of the skeptic movement.

In order for the skeptic movement to become more effective and more efficient, we need a substantive prioritization debate. Such a debate is essentially inexistent today, besides the occasional less-than-constructive criticism [7]. Working on defining goals and means for achieving goals might seem “boring”, just as conceptual work described further above might. Developing a framework for identifying and prioritizing goals is essential foundational work, however. Imagine, for example, starting a company: Having a highly motivated team that wants to do things is great, but having no plan whatsoever about what exactly your company is supposed to do and how it is supposed to do it is not the best course of action.

Reacting or acting?


One of the most prominent traits of the skeptic movement, in my view, is the fact that skeptics are quick and very good at providing corrective information whenever irrational and scientifically dubious claims are made in the public sphere. For example, when some well-known celebrity promotes unsubstantiated health claims, skeptics are very good at discussing those claims and evaluating them in light of the best evidence that is available. That is an enormously valuable public service.

However, the fact that skeptics usually react to events is also one of the reasons why the impact of the skeptic community is limited. In order to have greater impact, skeptics should be much more active, not just reactive. Reacting to events means that the agenda is set by outside events, not by skeptics. When skeptics are merely reacting to events, their goals are ultimately dictated to them. I believe that skeptics should be reactive only when that serves their overal goals or when it is an instrumental goal. Simply reacting to events because they are happening is a bad strategy that is “wasting” resources that might be used more effectively for other purposes. Of course, this specific criticism does not mean that all members of the skeptic movement only react to events. There are plenty of “proactive” individuals, organizations, and projects within the skeptic movement. Some that come to mind are the Good Thinking Society in the UK [8], the Information Network Homeopathy in Germany [9], or, alas, the Swiss Skeptics (The majority of our activities are active rather than reactive.). I believe that the majority of the available resources in the skeptic movement should be invested in “proactive” activities.

Low levels of professionalization


Some resources in the skeptic community are plentiful. There are many motivated and skilled people in the movement who are willing to invest a lot of time and effort into the movement. Unfortunately, one resources that is lacking is money. Without money, there is no professionalization, and without professionalization, there is no sustainable impact.

Most organizations in the skeptic movement are nonprofits. While that is not a bad thing in and of itself, most skeptical nonprofits have relatively little money at their disposal. The result of that pecuniary situation is that only few people are able to make a living from working in skeptical organizations. Ultimately, this means that skeptical work is a voluntary activity that people have to squeeze around their professional, day job routines. This situation is detrimental in at least two ways. First, even though there is plenty of manpower in the skeptic movement, most of it is limited, part-time manpower. Second, when push comes to shove, many active skeptics have to suspend or even completely abandon their voluntary skeptical work and focus on their professional careers. That is simply the way the world works: Adults need money to live.

One of the highest priorities of skeptical organizations should be to generate revenue streams that are as large and as sustainable as possible. That is not to say that skeptical organizations should become for-profit companies (Even though I believe that there is a place for skeptical entrepreneurship.). Money is simply the most important resource for any kind of organization: When you have money, you can pay people for working, and when you pay people to work for you, and when people work for you in this professional manner, much more work can be done than on a purely voluntary basis. Generating as much money as possible is necessary in order to make the skeptic movement more effective and more efficient.

Fragmentation


The premise of this article is that there is a skeptic movement. Social movements, of course, are not as easy to pin down as other forms of social activity. For example, there are pretty clear and unambiguous criteria for defining and spotting a company. Movements, on the other hand, are inherently diffuse. What makes a movement a movement is usually something like a shared set of beliefs and some level of formal or informal interaction within a network of individuals, groups, and organizations [10] [11]. Is the skeptic movement really a movement?

