Organised Skepticism’s Entitled Boys Problem

During the evening entertainment at a skeptic conference I once attended, a feminist comedian was performing a brilliant routine when the question ‘can we be skeptical of feminists?’ appeared on the conference hashtag from a clearly disgruntled male attendee. I raised the point, in response, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, sure… but feminism isn’t ufology. When you treat perfectly acceptable claims with the same skepticism normally reserved for extraordinary claims you run the risk of closed-mindedness if you’re not careful.

Recently, the US Skeptic Magazine site shared a review of Milo Yiannopoulous’s book ‘Dangerous’ which seems rather out of place. The review itself seemed accommodating to sentiments like:

‘ … the political left now pushes social taboos, seeking to restrict expressions of heterosexuality for its alleged contribution to “rape culture.” In this framework, straight white males have become the new “bourgeoisie.” So-called third wave feminism has been in the forefront in promoting this narrative,’

and,

‘Moreover, having sex with a priest at age 13 did not prevent him [Milo] from having and enjoying sex for the rest of his life, as he abundantly makes clear. Although some might find his attitude on this topic insouciant, his message may be useful in the sense that it encourages people who have suffered abuse not to define themselves by their victimization …’

It’s baffling to me why such statements- and why the review itself -is even on a skeptic website. It just doesn’t seem to be in the right place at all. Then I remembered the Skeptic Magazine previously ran an attack on gender studies based on a hoax paper published in a journal. Turns out it was more of a lesson on the shoddy journal practices than on gender studies, but that’s not the point being discussed here. The point I’m trying to make is that organised skepticism has an entitled boys problem and those who appear to feel the most entitled are those with the biggest platforms.

Something like skepticism, as an approach to assessing claims and being proactive about tackling harmful misinformation, should be as free from ideologies as possible, and yet certain sections of organised skepticism (read: American, male, rich, and famous) seem to specifically target feminists, “identity politics” and some areas of the LGBTQ community – namely trans* people while writing fond reviews of problematic public figures such as Milo.

Does nobody else see this as a massive issue? I think this is a massive issue!

The treatment of concepts such as third-wave feminism and male privilege as extraordinary claims which require Sagan’s famous ‘extraordinary evidence’ is concerning and stems, I believe, from a reluctance of certain individuals to treat themselves with the same skepticism they happily use to scrutinise others with. To do so would require self-reflection which is hard to do when you’re always right. However, if you cannot maintain an open mind enough to question yourself, your actions, and the conclusions you are reaching should you really be considered a cornerstone of the modern skeptic movement?

In the past, this sort of behaviour would have caused me to reflect on whether I truly belong in the skeptic movement but I now realise that it isn’t me who should be questioning my place here. I know where I belong, but I’m not sure skepticism is the right place for entitled boys anymore.

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Hayley Stevens

Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

4 thoughts on “Organised Skepticism’s Entitled Boys Problem”

  1. I honestly have no idea why the skeptic movement would have anything to do with Milo. The man is a self confessed troll and self promoting narcissist. He is a million miles away from what skepticism should be.
    And why indeed should feminism be considered controversial at all, especially amongst a group defined by its love of education and questioning nature. The fact that women face structural obstacles that men do not is patently obvious. The only areas for discussion are at the fringes of feminism because its here that different sides can have honest disagreements about what should be done.
    I actually think transphobia and trans-issues generally are a perfect topic for skeptical debate as it covers many different areas such as bodily autonomy, self determination and civil rights. But to even admit people like Milo to such a debate is to debase the debate, certain people don’t deal in good faith and as such should be ignored. I for one would love to see some well informed talks about trans issues, an area I know I’m under educated in.

  2. The growth of this movement (?) perspective (?) bias (?) in the skeptical… community(?) has been pretty disturbing to be.

    I feel the term ‘Skeptic’ has now been co-opted by a growing number of individuals who use the term to exude the sense of rationality and logic to their own emotional reactions to the ideas of feminism and the ‘left’.

    I’ve seen this spread around youtube and then creeping out through more famous ‘skeptics’, Michael Shermer being the obvious mention.

  3. The church of organized skepticism needs to step down from the pulpit of privilege and spend some time in serious self reflection. I find my self just as skeptical of the skeptics.

  4. I avoid being identified with a group or movement. It usually leads to partisan groupthink. I need my intellectual independence. (And I don’t come across “like-minded” people anyway. They’re always so “certain” about things!)

    An unexpected benefit of this policy is that I have cordial online relationships with both skeptics and buffs. Only the zealots and mystery mongers respond to me as if I were the enemy.

    As for the PC/feminism thing, I don’t think about this much. As a comedy sketch writer from long ago, I have felt free to ridicule the extremes and hypocrisies of any group or ideology. My only criterion: the ridicule has to be earned.

    But what I don’t get is the RAGE. And that’s where men separate themselves from women. A lot of men are fucked up emotionally. I could not tell you why despite the fact (full disclosure here) half of my genes come from a MAN! The irony is men tend to see themselves as more rational than women — but I don’t see that in my daily life. (Just look at most beards. Oh, and prison populations.)

    This moment, I thought up a joke about male skeptics and their anger:

    Skeptical dudes act as if RAGE is an acronym for Rationalists Against Gyno-parthenogenetic Evidence.

    (It’s just a first draft. Feel free to riff on that.)

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