Tuesday, April 2, 2013

With the "Skeptics" Irony is Never More Than A Sentence Away

Here is a segment of  the podcast of  The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. On Jan. 19 

Steven Novella: So Evan, more people are attacking our beloved Million Dollar James Randi paranormal challenge.

Evan Bernstein: Yeah, the latest is by a fella named Steve Volk. Anyone ever heard of Steve Volk?

Novella: No.

Rebecca Watson: Nope.

Bernstein: No. Of course you haven’t. Because he writes about the paranormal.

Who, outside of his patients and colleagues would have ever heard of Dr. Steven Novella if he hadn't written about the paranormal and other items on the CSI(COP) Index of Prohibited Ideas?   Who would have heard of Rebecca Watson or Evan Bernstein if they hadn't joined up with the "Skepticism" industry to do the same?  Not to mention the rest of the The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe crew, Jay Novella and Robert Novella?   None of them according to their site bios, save Dr. Novella  pere would have seem to have done anything else but live off of attacks against the "paranormal".

This is a good example of one of the "Skeptics" bags of tricks, try to avoid dealing with what someone says by ridiculing and diminishing them by asserting they're nobodies.  I've read pseudo-skeptics doing that this since before Gardner in the 1950s.  While I don't know the guy and am not that familiar with him, unlike Watson,  Bernstein and the young Novellas, Steve Volk has a job as a real newspaper reporter on the city beat covering real news.  As compared to the frat style snark of Novella, Watson and Bernstein, his answer is a model of journalistic ethics.

UPDATE:  I just realized that I neglected to include that Steve Novella has a (financial?) interest in Randi's "Educational" Foundation, being one of its "Research Fellows".    Anything he says about Randi and his "Educational" Foundation must be considered in that light.

NOTE:  Rebecca Watson may be better known as "Skepchick" and almost certainly best known for the attack Richard Dawkins and others in the "Skepticism"/atheism industry made on her when she addressed an industry meeting in Dublin, informing them that it's a really bad idea for a man to get into an elevator at four in the morning to make a pass at a woman who doesn't know him.    Apparently among the "rational" "Brights" it's a novel idea that a man doing that might be less than welcome.  On that occasion I agreed with her.  Here's what I said at Shakesville:

I hadn't read the transcript before now,  THAT is what upset the boys?  Geesh, to have it pointed out that a stranger making a proposition alone in an elevator at 4 AM is intimidating?   I'd be intimidated if a man I didn't know made a pass at me, alone, in an elevator at 4 AM.    From what the boys on the blogs are saying I'd figured it had to be some half hour public flaming or something.   Imagine if she'd gone into details of why it's a bad idea for some socially inept boy to do something that could make a reasonable person suspect he might be about to attack you.  

I was going to make a different comment about [ignorant] boys getting mixed messages from the "chick" designation and why women in the late 60s and early 70s tried so hard to dump those kinds of objectifying words.   But any boy who got upset with what Watson said is far, far too stupid for it have just been a matter of mixed messages.   Next time let them really have it,  they're too stupid to get anything else.

And in a second comment:

Perhaps asking the straight boys how they'd like to be propositioned in an elevator at 4 AM, by a bigger man would leave an impression.  Though I doubt it. 

That said, "skepticism" has been a frat house since it organized, which accounts for its tone and tactics.  I seem to recall reading articles by "skeptics" talking about that.   Anyone who has followed its history shouldn't be surprised by this.  

Having read a bit of the real history of the "Skepticism" industry I was aware of it having a long history as a being a boys club in which frat boy rules and behavior were the norm.  She could have profitably read what George Hansen wrote about that in his fair detailed and well documented study of CSICOP .

Such perceptions are not limited to outsiders. This has been an issue within CSICOP as well. In the March 1985 newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, Mary Coulman (1985) wrote a piece titled “Where Are the Women?” She reported that sometimes she was the only woman who attended meetings of the Bay Area Skeptics and that often there were only 2 or 3 women present with 60 to 70 men. Coulman wrote another column in the June issue asking the same question, noting that no women had yet replied. Finally, months later, Elissa Pratt-Lowe (1985) responded:

I think another aspect of organized skepticism that may deter women is the aggressive, “macho” attitudes held by some of the (male) participants. It seems to me that some “skeptics” are more interested in ridicule than in exploring and challenging pseudoscientific beliefs. [This was followed by “Very true, I think-MC”]. (p. 7)

Pseudo-skepticism is still largely a boys club, apparently, as Watson is still getting flack from her fellow "Skeptics" over her offense of telling the boys that she wasn't there for their use and amusement.  It would seem not much has changed in the past few decades, "Skeptics"-"wise".   I, though, avoid getting into that continuing mess of an ongoing flame war among "Skeptics" that surrounds Watson and her "Skepchick" empire.  

I will say, reading some more of her material, she was right about the creep in the elevator and the men and women of "Skepticism" who attacked her over a rather moderate protest, but she's just another cookie-cutter "Skeptic" on the make, not caring about misrepresenting other people and their work.

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