One commonly accepted trait of what I refer to as the skeptic movement is that there are many individuals and organizations around the world who, presumably, belong to this movement. None of these individuals and organizations, however, share a truly coherent set of beliefs and they do not interact with each other in a coordinated manner. There are attempts to change that. For example, one of the most important projects for creating some level of regional inter-organizational coordination is the European Council of Skeptical Organisations ECSO [12]. Even though the ECSO is over 20 years old, it recently underwent a slight “modernization” process that resulted in new ideas and new activities. Even though the ECSO is facing the same challenges as other skeptical organizations (such as a lack of funding and thus no professionalization), efforts such as ECSO are crucial for making the skeptic movement more manifestly a movement. That does not mean that all skeptical individuals and organizations need to have the same goals and do the same things. Some level of coordination and cooperation will simply help to better align beliefs, goals, and activities within the skeptic movement.

Star culture


One of the, arguably, best features of the skeptic movement is also one of its major weaknesses: The star culture. There are many prominent skeptics who are well known outside of skeptic circles, such as Daniel Dennet, James Randi, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Lawrence Krauss, and so forth. That can be a great thing: If one of the main meta-goals of skeptics is to build awareness for rational skepticism, then prominent skeptical ambassadors are very helpful in achieving that goal.

The star culture in the skeptic movement might be beneficial in some regards, but it is not withouth its downsides. First, and perhaps most importantly: Success of skeptical stars does not necessarily translate into overall success for the skeptic movement. Simply because a few prominent skeptics are well known and successful as, for example, book authors does not mean that the skeptic movement as a whole is able to achieve goals more effectively or more efficiently because of that. Even the opposite is possible. For example, skeptics tend to invest a lot of resources into bringing star skeptics to skeptical conferences. Those resources might be better used in the pursuit of other, higher priority goals. Second, when a few stars are very important for the skeptic movement, the professional and personal failings of those stars can hurt the movement. For example, it has been reported in some detail how Lawrence Krauss systematically engaged in sexual harassment for years [13]. His behavior has damaged the skeptic movement in the United States, but it was tolerated for years because of his stardom. Third, the skeptic star culture is not sustainable. If and when star skeptics leave the limelight or die, their absence can leave a void that is not easy to fill.

The skeptic movement does not necessarily have to abandon star culture altogether, but it should regard it as an instrumental goal. Prominent skeptical ambassadors can be an effective tool for achieving some goals, but skeptical ambassadors are not a meta-goal in and of themselves.

Too little substance


The skeptic movement is amazingly productive: A great number of articles on blogs and websites as well as many podcasts are created every day. But it seems to me that, overall, the great majority of those outputs are geared towards covering many specific topics and not towards analyzing only a few topics in greater detail. The result of this is that skeptics produce a lot of text and audio (and sometimes video) output, but most of that output is limited in substance.

This might sound harsh, but remember that further above, I lament both the lack of money as well as the tendency of skeptics to react rather than to act. When there is no money to employ people and when skeptics usually react to events, the natural outcome is that most of the skeptical output is rather brief and episodic. I believe that the skeptic movement should begin to invest some of its resources into projects that dig a little deeper and take more time. There are two benefits to doing so. First, when skeptics engage in substantive projects, they can create beacons of information and discourse for other skeptics as well as for the public at large. For example, conceptual work on skepticism should be done in the form of such projects, and the output is useful to everybody. Even though such projects might take relatively longer than, say, a single blogpost, they ultimately save time, because they can be relatively well-sourced and extensive, so that they represent work other skeptical individuals and organizations can use, rely on, and improve upon. Second, more profound projects have an important signaling function to the public at large as well as to specific stakeholders. When a skeptical organization wants to approach, for example, policy stakeholders or the media, doing so with some specific substantive original work is much easier than with a loose collection of blog posts and podcast episodes.

What might such more substantive projects look like? At the Swiss Skeptics, we try to engage in three forms of such more “substantive” work. We have discussion papers [14] (to continue in 2018 after a break in 2017), some tentative practical projects [15], and we have begun doing research [16]. These formats are not necessarily the ones that other skeptical organizations should pursue, but our work shows one possible approach that is worth exploring.

Morality and politics


The skeptic movement is, traditionally, epistemologically inclined: Skeptics are mostly concerned with how people form beliefs and how that process can be improved. Morality, the question of how people should behave, is not traditionally a domain of rational skepticism. In the past couple of years, it seems to me that morality has become increasingly important in the skeptic movement, but, I am afraid, not in a good way.

