The Weiler Psi

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

The Perils of Skepticism

lolcat intellect amazes me

I had an on-line discussion recently in which I debated the subject of Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge, about which I know quite a bit, so I completely punked the guy’s arguments. How he handled utter defeat was instructive, because it shows a lot about how skeptics think. Here’s the beginning. M is the skeptic, W is a neutral observer and I am C:

W: you honestly dont beleive ANY are real, anywhere ? or have some unexplained gift ?

M: Nope. None of them do. They’re mostly a bunch of con artists, and those who genuinely believe that they CAN predict the future, are insane.If they wish to PROVE their abilities at predicting the future, then ask them to accurately choose the next winning sequence of numbers in a major lottery drawing.

C: In case you’re interested, psychic ability has been proven to exist. There is a lot of science to back it up and it doesn’t conflict with physics.

M: NOT according to Dr. James “The Amazing” Randi. His entire life has been devoted to exposing fakes, charlatans and con artists.

He and his foundation have a standing offer of ONE MILLION (USA) DOLLARS, to anyone who can conclusively PROVE that ANY form of psychic phenomena or paranormal ability genuinely exists, in front of a panel of scientific experts from all over the world.

Take a look, for yourself:

Clearly, what we have here is an uneducated skeptic.  Anyone who uses Randi’s challenge instead of real science to determine the validity of psychic ability has already made a grave logical error and one that I have seen many times coming from skeptics.  Believing themselves to be rational and logical, they do not question their own assumptions.  Randi’s challenge is seen as the ultimate proof that psychic ability does not exist and they don’t need any evidence beyond that.  So they don’t look for it.  The belief is never challenged.  Now watch what happens when I call this into question:

C: I’m sure Mr. Randi is a nice man, but he hardly trumps 130 years of science. He has no experience with the field of parapsychology, no experience in running scientific experiments and has not published any scientific peer reviewed articles. A challenge in which he is judge and jury cannot be seen as scientific proof of anything. Although the challenge has been ongoing for what? ten years? We have only his word that no one can pass the challenge. There is absolutely no transparency in his process.

Compare that to the Parapsychological Association, which is a member of the The American Association for the Advancement of Science and regularly publishes peer reviewed studies. Here’s my article about the evidence for psi. You should read it.

W: nicely said 😉

M: I am still waiting for Randi’s bona fide challenge to be accepted.

Note how he publicly embarrassed THESE phonies/fakes:

Know about James Hydrick? He’s now a prison inmate. Here he is, being exposed as a total fraud and fake, by The Amazing Randi: (Part 1) (Part 2)

Here is James Hydrick CONFESSING & ADMITTING to being a total fake and a fraud:

Those who deride James Randi, have no idea about what they are talking. “They” prefer to believe in the unbelievable.

James Randi is one of the most respected members of the scientific community, and a hero to skeptics and logical-thinking folks, everywhere.

Make sure you have your “facts” correct, before publicly spewing them on AB. Otherwise, you display your ignorance.

At this point of course, the discussion has completely jumped the rails.  He does not address transparency, nor the actual evidence for psi nor calmly address questions of fairness that I have brought up.  Instead, he gives me a list of debunking success as though this were proof of any sort.  To him perhaps, it is.  He is having a logic problem; he does not understand that positive proof of frauds is not negative proof of psychic ability.  And note the use of the insult at the end of his statement.  It is an indication that at some level, he knows he is losing the argument.  We continue:

C: He is a debunker, not a scientist. You should know the difference. His value is only as a magician catching frauds. Please note that none of this has to do with the challenge, which, according to Randi, many people apply for. Where are the detailed results?

He has explicitly refused to test homeopath John Benneth and backed down from a challenge issued by Dr. Jule Eisenbud, who wagered $100K that Randi could not duplicate the “thought photography” of Ted Serios, even with the aid of a prop in which a gimmick could be housed. Randi has ignored challenges to the test such as English psychic Chris Robinson.
Dick Bierman, PhD proposed a presentiment test to Randi which Randi simply never followed up on.

This is from the book “Parapsychology and the Skeptics” by Chris Carter

M: I will respect your position, only AFTER someone from “your side” has COLLECTED the US$1,000,000 being offered by the JREF., OR you prove conclusively, before a panel of scientific experts, that JAMES RANDI is a “fraud” and “a fake,” which you will NEVER DO.

(And James Randi is MORE of a scientist, than those who castigate him.)

Or, failing that (as you certainly will), prove that Uri Geller or Peter Popoff are indeed “real.”

The ONLY WAY to get me to believe IN YOU, is to do the things I have previously mentioned.

James Randi is more REAL than Jesus Christ.

It should have been obvious to “M” that logically, once it is shown that the challenge is not offered in a fair and even handed way, that the discussion is over.  The claim that no one has demonstrated psychic ability and therefore it doesn’t exist, cannot be legitimately made if you leave anyone out.  The million dollar challenge is reduced to a mere publicity stunt at this point.  If “M” cannot challenge my facts directly, then he has lost the debate.  What you are seeing here though, is the main point of what I am talking about when I bring up the perils of skepticism: namely, that skepticism always has the danger of degenerating into a form of dogmatism.  While many examples are more subtle than this, much of skepticism goes down this path.

