Nope, No Skeptical Burnout Here…


(Last Update: 2:05 pm, 2011/01/03 — clarifications made)

Francis Bacon, From a Painting

Image via Wikipedia

Earlier in my life, when I began identifying myself as a skeptic, I had seen what a rough time it can be for people, even to the point of making them throw up their hands in despair and giving up, disappointed both with the contentiousness of the skeptical community and the seeming futility of attempts to ‘stop the madness’ in an increasingly irrational world.

I decided early on, that there was only one way to avoid this: To develop a robust, informed skepticism, to look upon other, more experienced skeptics and scientists as teachers, not infallible authorities, and indeed, this is what most of the better known skeptics encourage — to question within reason what they say, to find out the truth myself, and not to just take them at their word.

I had to develop, to the best of my ability, even if I didn’t like what I found out at first, a skepticism based upon knowledge and not naivete, to understand what it’s about and what it really is.

To find out what it really means, and to learn to do it well…

Well, here I am, 4 years into my skepticism, and though I cannot definitively predict the state of attitude and mind I’ll be in into the future, since that would be pretending to knowledge I don’t have, I remain to this very day a modern rational empiricist of full conviction, and I see at present no reason to think that I’ll ever be burned out, to up and call it quits as what I am.

Skepticism, reality, and science activism are what I am, what I’ve become, and truth to tell, I’m getting too old to go back to credulous belief in religion and the paranormal. I’ve learned too much, found out too many things about them to make going back to believing their claims a serious proposition, to ever again take them seriously.

I have really no reason to believe in gods, in ghosts, in telepathy, in psychokinesis, in ancient astronauts or loch monsters, in aliens pressing complex designs in wheat-fields, or any of a number of other odd notions without any proven factual basis.

Unless of course, I one day lose my freakin’ mind…

I’ve argued and questioned things ever since I was a kid, even during my ‘believer’ stage when I accepted both creationism and the paranormal, and maybe I’ve always had it in me to be a skeptic, though you’d never have noticed it then.

I know that I didn’t, but look where I am now…Hah! *Gotcha!*

Some of my online friends, like the awesome =^skeptic cat^=, have experienced the aforementioned contentiousness of other skeptics, or the fans of skeptics on some of the more popular blogs, first hand. Some of us are a bit more cruel to each other than we are to the fringe-claimants, and this is shameful.

We skeptics should know better than to deride our own, we who value truth and reason.

Still, to me, skeptical activism is too important, to be a tiny quantum in a worldwide Wave of Reason, to do what little I can, with those of like mind acting together, to try to turn the tide of darkness back a little further, to brighten the candle of science against the encroaching night just a bit.

There are no rewards for independent rationalist bloggers…

As insurmountable as this seems, I believe it can be done, and this is what keeps me going on this blog, to do my tiny and seemingly insignificant part to work at chaining the demons of ignorance and irrationality, of confusion and fear, or at least try to minimize the harm they do in conjunction with other rationalists.

What can I say? I can do no more nor less. Fnord.

About Troy Loy

I seek to learn through this site and others how to better my ability as a person and my skill at using my reason and understanding to best effect. I do fractal artwork as a hobby, and I'm working to develop it to professional levels, though I've a bit to go till I reach that degree of skill! This is a crazy world we're in, but maybe I can do a little, if only that, to make it a bit more sane than it otherwise would be.

Posted on Monday, 0:17, January 3, 2011, in Skepticism & Skeptics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Thanks Troy … I’m going to try and put some more effort into what I do but it’s hard to be funny when you don’t feel like laughing yourself

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  2. > contentiousness of other skeptics, or at least, the fans of skeptics, first hand.

    I avoid that by staying on the kook sites (mostly). It’s a paradox. I want to learn about their nuttiness first-hand. But as it turns out, the kooks don’t actually know anything! Which makes fact-checking their posts both entertaining and educational for all.

    > There are no rewards for independent rationalist bloggers…

    No free books to review??? That’s not right.

    If I ever blog, there will be T-shirts and coffee mugs for sale along the side. Maybe some glossy 8x10s. I’ve already got my self-portrait done up. (And look at all the lovely comments kooks leave for me!)

    http://www.youtube.com/user/terrythecensor

    > skeptical activism is too important, to be a tiny quantum in a worldwide Wave of Reason, to do what little I can, with those of like mind acting together, to try to turn the tide of darkness back a little further, to brighten the candle of science against the encroaching night just a bit.

    Phew! From there to the end, everything gets a little purple-y and self-congratulatory. Unless you meant it to be funny!

    Anyway, since we’re here, have you ever thought of writing short reviews of fringer books? If you were once a believer, you must have read some, might even still have them. Not a line-by-line debunking, just something to give us the flavour and worth of the thing. There is so much USELESS JUNK out there, it would be nice to know what to avoid and what few titles would be a decent resource.

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    • I’m going to have to work on the “funny” part, as from your comment it looks like I didn’t get it quite right this time either. Oh well…

      Yes, going on fringer sites is useful, though I avoid the Answers in Genesis site because of spyware concerns (I found out about that from the author of the blog “Answers in Genesis Busted”). But places like that are a wonderful source of logical fallacies and misconceptions (about their own claims!)as well.

