May 12, 2013

PZ Myers, aka Phrayngula, and 'scientific skepticism' - a true tar baby

Let's call this "two tribalisms clashing in the night"


So, PZ has officially divorced himself from the modern skeptical movement.

One part of me says, "well, boo hoo for PZ."

However, his criticisms, as well as those of a Pharyngulac in this follow-up guest post, aren't 100 percent wrong.

Oh, they're almost surely 75 percent wrong, if not higher.

But not 100 percent wrong.

And, I would have said that even before Brian Dunning's groupies unskeptically ralled to his defense after his guilty plea.

I'd definitely say that now.

Beyond some of Clark's criticisms, I'll add that I too find scientific skepticism narrow in focus, sometimes lacking in proper use of logic, and certainly needing to be more informed by philosophy, including but not limited to the philosophic school of skepticism. John Shook over at CFI agrees, though he seems to butter PZ's bread a bit too much, too.

(And, per Dunning and Michael Shermer, I've repeatedly blogged about the skepticism-libertarianism fusion issue. Even someone who isn't guilty of it himself, but seems to be too tolerant of it, adds to the problem.)

But, I've also thought that in spades for years about PZ and his fellow Gnu Atheists.

Hence, the "tar baby."

A pox on both houses, if not an equal pox?


Thank doorknob I've never been an insider with either group, or ever asked to be. Of course, it's easy for me, a bit of a loner, and a bit of a contrarian, to have had that happen, and to perhaps be a bit petulant at times. But, that's OK, too. I'm muddling through my own corner of life.

Somewhat a pox on both houses. More on Gnus' house. Even more a pox on the house of organizational entities for both. From what I've read about following such things, it seems like most official "scientific skeptic" conferences are inside baseball events of self-congratulations. And maybe that's why PZ said what he did, in part. He needs to build up the Gnu Atheism convention muscle, adulation, etc.

And, on the financial side, no, as I've said before, we're not "all in sales." But people who want to make money off swag, and commodify movements? Whether Gnu Atheists or Skeptics(TM), they're not much in the way of humanists, secular or otherwise.

Massimo Pigliucci doesn't go as far as a dual pox. But, while having little love lost for PZ, he still says professional skeptics need to listen to Phil Plait more, and stop being dickish, not just like Gnu Atheists, but even toward each other.

Tackling James Randi, because Skeptics™ won't


And, I didn't remember (Correction: I knew, I read about the original brouhaha) until reading his post that James Randi was some sort of climate change denier. And, speaking out of ignorance is no excuse; Randi should have been aware of Wittgenstein's famous dictum about silence.

I DID know, of course, that he's an unindicted accessory to an ongoing felony, the identity theft of his long-term gay lover, along with harboring an illegal alien. And, I do know that professional skeptics (I'm pretty well done using the term "scientific skeptics") treated him then with as much kid gloves, overall, as Dunning gets now, as that's become a bit of a talking point among people with minds like mine. Speaking of, makes me wonder how much of an overall libertarian Randi is.

Beyond that, as I read more about Randi, more stuff skeptical about him, like this, one has to wonder whether he's got, and had for years, a jonesing for groupie-fame, money, or both, himself. More here; and yeah, those who are groupies ... want to believe. (At the same time, note that these links have axe-grinding behind them, it seems; The Daily Grail has its own "angle," touting all sorts of paranormal baloney.)

That said, no, I don't think the difference between his case and Dunning's is all that different. And, no, it's not just paranormalists who tugged at the threads.

Anyway, f you look at the first of the two links, it's pretty reasonable to believe (speaking of) that Devyi Pena ("Jose Luis Alvarez") was Randi's business partner some time before the two became lovers. Now, once things progressed, as Randi knew more, I'm sure he felt kind of trapped.

That said (and we'll never be told, I'm sure), it's a legitimate line of questioning to ask not only what Randi knew about Pena's ID theft, but when he knew it, as the more he knew before the two became lovers, the more damning it is. It seems, from the second Daily Grail link, that Randi knew a fair amount early on, and may even have been complicit. At the least, he was "complicit" in getting Pena a paid position with the James Randi Education Foundation. In my world, that's called "nepotism."