The problem with skepticism is that in operating from a position of assuming that they are right they inevitably give more weight to their evidence while trivializing evidence that they disagree with.  In this case, the skeptic has gone to absurd lengths to maintain his position.  He sides with a single publicized challenge over a mountain of scientific evidence; his need to be right has overshadowed any and all logic in his arguments.  Although the argument continues, nothing more can be gained from it.  The skeptic piles it on with his personally unchallenged belief that The Million Dollar Challenge is last word in evidence for psi.  To wit:

C: If James Randi is not taking everyone who applies and putting them through an open and well documented test whose fairness and rigor can be shown to be beyond question, then I cannot take his challenge seriously. It does not appear that he is willing to let anyone win. Therefore, I doubt that I can prove anything to you on your terms.

I consider Randi to be an excellent magician and extraordinary debunker. He is quite useful to parapsychology in this capacity. His flaw though, is that he lacks any sort of objectivity.
You have not commented on the Evidence for Psi article that I linked to. I suggest you do so. I think that the science is quite different than what you believe it to be. The tests have nothing to do with being duped by tricksters. They’re not set up that way.

M: In every case where James “The Amazing” Randi has refused to allow someone to participate in “The Challenge,” it was because the challenger has requested to CHANGE THE PARAMETERS in some way (as James Hydrick tried to do, in front of a nationwide audience, and a live studio audience).

James Randi has told every one of them, “There will be no changes to ANY of the protocols,” which have been agreed to by the scientific community who actually makes the final decision in awarding the money.

It’s like saying, “I’ll play baseball with you, but MY SIDE must be allowed FIVE ‘OUTS,’ instead of the normal three.”

It’s the foundation’s money (not James Randi’s) so the foundation protocols WILL govern the outcome, and with NO CHANGES, WHATSOEVER.

Those who can’t abide by the rules and protcols, CAN’T “play.”

C: There are really only two scientific communities who can scientifically evaluate a psi experiment. The Society for Psychical Research and the Parapsychological Association. No one else has the expertise or understands the subject as well. Parapsychology is a statistical science and there is a lot you have to understand to create a fair test. I guarantee you, the experts in the field are not involved with the challenge. So technically, no, it hasn’t been agreed to by the scientific community.

The most important part of the test is what odds against chance are considered sufficient to pass. Randi can win every time if he sets these to impossible levels. (In fact, that’s exactly what he does.) A test that would seem otherwise fair can be doctored this way.
You should read the rules more carefully. Challenges are strictly at the challengers’ expense.

This is all moot though. Since he has decided not to take on all comers, his claim of no psychic ability is void.

M: I’ve already explained that Mr. Randi and his group will NOT honor any requests of ANY kind, to change the test parameters. I suspect that you are one of those individuals who enjoys deriding folks like James Randi, because you know of no other way to tear him down.

But, you fail, because you can’t provide any EVIDENCE to prove conclusively that Mr. Randi, his foundation and his offer are “bogus.”

As far as the scientific community backing him up, here is just ONE organization that supports his challenge:

That organization is composed of many respected members of the scientific community.

I suggest you utilize your energies towards coming up with as way to get the US$1,000,000, instead of arguing with me, because no matter how much you argue or belittle Mr. Randi, I won’t pay you US$1 Million.

After this I finished with an admittedly snarky comment about an easy victory.  I probably shouldn’t have, but I did.  The tone and arrogance of these discussions  occasionally get to me.  I could have pointed out that CSICOP, or The Committee for Scientific Investigation as it is now known, has no real investigators on staff and explicitly does not do investigations, and isn’t actually scientific, but why? There is obviously some serious cognitive dissonance going on here.  More arguments, no matter how sound, are not going to change anything.

How is this skepticism better than approaching things that I don’t understand with an open mind?  Why not suspend disbelief over someone else’s argument long enough to consider it?  From my side of things, I didn’t start out doubting Randi’s challenge.  I just started looking into it to get a feel for what it was.   I was willing to believe that it was legitimate but not without investigating it.  The more I found out though, the less I was impressed with it until finally the weight of facts and unanswered questions led me to understand that it was not worthy of inclusion in legitimate discussions about psi.

The trouble with skepticism is that it rests on all sorts of beliefs like this.  “If psychic ability were real, then they would be able to . . . ” if you’ve filled in the blank, then ask yourself the question:  How do I know that?  Did I pull it out of thin air because it sounded good, or do I actually have science to back it up?  A lot of what sounds logical and rational is built on nothing more than beliefs.  To learn anything, we have to give some topics room to be different than what we imagine them to be.  Skepticism simply does not allow this.  Consequently, it forces a person to unlearn something old in order to learn something new.  This is advancement by cognitive dissonance and it’s very inefficient.

Consequently, I try to keep my skepticism to a minimum.

2 comments on “The Perils of Skepticism

  1. Chris
    December 15, 2011

    The purpose of Randi’s “foundation” is to make money, despite it being called a non-profit educational organization. Ditto on his claims of debunking what he claims is “woo-woo”. It really is that simple.

    • craigweiler
      December 15, 2011

      If you have any documentation I’d be interested to see it so that I could update some posts I have on this subject.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: