Saturday, December 20, 2014

Disqualified from using the title Skeptic

A bunch of prominent skeptics are upset that they do not have a monopoly on the word:
As Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, we are concerned that the words “skeptic” and “denier” have been conflated by the popular media. ...

Real skepticism is summed up by a quote popularized by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Inhofe’s belief that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” is an extraordinary claim indeed. He has never been able to provide evidence for this vast alleged conspiracy. That alone should disqualify him from using the title “skeptic.” ...

Please stop using the word “skeptic” to describe deniers.
Sen. Inhofe wrote a book on the subject, and usually says that man-made catastrophic global warming is the hoax. He is not a scientist, and his argument is largely political.

I thought that Sagan's quote was about scientific claims. They are taking Inhofe way too literally if they are expecting a comparison to other hoaxes. His book certainly does provide evidence for his claims.

My dictionary defines "skeptic" as "Someone who habitually doubts accepted beliefs". It does not say that you have to have extraordinary evidence for your doubt.

I suspect that the core of this complaint is political. Looking that the list of skeptic names, the ones I recognize are all left-wingers. Inhofe is a Republican who quotes the Bible and opposes govt regulation of the energy industry.

Inhofe is probably wrong in many of the things he says, but he certainly qualifies as a skeptic.

I consider myself a skeptic of string theory, multiverse, and quantum computing, and I explain here, but I certainly did not think that I had to be qualified to be a skeptic. Would these folks call me a multiverse denier, because I am not in their skeptic club or have their politics?


  1. Plenty of controversies involving that specific group. Been at it for decades with numerous ironies along the way to make them look like a bunch of dogmatic fools. Better to ignore them and shrug off terms like denier. The only time one should make a stand is when taking an unpopular viewpoint leads to incarceration, such as is the case with holocaust denial in some countries.

  2. The problem is that some people have turned scepticism into a form of cultural and political identity. Once a word becomes the name of a tribe it starts to acquire connotations which may be completely at odds with its original meaning and members of the tribe will start to believe that they alone have the right to use it. Therefore we end up with self-proclaimed sceptics trying to maintain an arbitrary distinction between real sceptics and "deniers" in order to exclude anyone who doesn't share their identity.