An Echo Chamber of Skepticism cover

An Echo Chamber of Skepticism

Dealing with bias is part of life. But what happens when the people claiming to show you how to be unbiased, are themselves quite biased? What if instead of presenting the unvarnished truth, they’re just promoting their own belief system? This is what most skepticism you’re likely to encounter is like: a belief system presented as a method of rational thinking. And where you have belief systems, you often have organizations of like minded people which promote those beliefs.

For example, portraying mediums as grief vampires, or psychics as frauds is common among skeptics. This isn’t the result of a careful evaluation of the evidence, but rather it’s a deep bias based on beliefs about the nature of the universe. It’s neither scientific nor rational to make those assumptions.

When I first started investigating skepticism, I began to realize that people who very much into skepticism as an identity were all atheists. This was novel to me, because skepticism is normally neither an identity, nor attached to a particular way of thinking. Yet I found an entire subculture built around a very specific interpretation of this idea.

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What is this form of skepticism that I’m talking about?

Self identified skeptics do not focus their skepticism in a neutral way. They target certain areas as being non scientific nonsense. These beliefs can be summed up as atheist materialism. The easiest way to describe it is that they don’t believe in God, and they don’t believe in a soul. They believe that when we die we are gone forever and nothing remains of us. What this translates to is an absolute rejection of any science or practice that does not rely exclusively on things that are material in ways that they can understand.

With an atheist materialist belief system, consciousness is not real in the same way a shoe is. Thoughts are just brainwaves and the possibility that consciousness may be something more than that is rejected out of hand. It’s not wrong to begin with a set of assumptions about the nature of reality, but the problem is that they don’t acknowledge that it’s not the only way to perceive the universe. There are two paths: either the universe is material, like a giant clock, or it’s conscious, like a giant thought. If the universe is material, then thoughts aren’t real. If the universe is conscious, then the material isn’t real.

The scientific truth is that there is no easy to tell which universe it is that we’re living in, because we would not be able to tell the difference between a truly material universe and one that was an extremely realistic dream. They both behave in a nearly identical fashion.

Subjects like parapsychology, the science of psychic ability, point to a conscious universe and are therefore are rejected out of hand. Consciousness is not supposed to interact directly with the physical world in a materialist system regardless of the accumulated scientific evidence.

These materialists believe that the speed of light is an absolute limit to space travel and therefore no one is capable of visiting us from beyond the solar system, so they characterize the UFO debate as fringe and the study of UAP’s as pseudoscience.

Only western conventional medicine is real to them. So chiropractic care, naturopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, Reiki and a host of other acceptable medical practices, many with peer reviewed studied to back them up are all considered pseudoscience. They reject all forms of holistic medicine and seek to minimize the importance of the placebo effect.

They categorically reject all unproven energy generation technologies which don’t conform to known physics. This included LENR, (low energy nuclear reaction, aka cold fusion), free energy and other unconventional energy generation.

A 2013 atheism study at the U. of Tennessee, Chattanooga https://www.atheismresearch.com/ divided atheists into six different groups. My opinion is that the skeptics belong to the anti-theist group, (aka New Atheists) as a more radicalized subgroup.

The Skepticism is a Mixed Bag

It’s not all bad news with them, they have generally liberal politics and are against climate change denial and anti vaxxers, while being for diversity and inclusiveness. They are a complicated bunch. Because they are so confrontational, it’s debatable whether they are persuasive or are merely preaching to the choir. They are incapable of a nuanced discussion that acknowledges other points of view, so they end up polarizing discussions instead of moving things forward.

Now that we know who they are and what they believe, it’s time to talk about the echo chamber. I’ve made reference to it in other articles, but never spelled out exactly what it is.

It begins with the Center for Inquiry, a non profit organization dedicated to spreading atheism in the world. They have been around for a long time, first as the Committee for Skeptical Investigation for Claims of the Paranormal, (CSICOP) which was later shortened to Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and then folded into the Center for Inquiry.

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The Center for Inquiry states on their tax returns that they are an organization dedicated to spreading atheism. To be fair, they are very focused on their goal and achieve meaningful results for their efforts, They do what they are supposed to do. Whether one agrees with their mission, they are good at it.

They manage the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry which publishes the Skeptical Inquirer. This magazine is widely regarded in scientific circles as poor quality. George Hansen wrote as far back as 1992: (Hansen, 1992)

In examining the scientific status of CSICOP, sociologists Pinch and Collins (1984) described the Committee as a “scientific-vigilante” organization (p. 539). Commenting on an article in SI, medical professor Louis Lasagna (1984) wrote: “One can almost smell the fiery autos-da-fe of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition” (p. 12). Engineering professor Leonard Lewin (1979) noted that in SI articles “the rhetoric and appeal to emotion seemed rather out of place” (p. 9).

