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A Consilience of Observations

by Donald Prothero, Jul 20 2011

I’ve just survived four days of The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, and my head is buzzing with so many thoughts—so many great talks—so many friends I haven’t seen since TAM8 last year, and new ones I met for the first time after months of email and Facebook exchanges. TAM never fails to exhilarate me—and exhaust me. My favorites: Bill Nye’s brilliant pep talk for science and space exploration; Dawkins’ wonderful preview of his new book and his speculations about extraterrestrial life; PZ Myers’ very different take on the non-prevalence of humanoids on other planets; Elizabeth Loftus’ succinct review of her lifetime of research showing the unreliability of human memory; and especially the message at the end of both Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s and Sean Faircloth’s presentations: we need to dial back all the petty sniping within our ranks and realize that we face a very serious enemy out there of religious and political zealots who do not value science, skepticism, critical thinking, or “reality-based” political views. They outnumber us; they are well funded by right-wing think tanks and evangelical churches; and they have elected plenty of people in power who are already pushing their agenda. I realize that getting skeptics and freethinkers to work together is like herding cats, but we have a powerful entrenched opposition that will require every resource at our disposal to hold them at bay, let alone push them back. They are already eroding science education and displacing good science with pseudoscience in public policies.


But my favorite talk was Eugenie Scott’s presentation, “Deja Vu all over again: Denialism of Climate Change and Evolution.” It gave me a sense of deja vu, because apparently without knowledge of each others’ work, we have converged on a common topic. This is what philosopher William Whewell would call a “consilience” or common agreement of different lines of evidence or threads of argument. As I independently pointed out in my upcoming book written last summer about science denialism, entitled Reality Check, and in a paper I wrote which is now in press, there are tremendous parallels between the evolution-deniers (creationists), the climate change deniers, and many other types of science deniers. Even more striking, they borrow most of their tactics from the prototypical reality deniers, the Holocaust revisionists, along with the tactics of the tobacco companies in creating “doubt” through PR to obscure the real science.

Consider the following:

• This scientific consensus about this idea is accepted by 95-99% of all the scientists who work in the relevant fields;
• This scientific topic threatens the viewpoints of certain groups in the U.S., so it is strongly opposed by them and people they influence;
• Their anti-scientific viewpoint is extensively promoted by websites and publications of right-wing fundamentalist institutes such as the Discovery Institute in Seattle, and often plugged by Fox News;
• The opponents of this consensus cannot find legitimate scientists with expertise in the field who oppose the consensus of qualified scientists, so they beat the bushes for “scientists” (none of whom have relevant training or research credentials) to compose a phony “list of scientists who disagree with Topic X”;
• Deniers of the scientific consensus resort to taking quotes out of context to make legitimate scientists sound like they question the consensus;
• Deniers of the scientific consensus often look for small disagreements among scholars within the field to argue that the entire field does not support their major conclusions;
• Deniers often pick on small errors by individuals to argue that the entire field is false;
• Deniers of the scientific consensus often take small examples or side issues that do not seem to support the consensus and use these to argue that the consensus is false;
• Deniers of the scientific consensus spend most of their energies disputing the scientific evidence, rather than doing original research themselves;
• By loudly proclaiming their “alternate theories” and getting their paid PR people to question the scientific consensus in the media, they manage to get the American public confused and doubtful, so less than half of US citizens accept what 99% of legitimate scientists in this field of research consider to be true;
• By contrast, most modern industrialized nations (Canada, nearly all of Europe, China, Japan, Singapore, and many others) have no problems with the scientific consensus, and treat it as a matter of fact in both their education and in their economic and political decisions;
• Powerful politicians have used the controversy over this issue to try to force changes in the teaching of this topic in schools;

Reading through this list, most people would immediately assume that it only describes the creationists and their attempts to target the scientific consensus on evolution. Indeed, the list does describe creationists or “evolution denialists”—but it also describes the actions of the climate denialists (who deny global climate change is real and human caused) as well. In fact, the membership lists of creationists and climate-change deniers is highly overlapping, with both causes being promoted by right-wing political candidates, news media (especially Fox News), and religious/political organizations like the Discovery Institute and many others.

