The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

What’s Up with Those Skeptics?

Talking to skeptics always comes out the same. They can explain away any evidence you present to them and manage to give all their weight to their own opinions and facts while giving none to yours. On line of course, the rudeness just increases. Why do they act this way? How can they pretend to be so rational and have such superb critical thinking when they are so obviously responding emotionally?

The short answer is this: The one defining thing about skeptics is that they lack the ability for critical self appraisal. That is to say, they cannot take a step back and evaluate whether their own opinions are biased. Another way to say this is that they have an emotional stake in their opinions that they are not aware of and therefore will defend them beyond all rationality. All the while of course, they will be insisting on the rationality of their positions.

My experience is that highly sensitive people are generally aware of how their emotions affect their judgment so that in a weird twist of fate, the more emotional people are actually more capable of objective analysis. It’s this simple: Those people who understand their own biases are more likely to reduce that effect.

We will always have to confront skeptics, or at least listen to them, so it’s important that we understand a little about how they operate. As I said before, and I can’t state this strongly enough, their position is emotional. If you don’t understand this, then you can either be hurt by them, or waste your time in endless arguments. If you can “see” the emotional base for their argument then everything starts to make sense.

My experience in dealing with the ordinary skeptics that I run across is that they are long on demanding evidence and short on providing it. Rather than take a position and back it up with factual data the usual tactic is to simply deride any evidence that is provided. Here is a comment that did not make it past my spam pile. This was in regards to my article on plant consciousness:

Maaaan, you know there is such thing in the web like search engine, if you don’t, go there to understand why this post is bullshit

This is typical skeptic stuff in that the comment involved no research or additional effort on the part of the skeptic to explain his position. He did not contradict anything in particular, but rather issued a vague condemnation of the whole article. I didn’t feel particularly compelled to publish that comment because of this.

These people are referred to as pseudo-skeptics because they don’t really try to understand the subject, they just know how they feel about it. In fact, a lack of curiosity is one of the hallmarks of these skeptics. A typical skeptic comment is: “If psychic ability were proven I think I would have heard about it.” They don’t see themselves as required to defend their positions with factual data.

In one case, I specifically asked a blogger skeptic for any information on meta-analysis he might have since this is central to the evidence for psi. Here is that snippet of his reply:

Regarding meta-analyses(the correct spelling, learn to use spell-checker, my friend), I’ve been suspicious of any whose component studies were methodologically “fixed” retroactively, as the ones often published by so-called “pioneering researchers” are, making said analyses worthless as sound evidence, especially when they are “peer-reviewed” only in pro-paranormal journals.

His opinion would be fine except that it contains no references whatsoever to scientific data refuting these meta-analyses. This is all just unsupported opinion and consequently I have learned nothing new. Here’s where the rationality really breaks down because this business of “all claims and no data” is precisely what parapsychological believers are accused of by these very same skeptics. When people start accusing you of the very things they themselves do, is this really someone you want to argue with?

I suppose the point here is NOT to argue with them unless you feel that you have to make a point in front of other people. One on one you will certainly accomplish nothing and more importantly, learn nothing.

One more thing. It’s hard to tell when you’ve won an argument with a skeptic, because they’ll never concede, but when they start to drift from their original points and bring up new ones, you’ve pretty much accomplished all that you’re going to. It’s time to end the argument and go do something constructive.


2 comments on “What’s Up with Those Skeptics?

  1. Troythulu
    March 3, 2009

    Hey, Craig. Let me begin by saying that it’s cool with me whether or not you approve this comment as long as you see it. First, I apologize for the tone of my response to your first comment on my blog, as it was snarky, condescending and highly uncalled for, even for my vile troythuluness. Sometimes I can be a mean-spirited S.O.B. and this occasionally lends itself well to me being an ass, but not well at all to a constructive dialogue. My bad. Such a tone reflects badly on me and on the skeptical movement, rendering me a poor exemplar. I’m keeping your comments and my unwarranted response to your first one on my blog site rather than deleting them as that would be even more uncalled for, and they shall serve as reminders of my fallibility, not as a skeptical stereotype, but as an individual with skeptical views who doesn’t always get things right. As humans we skeptics do not always have all the information or answers we need, nor are we immune to personal biases and the drives of our passions, and nor are we always right, but let me say that in my experience those who do not skepticize from the armchair are interested in the truth, whatever that turns out to be. Many skeptics come away from their failure to verify psi, not relieved, but disappointed as I am. Second, let me say that my views on psi phenomena still hold, though I try to doubt rather than deny and it seems that we differ mostly on the relative heights of our personal bars for evidence. As a Sci-Fi fan and incorrigible gamer, I think that psi-powers are really cool and would be absolutely delighted if I had them, but though I no longer believe in such abilities, if a volume of conclusive positive evidence, at least equal to the current volume of inconclusive or negative data were to be accepted by mainstream science I have little doubt that I could accept their reality as well. Believe that statement or not, we skeptics are not all cynical grumpy curmudgeons, and I tell it like I see it. Third, If you’ve made up your mind that there is truly no finding of common ground between our disparate views, that’s cool, and I won’t bother you with further comments. If not, then you are welcome on my blog and if you request, I’ll try to provide citations to back up my arguments in any future discussions: they’re only a mouse-click away. Thanks, and to quote a local Hampton Roads DJ, make it a great day.

    • craigweiler
      March 3, 2009

      Thank your for your thoughtful reply and especially your comments regarding your previous attitude. One does not always find that sort of introspection in this world and it impresses me that you have it. By the way, I was already working on this article when I commented on your blog and what I wrote was based on probably 30 different discussions I’ve had with various skeptics. You were the last, your comments were fairly typical of what I have encountered and so I took advantage of it.

      I don’t have a problem with skepticism on this blog, especially in articles dealing with the science, but I have to leave out the moronic crap and snarky stuff because otherwise none of the psychic people will comment. When I was blogging on DailyKos I used to get e-mails from people who wanted to say something but wouldn’t post comments on my blogs because they didn’t want to get blasted by insults. For that reason, I won’t allow snarky, bitchy discussions on this blog and I don’t let those sorts of comments through.

      In dealing with the evidence, citations are very important to me because I follow up on them. First, they tell me whether the author is thinking critically or just pulling stuff out of a hat and second, someone who disagrees with me is going to be better at finding facts contrary to my beliefs than I am.

      You are correct that levels of evidence we require is different. That, by the way, is a difference I can respect. As you know by now, I am psychic myself and so my bar for evidence for psi is necessarily going to be low. To me, this is like proving trees are real. It’s an interesting intellectual exercise, but it doesn’t change anything.

      Lastly, I ask for a small semantic change that is important to me: It’s psychic abilities, not psychic powers. Powers are what the X-Men have. For the rest of us mortals, it’s more like trying to tune in to a static filled radio station and make sense of it.

      Thanks again for your comment. I will check in with your blog.

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