Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Skeptical Identity Crisis

One thing I've been puzzling over for a while is what to do about imposter skeptics. You know the kind, the people who take a well-accepted scientific theory which they don't like, then take on the mantle of a "skeptic" to criticize it. Nowadays, the most common type is the Global Warming "skeptic." So, after doing some searching around of how the term "skeptic" is generally used, and looking at all variants on it, I think I've figured out a way we can distinguish ourselves from them.

First of all, there's the problem of what to call ourselves. Just "skeptic" won't do seeing as whatever we say about it, others undeserving of it will still use that as well. Also, it leads to getting us confused with the philosophical skepticism movement which believes (but not certainly) that there can be no absolute truth statements. It's an intriguing idea, and pretty close to one of my own beliefs, but it's a different matter than what we do.

So, here's the term I feel is best: "Scientific skeptic." After all, skepticism as we practice it is ultimately the scientific method, and science, when done well, is ultimately a skeptical way to learn about the world. There's also a lot of Critical Thinking mixed in, but that's also a key ingredient the scientific method. Since we use skepticism to figure out what is and isn't true about the world, the very goal of science, I think the label fits perfectly.

And what about these imposters? We can't cede the generic label of "skeptic" to them. Also, most of them aren't really being skeptic at all, they're simply denying things. We could call them "deniers," I guess, but there's one other good idea I found: "pseudoskeptic." What this does is take the "pseudo-" prefix, which means "fake," and add it onto "skeptic." So, not only do we differentiate ourselves from them with it, we call them fakes in the process.

So, what does everything about this? Anyone have any better suggestions?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly, Carl Sagan coined the term pseudoskeptic in "A Demon Haunted World."

Bronze Dog said...

And woos love branding us as pseudoskeptics. In the woo world, label-o-rama is how they handle things.

Infophile said...

If I recall correctly, Carl Sagan coined the term pseudoskeptic in "A Demon Haunted World."

Three guesses where I first found the term. ...Correct. You have two more guesses. I know that a ton of skeptics have already read the book, but I find the use of that term curiously lacking, and I'm trying to get it picked up a bit more.

And woos love branding us as pseudoskeptics. In the woo world, label-o-rama is how they handle things.

Heh, we do our share of labeling too, to be fair (IDiot, cretinist, etc.) The difference here is that when we label people, we do it just so we know who we're talking about. If I call someone a pseudoskeptic, it'll be to differentiate them from scientific skeptics, and I'll generally give reasoning for why they deserve this label. When a woo does it, they're doing it to trick people into thinking we're the fakes instead of using evidence.

Or who knows, maybe woos just live in bizarro world?

Baby Duck Ryan said...

I prefer "moron", but pseudo-skeptic is good.

In all honesty, I don't really care to be labeled (aside from my band's name) anything.

"That guy doesn't believe in magic for no reason and relies on evidence" is what I'd like people to say about me. Maybe i'm a tgdbimfnraroe?

Thursday said...

Personally, I've always seperated "truth" and "reality" for much the same reason: I consider truth subjective and reality objective so I can actually hold a conversation with religious folk and other woos.

"Pseudoskeptic" strikes me as accurate, but not quite carrying enough force. If something could be found that would be the equivalent of "astroturf" for a fake grassroots organization (ie. the corpotate "Hands Off The Internet" group) I'd embrace it whole heartedly.