A skeptic’s guide to professional skeptics

A “skeptic” is a person who uncritically believes in authority figures and trashes those who do not. (Revised definition used in United States of America, circa 1947 forward.)

I listen infrequently to a podcast from a source called the “School Sucks Project,” hosted by Bruce Veinotte. The affairs are usually long and so do not lend themselves to passive bedtime listening. Yesterday I was pulling raspberries and so put the latest one on for background noise. It was about conspiracy theories and theorists.

I came away a bit disgusted. Veinotte is a good man, in my view, having opted out of the American education system in disgust. He sees that our schools are nothing more than indoctrination and behavior modification factories. Yet given such solid fuel to fire his engines, he does not seem able to achieve liftoff. He’s lost in libertarian theory and government-as-evil idealism. That’s all well and good but it is a rest stop, and not a destination.

After listening, covered in sweat, I offered a comment on the podcast, yet to be approved by the moderator. It is either below their sight line or has offended them. I offered words to the effect that

  • The word “skeptic” has been body snatched. The podcast world is loaded with self-professed skeptics who abide by the definition I offer above. Among them are Dan Carlin (“Common Sense” and “Hardcore History,”)  the Novella brothers and company (Skeptics Guide to the Universe), and Brian Dunning (and Steve Novella again) of Skepticblog. They do, however, advance skepticism as far as it is allowed to go in the Empire of Lies. Space aliens, Bigfoot, and homeopathy play big. But there is a gate that cannot be opened.  Rebecca Watson of SGU, for example, when questioned by a listener on the official 9/11 story, said, and I quote, “Sometimes you just have to trust the government.” A “skeptic” she calls herself! A skeptic! She’s a body snatcher.
  • The “lumping fallacy.” This is popular in mainstream media, but turns up as often in podcasts among self-professed skeptics. It’s a takeoff on the most widely known fallacy, the ad hominem. It is also known as “poisoning the well.” A true skeptic is one who is moved only by evidence. There’s plenty to be skeptical about, but by lumping true skeptics together with those who chase space aliens and Bigfoot, all are tarnished.
  • Skepticism about official truth is a rabbit hole. Indeed it is. So what? I visit a local gym three times a week. I lift weights, use elliptical machines and treadmills and stretch my aging muscles. There is no ultimate goal in terms of weight hoisted or distance walked. But by exercising my body, I am fit for other activities, like pulling raspberries. We will never know who killed JFK or originally conceived the massive hall-of-mirrors deception called 9/11. That is no reason to stop thinking. It’s a portal to the real world, and not away from it.
  • Smug. Lots of smug. To which I offered my standard retort to those who ridicule true skepticism: “These attitudes you have adopted – I know they comfort you. You are indifferent and incurious about the important events of our times. You are smug about it, thinking yourself wise to be so. But I must advise you that from a distance your attitude is indistinguishable from stupidity.”

My bad. I once again violated the wise advice of the sage, Voltaire:

To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered.

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