      The short reviews idea is pretty good, and I’ll have to consider that. Thanks.

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  3. I don’t know what “=^skeptic cat^=” has experienced, so I cannot say if anything I am about to say applies to that situation, and the post was a bit vague. Nevertheless, something you said struck me as something that needs to be addressed.

    It think that “question authority” has been a bit perverted (not by you) into “disrespect authority”. what comes with it is “My uneducated opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s arguments from evidence.”

    It’s a shame that such a basic concept as “evidence supports; credentials do not” has been so misunderstood. Credentials are information; they tell you that an individual is more likely to have expertise in an area that someone without those credentials. The point of “no authority” is that there is no guarantee either way; it is not the credentials themselves that support a statement/claim.

    The point of “no authority” is NOT “every viewpoint is equal” and there are far too many people saying far too much in the name of skepticism about issues for which they have no expertise – issues which require expertise. Still others do not argue logically (an irony that seems to escape them) and, when cornered, respond with little more than, “You do it your way and I’ll do it mine.”

    Skepticism is for everyone. Skeptical activism is not. Degrees and popularity are not necessary for expertise and they don’t guarantee it, but people who don’t know what they are doing or what they are talking about only harm the cause.

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    • @badrescher,

      I think that your comment is spot on, and perhaps I was not sufficiently clear in distinguishing between arguments from authority, and arguments by authority, in the original post.

      I’ve noticed the “disrespect authority” meme a lot on fringe-claim sites in both the posts and the comment threads, but it’s selectively applied — it’s only the mainstream that’s so questioned by fringers, in a manner more cynical than skeptical even when it’s called the latter, especially toward their critics. There is much relativism regarding those who agree with them.

      “Skepticism is for everyone. Skeptical activism is not. Degrees and popularity are not necessary for expertise and they don’t guarantee it, but people who don’t know what they are doing or what they are talking about only harm the cause.”

      I agree. Though I have no problem with the different presentation styles of other skeptics, from the likable to the abrasive, one should at least have a good understanding of the topic discussed, even without a string of letters before and after one’s name.

      Thanks for commenting, Barbara. It’s always good to get valuable input from those who’ve been doing this longer than me.

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  4. > “My uneducated opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s arguments from evidence.”

    Believe it or not, a year ago, someone at UFO Digest posted an article with this title:

    “A Well Informed Citizen Is an Expert of a Topic”
    http://www.ufodigest.com/news/0410/well-informed.php

    That was just too much for me.

    Here is my complete response — purged by the site sometime later (they outright block me now).

    > Average citizens have the right and are as credible as anyone with a degree when it comes to being informed … I have every right to make an educated opinion on any topic I have investigated…

    You have a right to be informed and a right to having an opinion. But having the right to do something is not the same as having the ability to do something. You write as if seeking information will necessarily result in a correct opinion. (This is not a credible position, if you’ve ever read online comments.)

    In this instance, the correctness of your own opinion is made less convincing by evoking several conspiracies.

    All you’ve done is set up an eliminative argument: the expert opinion is a lie, therefore what remains — my non-expert opinion — must be correct.

    > If everyone thought that one had to have a degree in the topic discussed the Idea of UFO and related topics would be damned to oblivion.

    For instance, the UFO field is almost entirely populated by amateur investigators who are untrained in any scientific discipline. Those with specialist degrees tend to stray far from their area of expertise (David Jacobs, a historian, uses hypnosis to gather abduction reports!). It might not be a coincidence that these people have been unable to find any untainted, credible evidence of aliens whatsoever. They are left to gather hearsay, plant memories in vulnerable people, develop wild fact-free theories, quote each other’s dubious claims, and spin these into elaborate conspiracies.

    We can agree on one thing, though you don’t say it specifically: an informed citizenry can ask better and tougher questions of its experts and policy makers — and it should. We should not accept facts based solely on authority. But neither should be assume that, therefore, authority is always wrong (that is, willfully wrong).

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  5. Terry, excellent response. I hope you don’t mind if I steal some of it the next time a skeptic pulls that card.

    May I make a suggestion that’s worked for me for the next time you run into this? Sparked by your reference to a “correct opinion”…

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, which cannot be right or wrong, but not their own facts, which can be. When you talk about what informs an opinion (e.g., evidence or ignorance), differentiate between opinion and fact.

    I have found that this tends to stop those kinds of arguments in their tracks if you’re dealing with a person who is even semi-rational (and if they are not, at least you’ve pointed out those flaws more clearly for other readers). Confusing fact with opinion is one of those things that nobody wants to be caught doing. That’s what you’ve suggested in your reply, but not stated outright.

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  6. > Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, which cannot be right or wrong, but not their own facts

    Oh, and opinion CAN be wrong, but it is one’s own, so have at it. But, yes, you cannot have your own facts (I hope that was implicit in my comments).

    Recently, I accidently stumbled into arguing with holocaust deniers. What I found, repeatedly, is they misrepresented their own facts! Everytime my fact-checking ran them down and pinned them to the ground, they resorted to conspiracy theory — which is like tapping out and simultaneously saying you’d won.

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