 And, as with Dunning, harm was done, namely, to the real Jose Luis Alvarez.

Anyway, the point is (and there may be a follow-up post on this) is that  Skeptics™ can sometimes engage in special pleading for one of their own as much as Gnu Atheists do.
And, although I've never priced attending one of Randi's meetings, is there money behind this? Per comment at the second Daily Grail link, sure sounds like it:
Randi's long years of profiteering, glory-hogging, bullying, deceit, and distortion? Did you happen to notice that Randi makes a very fat chunk of change off all of this so-called skepticism? Have you seen how much he charges people to attend the Amazing Meetings?
Maybe I'll have to "go see." And I did. A price of $475 for this year's full conference isn't cheap, at the least.

And, it's not like there have been other financial questions raise about Randi and /or JREF, and these on a skeptics' website, not a paranormalist one.

The only other thing I don't know is, how true is Pena's claim that he feared persecution as a gay man if he remained in/went back to Venezuela?

And a few final thoughts


Meanwhile, as for  Skeptics™ who want to talk about "culling"? Let me know when that happens. Because, per  Skeptics™ and the old phrase "what's the harm?" there's harm to actual skeptical thinking, whether associated with a movement and/or a set of conferences, or not.

On the "culling," and my snarkiness over that? Non-libertarian  Skeptics™ like Jason Loxton are still part of Skepticblog, where Michael Shermer and Brian Dunning have regularly done the libertarian-skepticism mix in the past. And, a blog that's associated with Shermer's magazine with, as I've said before, racialists on the masthead. Sorry, but "culling" may run into the brick wall of "tribalism." (And when I do a follow-up post, that will be the topic.) As this post at Skepticblog shows, a Daniel Loxton has no real desire to engage in "culling." Not just tolerating being on the same cyberpage as Shermer, but promoting how you work together?
Meanwhile, is what this blogger calls "a priori skepticism" really just the scientific method, relabeled? And, if so, shouldn't those who call themselves "scientific skeptics" instead seek to create fields of study within mainstream science?

Ahh, but the crusading glamor, the conventions, the swag, the money, would all dry up. After all, who's ever heard of a James Randi of geology?

That said, it's the rhetorical question raised, albeit with more vitriol, by PZ himself. That's another reason why, though I say he's more wrong than right on this issue, he's not 100 percent wrong, either.

For one thing, it's more complicated than that. Some avenues of skeptical research might be hard to "pigeonhole" into traditional scientific structure.

That said, the idea that scientific skepticism is something special is still overstated.

It's part of why I prefer the term "critical thinking," and extend such critical thinking far beyond the narrow parameters of "scientific skepticism" to philosophy, political science, politics (including my own political stances, as I state here) and more. In turn, that's yet another reason I find "scientific skepticism" overrated, and why I say its some of its practitioners and even more of its fanboys, just like Gnu Atheists, could stand more immersion in at least a basic overview of philosophy.

Related to that, Loxton has doubled down with another new post at Skepticblog, which justifies the exclusion of religious claims from what "should be"  the purview of Skeptics™. Fair enough, if you're in the majority of leaders of the movement. And, if that's part of why PZ wants to take his ball and go to his Gnu home, that's his choice, too. That said, it's another good reason I like the broader focus of "critical thinking," which includes religious claims, political claims and more.

That said, related to this fight? I'll admit I'm a bit "tribal" myself. Of course, per John Horgan, how much alleged tribalism in human society is "nature" and how much is "nurture"? An interesting issue there, and one that needs to be further discussed.

After all, I just used it myself as an epithet at the top of this post. Besides racial group issues, the degree to which perception of "the other" drives human nature is still somewhat up in the air.

And, maybe PZ can replace Genie Scott as head of the NCSE, now that she's retiring. Hah! What a clusterfuck that would likely be.

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