Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Problem with "Skeptics"

First of all, let me open by saying that skeptics can do a a brilliant job at dissecting scientific fields. Some of the people I admire (for their informed opinion in one field) are skeptics.

However, I have seen by now quite a few skeptics (self declared and otherwise) who are very good or even brilliant in one field – and whom I would even consider based on the quality of their argument to be authorities in their field – who on the other hand are utterly daft idiots led by confirmation bias in other fields and whose word should not be trusted. A nice combination I have seen is "climate science" and "politics" – usually those who are good in "climate science" are idiots when it comes to "politics" (and vice versa).

Therefore I think the problem with skeptics is as follows: Most skeptics are firmly placed in "their camp", and only skeptical of "the other camp". If the position of "their" camp is close to reality, skeptics can really shine. If, however the position of their camp is BS, then skeptics are lost.

So I guess the label "skeptic" creates a problem. I think the solution what was once called "Materialism", which is now being rebranded as "Naturalism": An improvement of the approximate representation of reality as it exists.

Do "evolutionary novel" foods harm the health of a few/some/many/most people? Let's find out! Is the Earth's climate on the verge of collapse due to human CO2 emissions? Let's find out!

Instead, what I see with many skeptics is once they have "settled" in a field, then most skeptics tend to be quite "partisan". Their critical zeal is limited to the "other side", their own side gets a free pass time and time again. They no longer thrive for the better grasp of reality – their skepticism has vanished it seems. They limit themselves to communicating their position (or rather bawling it out into the world) – as if life were a "debate club". No matter how good your argument, the Earth is neither flat nor hollow. If you want to shout me down, that the Earth is hollow, and that the bible is right, and that the climate is collapsing, and that government is the source of all evil, and that saturated fat is evil, and that there is an "electric universe", then I will leave such a debate. You "win". But that doesn't mean you are "right", that doesn't mean that what you say is an approximate representation of reality. And it means that your "skeptical" position is quite a contradiction in terms.

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