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Rise of Scientism and the Pseudo-Skeptics October 7, 2007

Posted by olywood in art & science.
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You can practically set your atomic-clock to the weekly column inches given over to the new self-elected officials of atheism these days.
The academics spearheading this new movement infact seem every bit as omni-present in the media as the monotheistic deity they can frequently be seen rallying against.

The crusaders of the nu-atheism are (pictured from left to right) Richard Dawkins, James Randi, Danniel Dannett, and Christopher Hitchens.

What I’m going to show here however is that their mandate extends far beyond simply upsetting a few apples in the theologist’s apple-cart.
This isn’t a movement solely preoccupied with it’s own righteous atheism. This is a re-emerging ‘scientific’ movement which has its ideological origins firmly rooted in the initial fits and starts of the enlightenment itself.

The enlightenment for those abit hazy on their history was a key scientific stage in which dogma was temporarily adopted in order to overturn the predominant trend of the day for all things superstitious and mystical.
It had to be this way of course; old truths and methods are rarely put to rest to make way for something which might or may lead us into a brighter future.
No, science had to be sold to the public as something wholly infallible, only then could the principle rights to the public consensus lay safe in the empiricist’s bosom.

Of course the problem is that mysticism is back in again – intelligent design in schools, creationist museums popping up in places we’ve never even heard of before, consensus polls which suggest a public that still quite fervently believes in ufos, esp and ghosts.
If mysticism is to be resigned to past, or at the very least downgraded to the harmless fun of over-the-table anecdotes. Then science is going to have to put rationalism on the back-burner and embrace the polarised dogma of the enlightenment once more.

Scientism Explained

Now i should probably explain what scientism is before anything else.

Scientism is what happens when you get large groups of scientifically-inclined men together who think in aching naive black and white terms.
If society then offers them up a sacrificial common enemy, then irrationality and dogmatic fervour is almost certainly guaranteed.

This is infact essentially all scientism is – dogmatic science, although more than that it’s an ideology which ruthlessly eschews all the ‘tedious fact-checking’ and ‘dull neutrality’ of the scientific method proper.
It’s Science minus the method with only the consensus itself left intact.
Science proper of course isnt anything like or approaching the gospel-empiricism of scientism in which belief precedes fact and confirmation bias frequently sets the tone for any sort of public discourse or enquiry.

‘there are no facts, just things which can’t (or haven’t yet) been falsified.’

That’s the sort of hard-worn nihilism a real scientist has to begrudgingly adopt in order to convincingly call him/herself a scientist.
The impressive self-sadism of the scientist doesn’t end there either.
The scientist (amateur and professional alike) is probably one of the slowest yet methodical creatures in the whole of the animal kingdom – piecing together the consensus over entire life-spans of pain-staking and unforgiving research.

Which is not to say that scientists aren’t risk takers.
Infact it’s an important but easy-to-forget point that the scientific facts we take for granted today, all without exception started out life as usually quite wild and risky speculations.
It has to be this way of course because speculation and hypothesis are the absolute bedrock of the scientific method.

But it’s this unremittingly murky, perpetually out of focus, proven-nor-disproven aspect of the scientific method that seems to be a continual source of consternation for the scientism lot.
For what ever reason they just can’t seem to get to grips with the scientific fundamentals of speculation, hypothesis, and theorising.
It’s all abit of a lost concept on them, or perhaps just abit of an affront to their two-toned monochromatic view of the world which myopically only seems to allow for ‘truth’ and ‘untruth’.

No wonder then that in the hands of the scientism lobbyist science is routinely miscast as little more than the de facto religious doctrine of the day.
Scientific authority replaces religious authority on a purely ‘if you say so basis’.
Infact the entire process of career-risking speculation and hypothesis seems to be wilfully ‘forgotten about’ in favour of the pre-approved orthodoxy of the vindicated consensus.

This however sadly misses out on the whole point of what science actually is.

Science is in reality a huge revolving door of trial & error, with facts replacing fictions, fictions replacing facts, and data that leads us to believe in something one day and then just as suddenly instructs us to discount it the next.

If you cant treat science as anything, you definitely can’t afford to treat science as a sacred doctrine.
A doctrine is a closed-system, nothing gets in, nothing gets out. Its as true today as it is the day you die.
Science on the other hand is always moving, and usually headed in the direction directly away from your dearestly held sensibilities.
What science will ask you to believe in 50 years time would be unthinkable for you to even consider today.

Don’t Mention the ‘P’ Word

Yes *spooky-hands* I’m talking about ‘the paranormal’.

Scientismists absolutely hate, and I mean hate anything remotely paranormal, weird or seemingly mystical – ufos, ghosts, telepathy, clairvoyancy, bigfoot ad infinitum.
Its all bollocks to them in a very old fashioned ‘age of reason’ type of way, and they tend to arbitrarily group it all together as more or less the same thing – a threat to science and to reason.
And its not for any lack of proof either.
Infact if empiricism was part of their mandate they’d have to acknowledge that there’s technically more statistical evidence of telepathy than there is for parallel universes or dark matter (all of which they’ll dutifully accept anyway of course on purely authoritative terms).

But still the myth lingers that if any of these paranormal things were true (and it’s of course perfectly feasible that they might not) we’d have to re-write the entire laws of science and the universe itself.
Strangely, even a meagre amount of fact checking confirms that the universe is theoretically more than weird enough to accommodate something like clairvoyancy.
Time certainly isn’t the linear succession of events we phenomenally perceive it as.
Modern science infact seems to consistently confirm that if anything time is a uni-directional relative affair in which cause and effect can work either way, and in which time represents more of an ‘undivided whole’ than a directional flow of events.

On this basis, you have to wonder if the scientism naysayers actually bother with the fact-checking or empiricism that they purport to live by, or whether they instead simply allow ‘the truth’ to be measured against their dyed-in-the-wool sensibilities.

