Skeptics as a Culture

An interesting article on the cultural differences that keep Skeptics as a community from reaching New Agers, written by someone who went through a considerable struggle to understand what skeptics were talking about.

For instance, the first time I visited the skeptical health care Web site called Quackwatch, it felt as if I were walking into enemy territory. “Quack” is a very loaded word-it’s a fighting word! Though site owner Dr. Stephen Barrett has every right to call his excellent Web site anything he likes, I wonder why it couldn't have been called, for instance, HealthWatch, HealingInfo, DocFacts, or something equally nonthreatening. Why do I have to type the word “quack” when I want a skeptical review of the choices I make in medical care? And why do I have to spend so much time translating on the skeptical sites I visit-or just skipping over words like scam, sham, quack, fraud, dupe, and fool? Why do I (the sort of person who actually needs skeptical information) have to see myself described in offensive terms and bow my head in shame before I can truly access the information available in your culture?

On the face of it this might seem like a simple issue of language, but I think there's a deeper issue of values. New-agers value kindness more than they value honesty, and skeptics the reverse. This is not to say that skeptics don't value kindness and new-agers don't value honesty, just that they'll lean in different directions when the two values seem to clash. A skeptic will err on the side of bluntness, seeing it as the best way to be kind. A new-ager will err on the side of kindness, seeing it as the best way to help eventually be honest with themselves.

I think there are often very good, even rational, reasons why people sometimes value kindness over honesty. If you had distant parents as a child, or bad experiences with doctors, or just generally don't feel you fit in, it's easy to see why you'd have a stronger psychological need for kindness than honesty. This makes you vulnerable to charlatans, but it also helps you find people who genuinely care, and all the spectrum in between.

I think it's possible for skeptics to reach people in this situation by showing kindness as well as honesty. It's why I think the Skeptics in the Pub meetings are an excellent way forward: they're unfocused, usually off-topic, and don't appear to achieve much. But they're also tolerant, joyful and accepting, and sometimes that's what people need.

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The statement says "have to

The statement says "have to see myself described in offensive terms...." and it's quite interesting how it's been internalised there when generally the usage wouldn't be in the context of applying this to individuals, instead it would be in the context of attributes of a product or concept which then are described as a scam or a fraud. I suppose that's what the writer is getting at, it feels personal and it can be confronting. It's right to point out that you need the right touch there, and that people need kindness as well as honesty. They want to feel like they belong. Make it too unfriendly, they won't even look.

That comes with some caveats though, as part of it might be more matter of catching people at the right time and getting them thinking - as in this case because despite all of the language the stance changed. In some circumstances a reality check is needed. There's also the risk that if you don't do it properly the real message could be obscured, as with Quackwatch the site name sets what the site is about straight away, there's no pretence about the agenda. Sometimes being open and not hiding the agenda can help, it makes it easier to find for a starter if someone is prepared to investigate along those lines. I also don't think the confrontational stance is always limited to scepticism though, as terms like "allopath", "materialist", "orthodoxy" can and are used in their turn as prejorative terms for sceptics by new agers. It should be acknowledged that this does cut both ways.

Tolerance and kindness

As an Atheist I often feel just as confronted as you did , just on the other side of the equation.
I see Skepticism as a fairly negative stance , like lets just disagree or put down everyone that isn't a skeptic.
For me change is what society needs to do , tolerance and acceptance , don't seem to be a means to bring about change . Quite the opposite , it would support the status quo.
So I do on my blogging to the skeptics , what you feel they did to you , I challenge the lack of courage and accuse them of being fence sitters.
Too frightened to stand up and be counted, they would much rather sit in judgment of anybody who does have the balls to make a stand.
I think skeptic is the new sheep , the middle ground , safety in numbers.
I have always said it is far easier to accuse somebody of having it wrong , than it is to say what is right.

I don't think you understand

I don't think you understand what it means to be a Skeptic (with the capital s) if this is the conclusion you've reached.

Clearly I prefer the term Atheist {with a capital A]

I could say people just don't understand what it is to be an Atheist , or they would be one.
Gold , explain to me if you can , how does Skepticism give us a direction ?
If the direction is to stand in the middle and refuse to go with anything ,to be skeptical about everything,
Until the majority agree ,then skeptics are indeed the new sheep .I have never had much faith in the majorities ability to make good decisions.
The idea of being average or "normal" has never appealed to me.
I have always aspired to be better than that.

I could say people just don't

I could say people just don't understand what it is to be an Atheist , or they would be one.

You're responding like an Eliza.

You could say that, but I don't see how it's relevant to the conversation given you're posting on a Skeptics forum. A firm understanding of scientific Skepticism would help you out a lot here.

Gold , explain to me if you can , how does Skepticism give us a direction ?
If the direction is to stand in the middle and refuse to go with anything ,to be skeptical about everything, Until the majority agree ,then skeptics are indeed the new sheep .I have never had much faith in the majorities ability to make good decisions.

Yep, you don't get it. I seriously suggest that you do a little research on what it is to be a Skeptic (with the capital S, and a k). There's plenty of resources out there.