The one big difference between them is motivation. Creationists are motivated exclusively by strong fundamentalist literalist religious beliefs; most AGW (anthropogenic global warming) deniers are motivated by right-wing political and economic ideologies, which view environmentalism as a threat to unrestrained capitalism and freedom to do whatever we damn well please (including polluting and destroying our planet). As Oreskes and Conway (2010) brilliantly document, AGW denialism did not exist as a serious movement until about a decade ago, when various right-wing and libertarian think tanks (Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute, Cato Institute), heavily funded by energy companies with vested interests in denying AGW, began a concerted PR campaign to discredit the overwhelming evidence and the conclusions of 95% of the climate science community. Because there were almost no climate scientists who denied the evidence for AGW, the PR specialists recruited among scientists not trained in climate research, and compiled phony lists of “dissenting scientists” (most of whom have no advanced degree, or their degree is not in climate science). This is comparable to the way creationists compile phony lists of “scientists dissenting from evolution,” which turns out to be mostly people with degrees completely irrelevant to evolution, like engineering and physics, rather than evolutionary biology or molecular genetics or geology. The NCSE brilliantly satirized this ridiculous PR exercise by creating “Project Steve”, which showed that there are more scientists with the name “Steve” or “Stephen” or “Stephanie” (over 1100 so far, which is less than 1% of the total population of scientists) than the total number of “scientists disputing evolution.”

I could go on and on with documentation of the other similarities between evolution-deniers and AGW-deniers, but the space in this column is limited. Most of it is provided by Oreskes and Conway (2010), and spelled out in my two upcoming publications in even greater detail. The only good news I can see in this regard is that the U.S. is almost alone in its anti-scientific attitudes toward both evolution—and AGW. Almost all the other industrialized nations in western Europe and Asia have accepted it long ago, were enthusiastic signatories at the Copenhagen Conference, and are actively involved in working to reduce their carbon footprints. More revealing is the fact that numerous relatively conservative or non-ideological institutions also accept the reality of climate change. This includes the insurance companies and their re-insurers (like Swiss Re), many other major businesses, emergency management agencies at every level, and even the U.S. military (hardly a bastion of liberalism). These organizations don’t have the luxury of playing political games. They’ve read the scientific consensus and must plan for the future. If they can see the matter so clearly, why can’t we? Just like in our lack of an energy policy and dependence on foreign oil, it looks like the U.S. will be the last major country dragged into facing reality after the rest of the world  has already jumped ahead of us and prepared for it—and invested heavily in clean energy development and preparation for climate change while we wasted time in an unnecessary battle between accepted science and ideological PR.

There is one other other ray of light: Eugenie Scott announced at TAM9 that the National Center for Science Education will now be fighting not only for good evolutionary science to be taught in schools, but also climate science as well. And her announcement got a huge round of applause from the TAM9 audience, which would not have happened a few years ago when there were still a lot of AGW deniers at TAM.

You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.
—Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 2003

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.
—Richard Feynman

What’s real is what’s real, and, like it or not, no one can change the nature of reality. Except, of course, with mushrooms.
—Bill Maher

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44 Responses to “A Consilience of Observations”

  1. James Randi says:

    I sincerely thank Donald Prothero for his flattering remarks about the just-concluded TAM9 experience which rather frustrated me due to my inability to meet with so many of the 1,652 attendees with whom I’d have liked to sit and talk. Even this magician couldn’t manage to be in the sessions and expounding to interviewers at the same time. Bilocation is not among my talents…

    Fortunately, we will have much of the talks available through the miracle of video, and some of my time in the next two weeks will be catching up on the Loftus, Faircloth, and Scott material that I missed. We’re all fortunate to have this Shermer vehicle to cruise with when keeping up with events, folks.

