There are days when it seems like the modern skepticism is on its last legs. Most self described “skeptics” might not know it, and certainly wouldn’t agree, but it’s looking pretty damned bad for them. And the reason isn’t because the truth is harder to find than ever before or because more people are embracing the truth than ever before. No, the reason is that most self described skeptics are anything but skeptical, and they’re in no way a part of the modern skepticism movement. Oh, they’ll tell you that they’re skeptical, they’ll be the first to tell you that, but they seemingly have no clue what the word means.
Note the key bit in that definition. A skeptic is someone who will question or doubt all accepted opinions. The problem with too many skeptics these days is that they’ve decided that “accepted opinions” only means facts or opinions that are sourced to a government agency, an established “old school” media entity, the established medical community, or a longstanding institution of higher learning.
And that’s not an entirely bad thing. Being an established authority does not automatically make one’s information unassailable. Even being considered an “unassailable source” should not make one’s information unassailable. Trust but verify is always a good way to live, especially when the information in question is vital or important in its nature. But the problem with many modern “skeptics” is that far too many of them have deemed their own accepted opinion to not fall under that category, to be unassailable fact, and thus they treat it as unassailable fact without question.
Being skeptical, certainly if you declare yourself to be skeptical of nature and especially if you declare yourself a fully fledged skeptic, means that you question and verify everything to your fullest ability, not simply just the information you personally deem to be untrustworthy because of personal bias while giving a pass to information you like for the same reasons of personal bias. And that’s what too many modern “skeptics” do. They treat actually facts that they dislike as automatically questionable, if not outright lies, while giving far too much of a pass (or a complete pass) to claims and information that they like or that confirms their own personal bias.
Unwavering devotion to information because you like the way it makes you feel about your likes, dislikes, or beliefs or because it comes from a source outside of “the mainstream” does not make you a skeptic. It makes the “skeptic” in question as big of a sucker or an even bigger sucker than the people the “skeptics” call suckers. But this is the M.O. of far too many modern “skeptics” today.
And this form of so called skepticism is fast becoming a cottage industry in and of itself. There are websites, podcasts, and terrestrial radio shows devoted to this feeble brand of skepticism. And the new pseudo-skeptics out there use this cottage industry to pat themselves on the back for their ability to see the “real truth” out there and, more importantly and in reality, reinforce the beliefs that they wish were true rather than face the facts that actually are true. The thought process behind so many of these positions is so faulty, so full of fallacies, that one would think that any true skeptic would stop midsentence, realize what they were saying, and then laugh at themselves before course correcting.
Probably one of the most commonly used fallacies to justify embracing an alternative information source as legitimate while denying actual fact is the “They Lie!” fallacy, and one of the biggest sources for the use of this would most likely be the 9/11 conspiracy skeptics. Certainly the 9/11 conspiracy people are the easiest to poke holes into, so I’m using them as an example here regardless. But the basic pattern of their arguments and the fallacies behind them are in most of the pseudo-skeptic arguments these days.
The basic game with this version of fallacy is to consistently say that “The Government” lies. The government has lied in the past. You can point to government officials who have lied. It’s therefore simple deduction that whatever the government says on the matter, whatever the “Official Story” on the matter is, it must automatically be a lie.
The two main problems that result from the embracing of this fallacy are that the pseudo-skeptic then (A) sets out to prove the government is lying and (B) determines that any information and information source that helps prove “A” is factual. And the problem with these two tactics is that this is anything but the skeptical path.
A skeptic does not set out to prove information is a lie. They set out to determine the accuracy of the information in question. There’s a big difference in those two concepts, not the least of which is the mindset behind the goal. More often than not, a person deciding in advance that something is a lie and that they will prove that it is a lie will disregard any information, even accurate, factual information on the matter, if it contradicts their preconceived notions. After all, the government lies, it must lie, the government’s official story must be a lie, and anything that doesn’t reinforce this belief must likewise be a lie. And thus any information that contradicts the desired outcome, the official story is a lie, is disregarded out of hand without any real examination. Why? Because the government lies, and anything that doesn’t help prove that the government lied must also be a lie. It’s the ipso facto of the Bizarro world.
And the information embraced to help prove that the official story is a lie can be… uhm… yeah…
One of the most common statements I’ve heard come from 9/11 conspiracy theorists attempting to “debunk” aspects of the “official story” of 9/11, a statement that I’ve seen online, heard on radio by program guests and hosts, and seen spoken by prominent television personalities and hosts, has got to be one of the most historically and factually illiterate things ever spoken in modern times. This would be the claim that, if we’re to accept the “official story” of what happened that day, we must accept that 9/11 was the first time in known history that fire has melted steel. Hell, I’ve even heard a guy who collects Feudal Era Japanese and Chinese swords, real ones, not the $35 to $85 knockoffs that you can buy online, throw this bit of silliness out there.