As for the direction, it's definately not about standing in the middle and refusing to go with anything. I really don't understand how you could reach that conclusion.

As for "faith in the majorities ability to make good decisions", is that even when the majority are a subset of society that have dedicated their lives to studying the one area that is being discussed? e.g. asking climate scientists about global warming instead of the homeopath down the road that has an opinion based on gut feeling.

Your a Skeptic , can't you tell me ???

The forums are to share what we know surely,
not to give us homework and tell us to go away until we agree with your understanding.
You and I have discussed the BBT ,
You seem to support the theory.
This theory has a beginning to time ???
And the universe is finite ?
So is it different in other subjects
or do Skeptics take the main stream view on everything.
In my opinion the status quo is not acceptable.
It appears as the Skeptics think it's ok, ??
Climate change , I have heard these experts claim , 1 to 3 feet of sea level rise ,and up to 50 feet of rise , to say climate scientists is a far too broad group . Surely you would need to name one scientists view , because they certainly don't all agree with each other.
So Gold , tell me where I have it wrong , I would rather hear it from you than to look at wiki,
And surely this is the platform youv been waiting for , your chance to explain to me and the rest of the world , what a Skeptic is...

The forums are to share what

The forums are to share what we know surely,
not to give us homework and tell us to go away until we agree with your understanding.

Fair call. I'm just too busy with other things to hang out on forums writing lengthly replies when the information is already out there. In this instance I am not going to be your search engine filter. Links that accurately describe it in detail have been provided. If you won't take the time to read them then I'm disinclined to assist.

Michelle's comment is a good one. The only reason I hadn't posted that is because it's on the front page of the website and I'd have thought you would have at least seen it once already.

You and I have discussed the BBT ,
You seem to support the theory.
This theory has a beginning to time ???
And the universe is finite ?
So is it different in other subjects

It's not. We treat this the same as everything else.

or do Skeptics take the main stream view on everything.

It's not about the mainstream view. It's about the method. Reading the previously provided links would have told you that.

In my opinion the status quo is not acceptable.

Unfortunately reality will not bend to your opinion. Being a Skeptic is about putting your own opinion aside and just accepting reality for what it is as we discover what it is. Regardless of how good or bad these discoveries are.

It appears as the Skeptics think it's ok, ??

Incorrect. But only because you've not understood what it is to be a Skeptic.

Climate change , I have heard these experts claim , 1 to 3 feet of sea level rise ,and up to 50 feet of rise , to say climate scientists is a far too broad group . Surely you would need to name one scientists view , because they certainly don't all agree with each other.

This reminded me of one other rather famous incident where the speaker made a claim like that. It hit YouTube and went viral a little. You don't want to be that guy. ;) The famous line is about 50(ish) seconds in.

The approach you've described above is the complete opposite of how science works though. "Surely you would need to name one scientists view" is how you end up with bad science.

How do you pick that one scientist? General consensus? That's what you're arguing against though so that's not going to work. Run a lottery? What if we end up with some creationist dentist in the role of "Head Climate Science Dude"? That's not going to work either.

The general consensus is what we go with because it's the best interpretation of the data based on the best understanding of how the systems work.

These people, these scientists... They're called "experts" for a reason and you're inability to grasp what they're talking about does not make them wrong.

You're ability to provide a different model, publish that in a peer-reviewed journal and not have it torn to shreds would make them wrong. But then they'd adopt your model and they'd be right again. It's how science works.

So Gold , tell me where I have it wrong , I would rather hear it from you than to look at wiki,
And surely this is the platform youv been waiting for , your chance to explain to me and the rest of the world , what a Skeptic is...

I think my previous comments here cover it.

But you shouldn't take my word on it. You need to do the research yourself. What if I have it wrong? Show me that I'm wrong and why I'm wrong and if I can't refute your explanations I'll change my mind.

"A skeptic is one who prefers

"A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion."

- Dr. Steven Novella of The New England Skeptics and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast.

Could do worse than post this definition for you Godfree, I'd suggest you do some further reading if you need something more. As you can see from what is written it's more about the method than the conclusions that might be eventually reached.

General Consensus

I'm sure I have posted this before but ,

"The general consensus is that god exists and so does heaven and life after death"
it appears as though there is a little more to this consensus process than just consensus.
Is that consensus "that you agree with"
So you have already decided that you are a Skeptic , and you seek consensus that validates your stance??
We would surely be in danger of resorting to the lowest common denominator.
Of letting the lunatics run the asylum.
If we were to just let the numbers make the decision for us...

I'm sure I have posted this

I'm sure I have posted this before but ,

"The general consensus is that god exists and so does heaven and life after death"
it appears as though there is a little more to this consensus process than just consensus.
Is that consensus "that you agree with"
So you have already decided that you are a Skeptic , and you seek consensus that validates your stance??

Again you show that you're not reading anything we're posting. That, or it just isn't sinking in.

Either way, I'm not spending more time on this until your responses show that you've at least read up on what scientific skepticism is.