Monday, March 13, 2006

Junk Skepticism

In a March 14, 2006 essay in the New York Times science section, Dennis Overbye, the Deputy Science Editor at the Times, explains why he thinks the message about quantum observation effects, as portrayed in the movie, What the Bleep do we Know, is wrong. At one point in the essay he bolsters his point with the off-hand statement, "The parapsychologists were booted from the American Association for the Advancement of Science 30 years ago."

Wrong.

In 20 seconds of web searching Overbye could have discovered that the Parapsychological Association (PA) has been an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 1969, and it remains to this day a member society in good standing. I know because I've served as President of the PA for four terms, including this year, and I've been a member of the AAAS for over 20 years. You can verify the PA's status at the AAAS affiliates webpage.

This is an example of what happens when something that "everyone knows to be true" turns out to be false. I call this junk skepticism because it's the worst sort of pseudoskepticism -- mistaken ideas that are easily disproven, but no one bothers to check.

11 comments:

Ian Pegler said...

... and the worst thing about it is that there is so much of it on the web, especially on skeptical forums typically populated by students, usually white, usually male in their early 20s, strong headed, intellectually smart but with very little life experience who don't realise just how trusting they are of their professors or anyone who sets themselves up as an authority. Someone like you could counter most if not all of the diatriabes against (say) the Ganzfeld experiments to be found on the web, but I'm afraid you're just out-numbered. Worse still the layman coming across all these ill-informed comments doesn't know any better and is likely to take on board whatever he comes across with the greatest frequency as being the more likely version of the truth.

Dean Radin said...

Well stated. I don't worry much about the current tide of opinion because truth is inevitable.

It may take another quarter or half century to be recognized as such by mainstream science, but we cannot deny observable facts. I view my role as creating, consolidating and interpreting those facts. It's up to future science (and creative people now) to make sense of it all.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the method employed by Rupert Sheldrake when it comes to skeptical viewpoints. He deals with the issues voiced by the skeptic point by point. This allows the casual reader to see both sides of the argument.

For example, I recently have become interested in the work of Dean Radin and decided to do a Google search. The result was this skeptical review as one of the search results :-

http://www.skepticreport.com/psychics/radin2002.htm

This would make an excellent example for countering skeptical arguments point by point.

Dean Radin said...

Yes, point-counterpoint is one approach to the ongoing debate. I take this approach in my book Entangled Minds. But if I tried to respond to even a fraction of such critiques that can be found on the web, I'd spend 24 hours a day doing nothing but. So if I'm going to spend that kind of effort, I prefer to respond in journal publications and in my books.

Spooks said...

I have been having an ongoing debate with my brother in law about just that for the past three months. He even states that he does't even remember who said it or what exactly was said but that it rang true for him and now he thinks that the entire movie is trash.

Dean Radin said...

This is common. Many people hold strong opinions without the benefit of knowledge.

Fortunately, it's easy to win debates with promoters of junk skepticism, provided they are willing to engage in rational debate. When they offer their opinion about topic X, just ask for more details about X: scholarly and scientific references, a summary of the pros and cons about X, etc.

If they don't have answers, or can only provide vague references to authority on one side of the issue, then you can justifiably reply, "Well then, you don't know what you're talking about, do you?"

Spooks said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

Jim said...

Quote: 'This is an example of what happens when something that "everyone knows to be true" turns out to be false.'

How have you concluded that this is 'something that "everyone knows to be true"'? It's an example of a mis-statment by a single individual through poor (or no) research - nothing more. Junk skepticism (as per your definition)? I'm afraid not.

Dean Radin said...

> It's an example of a mis-statment by a single individual through poor (or no) research - nothing more.

Of course. But why does a journalist who focuses on mainstream science feel he doesn't have to check his facts? Because he has uncritically adopted the same stories that "everyone knows" to be true. In other words, each case of junk skepticism is ultimately one individual's mistake. It's the reason for the mistake that I'm pointing out.

SamSmith said...

The New York Times regularly posts corrections. Was the paper alerted to the error, and if so, did they print a correction?

Dean Radin said...

Yes, they were alerted, and yes, they printed a correction.