    Thank you all.

    James Randi.

  2. Max says:

    The NCSE argued that teaching Creationism as a science in public schools is unconstitutional because it’s a religious belief, but AGW denialism can only be attacked for being bad science.

    • Donald Prothero says:

      As I understand it, the “National Center for Science Education” is charged with defending good science regardless of whom attacks it. There are no First Amendment issues here, only attacks on good science from deniers who want to blunt its effects for ideological reasons.

  3. Somite says:

    Indeed the NCSE working on climate change denialism was the highlight of TAM for me, and the one presentation that will truly advance the goals of skepticism. I have disagreed in the past with the NCSE accomodationist stance but this is not very likely to happen regarding climate change.

    The other talk that had a clear goal was Dawkins and his new children’s book. Lots of indoctrination happens at the age Dawkins is now targeting.

    I wish more talks were goal-centered instead of the unproductive discussion on communication and strategy.

    • tmac57 says:

      Well,unless you plan to achieve a goal all on your own,then you need to enlist and reach out to others,which necessarily requires communication and strategy.That is what we are bumping up against trying to extend the reach of rationality.

  4. mcb says:

    Developing the tools to discredit science they disagree with is a “twofer” for conservative Christians. They don’t have to admit that pollution represents a failure of their precious markets or that their worldview is based on a collection of bronze age poetry, legend, and myth.

  5. Shane Brady says:

    I would like it if people who accept AGW but don’t agree with the most popular policy decisions to combat it, wouldn’t be called “Climate Change Deniers.” That was said at last years TAM and in this years hallway discussions. I have no idea why people at TAM aren’t more skeptical of the solutions to the very real problem.

    • Somite says:

      Depends on whether the proposed solution is based on reality. Hint: Do nothing is not a solution. Neither is “too late” or “there’s nothing we can do”.

      • Shane Brady says:

        Never mentioned the first one, and never implied it. Kind of proving my point. Question the solutions, and immediately, it’s implied that the only possible alternatives you’re proposing are to do nothing.

      • OK, more politely, Shane, what problems do you see with most commonly mentioned ways of addressing AGW and what alternatives do you have to offer?

      • BillG says:

        “theres nothing we can do”? Isn’t that where the real skepticism resides? Spend/gamble billions or trillions without clear benefits, only to cause more suffering for naught? For a overpopulated planet, the majic bulliet in energy is currently a fanasty.

      • tmac57 says:

        Who is asking for a magic bullet? A diverse approach,looking for innovative solutions,and pushing the boundaries of technology could have clear benefits.Wind power is growing rapidly in the world,so it must be providing clear benefits to the markets it serves,don’t you think?

      • Bill … please. We know the harm in “doing nothing.” The real skepticism is in being skeptical of those who claim that’s better than doing something we know will be of at least some help.

      • Shane, waiting two days now …

        Shane, what problems do you see with most commonly mentioned ways of addressing AGW and what alternatives do you have to offer?

      • Donald Prothero says:

        HOW we deal with AGW is indeed a policy debate which is worth having. But at last year’s TAM8, I was on a panel with one individual who flat-out denied the reality of global warming. I am hoping that the skeptical community is beyond this issue of denying a 95% scientific consensus just because they don’t like it for ideological reasons.

  6. Canman says:

    “there are tremendous parallels between the evolution-deniers (creationists), the climate change deniers, and many other types of science deniers.”

    I see parallels between environmentalists and H L Menken’s puritans (“the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”). Just because the scientific evidence shows that humans are causing global warming, doesn’t make statist, Malthusian policies the best solution.

    It looks to me like the best solutions to this problem will come from private sector companies creating new low carbon energy sources and climate mitigation techniques. This is not going to be done by poor countries.

    • Beelzebud says:

      When I hear the word statist the alarm bells go off. Civilized nations have governments. Get used to it.

