Militant Debunkers. They’re different from good skeptics because I say so and you can take my word on this because my opinions are right.
I’m kidding of course, but this is the reasoning I see again and again from people who support or believe in certain paranormal ideas and claims, and it’s ridiculous. It’s an easy way to dismiss entirely the criticisms of your idea or field while pretending not to. It suggests that you can decide which criticisms of bad ideas are valid and which aren’t, but when you’re the one promoting nonsense I’m afraid that’s just not true. You can ignore skeptical criticism, of course, but you can’t dismiss it as Bad Skepticism™ just because it isn’t to your liking.
People use the word skeptic to describe others and themselves inaccurately or unfairly all too often – if it isn’t climate change deniers trying to make their ignorance sound distinguished, or anti-vaccination quacks assuring you that their anti-science stance is justified, it is people like Michael Prescott asserting that Bad Skeptics™ are probably just sick in the head.
Prescott recently wrote a post on his blog full of accusations that border on Ad Hominem. Don’t worry though because he pointed out that he was talking about Skeptics and not skeptics because he has ‘observed Skeptics in many forums over many years. (Note the capital S, denoting militant debunkers, a nomenclature proposed by Roger Knights. I’m not talking about casual scoffers or people who are genuinely undecided.) My impression is that Skeptics, in general, are characterized by an extreme aversion to cognitive dissonance.’
Oh boy. Where to begin.
Firstly, calling people ‘Militant Debunkers’ is pretty fucking derogatory and a clear indication that someone has a chip on their shoulder.
Secondly, psycho-analysing people and accusing them of insincere motives when it isn’t your job to do so is just rude, man. Especially if you’re not a psychologist.
Thirdly, Militant skepticism? Who is Prescott trying to impress? Deepak Chopra?
A skeptic is someone who uses skepticism to examine claims being made to see if there is quality evidence or data to support them… nothing about scoffing, nothing about being undecided – though it’s totally cool to be honest about not being sure as that’s how we learn stuff. However, whether you are a believer or a non-believer is entirely independent of being a skeptic (though, of course, skepticism can lead to belief and non-belief as part of the process of rational inquiry.) People who routinely debunk ideas without examining them are probably not skeptics because skepticism requires an open mind. Simple.
Militant skeptics routinely refuse to examine evidence means that anybody who refuses to examine evidence becomes a militant skeptic automatically and can be dismissed, which is super convenient for those who don’t want to have to deal with alternative arguments. Fingers in ears, la la la I can’t hear you, and all that.
‘But Hayley, if people refuse to examine evidence surely they’re closed minded?’ you might cry, but this assumes that all evidence is always worth examining and that just isn’t the case when there are other reasons to doubt the validity of the claim – ideas that have been long shown to be incorrect, dodgy methodologies, scams, claims made by people who have been previously shown to be unscientific in their research and so on. If someone tells you they’ve got evidence the world is flat you’re probably not going to examine their evidence. If Andrew Wakefield publishes a new study we can quite confidently assume that he’s probably up to shenanigans, and if Rupert Sheldrake says a dog is psychic you know he might be barking up the wrong tree…
I used to dismiss Bad Skeptics™ when they disagreed with my thoughts about the paranormal and back when I was a ghost hunter it was the fashion for ghost hunting teams to have a Good Skeptic™ on their team to demonstrate that they didn’t just dislike skeptics, just Bad Skeptics™. Laughable, really. Prescott isn’t the first person to lazily dismiss all skeptics by talking about the Bad Skeptics™ as though being sincere and he won’t be the last but I think it’s important that people who do this are called out for it. Now, it would be easy for me to start making all sorts of assumptions here about Prescott and his motives to round this blog post off but I’m not that uncouth and I have standards. Low standards, sure, but standards all the same.