Is Modern Skepticism Committing Suicide?

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It’s no secret that the modern skepticism movement has been struggling to expand its base. In fact it seems to drive away existing members as fast as it can add them. I’ve seen postings across the net asking what the movement can do to improve. Here is one from Sharon Hill’s blog. I sent what I thought was a polite, concise and  reasonable response to Sharon. I never got an email back. I’ve made similar comments on other Skeptical blogs posing similar questions to these ongoing issues with the same results. 

Modern skepticism is not willing to do what is necessary to succeed:

1. Exemplify logic and critical thinking – Stop stooping to the level of skeptical opposition. Stop talking about critical thinking and demonstrate that skeptics can apply it effectively and consistently to paranormal claims. 

2. Police their own – They must be willing to engage in debate and criticism of their own people when appropriate, otherwise they are hypocrites.

3. Engage the evidence – There is a limit to what anyone can investigate from an armchair. Get out and examine the evidence!

4. Withhold judgement – In the absence of evidence withhold judgement. It is accurate to say a claim is not substantiated or consistent with current science but it is ridiculous to call yourself objective and say “I’ve given up on Bigfoot for now because it’s so insanely stupid.” That was from Sharon Hill in a recent post which you can read here. 

5. Find common ground with rational investigators – like me;) They are out there and I would be happy to provide a few others I have come across. 

6. Provide real education beyond “you are wrong” – Build some online courses about the fundamentals of the scientific method, logic and critical thinking. You can also have conferences on the history of Fortean phenomena and its study. 

7. Pitch better techniques and gadgets – Paranormal investigators love cool techniques and gadgets. Skeptics can use this to their advantage! Sell investigators (the concept not the tangible item) on correct equipment and proper use and introduce them to cool analysis methods like error level analysis.

Instead skeptical websites like DoubtfulNews.com run opinions like this:

Grey Lady photo dubious with questionable legend to boot

Catholic exorcists want to be the new superheroes

New York Bigfoot advocate wants the critter on the endangered species list

If you didn’t feel like reading, these are opinions attacking the credibility of the claim on face value with little or no arguments, evidence or analysis to back up the accusations. This is exactly the type of behavior skeptics criticize in ghost hunters and other paranormal investigators.

You cannot expect people to be receptive to your brand of skepticism when you can’t follow your own guidance: Logic and critical thinking. 

I know I’m  picking on DoubtfulNews.com a lot in this post, but I usually target CSI so I figure a change is warranted.

DoubtfulNews.com just issued a revised comment policy:

THIS IS NOT A FORUM FOR DEBATE

This site attempts to counteract misinformation. It is not a forum, nor a place to debate claims. Therefore, we will not allow the comments section to be a platform for outside misinformation. We heavily moderate the comments section to only include worthwhile contributions by our discretion.

  1. Comments should ADD to the interpretation of the story, especially if you are involved in the story. Additional info you can add is VERY MUCH APPRECIATED but it should be verifiable. Putting in your “two cents” is discouraged.
  2. Questions on the story and for other commentators are welcome if cordial.
  3. This is a science-based site.  We will delete propaganda, invitations for debate, pseudoscience, or faith-based comments. We moderate in accordance with staying true to the goals of the site, so, if you are simply against the established scientific consensus on a topic, or just want to argue, comments will not be approved.
  4. Comments longer than the original post are unlikely to be approved. Feel free to include a link to more information instead.
  5. Try to keep comments specifically to the topic of the story. Comments too far afield may be removed.
  6. Overcommenting on one or many threads is not appreciated. Continued posting on the same thread just to argue will be curtailed.
  7. Incivility, name-calling, sexist or prejudiced remarks are not allowed.
  8. A comment that is grammatically incomprehensible will not be allowed.
  9. Please note that we do not write the news stories we link to, we frame it to emphasize critical thought and add context. If you do not like what the news is about, we can’t help that.

Read the entire comment policy here. Number three is particular is a horrible rule if you want to connect and persuade the opposition. If the goal of modern skepticism is to create websites, magazines and other forums to preach to the choir excellent work! But skeptics have failed to generate value and reach out meaningfully to the opposition. 

While scientific skeptics continue to ask their own what they need to do to spread their message I see actions like the comment policy above across the board. Skeptics are more interested in shutting down dissent then persuading. I do not see a positive future for the movement if they continue down this path. They will only marginalize themselves and gradually become less significant as they are hopefully replaced by skeptics or zetetics that are truly interested in exploring these claims.  

I’m not a skeptic hater. I think the movement can be a tremendously positive thing for paranormal research. Scientific skeptics have a lot of resources – money, brains, network, loyal followers. If leveraged they could do some great things for the field but they simply do not seem interested in adding value to the field. It is a waste. But perhaps the downfall of modern skepticism, paired with the marginalization of the TV ghost hunter will pave the way for a new era of objective investigation. 

 

 

 

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