      • Canman says:

        I don’t see anyone calling for the elimination of government(even libertarians), and I don’t see very much government being eliminated.

        We have a right to be skeptical about government solutions to climate change. The most notable policy I see is ethanol subsidies.

      • Jerrold Alpern says:

        Canman,

        The Republican Party is currently attempting to eliminate government by demanding multi-trillion dollar spending cuts without any tax increases whatsoever, ever, or even the closing of tax loopholes. If actually implemented, this policy would effectively end modern government in the U.S. And if the Republicans force the country into default, the effect would be much the same. The subsequent steep increase in the cost of borrowing would achieve the same goal: Grover Norquist’s making government small enough to “drown in the bathtub.”

      • Canman says:

        While the republicans like to talk about cutting government and democrats like to complain about republicans cutting government, the two president Bushes clearly increased it. The democrats on the other hand seem to promote increasing it. Some of the things they like seem frivolous. My favorite example is high speed rail. The writers at reason.com have pretty much demolished it!

        In the context of AGW, I must admit that I tend to side with some republicans who are for nuclear power. It’s something we know how to do that has a low footprint, gives off a lot of energy, no CO2 and entails a little bit of risk. Now a new development in natural gas drilling called “fracking” is making me rethink this. Cheap Natural gas gives off half the CO2 of coal. Democrats seem to prefer solar and wind. These are expensive, intermittent and use up lots of space. They may have the potential for a major breakthrough, but I don’t think this is clearly so. A major breakthrough could come from somewhere else. AGW is clearly a longterm problem with lots of time for breakthroughs.

  7. It’s not just science denialism, even. Look at tea party-based House GOP freshmen who also laugh at the plethora of economists worried about the dangers of a national debt default. The non-reality based world proves that phrase ever more true.

  8. Nyar says:

    I think that there are tremendous parallels between some skeptics and cultists.

    I consider skepticism to be a type of entertainment. I am not really interested in the evangelical efforts and I completely reject the “us vs. them” framing.

    I guess in a way I see “skepticism” as a genre. One among several that I enjoy. I do not see it as a philosophy, a religion, or political ideology, and any attempt to frame it as such causes me to lose interest.

    I don’t know if this information is helpful to skeptics who are concerned with evangelical efforts, but I thought I would share it just in case.

    • Oh, it’s helpful in knowing more of “where you’re coming from.”

      • Nyar says:

        I am glad you found it helpful Gadfly. Now I assume you understand why is not productive to insist that all skeptics be lefties.

      • I never said it was. Nor have Max or others who also protest the commingling of libertarianism and skepticism. In fact, on my blog, I’ve pointed out that P.Z. Myers’ expressing a personal wish to “purge” atheism of conservatives is wrong-headed.

        I’d find it more helpful if, for whatever reason, people like you assume that I’m not a one-man band on the commingling of skepticism and libertarian politics.

        I’d also find it more helpful if what I wrote were taken as what I wrote rather than some people here reading my alleged “intent” between the lines, etc.

      • Nyar says:

        Interesting. Do you also ever protest the commingling of liberalism and skepticism?

      • I’ve not seen that here, so I’ve not seen the need to protest. That said, my comments on P.Z. Myers and atheism should speak for themselves on the mixing of politics of various stripes and philosophical issues of various stripes.

        That said, do YOU … since your political cut’s different than mine … “protest” the commingling of libertarianism and skepticism yourself?

      • Nyar says:

        You haven’t seen that here? Really?

        I am confused, if you don’t read the blog then why do you comment on it? Just kidding, but seriously, you don’t see the extreme partisan nature of some the posts here?

        Why did you put protest in scare quotes? That is the exact wording you yourself used without quotes. This may seem like I am being pedantic or just acting like a grammar nazi, but really, why do not use quotation marks when YOU protest, but you do use them when you ask if I “protest”?

      • Read up the subthread part of comments here, please. You first used the word “protest,” not I.

