I don’t normally invade my personal travel and culture-related website with topics related to metaphysics, the paranormal, etc. However, I felt it necessary to copy and paste a response I made to “skeptic” blogger Hayley Stevens, due to the ridiculous nature of some of her arguments, and because I posted this as a comment on her blog–which means she may not approve it, she may take it down, etc (and I like what I wrote, and I’d rather keep it available).
This is her original article: http://hayleyisaghost.co.uk/the-problem-with-militant-debunkers/
It’s a response to Michael Prescott, who often blogs about the unreasonable nature of internet skeptics, as well as legitimate evidence for certain supernatural topics. Hayley argues in support of the extreme skeptical community.
And below is my response. Enjoy:
Hayley Stevens, I find your lack of self-awareness to be strange. I’ll respond to this piece-by-piece:
“Militant Debunkers. They’re different from good skeptics because I say so and you can take my word on this because my opinions are right.”
Because it’s wrong to compare good examples versus poor examples of behavior? Wait a second, that’s what you’re doing in this post.
“I’m kidding of course, but this is the reasoning I see again and again from people who support or believe in certain paranormal ideas and claims, and it’s ridiculous. It’s an easy way to dismiss entirely the criticisms of your idea or field while pretending not to. It suggests that you can decide which criticisms of bad ideas are valid and which aren’t, but when you’re the one promoting nonsense I’m afraid that’s just not true. You can ignore skeptical criticism, of course, but you can’t dismiss it as Bad Skepticism™ just because it isn’t to your liking.”
Later in this post, you complain about Michael Prescott being derogatory. Yet, the primary issue that large swathes of the Internet has against “militant” skeptics (which is an appropriate term) involves not their arguments, but their often derogatory, hand-waving . condescending behavior. I think the term “militant” arose as the natural evolution from the “militant atheist”, which is a title they themselves slapped on their community. You then exhibit this very same behavior, in this post, by attempting to link the belief in certain paranormal topics as “promoting nonsense”.
Even on the Internet, where insults and boorish behaviors fly high under the guise of anonymity, few but the most annoying of examples of trolls would dismiss an entire argument based on some type of class-based warfare, ie: “Your point is invalid, because you’re a Bad Skeptic”. I never see this happen on the side of “proponents” when it comes to the world of “paranormal” debates, unless maybe if my sole exposure to this subject were the Godlike Productions forums or somewhere equally quacky.
Nobody of integrity that I’ve seen (and this includes Michael Prescott) has ever used the “You’re a bad skeptic, so your point is invalid” logical fallacy. I have no idea where you’re concocting this fantasy idea from. Rather, people all the time make the point that “This person is a militant skeptic and will not listen to a single thing I have to say, and they will instead feverishly promote their own agenda or community, while trying to convert people instead of reasonably discussing the issue.” Which is a valid point.
“People use the word skeptic to describe others and themselves inaccurately or unfairly all too often – if it isn’t climate change deniers trying to make their ignorance sound distinguished, or anti-vaccination quacks assuring you that their anti-science stance is justified, it is people like Michael Prescott asserting that Bad Skeptics™ are probably just sick in the head.”
First, for the record, you’re using intellectual sleight-of-hand to link Michael Prescott to be in the same trash-heap as the anti-vaccination crowd and anti climate-change crowd. As far as I know, Michael is not an anti-vaxxer; nor are people who believe in certain para topics automatically belonging to these types of fringe groups (this is the labeling-and-class-based-warfare that I see the aptly-named “militant skeptics” use constantly to push people together who have nothing to do with each other just to denigrate them).
The climate change thing… Well, I know Michael does post about that sometimes, and I learn toward disagreement, but I also look at some of the evidence that the anti climate-change crowd presents, and I’m not entirely convinced there aren’t some points mixed in there, as well. Of course, looking at all sides of the argument is a cardinal sin under the skeptical paradigm–my bad.
“Prescott recently wrote a post on his blog full of accusations that border on Ad Hominem. Don’t worry though because he pointed out that he was talking about Skeptics and not skeptics because he has ‘observed Skeptics in many forums over many years. (Note the capital S, denoting militant debunkers, a nomenclature proposed by Roger Knights. I’m not talking about casual scoffers or people who are genuinely undecided.) My impression is that Skeptics, in general, are characterized by an extreme aversion to cognitive dissonance.’ “
Cognitive dissonance is a common behavior that nearly everybody exhibits. A shame that you’re calling almost the entire human population “sick in the head”, because Michael certainly isn’t. Here’s a great article about cognitive dissonance over at psychcentral: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/10/19/fighting-cognitive-dissonance-the-lies-we-tell-ourselves/.
