Stop with the straw man already

I have a new Sounds Sciencey post out: Burning the Mean and Disparaging Skeptic Straw Man. It turned out to be a much bigger essay than I expected with two overarching discussions so I split it into two and will finish the next one for next month.

As my friends know, I’ve been engaging with those in the “paramiddle” and even on the paranormal side. The focus of this piece is my appearance on Binnall of America audio. It’s been great. Mostly. Lately, there have been some episodes of skeptic bashing from people I thought were reasonable and easy-going. There ARE still those people but a handful seem to revel in generalizing skeptics as the bad guys, the party poopers, and enjoy when things go wrong. I’m not one of those skeptics who berates people personally, even those I don’t like. I argue over their positions or claims or ethics. At least I try.

From the piece:

I’ve found myself in the unwelcome position of the Skeptic in paranormal and fringe discussions. Just as the Internet has been a boon to all kinds of fringe topics, it has also allowed those practicing scientific skepticism to get under the claimant’s skin and ask for explanations and evidence. Gee, that makes them mad. Some of us aren’t even trying to be mean; we’re just digging for truth.

While most feedback to me is very positive, I do get some nasty stuff. No big deal because you MUST expect that. But what I really dislike is when people gather in a corner to mock “skeptics.”

“Skeptic” is used quite frequently as a slur or pejorative in the believers’ circles. Rarely am I called out on what I say about science. Rather, when people don’t agree with the skeptical position, they frequently offer nebulous and dismissive excuses for why I should shut up or go away. This is revealing. I’ve offended them in some way. I read all comments on my work but mostly I find the outwardly negative ones are weak, personal, or not arguments about the facts but about feelings. Skeptics clearly make believers feel uncomfortable. Sorry about that. But, for reasons I’ll explain in a future Sounds Sciencey, that’s the way it is. Get used to it. Criticism against paranormal claims isn’t going away.

And, on other hand, this piece shows that not all skeptics are pleasant. Some do enjoy berating believers and being troublemakers. The point is to recognize that WE ALL do this so we should point fingers at each other but try not to do those thing and move beyond them. I don’t know of anyone with whom I see eye to eye with 100%, even my closest friends and family. How boring would the world be if that were the case? To never be challenged? To never be corrected and shown your mistakes? How do you grow?

One part of this essay is about “Who’s winning?” That can’t be answered. It’s not about that, not to me. If you don’t like my stuff, don’t read it. But don’t make me out to be some meanie. That’s a misrepresentation. Thinking about stuff in different ways shouldn’t be discouraged and if you do bash me or my friends for that, whatever, go be grumpy and narrow-minded in your own space.

But so far, the feedback on this piece has been good with some saying it was an important thing to say. I hope so. I never think I say things EXACTLY the way I want to but at some point, you have to turn in the finished product.

Finally, this piece came out on a weekend where there was another tempest in a teapot in the skeptical community (isn’t there ALWAYS one, and if there isn’t, someone will manufacture one). Certain words by a famous skeptic caused a stir. But, not all of us would damn a 60+ year career in exposing charlatans with a few bad quotes about personal philosophies. Many of us reflected on our humanness first. Those who revel in embarrassment of others come off as pathetic and shallow. We all mess up, hold some silly opinions and make less than rational decisions every day. So what?  Carry on. Do better next time.

About idoubtit

Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news.

0 thoughts on “Stop with the straw man already

    1. Those “skeptical believers” or “skeptics” who will entertain strange ideas. It’s a rather large spectrum but the middle is a nice place to be and there are a lot of people there.

      1. Ahh, yes. That’s where most are. There’s the fun moment when you’re talking about how it’s all crap, and agreeing, then you say “And near death experiences too!” “Now hold on a minute. My uncle…”

        That’s when I get excited. I get to hear a new story, and tell them my information, and why I don’t necessarily think it’s a real out of body experience, and then we agree to disagree, but gee whiz, there’s a real marketplace of ideas thing going on there if it’s done correctly, ie, inoffensively.

        I think me getting visibly excited like a dog getting a treat is what allows the conversations to flow well. Otherwise, I can totally understand how these people may have had their feelings hurt by a skeptic being dismissive. It’s not a good feeling being dismissed as wrong without a real discussion, but, again, I always have discussions.

        In fact, I try to engage exclusively with these people, or the big paranormal believers, because I feel like I have more in common with them than with many skeptics lately, who are just in it for the bashing of the religious and the alternative medicine proponents. No fun talking with them about all those birds that fell from the sky or cattle mutilations, or frogs in hundred year old cement blocks, or even legitimately puzzling stuff like the Kokomo business (don’t tell me that’s been solved, and I missed it).

        And, I don’t like the negativity displayed while giving lipservice to being open minded, accepting, and humanist while in the same breath insulting to everyone who thinks differently.

        But that’s just me.

  1. The paramiddle are the folks that knew the 001 section of the dewey library (vs. the BF1000s, vs. the QL80s, vs. the TL700s in LC), watched In Search of … or if they are younger, Sightings, and can’t entirely shake it all but take it with at least some grain of salt. Vs. those who (sometimes woefully) revisit the same past topics but can’t suspend disbelief anymore. Vs. those who embrace the machine elves and light beings full-on.

  2. Fringe believers conflate “skeptic” and “debunker” with “denier” because it’s an easy (though dishonest) way to avoid addressing criticism of claims. It is a species of ad hominem.

    This tactic frames disagreements as being motivated by ideology not evidence. But partisans who resort to such tactics misrepresent the situation. They deny the existence of a large number of believer-skeptics within their own community who are informed and respect facts. Partisans don’t talk about these sensible people when addressing the fringe fandom — theyt are much happier discussing a conspiracy of skeptics.

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