Bernardo Kastrup, philosopher, with a PhD in Engineering, had this to say about a Skeptical Inquirer review of a paper he authored in which the author of the review admitted that he did not understand the paper:

How can a magazine with ambitions to "promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason" publish this kind of juvenile garbage? Where were the editorial controls? This "review" does no harm to me, but to the magazine, its readers and science in general (more on this below).

These criticisms exist because the real goal of the magazine is to promote a specific type of atheism, not critical thinking or actual skepticism. And the reason that these criticism are relevant is that they can be applied across all the different publications and websites that the Center of Inquiry either controls, supports or is aligned with as well as the individuals who are part of the organizational web.

Skepticism and Wikipedia

The echo chamber starts with Wikipedia. The Center for Inquiry is aligned with a volunteer operation run by Susan Gerbic, who runs the Guerrilla Skeptics of Wikipedia which is more or less in control of about 2,000 different articles related to the paranormal, holistic medicine, UFO topics and cryptids on Wikipedia. These Wikipedia articles are altered to reflect their materialist atheist beliefs and include Center for Inquiry sources, which boosts their visibility and reputation on Google and in the media.

Various areas of science and medicine come under attack from different websites:

Quackwatch and Chirobase, run by Stephen Barrett, attack mainstream, perfectly ordinary chiropractic care. There is no balanced assessment of alternatives vs. regular medicine and their corresponding risks here. They are just sites looking to say as much bad stuff as they can.

What’s the Harm, run by Tim Farley, attacks a hodgepodge of various areas of holistic medicine, singling out some rare cases where people were injured or died. It makes no attempt to compare these statistics with the risks of modern medicine or other ordinary risks people face, so scientifically speaking this is possibly dumber than a fence post.

Metabunk, Contrail Science and Morgellon’s Watch by Mick West. Debunks everything UFO related.

Skepticieum by Joe Nickell. Chief editor of the Skeptical Inquirer. Can’t say what it’s about because they apparently were skeptical of the bill for the website. It’s been suspended.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll. A badly written and overly biased collection of skeptical rants about various paranormal and alternative medicine topics.

Skeptoid: a podcast by Brian Dunning. A former federal prisoner (for fraud) is apparently trustworthy enough for skeptics to listen to.

Free Inquiry: Paul Fidalgo is editor of Free Inquiry. An atheist magazine devoted to questioning religion. Managed by the Center for Inquiry.

The Skeptic’s Magazine: by Michael Shermer. A very typical example of the complexities of skeptics. Argues against racism, the opiod crisis and global warming, all good things, while lumping in holistic medicine with anti-vaxxers.

Science Based medicine: by Steve Novella and David Gorski, this is an anti-holistic medicine site, that like its badly done cousin, Quackwatch, ignores overall postive outcomes while hyping any failures they can find.

The American Rationalist: A magazine managed by the Center for Inquiry promoting atheism.

In addition to these publications, you will generally see the following people, all CSI fellows, spreading their disbelief in the paranormal whenever something paranormal makes the news.

James Alcock, Kenny Biddle, Susan Blackmore, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Christopher C. French, David Marks, Joe Nickell, Bill Nye, Massimo Pigliucci, Ben Radford, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Wiseman. (You can find a more complete list here.)

he media tends to treat skeptics as balance for paranormal news, but in reality it’s just pitting one belief system against another. Skeptics offer no suggestions as to what would be convincing to them, no nuanced acknowledgement of the ambiguity inherent in the paranormal, no careful review of the evidence; it’s just one version or the other of “no I don’t believe it can possibly be real, therefore it must be something ordinary.” That’s not skepticism, it’s stubbornness.

These are strong beliefs and it’s coupled with a drive to persuade others. This is where The Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia come in. Their work is central to the atheist/skeptic effort because articles and people that are affiliated with the Center for Inquiry get boosted by Wikipedia citations and whole articles on the “open” encyclopedia, boosting their status in the media and on Google search, as well as AI. This completes an echo chamber of materialist atheism.

There is nothing wrong with the existence of this organization or its goals. The structure of Wikipedia made its takeover by special interest groups inevitable, so the fact that the Guerrilla Skeptics are one of them just means that they got there first. It’s not evil, just extremely biased.

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What the world needs isn’t for them to be silenced, but rather for everyone to be educated about this brand of skepticism so that it’s portrayed correctly as just another belief system, unconnected to real scientific inquiry. Like so many other zealots, they twist facts or omit them when the truth is inconvenient. They aren’t inherently trustworthy because their strong beliefs create biases in their thinking.

This means that their claims require fact checking, just like anyone else. If we just recognize that they are basically in control of areas of Wikipedia and that they aren’t the objective observers that they claim to be, that will be enough.

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