Many skeptics have disliked so-called “postmodernism” for quite a while. In 1996, the physicist Alan Sokal published a fake postmodernist philosophical paper that was meant to criticize the most irrational tendencies of postmodern thought [17] [18]. Such criticism is justified: I believe that a lot of postmodernist work, and, for that matter, most of continental philosophy in general, is irrational. Most skeptics who have heard of postmodernism probably have a negative attitude towards it. Bashing postmodernism is even a bit of a trope in the skeptic movement.

Rejecting postmodernism (and continental philosophy) is essentially a correct attitude, I believe. Being reflexively critical of postmodernism, however, might act as a sort of priming mechanism for skeptics when it comes to other issues that might sound vaguely related to postmodernism. Specifically, there are many skeptics who are openly critical of feminism, gender studies, and so-called “social justice warriors”. I don’t think it is wrong for members of the skeptic movement to have opinions and beliefs on issues of morality. It just seems to me that some opinions and beliefs of skeptics are not derived from substantive arguments, but rather from simple heuristics such as, perhaps, that anything that vaguely touches upon issues that continental philosophy also touches upon (inequality, sexism, social justice, and so forth) is automatically wrong.

In 2017, the skeptics James Lindsay and Pether Boghossian published a fake paper in the style of the Alan Sokal fake paper from 1996. The paper is called “The conceptual penis as a social construct”, and it was intended to sort of “debunk” gender studies [19]. The hoax was widely praised in the skeptic community as evidence that gender studies are nonsense, just as postmodernism is. Upon closer inspection, though, the joke turned out to be on skeptics, not on gender studies. As Alan Sokal himself noted [20], the hoax proves nothing about gender studies. The fake paper was not published in a gender studies journal, but instead in a generalist social science pay-for-publication journal. The conceptual penis hoax did not “debunk” gender studies in any way (Which is not to say that the field of gender studies is not without problems.). Instead, the conceptual penis hoax exposed the irrational, confirmation bias-driven desire of parts of the skeptic movement to partly reject the debate about some moral and, in extension, political issues.

I am concerned with how the skeptic movement is dealing with questions of morality. Parts of the skeptic movement have apparently espoused moral positions and discursive styles similar to those of, say, the “alt-right”. The problem with that is not a specific moral position, since there is no a priori reason why members of the alt-right cannot hold a correct moral position. For example, some prominent members of the alt-right criticize so-called safe spaces and trigger warnings on university campuses [21] [22], and I believe that safe spaces and trigger warnings are indeed morally dubious at best [23]. What matters is not a specific moral position, but the process of arriving at that position. When it comes to morality, many skeptics seem to have no problem with abandoning principles that they otherwise cherish, such as logically sound arguments. Let it be noted that the terrain of morality within the skeptic movement is mostly unmapped, however, so my anecdotal observations might be imprecise and inaccurate. In any way, the skeptic movement should embrace rigorous analysis about moral issues and not adopt potentially fallacious ad hoc conclusions.

The branding problem


The skeptic movement is facing a perennial challenge: The branding problem. Saying that you or that an organization is “skeptical” carries with it a negative connotation. Of course, rational skepticism is not the same as everyday skepticism in the sense of simple disbelief. Conveying that, however, is difficult. Also, there are “skeptical” groups out there that have very little to do with rational skepticism, such as climate change “skeptics” or vaccination “skeptics”. I don’t know that there is a clear path for dealing with the branding problem. Perhaps skeptical organizations should simply rebrand to such a degree that “skeptic” is not in their name. In addition, the skeptic movement should produce easy to understand information about what rational skepticism is.

Conclusion: What is the future of rational skepticism?


It is very difficult to predict where the movement of rational skepticism is going. The best might be yet to come: If the skeptic movement embraces a reformation that deals with the problems that I have tried to outline above, I am confident that the skeptic movement can become more efficient and more effective.