        And, I do read blog posts here regularly. Why do you think I don’t? That said, do I read and remember every comment by every commenter here? Of course not.

        I used “protest” in scare quotes because until I see comments that you claim are protesting against libertarianism being commingled, and assess such comments myself, the scare quotes are appropriate.

        That said, since I don’t read and remember every comment here, if you want me to entertain the possibility of you “protesting,” or actually protesting, the commingling of libertarianism and skepticism, supplying the evidence to try to convince me, or not supplying it, is your choice, not mine. I’m not “hunting.”

        Per your original comment in this thread, modern skepticism IS quite arguably a philosophy, just like its classical Hellenistic antecedent.

        As for

      • One more comment: If you see skepticism as “genre,” or “entertainment,” then why are you even here that much?

      • Nyar says:

        You are wrong about that Gadfly, you used the word protest first. I just used it because you did, I actually consider it a poor choice of wording. But whatever.

        I know that you read the posts here, I was just joking because if you don’t see any commingling of liberalism and skepticism here then you must not be reading. I was being generous, the truth is that you are being willfully blind like most partisans.

        I never claimed to have protested the commingling of libertarianism and skepticism here, but your explanation for your use of quotation marks is interesting. You are basically admitting that you were going to consider my answer to your question a lie before you even knew what the answer was. That is actually what I thought you were doing and that is the reason I pointed it out. You are not debating in good faith.

        I can agree that skepticism is a philosophy for some people, just not for me. And I spend time here because, as I stated already, I enjoy skepticism as entertainment. That shouldn’t be too difficult to understand. I suspect that that is true of most if not all the people here. I doubt that anyone is reading the blog out of a sense of duty to a philosophy while NOT enjoying it.

      • Nyar, first, it’s again clear that you’re willing to misinterpret me per your own preconceived notions.

        And,not just me … you’re willing to make assumptions in general:

        I enjoy skepticism as entertainment. That shouldn’t be too difficult to understand. I suspect that that is true of most if not all the people here.

        No, my own guess is that a lot of people are here because they’re interested in serious discussion of skeptical issues.

        If they’re looking for “entertainment,” they’ll go to YouTube or the TV.

        Second, it’s clear my use of scare quotes was prescient.

        Tis true I used the word “protest” first; I did not scroll one level higher in the thread. And? So what? Why this mountain out of a molehill? I think you are, if not being a grammar Nazi (your words, not mine), coming close. Is there something wrong with that particular word, or are you complaining about it as a smokescreen? It accurately stated a stance, and I asked back about your protest, or “protest.”

        Next, show me examples of liberalism commingling with skepticism. Since you haven’t, yet, nor have you shown that you also protest, or “protest,” commingling libertarianism with skepticism, I stand by the scare quotes.

        Finally, per my comments on PZ and atheism, I’ve shown you that for me, critical thinking comes ahead of politics. For you, you seem not to have a great deal of critical thinking skills, a great deal of critical thinking interest, since you call skepticism cult-like and a “genre,” and that what critical thinking interest or skill you do have comes second to politics.

        So, why don’t you just not post here too much in the future, eh?

      • Nyar says:

        You make assumptions as well Gadfly. When you guess that most people come here for serious discussion about skeptical issues you are doing the same thing.

        I would also maintain that entertainment and serious discussion about skeptical issues are not mutually exclusive as you seem to suggest. Would you say that this blog is not entertaining?

        The reason why I am making a big deal about who used the word protest first is because you made an obviously incorrect statement and you were an ass about it, telling ME to reread the thread like I was the one who made the mistake. Now that you have admitted that it was your mistake, I am happy move on.

        This very post by Mr. Prothero is example of commingling of liberalism and skepticism, so just scroll up (all the way this time).

        As for question about me protesting or “protesting” libertarianism and skepticism, I have already stated that I have not. With that in mind it is a mystery as to why you feel the continued need for the quotation marks.

