14 August 2013

Skepticism's sound and fury

I must admit to being impressed by the prowess of the nascent skeptics movement, which in the US has managed to collapse into schism without even a credo to argue over. If you consider yourself a skeptic or rationalist and frequent the blogs and websites of the American movement, you're probably familiar with the ongoing debacle, starting from the initial ginned-up scandal of Elevatorgate and continuing as the two sides become increasingly shrill and entrenched.  If you have spared yourself the misery thus far, I hesitate to be the one to inflict exposure:  in general terms, the war wages over sexism in the skeptical movement -- how serious it is, and how firmly it ought to be combated. The  tenor of controversy baffled me at first, and has since completely soured me on the American skeptics. The Center for Skeptical Inquiry,  to my knowledge the oldest and most accomplished skeptical organization in the United States, has been the loser, seeing contributors and staff desert it after its inadequate response to the call of the witch-hunt revolution.  Point of Inquiry,  once the most laudable of the skeptical podcasts, is now on hiatus. I'm sure Paul Kurtz and Carl Sagan would be quite proud of the skeptical movement: absent George Bush in the White House to rally against we have apparently decided to self-destruct.  Bravo, skeptics.  I am sure once the CSI has fallen under the ragefest of the puritans or its seeming inability to realize there are  concerns to address,  the American movement can be maintained by PZ Myers posting octopus pictures and pissing in the face of the Catholic church like a petulant schoolboy.

For years my concern with the skeptical movement has been that it limits itself too much to simply attacking religion, attacks which inspire nothing but defensive reactions and do little to apply the discerning blade of critical thinking against more pliable foes, improving the lives of people by arming them against consumer fraud (for example), establishing that skepticism is a useful tool for everyone, and not just the Foe of Religion, for which so many people have a sentimental attachment for. This skeptical schism is erasing whatever credibility we ever earned by broadcasting to the world: skeptics are just as irrational as the people they attack, and are willing to butcher one another in civil war to prove it.  The New Skeptics are not the vanguard of a revolution that will create a humane world: we are doggedly working to become mere footnotes at best.  Far from enlightening the world, from spreading reason's flickering flame as a candle in the dark, we are making skepticism to be a tale told by an idiot -- full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.