skeptic onelist skeptical of skeptics
- The following is posted in the PhACT skeptics dicussion board. I offer some
commentary at the end:
The Pathology of Organized Skepticism
Posted by Dave Leiter on November 10, 1998 at 15:26:39:
THE PATHOLOGY OF ORGANIZED SKEPTICISM
(An hypothesis which may explain what changes normal people into avowed
Ever since my friend of nearly 50 years, Dr. Joel M. Kauffman, introduced me
to the Philadelphia-area skeptics group, PhACT, a few years
ago, its membership has puzzled and fascinated me; both as a group and as
individuals. In other words, I find that I�m continually asking myself,
"What makes these people tick?".
Additionally, before my introduction to PhACT, I had heard, here and there,
about the national skeptics organization, CSICOP, and often what
I heard was not very complimentary. I wondered why it was not a more
highly-regarded organization, especially in light of the "Scientific"
inference of its full title, as opposed to its acronym title, CSICOP.
I may have uncovered an answer to my puzzlement and wonderment, regarding the
two organizations, through direct observations of PhACT�s
membership over the past few years. I�m sure what I�m about to write will be
widely challenged by that membership, and by skeptics at large.
However, my aim is not to attack or insult anyone, but instead, to open an
honest dialogue on what I perceive as a fascinating phenomenon. As
such, I welcome polite, thoughtful responses.
It�s hard for me to understand why anyone would willingly (or worse, proudly)
wish to be known as a skeptic. From my standpoint, that title
labels an individual as someone whose mental processes are continually and
rigidly out of balance, in the direction of disbelief. I would no more
wish to be known as a skeptic, than I would wish to be known as a dupe, the
opposite extreme, i.e. someone who is extremely gullible. For me,
the most desirable mind-set is exactly in the center of those two extremes, in
a middle-ground I would call rational balance.
It is important for the reader to understand that, while I believe it is
unwise for anyone to be a avowed skeptic, I nevertheless view
APPROPRIATE skepticism as a very useful and valuable tool. For instance, in
matters of business and commerce, a person who lacks healthy
skepticism will be frequently victimized by the unscrupulous. However, if that
person does a complete turnabout and becomes totally skeptical
of everyone and everything, he will become his own victim, because even honest
people will be unwilling to deal with him.
In a like manner, an avowed skeptic cannot be a true scientist - the two
titles are mutually exclusive. However, it is very important for a scientist
to exercise healthy skepticism, especially about his own work. Similarly, a
true skeptic cannot be an effective inventor, since, by definition, he
cannot fully devote himself to his own intangible and unproven dreams. But, an
inventor who exercises no skepticism relative to his own work
quickly becomes a "crackpot" inventor.
So much for prologue! You might be thinking that I�m going to say that normal
people, who become skeptics, do so because someone has
duped them severely, and so they make a pact with themselves never to be duped
again. You�re right! That�s exactly what I�m going to say, but
with one qualification; the "someone" is themselves!
People who have been repeatedly duped by others tend to become suspicious and
wary. However, from the observations I�ve made of
PhACT�s membership over the past several years, one theme keeps repeating
itself : A surprising number of members, in their youth, and with
the typical naivet� of youth, appear to have strongly embraced a philosophy,
or a philosophical concept, which they later rejected as false.
I PROPOSE THAT IT IS THIS EXPERIENCE WHICH MAKES THEM SKEPTICS AND DRAWS THEM
SKEPTICISM, ALMOST AS IF IT WERE A SUBLIMINAL SUPPORT GROUP.
Then, with a zeal typical of reformed smokers, reformed alcoholics, or
born-again Christians, they embark on personal campaigns to de-bunk
everything with which they personally disagree; but all the while attempting
to mask their self-proclaimed bias with the protestation that they
employ an unbiased "scientific" approach. They simply can�t have it both ways,
even though they may wish they could. The continuing defections
of qualified scientists from CSICOP, and the inability of PhACT to grow its
membership significantly, stand in mute testimony to a serious
underlying problem. Perhaps this discussion has served to shed some light on
For myself, although I have been duped by others from time to time, just like
most people have (thankfully, never anything too serious), I have
always been rather skeptical, especially as regards religion and philosophy.
Consequently, when approaching those arenas, I tend to do so with
great caution and careful research. As an example, at one point in my life I
underwent training in what might be called a "New Age" practice.
My instructor in that training told me, at its conclusion, that I was the most
skeptical student he had ever taught.
From this very limited data-base, I sense an interesting paradox. If you wish
to avoid the extremes of avowed skepticism, you need to be
=============================== end of repost ======
I personally find the criticism of organized skepticism interesting. Hey,
"turn about is fair play." PhACT the Philadelphia skeptics group let this
fellow (copied) have more than an hour to verbally address our group with his
complaints about Randi (I guess I grow weary of endless Randi-bashers), his
personal paranormal experiences and some paranormal claims he felt have
merit. His objections to things Randi said are based on his memory and not
that germane to me. His paranormal experience sounded like evidence good
enough for him to believe - but not transferable for a 3rd party. He thought
there was something to the dowsing tests done by Hans Betz and that the
Stevensons Reincarnation studies had merit. That got me started on the
subject of dowsing. I offer (with great help from Jim Enright ) a set of
damning objections to the Betz dowsing study at:
I would have liked to look into the other subject, but just don't have the
time to investigate everything.
David Leiter (a friend) and our groups editor (also a friend) had a long
drawn out battle of letters which were copied to many people over Leiter's
charge that our editor should have printed more of Leiters objections.
Leiter's friend Joel Kaufman sent me letters he sent to CSICOP saying that
their medical expert Saul Green had a number of errors in an article. Joel
was unhappy with how well CSICOP responded. I believe the most prominent of
sane skeptic critics is Marcello Truzzi who split with them years ago. Many
more critiques of skepticism are found at:
eric@... fax (215) 654-0651