Ubi dubium… | The Conceptual Penis Hoax and Its Aftermath

A bit back, certain skeptical thought leaders like Shermer and Harris, who along with others not so affiliated with the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, such as Dawkins and Coyne, drew criticism for their endorsement of the infamous Conceptual Penis Hoax of Lindsay and Boghossian. The panel discussion on the video below, on the YouTube channel of the NECSS, discusses those involved and does a deep dive on what the hoax did and did not actually prove:

Pigliucci’s commentary starting at the 8:04 mark is pertinent. For myself, I’ve long found the idolization and celebrity culture of American movement skepticism increasingly problematic, especially in public figures embroiled in their own controversies and questionable public statements while also trafficking in the controversial claims of others. Yes, I know: Dawkins is from the UK, not the US, but the same celebrity status problem as the others exists at least in relation to his American fanbase.

The whole phenomenon reminds me a bit of megachurch pastors, who with fame and a large following become enmeshed in the same problems as any secular media star. Meh.

Beginning at 42:08 is I think a good assessment, that initial response to the hoax is a failure of leadership in the skeptical community, and a disappointment by those who are considered role models in that community, some of them world class thinkers, and who are all, presumably, smart enough to know better.

The problem, I think, is in essentializing skepticism, and so unconsciously imbuing prominent individuals with this quality, when I think it’s more accurate to say that skepticism isn’t an ontological property you have or any sort of thing that you necessarily are, or a thing that you own.

Skepticism is a set of ethical and intellectual values, a process of thinking, and a methodological (not a philosophical) approach to reality in the evaluation of testable factual claims. It’s a methodological approach because some skeptics are theists, as was the late Martin Gardner, or deists, like Dr. Hal Bidlack, and in any event not necessarily philosophical naturalists, non-theists, or atheists. Agnosticism is a separate matter as a position on how knowable any answer to the God-question is, and is compatible with any of these. There are agnostic theists as well as non-theists. One can believe or not, and still not be certain, or claim to know of the existence or nonexistence of the thing believed.

My understanding is that skepticism is something that you practice, something that you DO, and if you do it poorly or not at all, then whatever else you are doing, it isn’t skepticism, no matter your preferred label or identity, your organizational status or affiliation, what you ate for breakfast, the brand of suits you wear, or the name of the magazine you publish. Any crank or fool can call themselves a skeptic.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

I’m Baaack.

It’s time to end the most recent blogcation and resume regular posting. This piece originally dates from 2010.11.21 after my first blogcation had ended. My anger has largely abated, except when vulnerable people get hurt or defrauded, and my disillusionment regarding the failures of skeptical thought leaders in their endorsement of the infamous Conceptual Penis Hoax of Lindsay and Boghossian. Hopefully, I’ve migrated to a skepticism more robust and better informed than before. But I do think less of these individuals as serious skeptics than I once did. Things change, and so too my views. This post has been updated where needed.

We live in an angry society which in some quarters values blind faith over thinking, with political and ideological polarization between right and left, religious fundamentalists and everyone else, and a notable rise in public rejection of science and credulity toward pseudoscientific claims.

In times of uncertainty, especially with the current status of the economy, people tend to more easily entertain irrational ideas, and worse, accept them as fact. It’s become common for many to behave as though irrationalism is the new reason.

Skeptics are motivated by a number of reasons for their being what they are, whether a passion for science, the value of truth and reason, simple doubt, the need for the promotion of better education, and any number of other reasons. But skeptics can also be motivated by anger, and a few wear this openly while others are no less honest but more discrete in expressing it.

Even the late Carl Sagan, in his masterpiece The Demon Haunted World, at times showed a subtle frustration at the proliferation of nonsense in the last decade of the 20th century, which has only been aggravated in the past 19 years and shows no sign of abating any time soon. He wasn’t abrasive about it, but he expressed a frustration that I suspect all of us feel.