Going out on a limb, but hardly that far out; Id suggest that stauch anti-paranormalism is larged based in unwitting auto-association: Where the term paranormal ends up correlated and lumped-in with everything science once fought to over come – ‘superstition, irrationality, witches, divination, etc’

While ‘science’ lovingly coaxes all those pleasant sounding words from the back of the mind like – ‘rationality, logic, reason, truth’.
In this more common than you’d think game of free-association-science, words trigger long-held beliefs that are so ingrained you needn’t bother with anything as time-consuming and dry as ‘empirical research’.
Instead you need only let your sensibilities sort it out for you, while relying on a good old bit of confirmation bias if you need to ever justify your beliefs to the conscious part of your brain that demands you actually have ‘reasons’ for why you believe xyandz.

The Public Face of Scientism

So lets get to know the main culprits abit better.
As I brought to your attention in the first paragraph there’s the big guns of Richard Dawkins, Danniel Dennett, James Randi and Christopher Hitchens. Although other notables like Michael Shermer and Chris French also play a large part in this modern scientism crusade.

Now to give you an initial idea of where these chaps are located within the varied spectrum of scientific belief here’s a quote from the Harvard professor of philosophy and author of the book ‘Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon’ Dan Dennett.

” I have absolutely no doubt that the secular and scientific vision is right and deserves to be endorsed by everybody. ” – Daniel Dennett

No doubt whatsoever? No wonder Dennett doesn’t have any faith in a divine being, he’s donated it all to science.

Dawkin’s himself however makes his academic partner-in-crime Dennett look quite the moderate in comparison.
Authoring books with titles like ‘The God Delusion’ embossed in large jumpy-outy font; you barely even had to leaf through the book atall to guess at the central premise.

Infact Dawkins is quite the man on a mission these days, as I write this Dawkin’s has just put out his new channel 4 series ‘the enemies of reason’. Which he proports will help guide people to “changing their consciousness”.
In this he will lay his sights on everything within the broad realm of the unexplained and set out to prove that it’s all just another form of wish fulfilment for the religious and innately credulous.
However while this all sounds vaugely reasonble on paper there’s a two-fold danger in this – Dawkins doesn’t really want you to understand the process of science so you can join the dots for yourself and make the informed choice.
He just doesn’t want you to believe in anything that exists outside of it, which from what I can make out includes almost anything you care to imagine.

This is memetic reduction over meme induction; Dawkins isn’t interested in adding to your selective pool of knowledge, he simply wants to prune you abit and kindly relieve you of your intellectual falsehoods.
Which to a limited extent is fine, only this hurried removal job isn’t likely to enlighten, without the scientific method or the process of empiricism ever explained, all this is likely to do is breed a new generation of scientismists who believe science is the way forward and yet can’t even begin to explain why.

While Dawkins is out and about debunking religion and anything anything seemingly ‘anti-science’. James ‘the amazing’ Randi in a plume of smoke has materialised onto the scientism circuit as the new self-appointed chief debunkee of the telepathic and ‘paranormal’

If you’re not aware of who Randi is by the way, its worth pointing out he isn’t infact a scientist himself (small detail) he’s just been partially adopted as one by elements within and outside of the scientific community for making the right noises.

By trade I’m told he was originally one of those top-hat and tails magicians that society’s fickle whims have since grown a wee bit too sophisticated for.
All harmless fun, except during the course of his extended career hiatus Randi’s managed to convince himself hes a qualified scientist fit to design controlled experiments.
This has culminated in the creation of the million dollar challenge, which in it’s current guise looks like this.
http://www.randi.org/research/challenge.html.

It’s also worth mentioning that the outspoken atheist, anti ‘woo-woo’, and author of “God is not Great” Christopher Hitchens is also the underwriter of this challenge. Proving that the authors of the nu-atheism have interests far beyond whatever it is joe-bloggs chooses to say a silent prayer to before bed.

Now if you didn’t look at the site, the basic idea of Randi’s challenge is that if you have some sort of ‘supernatural’ mental ability, you can contact Randi who will then screen you as a potential applicant before putting you forward for his show-trail.
If you do manage to achieve the impossible and prove the existence of your ability to a man who’s staked both reputation and hard cash on ESP being arse-gravy, then he is in theory duty bound to hand over a million dollars.

Dawkin’s had this to say about Randi and his challenge

‘’Paranormal phenomena have a habit of going away whenever they are tested under rigorous conditions. This is why the $740,000 reward of James Randi, offered to anyone who can demonstrate a paranormal effect under proper scientific controls, is safe.’’ – Richard Dawkins

What’s jaw-dropping about this statement is that James Randi isn’t actually a scientist; or even a qualified psychologist.
So its hard to work out how Dawkins has spontaneously decided this test can be anywhere close to what would usually pass for science.
Apparently though, anything is science and anyone can be a scientist when they’re out there getting their hands dirty -confirming your biases on your behalf.

The great letdown here of course is that this is the precisely the kind of personal belief and invasive whimsy that scientists have struggled so hard to painstakingly remove from research over decades and decades of experimentation.

And yet in one deft hand Randi has introduced it all back again; putting himself in position of losing both reputation and hard cash if the experiment doesn’t go his way.
Which by any interpretation of empiricism i’d think takes a huge steamy piss over the whole notion of it.
Randi isn’t worried about losing the challenge though, he gets to screen anyone who wants to take his challenge (no I’m not making this up) which is sort of like putting the pope in charge of investigating pedophilia in the catholic church.

Interestingly, no proper qualified scientist has ever set up one of these challenges which should tell you something. Fringe Evangelic Christians have though which should also tell you something.
Dr.Hovind has a huge wad for you if you can prove the theory of evolution to the satisfaction of his strange criteria.
http://www.drdino.com

Do all dogmatic minds (even ones with diametrically opposed beliefs) think alike?
If Randi and Dr.Hovind are anything to go by, im pretty convinced that they do.

All Paths Lead to CSICOP

So far qualified scientists have rightly steered clear of these sorts of ‘experiments’.
Id suspect because they probably believe as I do that these sorts of things aren’t science, they’re publicity stunts designed to imply the non-existence of phenomena via the looming spectre of an ‘unclaimed prize’.
However one of Randi’s more rational friends at the CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) has spoken out against his divisive methods.

Dennis Rawlins slammed the Randi challenge and described Randi as unfairly behaving as “policeman, judge and jury”.

However this rare outburst of rationalism seems to be the exception to the rule, the organisation has never really attempted disguise the fact that it’s little more than an extension or front for the scientism movement, or as they would probably prefer to be known ‘champions of reason’.

This in itself wouldn’t be a worry if CSICOP didn’t have their sticky fingers in so many influential pies.
CSICOP are the umbrella organisation for such publications as the Skeptical Inquirer and skepticism websites like skepdic.
And in their own modest words are” the defenders of the Enlightenment”, so we can see already why Dawkins is onboard then.
Ah I didn’t mention that did I, yes CSICOP is a veritable who’s who of modern scientism – Dennett, Rhandi, Dawkins and tv-rent-a-skeptic Chris French are all denizens of this tight-knit fundi cabal.

Having all these strong-viewed fundamentalists onboard certainly raises the issue of impartiality and hidden interests, but being men of reason they should still be immune to experimental bias surely?
Sadly it would seem not, Randi himself has been publicly quoted as saying

“There’s no reality to psychic phenomena, nor to reincarnation, other than the conviction of some incautious or seriously deluded individuals who can attract publishers who know the naivety of the book market – James Randi

Lee Nisbet the Executive Director of CSICOP isn’t shy about exposing his biases for all and sundry to see either.

“[Belief in the paranormal is] a very dangerous phenomenon. Dangerous to science, dangerous to the basic fabric of our society…..We feel it is the duty of the scientific community to show that these beliefs are utterly screwball.” -Lee Nisbet

Hmm that doesn’t really sound like a sensible jumping off point for unbiased critical research and honest skeptical enquiry.
In fact it sounds like CCICOP has already made up their minds about whats true and what isn’t, making empiricism a mere trivial after-thought.
With this in mind the impartiality of their publications has to be seriously questioned.
Oh did I mention Nisbet isn’t a scientist either? Well hes not.
CSICOP did have a go at science once though, they investigated the claims of an astrologer called Michel Gauquelin – the evidence panned out in his favour and as a resort factions within CSICOP attempted to cover it up resulting in several members to resign in disgust.
Infact the whole thing was such a huge fuck-up that they never attempted anything like it again.

The New Skeptics

Nisbet and the CSICOP organisation represent the archetypal pseudo-skeptic I made somewhat implicit in the title heading.
You’ll probably know a pseudo-skeptic yourself by the way, even if you don’t think you do, they’re never that far-afield.
Theyre the people at parties who always intone when the conversation turns to the paranormal “well I have to say, I’m a huuuge skeptic actually”.
Which they’re not of course, they’re selective-skeptics.

I.e. people who only ever get skeptical about things like astrology, tarot cards, or ghosts; but never bother getting skeptical about things like black holes, m-theory, or dark matter, because that’s all proper (probably).
Although to even say they’re skeptical about ghosts or tarot readings is probably abit of a stretch, like most of the CSICOP members they just ‘don’t believe in it’.

Which is absolutely fine with me, there’s lots of things I don’t believe in too, but these convictions of disbelief are rarely based in any kind of skepticism or rational process. Not believing in things doesn’t necessarily infer critical thought.

CSICOP and its offshoot Skeptical Inquirer and web offshoot skeptic.com have infact forever altered the general public’s idea of what skepticism means via their endless stream of one sided ‘paranormal debunkings’.
Skepticism, which was once a critical tool in the philosopher’s and scientist’s mental arsenal, primarily used for testing the gross aggregate of human knowledge and experience (even your own existence) is now forever associated with people simply snorting at the paranormal.
Although this doesn’t seem to particularly bother the members of CSICOP, their scientism mandate seems to be not so much to enlighten, but to simply steer people clear of the paranormal at any cost.

Skepticism for the chaps at CSICOP then seems to be a kind of inverted confirmation bias, “I’ll believe it when i see it” is replaced with “I’ll see it when i believe it”

If you fancy checking up on exactly what I mean by the way, feel free to visit
www.skeptic.com.
You’ll quickly see there’s an echo-less void right at the intellectual heart of skeptic.com.
Plenty of fluff about crop-circles and homeopathy of course, but scant little if anything atall on the bewildering range of unconfirmed and untested theories and hypotheses raging within the scientific hierarchy.
It seems in practice that the writers and editors at skeptic.com only seem comfortable investigating things like crop-circles and telepathy.
Sacred-science just isn’t fair game in this weird pick ‘n’ mix buffet of scientific self-service.

Send in the Clowns

The big academic players of course have their faithful co-horts within the wider public media as well.
you might know some of these as Derren Brown, Ricky Gervias, and Christopher Brookmyre.
Now I’m not suggesting for a minute that Dawkins sits stroking some strange specimen of evolutionary importance in a wood-paneled study somewhere in Surrey; sending out his media-capos to get the public on message.
The point is, vested interests work at all levels of society. Dogma isn’t like the high-society lady seeking ‘professionals only’ in the personal columns.
Dogma doesn’t care what you do or what your income bracket is, she’ll have abit of anything.
And the science fundis come in all shapes and sizes, figuratively and literally.

Derren certainly isn’t shy about his scientific absolutism and distaste for anything outside of consensus.
Just like the founder of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer he’s also a reformed theist, who incidentally tend to make up the bulk of evangelic atheists and the scientific hardliners.
I suppose this works on a similar principle to outspoken reformed smokers, who always seem to make the most overwhelmingly militant ‘anti-smokers’ you could possibly hope not to meet.

Gervais does a similar line in scientism and pulpit atheism.
In his podcast he plays the man of scientific reason to Karl Pilkington’s credulous stooge who believes in everything silly, weird and irrational.
Misrepresented science wins the weekly battle with Gervais as the dogmatic victor and the round-headed Manc routinely cast as the superstitious oaf.

The greats of scientism have clearly left an impressionable mark
Especially on the novelist Christopher Brookmyre who recently did a BBC interview in which he both promoted his new book while simultaneously lamenting the public and their naivety for even taking some much as serious side-ways glance at the paranormal.

His new book – ‘attack of the unsinkable rubber ducks’ even has a prefaced dedication to the magician James Randi, for all his valiant efforts in debunking the world of mentalism.

Exactly how far reaching and influential the scientism movement will prove to be in the next decade will be remain to be seem, however it’s clearly already reaching a lot of successful celebs eager to endorse the rhetoric and spread the word.

Scientism Disrobed

Scientism then, as I hope I’ve shown in this article, is a far more broad and far-reaching movement than the relatively small radical-atheism movement that other writers have tended to paint it in as.
This isn’t simply about atheism. This is scientific fundamentalism which embraces the current trends of science but stubbornly refuses to embrace the actual methods. All the while actively seeking to spread its influence through both private organisations and publications.
In taking this approach the scientism ilk have reduced the entire process of intellectual enquiry down to an over-simplified binary choice between reason and superstition.

You’re either a credulous newager/theist who’ll believe in any old hokum or you can take the path of the arch-materialist unable to even consider anything outside of current scientific fashion.
And this do-or-die schism seems to have worked for a lot of people, regardless of what I may think either way.
Perhaps the great public could be forgiven for falling in with the wrong crowd and allowing themselves to be lead astray.
However its hard to forgive the academics and thinkers for leading them down that path in the first place.
Educated minds should know better, and an encroaching climate of religious fundamentalism certainly doesn’t provide the excuse to hang the scientific method out to dry.
Do that and you run the risk of creating as society just as ignorant as the one that preceded it, they might be on your side, but they certainly wont be able to explain why.

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Comments»

1. Bruce - October 7, 2007

Dawkins doesn’t really want you to understand the process of science so you can join the dots for yourself and make the informed choice.
He just doesn’t want you to believe in anything that exists outside of it, which from what I can make out includes almost anything you care to imagine.

I cant credit this “doesn’t want” on pretty much the same grounds as Popper couldn’t credit psychoanalysis. I agree that Dawkins doesn’t cover the process (or rather the philosophy of science, like Popper I don’t think there is a “Scientific Method” – that would be dogmatic scientism I believe) but I don’t think it’s so correct to read motive into it.

Firstly, he doesn’t get the final say on what makes it into the doco (just like he didn’t chose the title of the doco, or for that matter Root of all evil? either), but also I question his ability to do so to some extent.

Further, he’s been a little dismissive in discussing matters with “overzealous Popperian(s)”, although at least he gives them an answer. He’s clearly quite prejudiced against continental philosophy (he let a slur slip near the end of The God Delusion) and while he gives lip service to Kant, Hume etc, he doesn’t go into details. Indeed he mentions Hume in the God Delusion but I can’t recall him even discussing a single idea of Hume’s; he seems to wax nostaligic a tad too much about the anglophonic enlightenment.

I don’t think his philosophical oversights (especially epistemological) are there by mendacious design. Rather, I suspect that this is simply a poor area of philosophy for him and he takes his assumptions as being a tad too self-evident, naively relying upon his interlocutors to come to the same (shallow) conclusion.

That’s the sort of hard-worn nihilism a real scientist has to begrudgingly adopt in order to convincingly call him/herself a scientist.

While it’s a maxim I generally hold to be true, I wouldn’t go so far as calling it nihilism, not even rhetorically (because you know how fundies like to apply a straw man of nihilism to anything post-medieval).

I’d rather go with another version/interpretation of the maxim that goes along the line of “Human knowledge isn’t privy to ontological facts (be they there or not), just explanations of the empirical which can’t (or haven’t yet) been falsified.”

All depends on your definition of “fact” really.

Infact if empiricism was part of their mandate they’d have to acknowledge that there’s technically more statistical evidence of telepathy than there is for parallel universes or dark matter / people who only ever get skeptical about things like astrology, tarot cards, or ghosts; but never bother getting skeptical about things like black holes, m-theory, or dark matter, because that’s all proper (probably)…

I was a bit disheartened when Dawkins failed to lend skeptical analysis to Heisenberg or parallel universes when talking on the topic in The God Delusion. At the very least, while also currently unfalsifiable, there are other interpretations (such as transactionalism) that are at least more parsimonious.

Evidence for telepathy vs M-theory or parallel universes being greater sure. As for more evidence for telepathy than dark matter (or for that matter black holes), I’ll have to disagree with you. I think you do telepathy too great a favour here.

Indeed, Michel Gauquelin’s Mars Effect was entirely inductively argued and didn’t propose a mechanism of action that could be falsified. You’ve criticised Dawkins for not mentioning the philosophy of science / epistemology /method, it’s only fair that I mention the same thing about your treatment of CSICOP.

I personally wouldn’t have agreed to the terms of the experiment in the first place, being inductively reasoned without a mechanism of action it was a case of correlation=causation. Skepticism about Gauquelin’s work could should have remained at an epistemological level until he proposed a mechanism of action one could deduct the truth about.

My stance in regards to M-theory, Heisenberg, alternate worlds and even transactionalism is the same. At least theories of black holes and dark matter have mechanisms of action which make deductively testable predictions.

I guess CSICOP were a tad too enthusiastic/belicose, which I can believe.

Skepticism, which was once a critical tool in the philosopher’s and scientist’s mental arsenal, primarily used for testing the gross aggregate of human knowledge and experience (even your own existence) is now forever associated with people simply snorting at the paranormal.

