Skeptic is not a dirty word
The world - largely thanks to the internet - is getting overloaded with more pseudoscience, psychobabble and outright bullsh*t than ever before, and we need a groundswell of logical thinking to fight it.
Skeptics used to come under fire because people saw skepticism as inherently negative.
(It’s hard to work out whether that was because the critics just didn’t know the difference between cynicism and skepticism, or were just fundamentally ignorant of the philosophy of science.)
Now, thanks to climate change sceptics*, the word is being associated with people who disagree with accepted scientific evidence - not exactly the look skeptics are going for.
They can also come across as pious know-it-alls who stutter over their in-depth explanations of double-blind placebo-controlled randomised trials.
For those who don’t know, skeptics are scientifically sceptical - not just unthinkingly sceptical of everything.
A more accurate description would be inquisitive, and dedicated to finding the truth. And yes, that sounds sanctimonious, sorry.
In the past, people have suggested re-branding skeptics as ‘Brights’, but that sounds like someone’s ripped off a sci-fi radioactive genetic mutant term, and deliberately patronising besides. ‘Freethinkers’ is another suggestion that’s been bandied about, but even that reeks a little of New Age spiritualism, drug sprees and wanton sexual behaviour (not that theres anything wrong with some of that).
Next is ‘rationalists’. But that’s so dour. Surely there must be a better option.
The public image of skepticism is relevant because, while skepticism is gaining some traction in the face of the proliferation of humbug, more needs to be done to attract people to the cause.
There’s a war on rational thought out there, people, and it’s time to stand up and make sense.
Australian Doctor reported last week that patients were getting confused by the mumbo-jumbo spouted by alternative health practitioners. One patient was told she had “CYP2D6*4 polymorphism’‘, suffered “diminished Cytochrome P450 enzyme activity’‘, although her “urine 80HdG level’’ was normal.
Her GP took one look at her and diagnosed Graves’ disease.
This is not an isolated case - not by any means.
Australian health practitioners are still using Vega machines - the machines that go ‘bing’.
Vega testing uses a combination of acupuncture and homeopathy. Eek. Practitioners use them to diagnose a range of illnesses, from allergies to cancer.
They can’t do that. It’s total rot.
According to the Medical Journal of Australia’s position statement, ``proponents of the system use a smoke screen of illusion which includes convoluted scientific jargon and unsubstantiated claims of efficacy’‘.
You can find that online - but you’re more likely to be told it’s a quick and easy way to diagnose illnesses your doctor might have missed.
There are a bunch of skeptical organisations about that spend their time and money debunking bunkum, or “woo woo’’ as it is sometimes whimsically called.
Last weekend London hosted “The Amazing Meeting’‘, dedicated to targeting conspiracy theories. That was set up by the US-based James Randi Educational Foundation, which is famously offering more than $1.1 million to anyone who can prove psychic, supernatural or paranormal claims.
In Australia the Skeptics have a $100,000 prize on offer for people who can prove they have “extraordinary powers’‘. They also present the Bent Spoon Award for “the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle’‘. Nominations include climate change sceptics, astrologers, but also current affairs programs, journalists and respected academics.
Skepticism is in a sense about discrimination, but on the other hand it does not discriminate.
So there is good work being done, but rational thought is still not winning the balance of the debate out there in cyberspace.
If you’re a skeptic, get out there and weigh in. Whether it’s online or in conversation, fight the woo woo wherever you see it. Let’s have a war on crapola.
* ‘Skeptic’ and ‘sceptic’ are synonyms, but people tend to use the former spelling to describe adherence to a skeptical philosophy, and the latter to describe someone who is merely doubtful about something.
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