Unconventionality & Skepticism

Trofim Lysenko speaking at the Kremlin in 1935...

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I hear this a lot from the pseudoscience crowd —

‘Those fervent critics of (my pet doctrine) are just self-appointed defenders of the status-quo…’

‘If skepticism was applied to science as much as it is (my beliefs), we’d never have the achievements of Edison, the Wright brothers, Einstein or Tesla since it would wither under the blistering criticism of dogmatists…’

‘Those cynical pseudo-skeptics are obstructing the progress of (my pretensions to) science with their scathing attacks and bad arguments…’

‘Why can’t that cabal of conventionalized academics leave (my sacred beliefs) alone?..’

‘The true pioneering spirit of science means (uncritically accepting and affirming my personal reality); after all, we make our own truth as we wish…’

— and this is something that does not call for excessive evenhandedness on my part.

This is something for which there exists a distinct and obvious asymmetry in expressed thinking and argumentation between skeptics and claimants — the frequent theme circulated among proponents that skepticism is at the very least conventionalist in nature, and at most a form of mental illness, a sort of psychiatric pathology involving fear of the Truth™ and dismissal & willful ignorance of what passes for the ‘evidence’ for whatever claim is being asserted.

Historically, this is factually unsupported.

Prominent rationalists of the past, such as Sagan, Houdini, Russell, Feynman, Asimov, Gardner, and yes, even Einstein, have been often well-noted for their unconventionality, their often antiauthoritarian stance on science, social issues, and yes, their willingness to speak out against the pretenders to science, which were and are frequently well-established and often vociferously given to authoritative rhetoric.

Non-science, anti-science, and pseudoscience are often well-entrenched within the establishment at some points in history, some even in the present day. They are not always on the ‘fringes’ of society, and are often themselves fully mainstream.

That often makes them very much the convention in terms of popular and political acceptance, not revolutionary as they are given to claim.

Bold assertions do not a science make.

Think of the dominance of American creationism and climate-change denial in the politics of the ‘States, the doctrines of Lysenkoism in the former Soviet Union during the reign of Stalin, AIDS denial in South Africa, and the medieval European and modern African witch-hunts as obvious examples.

There are reasons that dubious claims must be promoted by force or deception rather than appealing to valid reasoning or the truth, and why such claims usually lack acceptance by the modern scientific mainstream. There are reasons that such claims are dubious to begin with.

These claims haven’t gained wide support by the scientific community because of an essential condition of science, a condition casually disregarded as irrelevant and unnecessary by pseudoscientists:

It must have standards; requirements; criteria; benchmarks; rules of the game…to do what it must do.

It must have these rules, these protocols, these guidelines, to work as well as it does, the way it does, when it does, to let it tell worthwhile and viable ideas from crappy and useless ones, and trying to bypass this process to promote one’s agenda or latest bestseller shows a refusal to play the game itself.

Science without rules, standards, or criteria, without any critical scrutiny of ideas put to it by those who do its work, just blind, dogmatic acceptance, is worthless, for it then has no way of knowing when it goes astray, and becomes just another belief-system, another myth…

…just as valid as any other, and thus not valid at all.

2 thoughts on “Unconventionality & Skepticism

  1. Pingback: Loaded Words Alert! — Pseudoscience « The Call of Troythulu

  2. Pingback: Respecting the Right to Believe, without being uncritical about It « The Call of Troythulu

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