The issue Michael presents is when somebody has invested their entire livelihood, reputation, identity, and so forth into an idea or a distinction they’ve made for themselves. When something appears to challenge that construct, their identity is threatened, and they are forced to pathologically deny it, perhaps even in the face of evidence.
An excellent example would be if a blogger named Hayley created a “skeptic” identity for herself, and then one day she had a spiritually transformative experience, actually witnessed an honest-to-god ghost, or any other number of things happen–she would be faced with an internal crisis where reality no longer resonated with the faux-reality she created, and some very unusual behavior would occur as she’d try to cover-up what happened.
Of course, this can also occur if an argument, or data, or facts are presented which also challenges the identity which a person has emotionally invested themselves. Because a certain topic cannot exist, therefore the data–in all circumstances–must be wrong. This is the behavior that people on the outside observe in the militant skeptic crowd–and while it’s impossible for those within that crowd to realize their own behavior–those looking into it watch it happening and it makes our jaws drop.
“Firstly, calling people ‘Militant Debunkers’ is pretty fucking derogatory and a clear indication that someone has a chip on their shoulder.”
I feel like you don’t understand yet how these terms originated. There’s plenty of internet-skeptics who have no problems calling themselves militant atheists, militant skeptics, or militant debunkers–as they consider themselves skeptics, atheists and debunkers who attack instead of defend. Further, you’re being “pretty fucking derogatory” in this article yourself, without even realizing it. Thirdly, you too have a chip on your shoulder, just like you could argue Michael has, and yet you don’t realize it (isn’t human psychology fun).
“Secondly, psycho-analysing people and accusing them of insincere motives when it isn’t your job to do so is just rude, man. Especially if you’re not a psychologist.”
Because it’s wrong to make arguments against people you disagree with? I’m sorry that people on the Internet are hurting people’s feelings.
“Thirdly, Militant skepticism? Who is Prescott trying to impress? Deepak Chopra?”
What does this even mean? It sounds like you’re trying to impress people who hate Deepak Chopra, by bringing up Deepak Chopra in a non-sequitur but somehow condescending way. Deepak is just a guy who probably holds beliefs you disagree with. How terrible.
“A skeptic is someone who uses skepticism to examine claims being made to see if there is quality evidence or data to support them… nothing about scoffing, nothing about being undecided – though it’s totally cool to be honest about not being sure as that’s how we learn stuff. However, whether you are a believer or a non-believer is entirely independent of being a skeptic (though, of course, skepticism can lead to belief and non-belief as part of the process of rational inquiry.) People who routinely debunk ideas without examining them are probably not skeptics because skepticism requires an open mind. Simple. “
You’re now engaging in the very same good-skeptic, bad-skeptic thing that you complain that Michael is doing. In this paragraph, you articulately describe the “good-skeptic”. It’s the same one Michael is describing in his article. And you’re absolutely right. This is what skepticism SHOULD be about. It should not be about teams on the internet, the para-crowd versus the anti-para crowd, or whatever, because it should be about rational inquiry and following the data. But instead it’s people playing teams, who don’t care about the data, who just want to fight and lob derogatory language at opposing teams (‘You’re a Deepak Chopra loving crank!”). That’s what people refer to when they complain about bad skepticism causing problems for everybody.
“Militant skeptics routinely refuse to examine evidence means that anybody who refuses to examine evidence becomes a militant skeptic automatically and can be dismissed, which is super convenient for those who don’t want to have to deal with alternative arguments. Fingers in ears, la la la I can’t hear you, and all that.”
If someone refuses to examine evidence, then they DESERVE to be dismissed. You’re actually arguing in FAVOR of people who refuse to examine evidence in this paragraph, which is simply stunning.