I agree. While I snort at the paranormal it’s not a direct function of my skepticism. I keep the two compartmentalised and when they interact, prejudice doesn’t form a part of my skeptical process (it’s usually the often inductivist epistemology of paranormal proponents where I make my criticisms, although I’ve seen more than one testable homeopathy theory falsified).

To borrow an alternate example, St John’s Wort vs SSRI studies show that on average St John’s Wort performs as well as SSRIs, which is slightly better than placebos. I’ve seen Australian skeptics get stuck into St John’s Wort however, on the grounds of an apparent lack of research into it’s interaction with other drugs, which frankly is not really that different to the amount of the same research performed on newer SSRIs that have been approved for prescription.

St John’s Wort gets it’s bad rap because it’s “alternative medicine” and the said skeptic was a pseudo-skeptic with an axe to grind.

Well I think that’s all I’ve wanted to say.

~ Bruce

2. Norm - October 7, 2007

If you seriously believe the JREF Challenge is a fraud, and Randi the fraudster, the best way of all to expose the sitution would be to formally apply for it with a paranormal claim. One that you feel has validity and evidence to support it. One that COULD win you US$1,000,000…

Because if what you say is true, any fraud will be revealed and you will actually have a leg to stand on. Of course, if it is actually the real deal, you will have to admit to wearing egg facially, won’t you!

Since you don’t seemed to have done any research on the subject before commenting on it, it seems to me that you really don’t have any evidence that the JREF Challenge is a fraud. You are just saying so without checking your sources, and then proceeding to libel Randi and impugn JREF on that basis. Which is not really very smart or convincing in retrospect, is it. Not to mention undermining your whole commentary here.

So shall we see your application soon? I hope so.

3. olywood - October 7, 2007

Hi Norm,
Seems this has caused quite a storm on the JREF forums, i’ll try and comment on there myself if possible at some stage – if not you could always copy and paste this reply there yourself.

Firstly, id just like to make it clear that i have read though the JREF criteria (i always do my research) And im well aware that both the experimenter and test subject have to agree to the terms & conditions.
This in itself isn’t the problem.
The problem with the experiment design is that you have a man whos staked personal reputation, public image, and hard cash on a pre-ordained outcome.

From reading the criteria it seems there’s absolutely nothing preventing either James Randi or one of his associates from simply denying access to the challenge or creating ad hoc experiment controls to ensure the desired outcome.
Now obviously properly setup/controlled experiments aren’t perfect either, and there’s always going to people who have a ‘hunch’ as to the end-game outcome.
But Randi has turned a lingering hunch which *could* influence the oucome. Into a publicly-asserted bias which is now so well known that it’s impossible for his bias *not* to influence the outcome.
You can no more prove the paranormal to Randi’s personal whims than you can prove evolution to the creationist whos now set up the exact experiment.
Noone wins these things, and thats the point.

It’s not so much fraud it’s just intellectually dishonest and a waste of everyone’s time.
If you honestly think Randi’s challenge is a good scientific model then id ask you why you think the scientific community hasn’t adopted it too.
Universities could quite easily set up Randi-style cashpots with their grants and then throw out whatever it is they wanted to be proved or disproved as a challenge to the public. Then the experimenters could go on endless media campaigns asserting that they know what the outcome will be before anythings even taken place.
Unyet noone seems to work like that apart from Randi and a handful of others, strange.

As for this comment..
If you seriously believe the JREF Challenge is a fraud, and Randi the fraudster, the best way of all to expose the situation would be to formally apply for it with a paranormal claim. One that you feel has validity and evidence to support it. One that COULD win you US$1,000,000…
Because if what you say is true, any fraud will be revealed and you will actually have a leg to stand on. Of course, if it is actually the real deal, you will have to admit to wearing egg facially, won’t you!

If everyone at the JREF is as rigorously empirical as they believe themselves to be, i think almost everyone should be able to see the straw-man who’ve set up here almost instantly.
And its the kind of tactic that makes what you do entertainment rather than science, that’s why noone will ever take these sorts of things seriously.
As a social experiment though it would be quite interesting to set up a challenge for someone to prove something to me that’s already self-evident. Id be willing to bet that with all the outs Randi has, id be able to ‘disprove’ almost anything i could dream up.

4. olywood - October 7, 2007

@Bruce
I’d rather go with another version/interpretation of the maxim that goes along the line of “Human knowledge isn’t privy to ontological facts (be they there or not), just explanations of the empirical which can’t (or haven’t yet) been falsified.”

Very well put, i think mine was catchier but yours makes more sense.


Indeed, Michel Gauquelin’s Mars Effect was entirely inductively argued and didn’t propose a mechanism of action that could be falsified. You’ve criticised Dawkins for not mentioning the philosophy of science / epistemology /method, it’s only fair that I mention the same thing about your treatment of CSICOP.
I personally wouldn’t have agreed to the terms of the experiment in the first place, being inductively reasoned without a mechanism of action it was a case of correlation=causation. Skepticism about Gauquelin’s work could should have remained at an epistemological level until he proposed a mechanism of action one could deduct the truth about.

With you 100%.
I don’t see a direct causal link within the mars effects experiments either – infact i was arguing this point with someone who believed it validated astrology a few months back.
I raised the point simply to hi-light the problem with whitewashing over evidence.
No matter what it is that being ‘buried’ the tactic always ends up heavily indicating intellectual dishonesty.
The irony is if they hadn’t faultered and just allowed the results to come to the surface and concentrated on taking apart the presumption of causal inference. Then they probably wouldnt have lost anything in the process, and could have even done quite well out of it i think.
As i said the only real reason i rasied it was because i think the very *act* of supression says far more about someones beliefs and ideology than it does the person theyre trying to supress.

To borrow an alternate example, St John’s Wort vs SSRI studies show that on average St John’s Wort performs as well as SSRIs, which is slightly better than placebos. I’ve seen Australian skeptics get stuck into St John’s Wort however, on the grounds of an apparent lack of research into it’s interaction with other drugs, which frankly is not really that different to the amount of the same research performed on newer SSRIs that have been approved for prescription.
St John’s Wort gets it’s bad rap because it’s “alternative medicine” and the said skeptic was a pseudo-skeptic with an axe to grind.