A skeptical reformation is easier said than done. Having a more focused and more effective skeptic movement is something that a majority of skeptics would probably like, but making that reformation happen is difficult. I don’t think the skeptical reformation is going to be a grassroots, bottom up process. Instead, a few skeptical organizations will have to take the lead and position themselves as focal points of the modernization of the skeptic movement. It is not obvious where the cradle of the skeptical reformation can and should be. The skeptic movement originated with and was popularized by North American individuals, groups, and organizations, but there is no reason why the skeptical reformation should not be initiated by European organizations.



References



[1] Sagan, Carl, and Ann Druyan. 1997. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Reprint edition. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

[2] Shermer, Michael, and Stephen Jay Gould. 2002. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. Revised & Enlarged edition. New York: Holt Paperbacks.

[3] “What Is Skepticism?” n.d. Skeptoid. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://skeptoid.com/skeptic.php.

[4] “Skepticblog#8239; Skeptic The Name Thing Again.” n.d. Accessed February 26, 2018. http://www.skepticblog.org/2008/11/17/skeptic-the-name-thing-again/.

[5] “Skepticism.” n.d. RationalWiki. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Skepticism.

[6] Kovic, Marko. 2016. “A Generalized Definition of Critical Thinking.” Swiss Skeptics Discussion Paper Series 1 (1): 131. https://www.skeptiker.ch/a-generalized-definition-of-critical-thinking/

[7] Horgan, John. 2016. “Dear ‘Skeptics,’ Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More.” Scientific American. 2016. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/dear-skeptics-bash-homeopathy-and-bigfoot-less-mammograms-and-war-more/.

[8] “Good Thinking Society.” n.d. Good Thinking Society. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://goodthinkingsociety.org/.

[9] Information Network Homeopathy (INH)

[10] Tarrow, Sidney G. 2011. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge University Press.

[11] Porta, Donatella della, and Alice Mattoni. 2015. “Social Movements.” In The International Encyclopedia of Political Communication. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118541555.wbiepc010.

[12] “European Council of Skeptical Organisations.” n.d. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.ecso.org/.

[13] Aldhous, Peter, Azeen Ghorayshi, and Virginia Hughes. 2018. “Celebrity Atheist Lawrence Krauss Accused Of Sexual Misconduct For Over A Decade.” BuzzFeed. 2018. https://www.buzzfeed.com/peteraldhous/lawrence-krauss-sexual-harassment-allegations.

[14] “Discussion Papers.” 2016. Skeptiker Schweiz. June 14, 2016. https://www.skeptiker.ch/discussion-paper/.

[15] “Projekte.” 2017. Skeptiker Schweiz. April 29, 2017. https://www.skeptiker.ch/projekte/.

[16] Kovic, Marko, and Tobias Füchslin. 2017. “Probability and Conspiratorial Thinking.” SocArXiv, March. https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/B6QTF.

[17] Sokal, Alan. 2000. The Sokal Hoax: The Sham That Shook the Academy. U of Nebraska Press.

[18] Sokal, Alan. 2010. Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[19] Boghossian, Peter, and James Lindsay. 2017. “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies.” Skeptic. May 19, 2017. https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/conceptual-penis-social-contruct-sokal-style-hoax-on-gender-studies/.

[20] Sokal, Alan. 2017. “What the ‘Conceptual Penis’ Hoax Does and Does Not Prove.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 14, 2017. https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-the-Conceptual/240344.

[21] Nagle, Angela. 2017. Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right. John Hunt Publishing.

[22] Wang, Amy X. 2017. “‘The Snowflakes Need to Be Shaken up a Bit’: America’s Colleges Brace for the Age of Trump.” Quartz (blog). 2017. https://qz.com/880120/the-snowflakes-need-to-be-shaken-up-a-bit-americas-colleges-brace-for-the-age-of-trump/.