“But Hayley, if people refuse to examine evidence surely they’re closed minded?’ you might cry, but this assumes that all evidence is always worth examining and that just isn’t the case when there are other reasons to doubt the validity of the claim – ideas that have been long shown to be incorrect, dodgy methodologies, scams, claims made by people who have been previously shown to be unscientific in their research and so on. If someone tells you they’ve got evidence the world is flat you’re probably not going to examine their evidence. If Andrew Wakefield publishes a new study we can quite confidently assume that he’s probably up to shenanigans, and if Rupert Sheldrake says a dog is psychic you know he might be barking up the wrong tree…”
Rupert Sheldrake at least presents coherent arguments, scientific papers, and apparent evidence and data to match what he’s claiming. You can then take that data and disagree with it or not. Either way, that’s fine. What a militant skeptic, who is intellectually dishonest and more concerned with scoring points among her buddies would do, is lump two subjects that are in an entirely different stratosphere together in an attempt to eliminate the credibility of one of them, for instance: people who believe the Earth is flat, and an alternative biologist who presents theories of telepathy.
You’re applying a rationale for dismissing evidence–for not reading the evidence, not examining it, not even being curious. The absolute best part of refuting the flat Earth society is by looking at their evidence. Because when you look at the evidence, you create an argument that a reasonable person cannot dismiss.
You’re actually making an argument that it’s better to IGNORE the evidence presented by someone you disagree with on the grounds that they are not worthy of having their evidence examined or taken seriously. It’s like you’re writing the playbook of the entire militant skeptic subculture. This is the exact behavior that drives reasonable people crazy.
There’s also something disturbingly Orwellian about it. A person committing wrong-think, by virtue of their pre-existing beliefs, does not deserve to have their argument carefully examined within their subsequent dismissal of it.
“I used to dismiss Bad Skeptics™ when they disagreed with my thoughts about the paranormal and back when I was a ghost hunter it was the fashion for ghost hunting teams to have a Good Skeptic™ on their team to demonstrate that they didn’t just dislike skeptics, just Bad Skeptics™. Laughable, really. Prescott isn’t the first person to lazily dismiss all skeptics by talking about the Bad Skeptics™ as though being sincere and he won’t be the last but I think it’s important that people who do this are called out for it. Now, it would be easy for me to start making all sorts of assumptions here about Prescott and his motives to round this blog post off but I’m not that uncouth and I have standards. Low standards, sure, but standards all the same.”
A skeptic who dismisses every single para-topic after carefully examining the evidence for each one, is not a bad skeptic. They just have their own opinion. A bad skeptic, like yourself, instead chooses to compare Rupert Sheldrake to the flat-earth society, compares people with alternate opinions as trying to pander to Deepak Chopra, and makes an argument in favor of dismissing evidence solely because the person presenting the evidence has incompatible beliefs and does not deserve to be given proper attention.
I’d like to hear what your assumptions about Michael are. Because my sense is that a lot of these bizarre things you write are psychological projections of your own behavior, which maybe you’re somewhat ashamed of.
I take back what I said about your lack of self awareness, as your comment about your own low standards is very telling. I think you are somewhat aware. If you have low standards, then raise them. Confront arguments head-on. Stop taking cheap shots. And stop trying to impress the Skeptic community because they’re so entrenched in their ideas that there will never be an objective discussion.
I, long ago, bid farewell to what I would, without hesitation, call the militant-skeptic community. At the end of the day, many of the arguments presented against certain para-topics are simply very bad. The community that exists as a result of mutual opposition to para-topics, often dominated by bloggers like yourself, are altogether completely intolerant, which is why so many people are shockingly appalled by them.
It’s nothing surprising, it’s absolutely human nature to create group-think in communities. With an “out group” (the lowly plebes) and an “in group” (the smart people who are part of the community that everyone pats on the back). It gives a sense of purpose and community. It’s also how every cult, religion, and other problem has cropped up in society historically.
It’s amazing that a group that prides itself on critical thinking is, in fact, subject to this very same behavior, without being aware of it whatsoever.
To subscribe to the skeptic “community” means you cannot, ever, at any point suggest that an area considered taboo, whether it’s telepathy or near-death experiences or ghosts or any other topic, can ever at any point in time show any sort of validity, whether under scientific conditions or because of personal experience, or else you will be instantly cast from the “in group” into the “out group”. Because through my own experiences and investigations I’ve come to very different conclusions, I am by nature excluded from the skeptic community–and I couldn’t be happier, because looking at it from the outside–it’s an absolute mess of a community.
Your blog perfectly illustrates why.
(To learn about the legitimate arguments for certain supernatural topics, in an open-minded way, check out my book “Understanding Life After Death” on Amazon or paperback.)