I could write an entire diatribe on my misgivings about SSRI research and the FDA trust me lol.
But yeah i think you raise a good example of what id see as negative auto-association at work. Would have possibly made a good example to use in the article (had i thought of it).

Thanks for your input though Bruce, ive actually learned alot just by reading your responses here.

5. Bruce - October 7, 2007

Whoops… Where I said “Heisenberg” I meant Copenhagen. Too many chemicals I think (I’m cleaning the flat at the moment).

Thought I’d better correct before someone notices.

6. Norm - October 7, 2007

Olywood,

You confuse me greatly with your comment. Let’s look at these two quotes of yours. First:

“And im well aware that both the experimenter and test subject have to agree to the terms & conditions.”

Followed very shortly by:

“From reading the criteria it seems there’s absolutely nothing preventing either James Randi or one of his associates from simply denying access to the challenge or creating ad hoc experiment controls to ensure the desired outcome.”

Do you not agree you have just contradicted yourself? If the second point is true, the first can’t possibly occur. And vice versa. Unless you are simply concocting this…?

And incidentally, your comments hardly caused a storm on the JREF forum at all (forums.randi.org). We have seen this particular type of complete misinformation and parroting of long-since-disproven cannards so many times that it hardly warrants more than acknowledgment as just another.

So once again; if as you say the JREF Challenge is such a fraud, and Randi such a fraudster, the best way to publicly prove it is to apply with a paranormal claim you believe will succeed, and report your progress honestly. I, for one, look forward to seeing your application being discussed on our forum!

Otherwise I shall be forced to the conclusion that your claim of in-depth research and knowledge of how Randi and the JREF Challenge really operates leaves a lot to be desired…

7. Rise of Scientism and the Pseudo-Skeptics — Fashion and fashion trend - October 7, 2007

[...] of way, and they tend to arbitrarily group it all together as more or less the s… source: Rise of Scientism and the Pseudo-Skeptics, Culture [...]

8. Bruce - October 7, 2007

So once again; if as you say the JREF Challenge is such a fraud, and Randi such a fraudster, the best way to publicly prove it is to apply with a paranormal claim you believe will succeed, and report your progress honestly. I, for one, look forward to seeing your application being discussed on our forum!

Not that I’ve paid much attention to the challenge, but with genuinely fraudulent challenges (and I’m not making any such assertions) that best way to substantiate an allegation of fraud is to not take the challenge, but to point out fraudulent elements in the terms of the challenge.

Take proponents of the theory of ID (are any unfalsifiable theory) who shift the burden of proof in challenging people to disprove the theory. One doesn’t take the IDist challenge, one points out the vacuity of the challenge.

It’s the same for loaded questions (if a lawyer asks you why you killed your wife, unless you actually killed your wife, you don’t give them a reason why they did it) and so forth.

If Olywood considers the challenge fraudulent, sure he needs to substantiate. But he doesn’t have to substantiate by way of participation; he can substantiate by pointing to the terms of the challenge.

9. olywood - October 7, 2007

@norm.

Do you not agree you have just contradicted yourself? If the second point is true, the first can’t possibly occur. And vice versa. Unless you are simply concocting this…?

Not atall.
If someone has genuine abilities there’s nothing to stop Randi preventing them from entering altogether – i.e. simply ignoring/or chosing not to respond to their request.
This is the problem with a system in which you have one man acting, as Rawlins said.. “policeman, judge and jury”.


And incidentally, your comments hardly caused a storm on the JREF forum at all (forums.randi.org). We have seen this particular type of complete misinformation and parroting of long-since-disproven cannards so many times that it hardly warrants more than acknowledgment as just another.

You keep hinting at mis-information and mis-understanding but ive yet to see what in the article you think is false.
You may not like views on Randi, or even agree with them, but its pretty clear im neither mis-informed nor have falsified any of my information.
Infact if you compare my views to the kind of sweeping statements Randi tends to make, ive actually been incredibly fair on him.


So once again; if as you say the JREF Challenge is such a fraud, and Randi such a fraudster, the best way to publicly prove it is to apply with a paranormal claim you believe will succeed, and report your progress honestly. I, for one, look forward to seeing your application being discussed on our forum!

As i said this is exactly why noone takes the Randists seriously.
Every debate with your lot always ends up in some kind of ‘proof by inaction’ in which you’ll demand someone ‘enter the challenge if you have a problem with Randi!”

Unfortunately this is a strawman, since you’ve also in the process distorted my entire position.

My position is not ‘Randi is a fraud’ or even ‘i have psychic/paranormal abilities’ rather it’s
‘this experimental model is littered with flaws which make it neither feasible nor attractive enough to be adopted by the scientific community’.
But you just seem willing (or perhaps unable) to tackle this argument, i.e. – the only argument ive presented.


Otherwise I shall be forced to the conclusion that your claim of in-depth research and knowledge of how Randi and the JREF Challenge really operates leaves a lot to be desired…

This isnt empiricism Norm. this is all baiting and an endless stream of logical fallacies.
As Bruce said, none of my claims in this article even remotely (by any stretch of the imagination) actually require me to take the challenge.
It would be a horrendous waste of time for all concerned.

10. rjh01 rjh01 - October 8, 2007

Do you have any evidence for what you are saying? Such as legitimate applications being refused? You have not mentioned any.

This has not created a storm in the forum. The thread is here http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=95381
None of them favour your conclusions. And 13 posts in the first 25 hours. That is not many posts.

11. olywood - October 8, 2007

Alright then, ‘light breeze’.

Its not exactly suprising by the way that members of the JREF forum disagree with me. And i dont think that fact in itself supports your argument – which other than you all like James Randi, im not even sure actually is yet.