The causes of this anger come easily to mind; loved ones lost through the denial of adequate medical care caused by the pursuit of quack remedies, and the crushing despair that follows false hope; children or adults hacked to pieces or burned alive in the name of superstitious beliefs in witchcraft and magic; botched exorcisms that kill far more people than any imaginary demon ever could; intelligent but vulnerable people who lose thousands in return for the worthless services of psychics; political obstructionism in dealing with major environmental problems based on anti-scientific denialism; the short-term educational and long-term economic consequences of the encroachment of sectarian religious ideologies in public schools and science classes.

These things alone are enough to make anyone angry, and yes, especially me. The people who promote the claims we skeptics oppose sometimes get angry as well, but with much less real moral justification – they are angry because skeptics are costing them customers, cutting down on their book royalties, keeping more people than they’d like away from their seminars, retreats, and churches, and reducing their clientele for whatever untested or failed “alternative” medical modalities they promote – skeptics have bit by bit eroded their celebrity, their influence, and worst of all, their bottom-line, by showing people how to how not to be taken in by the nonsense.

The propagandists of unreason often have the upper hand, since they aren’t in any way constrained by the limits of intellectual honesty, logic, facts, evidence, or even reality. They have the liberty and the incentive to make sh*t up as they please, and they are very effective at persuading people to believe them, considering that their claims, often not even arguments, only assertions, make headlines and grab ratings for the credulous and journalistically sloppy media outlets that promote them.

But sometimes skeptics win, like with Kitzmiller vs Dover in 2005, or the successful deconstruction of the 9/11 conspiracy film, Loose Change, in an issue of Popular Mechanics.

But it’s far from over. In truth, it will never be over. Ever.

It sickens me to the core of my being to see people cynically lied to, used, robbed, defrauded, hurt, even killed, all for somebody’s stupid, blind, dogmatic sectarian doctrine or reactionary ideology. Nothing that we think, believe or do is without real consequences.

There’s work to be done.

Ts. Tk. Tts.

Mr Eccles Presents | Kavin Senapathy – A Science Mom’s Path from Reason, to Oz, and Back Again

If skeptics are diametrically opposed to one thing, it’s woo.

That’s why Kavin Senapathy took on her new Woo Watch column for Skeptical Inquirer, which explores the alternative health, clean food, and spurious parenting worlds, examines what drives these movements, and, of course, cites the evidence that condemns them. But even though she relishes wielding data and evidence, Senapathy fights woo not only because it’s wrong.

What took this mommy blogger from buying Dr. Oz-endorsed supplements just a handful of years ago to her third time on the CSIcon stage? From being raised staunchly atheist by former Hindu immigrants from India to today, this Science Mom will explain why Woo Watch and CFI are part of her fight.

The Center for Inquiry is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization. CFI’s vision is a world in which evidence, science, and compassion—rather than superstition, pseudoscience, or prejudice—guide public policy.

You can join CFI and find out what we do to protect critical thinking and science by visiting: https://centerforinquiry.org

Kavin is an author and public speaker covering science, health, medicine, agriculture, food, parenting and their intersection. Her work appears regularly at Forbes, SELF Magazine, Slate, and more.

Her chapter in the recent MIT Press book “Pseudoscience” is entitled “Swaying Pseudoscience – The Inoculation Effect.”

When she’s not writing and tweeting, she’s busy being a “Science Mom”—also the name of a recent documentary film in which she’s featured—to a 7-year-old and 5-year-old.

This talk took place at the CSICon 2018 in Las Vegas on October 20, 2018

Mr. Eccles Presents | Science Salon: Dr. Susan Blackmore

Dr. Susan Blackmore is no stranger to skeptics. Dr. Shermer has known Dr. Blackmore since the early 1990s. When the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine were founded in 1992 she was already a rock star in the skeptical movement, having moved from believing in the paranormal, ESP, telepathy, and all the rest, to being an arch skeptic of all such claims. After earning a Ph.D. in the paranormal she devoted a decade to testing various phenomena under rigorous laboratory conditions, and continually found null results. That is, the tighter the controls she implemented and the more rigorous the research protocols, the weaker the paranormal effects became until they disappeared entirely. She went on from there to develop a theory about the neural correlates of such altered states of consciousness as Out of Body Experiences and Near Death Experiences, and after that wrote her bestselling book The Meme Machine, in which she developed a theory of how memes can be replicated and selected in a manner first proposed by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, when he coined the term.

