A short time ago the Skeptic community received a delightful tickle on the collective ribcage.
A rather intellectually dishonest blog appeared with the title The Real Australian Sceptics under the pretence of “critiquing” articles. It was, predictably, Meryl Wynn Dorey’s latest shot at the ontology of her assumed foes. Those worshippers of evidence and scientific consensus: The Skeptics. It’s an old tactic. If you can’t sustain an argument attack the party that holds an opposing viewpoint.
This isn’t the post to dissect the intellectual absurdity of Ms. Dorey’s attack on Skeptics. Suffice to to say – again – this game of provocation wherein Ms. Dorey futilely seeks to alienate and besmirch skeptics has it’s genesis within stratospheric errors she has made in the wake of being held to account.
The blog itself is monumental dreck. To date it’s emerging as a rehash of all the disproved antivaccination creeds and attacks on accepted evidence. Magically, everything old is new again. The usual rules of ultra-strict comment censorship apply.
If you’re keen for your daily dose of Merylisms, The Real Australian Sceptics doesn’t disappoint, opening with an attempt at selective deception in the first sentence.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a sceptic is defined as, “a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions”.
Actually the Oxford English Dictionary entry reads:
1 a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions.
- a person who doubts the truth of Christianity and other religions; an atheist.
2 Philosophy: an ancient or modern philosopher who denies the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief, in some sphere.
Meryl appears to take advantage of the phrase “accepted opinion”, by omission of the widely accepted opinion of theistic persuasion as a working example. Furthermore the second entry refers to philosophical denial of the possibility of knowledge or even rational belief. Having falsely defined “sceptic”, this then leaves the door open for Meryl to potter about on the very fringes of rationality and knowledge, wearing the guise of evidence whilst ranting about science.
Surely even with limited use of “accepted opinions”, we must include Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Home Birth, Vaccines causing Autism, Vaccine Dangers, Pharmaceutical bias, etc, etc. These are all irrefutably on the scale of accepted opinions. An opinion moves toward fact or mere belief based upon the amount of evidence that sustains it. The subtitle of Dorey’s blog is Accept Nothing. Question Everything. Apparently then, this is applied only to suit the author.
I think we can see, straight out of the blocks as it were, problems with her method of attack. Like two Meryls in a particle accelerator one is shooting off counter-clockwise at the speed of light confident those Wascally Skeptics will finally get theirs. Another Meryl is shooting clockwise questioning everything, accepting nothing… including the existence of the other Meryl. Eventually they collide head on in a great splattering mess.
Meryl also takes a shot at “the American spelling”: Skeptic. Wrong again. In doing this she’s really having a go at the Skeptic movement. Nothing new here, and as we’ll see her tactics are also copied and pasted from others whose beliefs have failed to endure scientific scrutiny. Skepticism is not cynicism or denial as we might associate these concepts with climate science denial, vaccine denial, HIV/AIDS denial and the steadily growing denial of conventional medicine.
Colloquially, Skeptics can be said to seek the evidence, consider existing evidence or ask for evidence when presented with certain claims. Skepticism is the rejection of predetermined ideas that aren’t supported by evidence. Skeptical activism may be described as where evidence, science and consumer and/or human rights overlap. Under What Is Skepticism? Brian Dunning writes in part:
The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion… The scientific method is central to skepticism. The scientific method requires evidence, preferably derived from validated testing. Anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies generally don’t meet the qualifications for scientific evidence, and thus won’t often be accepted by a responsible skeptic; which often explains why skeptics get such a bad rap for being negative or disbelieving people. They’re simply following the scientific method.
Okay. So Skepticism is not Accept Nothing, Question Everything. It revolves around the scientific method and evidence. Yet in attacking science Dorey clumsily raises the notion of “true scepticism”.
There are those in Australian society today who call themselves sceptics (or skeptics – which is the American spelling of that word). Yet by their actions and stated beliefs, they are far removed from true scepticism.
Now we can see the purpose of the second definition in the Oxford Dictionary. I doubt Meryl is aware of the metaphilosophy of True Scepticism, most commonly associated with David Hume, the 18th Century Scottish Philosopher. Nonetheless in a roundabout sort of way Meryl has painted herself into a very tight corner wherein she is seemingly defending denial of knowledge and rational belief, as a means to critiquing scientific arguments and articles.
We need a term for these traitors of true scepticism of course. Some time back on her Facebook page Meryl spotted the term pseudo-skeptic. She decided there and then it was “a keeper”. Unfortunately it was already being kept and here is where it all gets a little more silly.
RationalWiki has an entry on Pseudoskepticism. Interestingly is does not describe anything like Meryl’s contention. There is Legitimate use. The use by those who deny climate change science, vaccine success, etc. In fact it does a good job of describing Meryl Wynn Dorey. The description includes:
In this case the word is simply a synonym of denialism, as there is a vast amount of real evidence which is simply willfully ignored by these pseudoskeptics. The use of the phrasing “I am skeptical of X” is to sound more rhetorically reasonable that “I don’t accept X and never will regardless of the evidence”, even if the latter is more accurate.
Then there’s the delightfully headed paragraph on Usage By Woo Promoters, which also describes Meryl Wynn Dorey:
It is perhaps more often used as a loaded term by promoters of woo to dismiss skeptical criticism of their beliefs as unfounded… Given the difficulty of absolutely disproving even the most absurd hypothesis they then go on to maintain that all those who ask for evidence are “pseudoskeptics”.
We seem to have established Meryl’s hijacking of terms for the purpose of provocation and revenge. With the greatest of respect to Meryl is must truly be the nadir of her two decade assault upon scientific knowledge. The world is full of those who despise the notion of skepticism because it quite simply requires evidence for ones claims. Dorey has no evidence. She deals in falsehoods. Very lucrative falsehoods. Scams.
The abuse of authority or the demanding of privilege based upon certain claims crumbles before skepticism’s quiet and calm request for evidence. Meryl’s fraudulent donation campaigns, subscriptions for a non existent magazine, promised vaccine tests and boasts of phoney “protection” from mandatory vaccination evaporate in the presence of just one skeptic.
In some strange anger driven fever, Ms. Dorey seeks to discredit the Skeptic movement by making absurd claims about the nature of reality and science. Suddenly claiming something isn’t true does not make one a skeptic. Nor does it remotely undermine the accepted notion of Skepticism. Accepting nothing cannot be any further removed from the outcome of scientific research. Science, as skeptics understand and accept it, is not about belief. It is about conclusion. The weight of evidence.
There is nothing wrong with doubting and questioning. Far from it. Yet at some point we need a method from which to exploit our knowledge – not a mangled pseudoskepticism that denies knowledge exists in the first place. That method is the scientific method. Proper doubt and proper questions are what give us scientific consensus.
Because of doubt, questions and the demands for evidence that skeptics and scientists continually entertain, scientific consensus can and does change. Because it can change it is arguably fragile and unfairly criticised by opponents of skepticism. Yet because of what is required to change scientific consensus, it makes for an incredibly robust source of evidence. Thus “accept nothing” is naught but a position of intellectual paucity.
Accept Nothing, Question Everything is sheer, utter denial. It demands to be seen for the intellectual cowardice it really is: Shirk Certainty.
Meryl Dorey is happy to quote Hippocrates when it suits her. I hope she is aware of this quote:
There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.
The Real Australian Skeptics is an emerging cornucopia of contrary, provocative nonsense based upon grossly misunderstood notions of evidence, opinion and philosophy. Whatever it is intended to be, it is certainly not a place for truth.
It is presently the very home of Ignorance.