[23] Haidt, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan, Greg Lukanioff, and Jonathan Haidt. 2015. “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The Atlantic, September 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13408 Posts

Posted - 03/02/2018 :  22:16:45   [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
Okay. Well... I guess I'll chew on the above for awhile. Very quickly, however, I don't think there is a cohesive or a coherent skeptical movement anymore. I used to think so, but I don't anymore. I do think there are very effective skeptics out there who have the support of skeptics like me. Hardly a movement but there you go. I also think the most important contribution that skeptics bring to the table is a set of tools that come into play in reaction to dubious claims of fact. So yeah. Skepticism is highly reactive. It is almost by definition (no matter which definition you choose) reactive.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll think about it.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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Philo
Skeptic Friend

57 Posts

Posted - 03/03/2018 :  07:07:47   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Philo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Do you mean that there once was a skeptical movement but is no more, or that there never was one?

I think there is a skeptical movement, for the reasons that Steven Novella write: https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/bigfoot-skeptics-new-atheists-politics-and-religion/

I do think, first of all, that the skeptical movement is a movement. We have organizations, outlets, meetings, activists, and our own subculture. However, we are a movement of people who generally do not like labels, are very protective of their intellectual independence, and do not like, ironically, belonging to movements. Further, skeptics represent a wide diversity of backgrounds and opinions on many topics.


I also think that there is an atheist movement, though of course not all atheists are part of it. I also think it is different and separate from the skeptical movement, though there is a great deal of overlap in members and in interests.
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
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Posted - 03/03/2018 :  11:07:57   [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
Philo:
Do you mean that there once was a skeptical movement but is no more, or that there never was one?

Good question. My comment may have a lot to do with my disenchantment with what is called, "the skeptical movement." Perhaps Novella makes a good point about what there is of it. It's true that there are orgs, outlets, meetings and so on. I even attend a group near where I live sometimes and of course, I'm a founder of SFN. I suppose there is a loose affiliation of groups that promote skepticism and people I know personally who are activist skeptics. It's just that after years of infighting over direction, a problem that I think is beyond our ability to solve or even in need of solving, I walked away. Not from skepticism but from movement skepticism. I think it would be fairer to call what we are a skeptical network. We know each other but we kinda do our own thing, and I'm good with it being that way. Call it what you will. Novella calls it a movement.

Most of the stars of the movement mentioned in the article are problematic. I admire Steve Novella and James Randi. But see, there are stars of skepticism that don't define themselves as skeptical leaders in the movement skepticism. People like Brian Deer, Kevin Folta and even Neil deGrasse Tyson. Heck. Brian Deer's investigative journalism exposed and brought down Andrew Wakefield. I'm not sure how important it is that we have designated stars of skepticism. We keep getting burned in that area. But we are flush with experts in various subjects of concern to skeptics. I don't see anyone out there who will fit the face of skepticism in the way that Randi has done.

What can I say? I wish Marko Kovic good luck. I think his goals are admirable. But I also know what I've seen over the last 25 years which, for all the disagreements, wasn't without some upsides. Skeptics have made a positive difference in several areas doing what skeptics do.

On the proactive side, I'd love to see courses in critical thinking not just be the purview of english department debating classes. To my way of thinking, critical thinking should be taught from elementary school onward as a necessary skill for getting through life, as important as any other required subject. To me that would be proactive skepticism even if the word "skepticism" is never mentioned. I think most, if not all of us, agree on that one. Perhaps the proactive goal we should be aiming for is to put ourselves out of business by way of education.

I know I'm rambling...




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Philo
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Posted - 03/03/2018 :  15:38:05   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Philo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
You had a disenchantment? I never knew that. Was it recent, or was it a long time ago?

I don't know if the skeptical movement is any more chaotic or infighting than other social movements. I'm somewhat familiar with libertarianism and the libertarian movement (for clarification, I am not a libertarian). They have their different factions, for example minarchism vs anarchism. Should they run for elections, or is that a way to legitimize, in their view, an unjsut system? And so on.

Think of all the ideologies, broadly defined, who through history achieved great political power. Christianity, communism, and so on. These groups eventually splitted up, infighting. This is just the general human tendency. Is skepticism any worse?