In any case, i dont remember claiming that Randi ‘has’ refused legitimate applications.
Although obviously many applications will have been turned down over the years im sure, although whether these have all been legitamate non-legitimate or a mixture of the two is unclear.

From what i can see i think ive been pretty explict in my skepticism of Randi’s methods to be honest.
But it seems that everytime someone hops on over from the JREF forums they can do nothing but erect temporary stawmen then flee away again.
To clarify – Ive neither A. Claimed i have any paranormal ability. B. claimed that Randi is a fraud or C. Claimed that Randi has denied legitimate claimaints (although this is a certainly a possiblity).
I do however believe his methods are both questionable and qualify as bad science, for all the reasons ive stated in both the article and the comments section.

12. Joe Ellison - October 8, 2007

“For what ever reason they just can’t seem to get to grips with the scientific fundamentals of speculation, hypothesis, and theorizing.”

There’s part of your problem right there, I think. You misunderstand how “speculation, hypothesis, and theorizing” relate to science… and seem to misunderstand the word “theory” as well. Here’s how science is supposed to work:

-You observe something that appears to be happening.
-You speculate as to what might be happening, and how.
-You collect evidence to confirm what is happening.
-You take that evidence and form a theory around it.
-You pass that evidence around, and let other people test it.
-The theory is either rejected or accepted based on evidence and reasoning.
-The theory changes or is rejected as new evidence is made available.

So, yeah, speculation is a small part of science… but it is the least interesting part, and only a starting point for the real work. You can’t just speculate, make up a hypothesis, then just straight to the theory.

That’s the real reason scientifically-minded people generally dismiss claims of the paranormal. Not because of dogmatic resistance to the claims, but because of the nearly complete lack of any of the foundational work of building an evidence-based claim. People who believe in the paranormal have a very strong tendency to work backwards, and claim that something exists, and then cherry pick the data that suits their claim, whether it is string evidence or mere hearsay.

So, when you complain that science is dogmatically rejecting your claims, I call BS. I ask, instead, that you present your evidence. I don’t care about speculation, or late-night bull sessions with your friends where you come up with wild “theories” about how you would like the universe to work.

Show me the data. Tell me how you got it. Set it up so that I can replicate your data. Show me a claim that can be confirmed anywhere in the world, if the conditions are the same. Set up those conditions to isolate the effect claimed, and eliminate any chance of cheating and/or interference from outside effects.

Show me some science. Please. Claims without support can and should be rejected out of hand. Hard evidence can’t and won’t be tossed out the same way, so show me the evidence.

13. olywood - October 8, 2007

I cant really see where you think ive demonstrated some critical misunderstanding in how the key processes of speculation hypothesis and theorising actually work.
Although then again i cant really see where you think ive made a claim about having paranormal abilties either, but you seem to quite firmly believe that too.

To go over the central point again there is a critical danger when someone will only *consider* the theory thats either…
A. part of an established consensus or
B. has been proven to a high enough degree to remove almost all doubt.

Notice i said *consider* rather than *accept* by the way.

So, yeah, speculation is a small part of science… but it is the least interesting part, and only a starting point for the real work. You can’t just speculate, make up a hypothesis, then just straight to the theory.

We can argue over the importance of speculation in science almost indefinitely.
The point is – it lays the basis and foundation for hypothesis and theory.
Its part of the process, it needs to be engaged with, accepted, and cherished as a natural part of the eventual outcome.

If i had to sum this up within a soundbyte id probably say something like..
– “the process of science shouldnt be ignored in favour of the outcome.”

That’s the real reason scientifically-minded people generally dismiss claims of the paranormal. Not because of dogmatic resistance to the claims, but because of the nearly complete lack of any of the foundational work of building an evidence-based claim.
You’re right, if someone whos genuinely scientifically-minded rejects a paranormal phenomenon it will be on the basis of lack of evidence and nothing else.


People who believe in the paranormal have a very strong tendency to work backwards, and claim that something exists, and then cherry pick the data that suits their claim, whether it is string evidence or mere hearsay.

People who believe in *anything* have a tendancy to work backwards and exercise their own confirmation bias.
And ive as yet seen nothing to suggest that its a behaviour tied to any one paradigm, discipline, or set of beliefs.

So, when you complain that science is dogmatically rejecting your claims, I call BS. I ask, instead, that you present your evidence. I don’t care about speculation, or late-night bull sessions with your friends where you come up with wild “theories” about how you would like the universe to work.

I think youre wildly missing the whole point here.
I’m illustrating the dangers inherent in consensus-bound thought that soley rejects on the basis whimsy rather than experimental data (which may point either way).
I could have just have easily written this article about creationists or the dogmatically paranormal. Confirmation bias is confirmation bias. dogma is dogma.

By turning this into a debate about the paranormal and James Randi youre completely losing the message in the process.
Neither the paranormal nor the JREF are as central to any of this as you think they are.

Show me the data. Tell me how you got it. Set it up so that I can replicate your data. Show me a claim that can be confirmed anywhere in the world, if the conditions are the same. Set up those conditions to isolate the effect claimed, and eliminate any chance of cheating and/or interference from outside effects.
Show me some science. Please. Claims without support can and should be rejected out of hand. Hard evidence can’t and won’t be tossed out the same way, so show me the evidence.

Evidence of what? Im not a parapsychologist nor do i have any ‘paranormal abilities’ nor have i ever claimed anything like.
I really cant work out if youve erected a strawman on purpose or whether you’re just not aware of what a strawman is.
Either way it doesnt make you look good, and sort of hammers home my whole point about intellectual dishonesty in this area of research.

14. Arthur - January 14, 2010

Brilliant. Bring this blog back into existence.

15. Christopher - February 4, 2010

Agreed. I love it.