This amazing piece of “information” that gets passed around from “expert” to “expert” on the 9/11 “truth” should come as quite a surprise to blacksmiths, sword smiths, and metallurgists throughout history as fire is exactly what they used, and still use, to melt steel. Point this little bit of historical fact out in the middle of a good rant, and that will typically lead to the next problems with modern pseudo-skeptics. These problems are that they basically make facts up on the spot and fail to research anything that supports their belief.
The response you would get to the fact that fire does in fact melt steel is that modern steel is more heat resistant to simple fire, and proof of this is that jets and jet engines don’t melt when flying. Therefore, you are told, fire, even fire fueled by large quantities of jet fuel would not melt steel. This certainly sounds good and is on the surface basically true, but “sounds good” and “basically true” would not be enough for a skeptic. A true skeptic would do research on the issue, real research, not simply reading a website that is written to support a fallacy and accepting it as gospel, in order to confirm this. And if the skeptic did this research they would find that the type steel used to start the construction of the towers in 1968 is not the exact same type steel used for the construction of airplane engines, airplane engines have an elaborate cooling system built into them to prevent the metals used from overheating, heat levels for controlled fuel use and raging fuel fires are radically different, and that the steel used in the towers would have weakened and partially or fully melted from the heat created by the combination of the burning fuel, burning wood and plastic found in the furniture and in the various other wood and petroleum based combustibles found in the average office building as well as that make up the materials in the average building.
But actual research is not the forte of the pseudo-skeptic. Their specialty is finding information that works for their theory, ignoring anything that undercuts their position, and seeking to prove their desired position rather than uncover the facts of the matter. But if you finally get them to admit, even if only partially, that the specific argument they’re using isn’t quite the gold standard of truthiness that they proclaimed it to be? You get one of two equally poor arguments from them.
The first of the arguments is a version of the “They Lie!” fallacy. You’re informed that everybody lies, all of “them” do it, and that you’re fool for believing their “official story” when the facts are so obvious. It’s an interesting tactic as it doesn’t address the fact that the inaccuracies they’ve just put forward have been utterly destroyed, nor does it in any way go toward disproving any part of the “official story” that they say is so full of such easy to debunk lies.
The other out they use is the more interesting one by far. They admit that this particular set of “truths” that they presented might be factually wrong, but that it’s still basically correct. Essentially the claim is that it may well be a lie, but it’s a lie that represents the real truth; certainly more so than the “official story” does. They’ll then point to all of the other “evidence” out there, much of it from the same sources that just got so easily debunked out from under them.
This last bit is the funniest aspect of the nature of the modern pseudo-skeptic. Information from a government source, so they will tell you, can never be trusted, can never be true, because the government lies. It has lied before, and therefore it always lies to the people. They’ll also say the same about the medical profession or any other target of their brand of pseudo-skepticism. But the pseudo-skeptic won’t hold their own bias confirming sources to the same standards that they insist the “suckers” hold other sources of information up to. You can utterly destroy 49 “facts” from a favored source, so utterly debunk them that even they will grudgingly admit that the source had it wrong, but they will happily present you with fact #50 from the same bias confirming source without questioning how factual it might actually be or so much as checking up on the most basic of its assumptions.
One of my favorite forms of psuedo-skeptic nonsense is the idea that if something they wish to claim has been disproved can be faked, it therefore must be faked. That one is popular with some in the birth certificate brigade. It’s funny, but I’ve yet to meet a supposed promoter of that idea who would willingly part with any dollar bills in his or her wallet. Hey, they’re easy to fake, so therefore the ones in the wallet must be fake, right?
And there are more. There are so many more examples of the strange substitution for logic that passes for argument in the pseudo-skeptic community. But the two biggest flaws, the single biggest mistakes in the pseudo-skeptic thinking, as mentioned above, is that, despite their statements otherwise, they do not question all information, nor do they objectively seek the truth. It’s from these two flaws that all else they do falls apart. If you unquestioningly accept information from sources that are alternative simply because they are not government, not the establishment, or are “alternatives” to the establishment sources and because it conforms to your bias or desired belief in something, you’re failing in your status as a skeptic by not questioning even the things you want to be true as much as the things you desire to find false. If you automatically assume that something is a lie and set out to prove only that theory, you will never find the truth.
I’m not a scientist, but I’m a thinker
I love that quote. He’s thrown it around quite a few times over his career. It’s usually followed by an assertion that is mind bogglingly wrong and so scientifically or even historically off base that a 6th grader would be ashamed to have said it. But it makes “common sense” in a feel good way, and that’s good enough for him and them. It’s quite possibly one of the dumbest things ever said by Glenn Beck, and that’s saying a lot given his career of saying dumb things, but it’s a perfect example of one of the other great flaws in the pseudo-skeptic mindset. They’re not an expert and have no expert knowledge on a matter, something they’ll freely admit, but they’re thinkers, so they don’t need expert knowledge and they think it’s fine to believe that something doesn’t make sense because… well… just because they think so.