        I doubt that critical thinking comes ahead of politics for you. Just look at the mancrush you seem to have on Brian. That does not look like the behavior of someone who is putting critical thinking first.

        You can evaluate my skills however you wish, but I don’t think that you can doubt my interest in skepticism. I do think that are some cult like behaviors on display among skeptics and I refuse to participate in that, but that does not diminish my interest in skepticism in general.

        “So, why don’t you just not post here too much in the future?”

        What? Why don’t you? I will continue to post here as much as I please, if you don’t like that then you free to ignore my comments.

      • If you’ll notice, I apologized for my mistake.

        I, in turn, notice that you *never* answered my questions.

        That alone is an indication of lack of seriousness on your part.

        And, if you consider Prothero’s post a commingling of liberalism and skepticism, you’re apparently an AGW denialist too. Thanks for sharing “even more” about you … I can officially consider you a troll now, clearly motivated by politics.

        So, stuff your “protest” grammar Nazidom. .!>

        Finally, on Dunning …

        As *proof* it’s not about me, I invite you to this comment by Max on Dunning’s “gluten” post, made before I made a single comment there.

        I say the same to all others who think this is a “me vs. Dunning” cage match. (And, based on Brian’s responses to Max, he knows that too.)

        And, should any of you continue to make this claim, I’ll continue to reference Max’s comment.

        http://skepticblog.org/2011/07/21/gluten-redux/#comment-59212

        Now that that’s clear, I consider all further claims by you and people like you on the Dunning issue to be politically motivated.

      • Nyar says:

        I did notice your apology and said I was moving on. Also, I did answer your questions, and no I am not an AGW denialist. If you read my past comments, I have stated several times that I do believe that global warming is occurring and is caused by carbon emissions due to human activities. This isn’t about that. It’s about the unnecessary commingling of politics and skepticism. I don’t why we keep arguing about this since you and I share the same position that skepticism is not about politics. But you seem to turn a blind eye when the politics involved are left-liberal, at least some of the time. That is what I want you to see. Also you and Max and maybe others have some weird vendetta against Brian and Micheal that seems politically motivated because their libertarianism.

        Think about how offensive you find the commingling of libertarianism and skepticism, that is exactly how others and I feel about the commingling of liberalism and skepticism.

      • SocraticGadfly says:

        I still see nothing left-liberal, or even liberal in the sense of being driven by liberalism, in Prothero’s analysis. In fact, he specifically says:

        More revealing is the fact that numerous **relatively conservative** or non-ideological institutions also accept the reality of climate change.

        My emphasis.

        If you want to keep citing this post as an example of commingling liberalism and skepticism, go ahead. Doesn’t mean it’s true. Especially if you’re not an AGW denialist, and given the Prothero statement I highlighted, I just don’t see the grounds for your complaint.

        That said, as I noted, with PZ on atheism, I have complained about injecting liberal political beliefs, and will do so here *when I see it.* And, next time you protest, I’ll see if I agree that liberal politics have been interjected or not.

  9. WScott says:

    @ Shane #5, you raise a valid point in that it’s possible to agree on the problem but disagree on the solution.

    Big However: most* of the people now saying “OK, AGW is real but the proposed solutions won’t work/will make matters worse/etc” seem to mostly be the same people who a couple years ago were saying “OK, I acknowledge climate change is real, but it’s not human caused.” And a few years before that, those same people were denying climate change was happening at all. See where I’m going?

    * I have no idea if this applies to you personally or not, but IMX it seems to hold true as a general statement.

  10. John says:

    “view environmentalism as a threat to unrestrained capitalism and freedom to do whatever we damn well please (including polluting and destroying our planet)”

    Great post overall but the quote above is just a cheap shot Dr. Prothero. You cannot possibly believe that groups like the Cato Institute have a desire to pollute the planet. They have an approach that is different from yours which I suspect is more government regulation and oversight.