As I can see, the two major disputes within skepticism is to what extent religion and atheism are included, and about politics. The "orthodox", if you will, skeptical position, I think held by virtually every skeptic organization and prominent skeptic, is that they are dealt with by skeptics to the extent that they make empirical claims.

Again, I think Novella has a sensible approach. He has stated that he wants to be an activist skeptic, and is willing to make common cause with other activist skeptics. He doesn't care if they are also activists for other causes, like atheism or some political ideology, as long as that cause is not inherently in opposition to skepticism.

Compared to a few years ago, I think the prospects for skepticism look pretty good. Check out this recent interview with Evan Bernstein: https://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/an_interview_with_csicon_speaker_evan_bernstein

Gerbic: We are all in this together, and we need to support each other. Like me, you have been involved in this skeptic world for years and been on the front lines with the drama we experienced back in 20122014. That was pretty painful, but I feel like we are healing; we lost a lot of people due to the drama, but we have gained a lot more, that have no idea what I’m talking about, and I would like to keep it that way. I think you have a pretty optimistic view of things; how do you rate the health of our community these days?

Bernstein: Movements have ebbs and flows. They all have ups and downs. This is not unusual. I am, overall, an optimistic person and I see the skeptic community, as a whole, as having long legs and a bright future. The modern skeptical movement founded by the likes of James Randi, Paul Kurtz, Isaac Asimov (among others) in the mid 1970s was the Big Bang of skepticism, and today, we are the galaxies that have coalesced in its wake. Are there some collisions and dramatic events that unfolded along the way? Of course. But the movement is greater than the sum of its parts. Our critical function—trying to help people everywhere achieve a more rational worldview—is the glue that will always keep the community intact.


I might be rambling too. ;)
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Dave W.
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Posted - 03/03/2018 :  19:04:12   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
It's sad that Gerbic wants to keep new skeptics in the dark about what "the rift" of 2012-2014 was all about. "Ignorance is bliss" is a hard line for a skeptic to push. And Bernstein is wearing rose-colored glasses regarding the community being "intact" due to our shared "critical function." (But how hip am I? I had to look up both of these people.)

That "drama" is, after all, why I won't give my hard-earned cash to organizations that continue to invite certain skeptical "stars" to events and conferences (and why I won't give my money to those jerks directly, either).

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Kil
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Posted - 03/03/2018 :  19:42:23   [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 see Susan Gerbic from time to time. She is very much a skeptical activist and does some good work. I didn't know that she is cool with keeping people in the dark about how things went down. It's never come up in conversation. Huh.

And yeah. I can understand where Bernstein is coming from being a long time member of SGU. I wonder if Steve Novella feels the same? I mean, as leading promoters of skepticism it might be helpful to see a rational view as "the glue that will always keep the community intact." I don't share his enthusiasm for the community but I do appreciate what SGU does and I'm glad that they are there doing it.


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Philo
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Posted - 03/03/2018 :  21:09:47   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Philo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Could you guys please outline exactly how things went down in 2012-2014? Would that be irreversible? Would skeptics all over the world (Europe, Australia, etc) share that point of view, or is it a US-specific point of view?

As for how Novella feels, I have no idea. I don't have any contact with him, or even know the man. The SGU tends to not discuss various controversies within the community very much. But at least to the outside, the SGU seems to be unwavering.

But if you know anything more than I do, then please share.

BTW, did you know that the SGU are releasing a book in October this year? Check it out: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1538760533/
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Philo
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Posted - 03/04/2018 :  05:27:52   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Philo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Here is some more from Novella:

Rethinking the Skeptical Movement: https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/rethinking-the-skeptical-movement/

As we have exploded as a movement, and migrated largely onto social media, the identity of movement skepticism has become diluted. This is partly because we have no real organization from the top down, or even any formal horizontal integration.

Some people go as far as to say that there is therefore no actual skeptical movement, just individuals who are skeptical. I disagree with that we have journals, and meetings, and organizations, and a common set of ideals and goals. We are a movement. We are just not a very organized movement.