Now, I’m not saying that you have to be a scientist to talk on matters that venture into the realm of science. One of the biggest, and most popular, fallacies in pretty much any debate these days is the one of declaring that you must be ‘X’ in order to speak on ‘X’ matters or your position and input means nothing. But at the very least, one should do some basic research beyond “thinking” and looking for feel good common sense “facts” that confirm a bias.
Science can prove that some screwy things are true. Some of them are quite easily demonstrably true as well, but they don’t conform to feel good common sense.
One example of this came in a discussion on Climate Change where a conservative television host laughingly dismissed what was being presented because the politician discussing the matter in a taped bit had in the past repeated such utterly foolish and nonsensical assertions as the idea that warm water freezes faster than cool water. It was, he and his co-hosts laughed, ridiculous, and simple common sense thinking disproved that easily. This history of believing such “nonsense” was then used as the reason to discount anything scientific that he had referenced.
But the thing is that warmer water does freeze faster than cool water. It’s known as the Mpemba Effect. It’s actually something that’s hard to explain even scientifically, but it can be tested, observed, and repeated to prove that, yes, warmer water will freeze faster than cool water. It’s a science thing. It’s a weird science thing that doesn’t fit well with “common sense” thinking, but it is a fact.
And there are a lot of facts out there that are like this one. They don’t fit the mold of “common sense” thinking. You have to actually research the facts, not simply decide that they don’t conform to common sense. A skeptic does this. The pseudo-skeptic relies on feel good common sense.
The problem with this, besides the above example, is that that pseudo-skeptic uses their “common sense” approach in place of facts, actually mistaking their “common sense” assumptions as fact. You can see this most glaringly in the “skeptics” that question the moon landing, or in things like the chemtrail conspiracy theorists.
Moon landing “skeptics” like to point to pictures of the flag planted on the moon and point to its changing position, its “flapping” on the moon, from photo to photo. This is, they tell you, impossible without a breeze of some kind. That’s just common sense. And since there is no breeze on the moon, this is proof that the flag was planted and photographed in a large studio hanger. This ignores the basic fact that in a vacuum, a flag would still move if the pole it was on was shaken, and most of the “breeze” photos were taken while astronauts had their hands on the pole or just afterwards.
Likewise, chemtrails have become a big thing in conspiracy circles. But chemtrails are nothing more than contrail, a fact of aviation as old as the first high altitude propeller plane flights. It’s basic science. Contrails are nothing more than clouds formed when water vapor condenses and freezes around small particles (aerosols) that exist in aircraft exhaust. Some of that water vapor comes from the air around the plane while some is added by the aircraft exhaust. With the right air conditions, proper levels of humidity, correct temperatures, you could literally recreate the “chemtrail” effect at ground level. Not new, not an evil government conspiracy, and not something that isn’t explained by basic science.
But basic science isn’t the realm of the pseudo-skeptic. There’s “something” wrong, and these “chemtrails” don’t look right, so in 2+2=22 fashion the decision is made that whatever “it” is that’s wrong must be related to the “chemtrails” in the skies, and only “evidence” that supports this theory is factual. And, unfortunately for the reality based community, science is not something that supports the pseudo-skeptic’s worldview, so scientific fact becomes lies from the government or lies from the institutions trying to hide the “truth” from us all.
And I could go on. And on. And on. And on. Oh lord could I especially go on if I got into the subject of self-described skeptics who fall into the Birther category, or, on the really goofy front, the skeptics who argue for the existence of certain cryptozoological creatures, paranormal activity, and UFO abductions that there’s little to no factual evidence for. That’s gotta be a major contradiction in concepts, but they call themselves “skeptics” because they take the position, especially on the UFO front, that it’s all a government cover-up.
The simple fact is that I’m more of a skeptic than most of the people out there these days that I see calling themselves skeptics or claiming to have a skeptical mindset, and I don’t try to hold a the skeptical mindset 24/7 in the way that some true skeptics that I’ve met do.
If you call yourself a skeptic, then you question everything. If you call yourself a skeptic, you don’t set out to prove something you don’t like to be a lie or something that conforms to your biases to be the truth. You simply set out to find the facts, and you follow them to the truth whether you ultimately find yourself liking the truth you find or not. If you call yourself a skeptic, you do not take the position that the “official story” must always be a lie while unquestioningly believing any source of information you find that likewise declares the “official story” to be a lie.
If you’re a skeptic, if you’re a true skeptic, you question it all, and you follow the truth wherever it leads no matter your personal likes, dislikes, opinions, or biases. Because if you don’t, the fact of the matter is that you’re not a skeptic. You’re actually little more than one of the “sheeple” you accuse others of being. The only difference is that you’ve willingly allowed yourself to be led by a different sheep herder of your own choosing.