*update* Just to clarify, the Burzynski example included below refers to one person on twitter. It was included as an example of an ongoing problem. The tweeter in this case is what prompted me to write this post.
Skeptics are a varied bunch. Some skeptics are assholes and others aren’t. It’s that simple.*
I hate watching some conversations unfold on twitter where people who call themselves skeptics show the clear lack of knowledge they have about how to tackle misinformation and how not to, and make skeptics everywhere look like assholes when, in fact, they’re not. When the whole Sally Morgan thing unfolded, for example, it became apparent that there was a small group of skeptics who were intent on punishing Sally Morgan through continual postings online and through digging up facts, dirt and personal information as though it would make some sort of difference. They were viscious and obsessed. It was pathetic and scary and borderline dangerous. They were borderline dangerous.
It’s the sort of behaviour that should be discouraged. Yes, people who mislead others (intentionally or not) need to be challenged, but there’s a right way. Yet, it’s not just the people doing the misleading that skeptics on twitter and facebook seem to try to punish. It’s also those who dare be misled. People who supported Morgan, for example, were attacked online and called names – their crime? being misled.
More recently, with the skeptical focus on The Burzynski Clinic that has been taking place, I’ve seen it happening again. Those who are the victims of misleading information being targeted by skeptics.
Chances are that many people who are skeptics and seek to punish people for ‘being stupid’ would have called me pathetic and stupid years ago. In fact, some skeptics DID call me stupid, worthless and pathetic when I used to believe in ghosts.
My crime was being misled and confused. Rather than seek out a way to help me and others understand our errors, they just sought to punish us for daring to come to a different conclusion than they did.
Look at me now. I’ve changed, I’ve learnt, I’ve understood. It wasn’t those skeptics that called me stupid or belittled me online that helped that.
Basically, people who are interested in skepticism need to stop targetting those who are the victims of misinformation. It doesn’t help them, it doesn’t help you – the only person it will probably help is the person misleading them in the first place by pushing the victims closer towards them. Not only that, but in certain circumstances, telling someone they’re wrong about a treatment they’re seeking, or a belief system they’re clinging on to can have serious consequences to their health, both psychologically and physcially.
Don’t tell a stranger with cancer that the hope they’re clinging on to is a waste of time. Why would anyone think that’s a good thing to do?!
Don’t target the victims of quacks, target the quacks**.
*it’s not that simple.
**in a non-violent, non-personal manner, of course…