I dislike the term ‘skeptic fail’ immensely because it quite clearly suggests a skeptic has failed to be skeptical, and although that is possible not every mistake a skeptical person mistakes is ‘skeptic fail’.
I hadn’t heard the phrase used much prior to the other day on twitter when I saw the tweet below that was talking about the QED homeopathic vodka video.
I wasn’t annoyed by the fact that the criticism was invalid because Michael Marshall and Mike Hall who feature in the video actually touched upon the very point of QED Vodka sobering you up in the video, but that the term ‘skeptic fail’ had been used to describe this possible oversight on their part.
Today I read this article from Brian Dunning about criticism he has seen online regarding the Skeptoid episode about DDT insecticide and how he hadn’t actually received the points made by these people in an email or more personal format. Again, I’m not interested in going into the specifics of each case here – that can be left up to other forums of discussion, but what I wanted to focus on was the strange way in which may seem to take great pleasure from pointing out the mistakes of others while actually not doing anything in any way to spread rational thinking.
Another example that has just come to mind is the blog I linked to in my previous post ‘The hidden dangers of Charity Fatigue’ in which the author pointed out what people were doing wrong, but not how they could correct themselves.
This is something we discuss in great detail on Ep. 77 of Righteous Indignation that will be released next Monday (Dec 13th), however I just wanted to briefly write a post to point out that it is so easy to tell other people when they are wrong but, as skeptics, isn’t it better for us to point out how and why they are wrong, and how they can correct their viewpoint and understanding of something?
Being open-minded is all about being willing to change your understanding of something when more information comes along that shows a different conclusion to the one you currently hold (as long as the information stands up to skeptical scrutiny of course…)
Perhaps I’m alone in thinking that trying to help others see the logic in a situation is more important and productive that pointing out they’ve failed.
Whenever someone makes a logical fallacy or uses flawed thinking in a discussion with me, or in an article or similar I cast my mind back to the days in which most of my time was taken up by using pseudoscience to show that ghosts existed in supposed haunted buildings. I was fooling nobody but myself but I didn’t know that and although people told me I was wrong I just took that to be their opinion, one they were entitled to.
The things I was doing were indeed typically ‘skeptic fail’ even though I didn’t identify as a skeptic back then, but it wasn’t until someone actually showed me how I was wrong and how I could stop being wrong that I began to realise that there were flaws in my logic.
I guess, what I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to tell someone they’re wrong, but why not just take an extra second to show them how to get on the right track? Sure, you can’t force somebody to change their mind and if they refuse to see the logic in what you are saying then it really is their problem, but at least you’ve tried.
Or is it really that satisfying to try and publically humiliate somebody for a mistake they seem to have made? Do people actually achieve something other than an ego boost when they do that? And did I miss out on the memo that said actually there ARE people who don’t make ever mistakes?