16. Tim - December 2, 2010

The new “Age of Reason and Rationality”(tm) followers ( which is exactly what they are) fail to acknowledge their own heavy reliance on dichotomous and denial-laden thought process. They are oblivious to their pathological disbelief and confirmation bias by directly contradicting their support of “freethought”( notice this is an Orwellian Doublespeak word that is part of Libertarian/scientism dogma and is therefore a misnomer) and subscribing to dogmatic belief and blind faith, sharing all or most of the characteristics and traits of religion.

This is all diametrically opposed to what victims of this groupthink and their common vernacular, circular reasoning,logic and use of the same logical fallacies they point out in debate w/ theists or unorthodox thinkers.

It comes down to two factions, each oblivious to their flaws in thought process. The Theist Right, many of which exhibit naivety,lack of education and/or enlightenment, tendency to succumb to fear and guilt. The other being the new atheists,materialists,nihilists,egoists,existentialists that ascribe to the Overman,Superman/UberMensch theories, selfishness and arrogance above all,etc.

The former are close-minded and limited because of fear and blind faith. The latter are close-minded and limited due to arrogance,selfishness and scientism

Both are clearly myopic fools.

17. JXS - December 10, 2010

Psuedosceptics tend to make their decisions based on cognitive dissonance while religious extremists make their decisions based on blind faith. It’s a tough thing to be in the middle. Einsteins Relativity theories have some major flaws in them with just one of them being incompatible with Quantum Theory. I’ve read up on many different books about physics, quantum physics, astronomy, multiverse theory and the so-called “paranormal”.

I remember reading an article about “corruption in physics” which was about a cosmologist named E. Wright in which describes how he analyses astronomical data and provides a wealth of data regarding the distances and the red shifts of remote supernovae. These (supernovae) are exploding stars of accurately known light intensity so that by measuring the flash of light they emit, their distances away from us can be estimated to fair accuracy. Unfortunately most of the data he came up with he renders useless by processing the data through special relativity. Many physicists have complained about the difficulty in receiving unprocessed data. One physicist did get hold of one piece of unprocessed data information which was related to the greatest redshift ever observed but I will not get into this here for I don’t want to turn this into a scientific debate not to mention all the space I would take up typing all of this new information I’ve been reading about.

I’m trying to make a point how scientific process is being stalled by making decisions based upon cognitive dissonance. I have also found many other flaws relating to many scientists who are coming up with quantum theories that contradict themselves. Even some of the math equations such as some from the Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle of quantum electrodynamics contain some internal contradictions. Not getting into that here either.

There is plenty of evidence for black holes and dark energy. However I disagree with dark energy having long range repulsion force to explain the problem of the cosmological constant rather this dark energy is something else and yes the mathematics match up for what dark energy/matter really is but that’s another article. There is no evidence for the existence of “gravitons” to explain quantum gravity. There is no evidence that gravity is caused by time/space curvature as well. There is no evidence for time travel or the many worlds aka multiverse theory as well. Multiverse theory was invented because the odds of a universe where conditions made just right for not just life itself but also matter itself to exist were too low based upon the cutoff point of energy creation from the original “singularity” of nothing. The multiverse or infinite splitting universe theory also satisfies the time paradox as well including that for wave particles being in a state of superimposition. This also satisfies reductionist materialist propaganda as well so we’ll just fudge mtheory in there.

There is more evidence for the “paranormal” (hate that term) then there is for time travel, relative time (I’m not even getting into the hypothetical spaceship test here either), time/space curvature, infinite universes among other phenomenon. Sometimes theories become outdated with advanced knowledge and need to be thrown out or modified rather than fudging in hypothesis.

Sir William Crookes and Sir Oliver Lodge proved the existence of multidimensional beings(what I mean by multidimensional here are around 7 dimensions which our etheric body tranfers to where these dimensions also interpenetrate ours with little interference not the infinite universes which we can never have contact with), aka “spirits” through controlled laboratory experiments specifically set up to avoid trickery or fraud. These brilliant scientists (especally Crookes) were hard sceptics of psi themselves which is why they were sent in to actually debunk these psychic claims and expose them as fraud! When these physicists didn’t give a report of fraud to their colleagues but rather verified psychic phenomenon as being real a major mudslinging campaign was unleashed against them. This even continues until this day. Their achievements have been downplayed as well. Talk about “critical thinking”. This sounds more like “critical debunking” or obscuring. A potential branch of nuclear physics (psi) being obscured by the psuedosceptics. Actually I don’t blame many psychics for refusing to take Randi’s challenge for even if all the hurdles were passed (which are great considering his testing methods have much higher standards than those used by scientists) the psuedosceptics would still not accept psi either way. Challenge me on that?

18. Zetetic - August 24, 2013

“Show me the data. Tell me how you got it. Set it up so that I can replicate your data. Show me a claim that can be confirmed anywhere in the world, if the conditions are the same. Set up those conditions to isolate the effect claimed, and eliminate any chance of cheating and/or interference from outside effects.
Show me some science. Please.”

AAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!!!

Every time a pseudoskeptic comes up with this line of utter nonsense I feel like slapping them across the face, ducking their head into cold water and shouting in their ear: “WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!”

Evidence of just the calibre the pseudoskeptic demands is there. The fact that these people can’t be arsed to look for it, and keep insisting that it is spoon fed to them, speaks volumes about their confirmation bias, lack of critical thinking and subservience to their cult leaders.

Most pseudoskeptics simply parrot everything James Randi says, without checking the facts for themselves. Then they bleat “show me the data”. A classic example is when remote-viewing researcher Stephan Schwartz challenged pseudoskeptic psychologist Richard Wiseman. After the latter had claimed there was “no evidence” for remote viewing, Schwartz challenged him to pick a paper – any paper – on the subject, and explain in what way the evidence was flawed. Wiseman hummed and hah’d, and then admitted HE’D NEVER READ A SINGLE PUBLISHED PAPER on the subject!

And that is one of the pseudoskeptics’ authority figures! What chance for the cult’s rank-and-file?

“Critical thinkers?” They couldn’t critically-think their way out of a paper bag!


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