December 23, 2013

I can see why Gnu Atheists don't like movement skeptics, too

(NOTE: The header to this post should by no means be taken as an assumption that I've moderated much of my general assessment of Gnu Atheists.)

Fortunately, I don't consider myself to be an officially follower of either group.

That said, what started this?

A social media discussion. The person who started it indicated that it was essentially verboten to critique either Brian Dunning or James Randi.

Well, I did, and added Michael Shermer and Penn and Teller in the mix, too. (All links go to blog tags.)

I noted that all of them but Randi tended to fuse libertarianism with skepticism. I also mentioned that I thought Randi knew a lot about his lover, "Carlos," and his true identity, and his identity theft, before it became public knowledge, and said that he had oversold some of his early skeptical claims.

Then, on a social media forum, I got deluged with a demand for evidence. I posted a link to my blog and told all the "movement skeptics" they could look for what I had written about the individually named persons, and evidence for that, by name, right here.

As for relevance?

Dunning's Internet fraud undermines a level of trust, among other things. So, it's of relevance. I've also pointed out the number of overpriced tchotchkes on his website and stated my opinion that only people who had uncritical acceptance of him would think they're not overpriced.

In short, how do you know he's not ripping YOU off with those prices? For that matter, per his criminal conviction, how do you know he didn't rip YOU off on eBay?

(Note: Dunning's sentencing hearing has been delayed until early January. Trust me, I'll post details when I hear about them.)

Finally, I also agree with the Atheism Plus subset of Gnu Atheists that Dunning has had some clearly sexist posts on his website before.

Randi? Assuming he oversold some of his claims as to how much he had deceived Australian skeptics years ago, that speaks to issues of showmanship, which magicians certainly are. That's you, too, Penn and Teller.

Speaking of, in the past, Randi like them has been a climate change denier, just like them.

Penn and Teller also, though eventually pulling back, claimed that secondhand smoke wasn't carcinogenic to any serious degree. So, skeptics can criticize pseudomedicine, then turn around and offer their own pseudoscience?

Shermer? My issues with him start with him having known racialists Vince Sarich and Frank Miele on the masthead of Skeptic magazine for years.

I then mentioned that someeone I did look up to, if you will, was Massimo Pigliucci. At which point, more than one person wondered what philosophy has to do with skepticism.

If you are seriously asking the question, that explains part of the problem with "movement skepticism," and why I'm not a follower, right there.

Afer that, I mentoined that I had been barred from commenting, or banned, from Skepticblog for my degree of pointing out Dunning and Shermer's libertarianism.

I also, to show how I am an independent thinker, mentioned I had been banned from Daily Kos for being too liberal and too Green.

At that point, a couple of commenters treated me like I had surely deserved all of this, on the bans and blocks.


And stuff like this why I also invented the blog tag of pseudoskepticism.

And, I haven't even mentioned Center for Inquiry, back in its pre-Gnu Atheist days, and its problems with Al Seckel.

Folks, once you put movement skepticism leaders on a platform and declare them immune, in some way, to some degree, from properly critiquing criticism, you've just forfeited your own skeptical high ground. It's not restricted to these particular skeptical leaders of today, it's the general idea.

That relates to the social media thread in question and me being asked who was a leading idea generator, or whatever. I mentioned Massimo Pigliucci, but don't put him on a pedestal, either.

Instead, the question, and its tone, seemed to imply that skepticism was something to be learned almost by rote, almost by semi-blindly following a school of skepticism, or whatever.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Like Nietzsche, I have no need for idols, either secular or sacred. And, yes, I do take a hammer to others' at times.

Second, I've long said that today's "movement skeptics" should study Skepticism the philosophy (there's that word!) and also look at applying skepticism beyond apparent pseudoscience issues. Modern movement, or scientific, skepticism, actually operates in a shallow pond relative to all the broader issues of critical thinking. (That said, I am not taking the Gnu Atheist side on the idea that skepticism implies atheism.)

I mean, the idea that I would first name a professional philosopher to "turn to," on skepticism? Why was that so incredible? For a non-living one, I'd name Hume.

Thrid, yes, one could consider my comments on the social media thread, like the ones on Skepticblog and Kos that got me banned, as a form of trolling. But, that's defining that word quite broadly and quite vaguely. If your idea of trolling is nothing more than contrary, even contrarian, comments, which nonetheless do not engage in personal attacks, or in vulgarity or profanity, than your definition of trolling is in line with your putting people (or yourself) on a pedestal.

No thanks. I'm not playing that game, or playing along.

(And, I'll admit to being willfully contrarian in some of my comments on blog sites. But, really, that's still not trolling. My objections are always still legitimate, and still on issues of some substance.)

That said, calling me a "hater" for making observations about skeptics, the above-named ones, that I am far from alone in making is ridiculous. So, too, is assuming that, just because I didn't post 50 blog post links, or other URLs, that I don't have evidence behind my claims.

And, now unfriending me?

Ahh, now we've descended into treating me like a child.

I mean, to bluntly say, Brian Dunning is not a criminal, when he's pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge? OK, whatever floats your boat. Just don't pretend to be a critical thinker around me.

Vis-a-vis Gnu Atheists, I've said more than once that atheism is no guarantor of either moral or intellectual superiority. Well, in the modern "movement skepticism," I'm starting to think the same applies. And, both appear to have their leaders, who often draw blind or semi-blind followers.

Ultimately, it's called "tribalism." That's why I find Groucho Marx's dictum about not wanting to belong to any club that wanted him as a member to be so appealing.


The Bad Boy Scientist said...

I always enjoy reading your opinions - not that I always agree with them - sometimes reading a well thought out contrary position helps me better understand my own position.

I used to be a fan of skepticism but now I see that being arbitrarily skeptical about things is no virtue. The climate deniers and moon hoaxers are 'skeptical' about climate change and the lunar landings - why don't we embrace them? (Oh wait, we did embrace the climate skeptics)

I attended a talk on Astronomy Education Research and the speaker suggested using the term "Evidence-based reasoning" instead of "Critical thinking" - first the former is more descriptive and second the latter sounds negative.

The skeptics movements would be better off evolving into 'evidence-based reasoning' groups - and naturally they'd find themselves forming sub-groups of different fields where the evidence must be treated differently. Biologists, Chemists and Astronomers must treat their data differently!

Eventually, these movements would turn into supporters of Public Science. And at that point they'd become more popular and more useful.

Gadfly said...

First, thanks for the kind words.

Second, nice idea. And, nice "branding" on the phraseology, too. I'll try to remember to use it myself!

Third, if I didn't spell it out clearly enough. both the "movement skeptics" and the Gnus, in my opinion, tend to put leaders on pedestals too much. (Even after they're dead. While I don't agree with everything at CFI today, Paul Kurtz had his issues too.)