    Groups like Cato believe that innovation comes from the private sector not the State. You are free to disagree but please do not demonize those with whom you disagree.

    • itzac says:

      John, you’re misreading that line. Donald isn’t saying that capitalists set out as their purpose to pollute and destroy our planet. Their purpose, clearly stated, is to maximize their profits. They argue they should be allowed to pursue this goal however they please, even if it entails the pollution and destruction of our planet.

      Emissions restrictions and tax disincentives are tools used to discourage bad behaviour. But I agree with you that it should then be left up to the private sector to determine how to reduce the impact of these measures on their bottom line.

      • John says:

        “They argue they should be allowed to pursue this goal however they please, even if it entails the pollution and destruction of our planet.”

        There may be some who have said something like this but that is not the majority opinion among Cato or libertarians like myself.

        Pollution is treated as a violation of property rights where the one who is polluted seeks recompense from the polluter. This could readily be handled by a local court system and needs no federal intervention. That is what has been argued for by people like Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman.

        “Law, Property Rights and Pollution” by Murray Rothbard is a good discussion of this.

  11. tps says:

    I was happy to see Dr. Prothero move away from demonizing the right wing after his first few posts on this blog. I’m sorry to see him go back to it.

  12. J. J. Ramsey says:

    I have a minor quibble with this:

    “By contrast, most modern industrialized nations (Canada, nearly all of Europe, China, Japan, Singapore, and many others) have no problems with the scientific consensus, and treat it as a matter of fact in both their education and in their economic and political decisions;”

    For the theory of evolution, this is true, but with AGW, other industrialized countries are behind the curve, especially Canada and Australia: http://www.samefacts.com/2011/07/climate-change/the-axis-of-ostriches/

  13. XtoG42 says:

    The question being begged here is,…. What distinguishes rational/reasonable skepticism from extreme unreasonable/irrational skepticism of the kind the GW/antievolution crowd maintain?

    I have always been very critical of freethinkers/scientists/secularists/naturalists taking the “skeptical” or “skeptic” moniker for just this reason. I prefer to call myself a naturalist or rational as opposed to atheist/agnostic/skeptic/freethinker. And when you are trying to persuade people the name you call your crowd definitely matters.

    While many may just think that GW and evolution deniers are being unserious and silly, one cannot deny that they are simply using skepticism in a destructive way and forcing the so-called “skeptical community” to explain how they distinguish truth from falsity from a skeptical view point.

    Quite frankly, consensus is not the ultimate judge, or else we would still be in the dark ages even if the consensus is of scientists.

    So I challenge the skeptical community to address how it is that GW and evolution deniers are taking skepticism too far. How do you distinguish between good and bad skepticism w/o reference to consensus?

    The situation is precisely the same for those who call themselves libertarians.

    Hope this comment doesn’t come off as too negative, since I absolutely consider myself one of you all, but I feel in calling ourselves skeptics, we are not only being inaccurate (since we all believe in truth, at least with a small ‘t’) but also making a political mistake akin to calling ourselves Satan and wondering why no religious people are persuaded by our argumentation.

    • satan augustine says:

      “While many may just think that GW and evolution deniers are being unserious and silly, one cannot deny that they are simply using skepticism in a destructive way and forcing the so-called “skeptical community” to explain how they distinguish truth from falsity from a skeptical view point.”

      How to distinguish truth from falsity? Evidence. It really is that simple. That’s why AGW/evolution/Holocaust/AIDS denialists are not skeptics in the sense most here would, I think, define skepticism. Theists frequently(intentionally?) define atheism incorrectly. Does that mean I should change what I call myself just so I don’t confuse them? The “What should we call ourselves?” issue has always seemed like a futile task to me, i.e., others are rarely convinced. And changing what one calls oneself is not going to keep those who disagree from redefining you in their terms. Naturalist and rationalist are as easily misinterpreted/misunderstood as the terms you’ve chosen to eschew.