Dr. Blackmore went on to publish one of the leading textbooks on consciousness and is now working on a theory of tremes, or technological memes and how they can be replicated and selected in machines without human input.

This interview was recorded on November 7, 2018 as part of the Science Salon series of dialogues hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society, in California.

Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloudhttps://www.skeptic.com/podcasts/scie…

Mr. Eccles Presents | OCC the Skeptical Caveman: Spark of Truth

Visit the Skeptics Guide to the Universe website and podcast:http://www.theskepticsguide.org

On Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/theskepticsg…

On Twitter:https://twitter.com/skepticsguide

Watch Ep1 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUca2…

Watch Ep0 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1X1F…

Watch Ep2 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dXC3…

Watch Ep3 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MqPl…

Mr. Eccles Presents | OCC the Skeptical Caveman: A Lie by Any Other Name

Visit the Skeptics Guide to the Universe website and podcast:http://www.theskepticsguide.orgOn Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/theskepticsg…On Twitter:https://twitter.com/skepticsguideWatch Ep0 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1X1F…Watch Ep1 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUca2…Watch Ep2 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?

MetaCognitions | American Skeptics: On Pandering to Bad Ideas

I’ve given up on a few American skeptics, especially certain so-called thought leaders. I wash my tentacles of them. I’m much keener on most UK, continental European, Canadian, and other skeptics abroad. For the most part, as well as American skeptics I follow and am friends with on social media, they totally rock.

It makes perfect sense to me to focus on bad science, hoaxes, urban legends, pseudoscience, and claims that do real harm to people’s lives, education, and health.

But I see absolutely no sense and no real point in being “skeptical” of feminism, of anthropogenic global climate change, in “skepticism” of whatever the f*** “cultural Marxism” in academia is supposed to be, and the denial of the existence or validity of transgender and non-binary people.

That is not the skepticism I have come to know and love through such podcasts as The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, Monster Talk, Skeptics with a K, and The Reality Check.

I don’t dislike those on the political right, not over something as petty as differences of opinion. I feel that how we relate to and treat each other as human beings is more important than politics.  But touting awful ideas, advocating already tested and failed policies as fair-minded and “controversial” is just giving the pseudo-skeptics, the far, far Right, the alt-Right, the armies of the night, and reactionaries who see skepticism as a threat, ready ammunition for their culture war.

I don’t even think it’s fair or necessarily true to many I know to use the phrase “right-wing” to label these ideas, as it’s more like “nut-wing” to me and at any extreme edge along a political compass.

Stop. Just stop. I don’t care about your political leanings. I don’t care how even-handed you’re trying to be. I’ve been down that road myself. The end result is that lending even token credence to terrible ideas feeds the illiberal enemies of a free state, and aiding those who would gleefully bring down organized skepticism and destroy the (((FREE SPEECH!!!))) you think you’re defending in trying to be edgy and calling yourselves (((THE INTELLECTUAL DARK WEB!!!)))

Not all ideas deserve equal time, and some ideas are terrible enough that once they have had their hearing and been found wanting, they should rightly be discarded in the wastebin of history, not to rear their ugly heads again.

But if there’s anything skeptics know, it’s that certain ideas are roundly debunked, only to rise zombie-like from the grave to walk the earth in later generations.

“Unsinkable rubber duckies.”

Guys, the culture warriors getting free press from you in magazines, blogs, vlogs, or podcasts, don’t really give a damn about free speech, except their own, and certainly not yours. And they’ll gladly bring you down along with every other hated enemy or useful idiot in their sights once they win the war.

After all, skepticism is not something one is. It’s a process to follow, a set of methods, of thinking tools, not an identity, not a set of claims or doctrines.

I think that those most vocally claiming to be skeptical of identity politics should be most wary, first and foremost, of their very own.