Why We Need a Skeptical Movement: https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/why-we-need-a-skeptical-movement/

We are struggling with issues of ideological purity while groups experiment with new ways of slicing up rational activism, such as Atheism+ or the Brights.

I think all of this can ultimately be healthy, even if it is messy and difficult to watch. As long as we try to keep the conversation constructive and don’t forget our vast ideological overlap as we work out our differences.

For me, I celebrate the diversity of opinion and approaches. I don’t think any one has the one right answer, so let a thousand flowers bloom. We do need to step back every now and then and remember that there is a role for tolerance of diversity, and let’s not forget the deep commonality of world view that binds us together.

In the end Jon’s question, do we need a skeptical movement, is moot. We have one. The skeptical movement emerged out of our culture, and it can serve a very positive role.

Initially the skeptical movement was fairly top-down, organized by founders and leaders with brick-and-mortar infrastructures. A decade ago, however, the skeptical movement underwent a rebirth, this time from the bottom up. These two aspects of the movement are now meshing together, like waves crashing into each other, and we are still feeling the chaos and turbulence.

I do think we will emerge a bigger, stronger, and wiser movement. Meanwhile most skeptics are busy doing the work or promoting science and critical thinking, and the endless work of becoming better skeptics.


And from Daniel Loxton, The Long Road: http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/09/04/the-long-road/

Taking the long view can help. Remember that all academic fields and intellectual movements have their share of schisms, scandals, and personality conflicts. In the long run, most of that stuff gets forgotten—relegated to a footnote, reduced to a punchline. How many embittered arguments flared during the Sociobiology Wars of the 1970s; how many angry letters were drafted; how many lost nights’ sleep? Yet even science enthusiasts may strain to remember why protesters once dumped a pitcher of water on E.O.Wilson’s head3—and science just rolls on. In their day, the incandescent hatred of the Bone Wars waged between paleontologists Edward Cope and O.C. Marsh was shockingly public; but few today have heard of their campaigns of mutual destruction, while their dinosaur discoveries are known to every child. (It’s worth noting that these examples come to mind exactly because they’re among the best remembered. Most academic battles—consuming as they may seem to those involved—ultimately prove as ephemeral as smoke rings.)


And here is how a skeptical podcast describes itself: http://theesp.eu/about

The European Skeptics Podcast is an independent, weekly show hosted by three skeptics from different countries, representing several organisations and projects. The main focus of the podcast is to support European level actions within the skeptical movement.


In short, many skeptics causally assume that there is a skeptical movement. Seems pretty silly to deny it, at least to me.
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
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Posted - 03/04/2018 :  12:29:14   [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 don't deny that people like Loxton and Novella think that what is going on can be called a community. I guess it comes down to how you define a community. As Novella mentions, some of us, me for example, think we are individuals who are skeptics. More a network of people who identify as skeptics. Sure we share common goals in the reason department. Hopefully we do anyhow. But I know for a fact that it's not always so. If it's so important to Novella and Loxton to define this loosey bound group of individuals as a community, who am I to argue with them? I guess I don't really care. As I said before, call it what you will. The best I can do is offer my personal take.

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Dave W.
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Posted - 03/04/2018 :  17:44:34   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Philo

Could you guys please outline exactly how things went down in 2012-2014?
It actually started with ElevatorGate in July, 2011. But over the next few years, tensions were very high, and skeptical "stars" kept outing themselves as sexist, entitled jerks.

(By the way, I'd have to include Marko Kovic as one of those jerks for apparently basing his opinion of safe spaces and trigger warnings on a popular-press article with an obviously bigoted agenda. Very sad how the president of a skeptical organization can do so poorly at failing to recognize obvious logical fallacies.)

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ThorGoLucky
Snuggle Wolf

USA
1428 Posts

Posted - 03/11/2018 :  11:52:07   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit ThorGoLucky's Homepage Send ThorGoLucky a Private Message  Reply with Quote
There are now skeptical and atheist movements (plural). We need to have political blocks to counter religidiocy including religion-state encroachment and teaching science in schools.
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