I’m frequently discouraged by how often and quickly people who value “critical thinking” send barbs towards others with the same goals using unwarranted accusations and mischaracterizations. It’s too common. A few weeks ago, I was accused on a Facebook friend’s page of only writing about “low hanging fruit” and that my website Doubtful News was limited to applying skepticism to “paranormal, conspiracies and alt med”. A rude and ignorant commenter who favors ad hominem insults says he “begged” me to cover issues that really hurt people like “computer scams, phishing”. That might be a blatant lie or it just might be an exaggeration, I can’t remember anyone contacting me about that at all. Regardless, it was absurd. As with pseudoscience, it’s hard to unpack such trumped-up claims. The writers’ goals were to support their efforts to make a feel-good social judgment upon me. They weren’t interested in facts, just emotions. The facts are this: my platform has LONG BEEN application of science and skepticism to all appropriate subject areas – the circle can certainly grow!
Doubtful News on
- Consumer issues
- Unusual discoveries
- Global warming
- Money-making schemes
- Natural Disasters
- Questionable claims in general
Anyone who has followed Doubtful News for 5+ years and my own writing, which focuses on science appreciation, critical thinking, practical skepticism and science and the public, is well aware that the aforementioned views are bogus. I certainly was drawn to skeptical literature because of its body of intelligent criticism about paranormal claims. And I, as others do, will rightly stick to writing on topics we feel most qualified and knowledgable about because there are plenty of people actually interested in them. (The “Horgan” fallacy that modern skepticism wastes time on trivial things is another example of narrow, ill-informed characterization that ignores broader context.) I’ve continued learning about applying critical thinking skills across the board, to many important life decisions, small to large. I am far from averse to expanding its application to anything under the sun that needs skeptification, even politics. Applying skepticism to politics was the root of this kerfuffle, actually. The commentators missed that almost entirely. When you get down and dirty into areas like politics and social justice, values color the discussion. If you fail to recognize that, you’re wasting your breath. Those who think you can solve political issues by simply exposing the facts hold an oversimplified view of the world. It just doesn’t work that way. As a 23 year veteran of government employment explaining science and environmental laws to the public, I will play my experience card on that topic.
We can certainly apply the Skeptic’s toolbox (science, evidence and reason) to almost any issue and have a clearer picture of the important facts and probabilities we should consider in decision-making. That information should inform our policies, but it can not dictate them. Values of our society – life, freedom, beauty, clean air and water, good health, animal well-being, etc. – are also taken into account.
Like my former Facebook friend who started the rant (and people who berate the “skeptical community” often using the term “pseudoskeptics”), most people miss the all-important context, background, and nuances in situations and react on feelings. Skeptics are certainly not immune to value judgments over evidence. That said, had he framed his issues in terms of his values AND with correct facts and consideration of the broader picture, I would definitely have seen his argument (and the commentators’ additions) in a much more thoughtful light. Instead, I ended up frustrated that he and some 30 others haven’t really been paying attention so I gave up trying to discuss it with them.
I’m pretty sure I’ve offered several times (and directly to these particular commentators) that I would gladly publish their media critiques on these topics they prefer. Or, I would endorse their own platforms that do so.
Proper criticism – something we all need to practice.