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Monday, November 28, 2016

Reclaiming Skepticism

Somewhere in time, scientific skepticism has been co-opted by frauds. Masquerading as bastions of logic, reason and critical thinking, these charlatans are anything but. The modern, pop science Skeptic movement is preoccupied with debunking, targeting their designated bad guys (ie: Food Babe, David Wolfe, etc.) and promoting an us vs them narrative by using weapon words like anti-(pick a topic), denier, conspiracy theorist and so on. Allowing themselves to be manipulated by industry, with or without pay, they advocate for corporate interests in the name of science. By proclaiming themselves as Skeptics, they are able to promote a chosen agenda while pretending to represent science. This is a con game.

Looking at a popular Skeptic website for their definition of what skepticism is, we find:

"Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity." - Skeptoid

Debunking is not skepticism. Anti-theism is not skepticism. Targeting an enemy and enforcing  designated 'correct' conclusions on pluralistic topics is not skepticism. Skepticism does not mean doubting everything. Skepticism is not cynicism. It is not a tool for self-promotion. It is not an identity. Skepticism is a way of thinking. It is not a method of evaluating claims - only science does that. This is an example of the appeal to skepticism fallacy.

It is clear what skepticism is not - I have outlined many such examples in previous posts. Just as important, if not more so, is understanding what skepticism is, or should be. Let us examine the practice of skepticism as 'ethical skepticism' - a more rigorous definition of the mindset as is being espoused by The Ethical Skeptic - a man who has generously devoted time to cataloging what many, myself included, have observed happening with Skeptics on our own, but do not have the ability, experience, training, or knowledge base to so eloquently describe as does TES. Since discovering his website I rely heavily upon this information, not simply because it is the most comprehensive and current I've seen, but because his impetus for creating a resource for the public comes from an altruistic place and this most certainly shows in his writing.

Ethical Skepticism

/ Epoché Vanguards Gnosis / : a means of disciplining one’s mind, practices and data sets in order to maintain objectivity in methods of science. The positive technique of developing a neutral phylogeny, cataloging existing and new data without prejudice. An aversion to obsessing over proof or the disposing of subjects, people and claims; while instead, focusing on accruing field observations and asking the critical reduction path, value and clarity enhancing, next question under the scientific method. Defense of the Knowledge Development Process through application of Ockham’s Razor and full scientific methodology. Opposition to all thinking which seeks to surreptitiously establish power through errant science or method, religion, institution, cabal, oligarchy, intimidation or ignorance – regardless of how ‘critical’ or ‘rational’ it purports to be.

Epoché is an ancient Greek word concisely defined as 'suspension of judgement' by Merriam-Webster. A vanguard is 'the forefront of an action or movement' and gnosis is a Greek word that  literally means knowledge. Suspension of judgement, therefore, is the front line of knowledge development.

Ethical skepticism is a way of thinking. Even if you are not a scientist by trade, it is a valuable skill to have when navigating scientific matters - something we must all do to one degree or another throughout our lives. Staying objective while making and cataloging observations can serve you well in your knowledge seeking process. Being obsessive over proof, targeting and neutralizing individuals, topics or claims (ie: debunking Dr. Oz, homeopathy and UFO sightings) is repellent to an ethical skeptic. Rather primary focus is on making and documenting observations, and asking the next appropriate question in the scientific method while using the REAL Ockham's Razor and complete scientific methodology to uphold and defend the process of knowledge development. No subject should be off limits for an ethical skeptic.

An ethical skeptic ought to vehemently oppose "all thinking which seeks to surreptitiously establish power through errant science or method, religion, institution, cabal, oligarchy, intimidation or ignorance – regardless of how ‘critical’ or ‘rational’ it purports to be." This is an important piece given the prevalence of these types of agendas and those Skeptic spokespeople pushing them featuring so prominently in the media as 'experts'. Learning to recognize those who would use 'science' to manipulate the public and understanding their tactics is paramount in turning the tide on fake skepticism.

Not everyone is buying the propaganda coming from the Skeptics, however. Dissent is met with much aggression and pigeon-holing by club members, who label people as 'anti-science', conspiracy nuts and the like. These types of tactics only highlight the fragility of the provisional stacks of knowledge they are so desperate to defend. An ethical skeptic should not be swayed by this type of social manipulation. The goal of ethical skepticism is to use the scientific method to alleviate suffering. This can be accomplished by not allowing oneself to fear the hordes of Skeptics who would try to silence inquiry into taboo or controversial areas of science, and by learning the tactics of Social Skepticism and exposing them. Only then can a paradigm shift occur. 

Even if one is not a scientist by trade, a skeptical mindset can still be cultivated in areas of information. Having a science degree and being science literate are not one and the same. Deferring to other ethical and trusted experts in various fields must be done whether one has a STEM degree or not. Regular citizens can participate in the knowledge development process, and assist those who are conducting research through various means. One should never feel as though they are powerless for lack of formal degree or position. 

Ethical skeptics are growing in numbers as a direct result of the blatant pseudoscience being pushed by Skeptics. Social media has done us a great favor in exposing the true nature of these imposters. The poseurs have limited time, and as such they get more and more aggressive in forcing their dogmatic conclusions on an increasingly mistrustful public. 

The time is now to stand up to the bullies by applying the tools of ethical skepticism. 


  1. If you've ever had a skeptic come in, pretend and misrepresent a field of study in which you hold multi-decade and daily direct research experience, then you are already keenly aware of the tactics they use - and how they can spin scientific precepts into invalid artifices of 'likely' agenda based knowledge and denial.

    But they do not stop with just one subject - subjects in which you might hold back and aver 'I don't really know enough about that yet.'- They will gladly offer you settled science conclusions inside.

    After you have witnessed them do this same process to subjects of your expertise, subjects in which 80% of the field is still unknown, or a broad array of 753 subjects in which you know it is impossible for them to have established evidential credibility.... you begin to wonder if something is up with these people.

    You know you are dealing with an unethical and fake skeptic. But one has to realize, that they were trained in this false form of science. They were smart enough to memorize the procedure, but not intelligent enough to question it. The true mission of the ethical skeptic is not to promulgate correct answers, but establish again - the true nature and philosophy of skepticism.

    And few people do it better than Vixen Valentino! Well done, Vix!

    1. I am better able to understand and articulate the observations I make now, thanks to you. I appreciate the compliment!

  2. great post, thank you!

    its very consistent with my experience with the local (NZ) skeptics. i spent 3 months in their closed facebook group, trying to discuss natural health remedies and gmo technology. they attacked me very aggressively indeed. i was up for the fight though, which is why it lasted so long.

    this is how it ended....

    1. Your experience is all too familiar to me and many others. I've engaged with Skeptic pages online occasionally, and have either been outright banned for challenging or proving them wrong, attacked by the followers of the page with strings of insults, or just simply ignored.

  3. This is really so so true. It's an ideological plague of our time, the fake Skeptics.... the bullies of propaganda.