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John Horgan is “skeptical of skeptics,” or: Homeopathy and bigfoot versus cancer and the quest for world peace

Contrary to what some of my detractors think, I don’t mind criticism of my viewpoints. After all, if I never encounter criticism, how will I ever improve? On the other hand, there are forms of criticism that are what I would call less than constructive. One form this sort of criticism takes is obsessive repetition of points that have already been addressed and failure to pay attention to how they were addressed. This is the sort of criticism that will eventually provoke an exasperated shrug of the shoulders or even an angry—dare I say Insolent?—retort.

Another way criticism can get on one’s nerves is when it takes the form of what I’ve been dealing with the last month or so from a certain famous crank, which has reached the point that I now refer to him as “He Who Shall Not Be Named” and do not link to him anymore, even with the “nofollow” tag or “donotlink.” Of course, everyone who’s a regular reader probably knows to whom I’m referring. In any case, those who’ve paid attention probably remembers that HWSNBN has been talking a lot of smack about me. None of this would be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that he’s been lying in a most despicable fashion, accusing me of things I don’t believe or do. For instance, he’s tried to link me with Farid Fata, the local oncologist who was busted last year for bilking Medicare out of tens of millions of dollars for administering chemotherapy to people who didn’t need it, when in fact I despise Fata and all the evil he’s done. Similarly, he’s tried to paint me as a “psychological terrorist” who uses fear to push women to do mammograms, the better to profit off of them. In particular, what was hilarious about this was that he used a recent book by H. Gilbert Welch as the jumping-off point to attack me, apparently not knowing that last year Dr. Welch and I co-authored an article skeptical of mammography for the New England Journal of Medicine and have written more posts than I care to remember looking in detail at the pros and cons of mammography.

You get the idea.

Of course, HWSNBN lies; so of course one would expect that he wouldn’t care about the the truth of his criticisms, and he doesn’t. Skeptics expect that of him. What’s more disappointing is when one who claims to be on the side of science and even a “small-s skeptic” himself(and who should presumably know better) accuses a group with whom you associate with of things it doesn’t do and doesn’t believe not out of dishonesty, but rather out of ignorance of what your group believes and does combined with laziness that apparently led him not to bother to find out. I’m referring, of course, to an article written by contrarian Scientific American science journalist and blogger John Horgan with the clearly intentionally inflammatory title Dear “Skeptics,” Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More: A science journalist takes a skeptical look at capital-S Skepticism. Note the scare quotes. Note the sarcastic reference to “capital-S Skepticism.” Moreover, Horgan’s article is basically the transcript of a talk he gave at NECSS last weekend in which he proclaims himself “skeptical of skeptics” (what a tired cliche) and basically tells us we’re wasting our time with all that homeopathy and bigfoot stuff.

Heat but little light

Seeing what Horgan said, all I can say is that, although I’m still really unhappy that I couldn’t go to NECSS this year thanks to the demands of my day job, there was one good thing about not going and that was missing Horgan’s talk. As Steve Novella put it, Horgan’s talk was disappointing not because it was critical but rather because of his utter cluelessness about skepticism. (OK, Steve didn’t use the word “clueless”; I did. Steve’s always been a lot less “Insolent” than I have.)

I knew that Horgan’s purpose was to rile up the audience rather than to try to illuminate right from the very beginning of his talk. His purpose is to shed light, but he only sheds heat:

I hate preaching to the converted. If you were Buddhists, I’d bash Buddhism. But you’re skeptics, so I have to bash skepticism.

When someone starts out a talk telling his audience that he plans on bashing what they are there to celebrate, you know with a high degree of probability that what you’re likely dealing with is either an asshole, a contrarian, or both, not someone who is there to challenge the audience in a meaningful way. This is particularly true if that same person entitles his talk as an insulting instruction, an edict. To be fair, there’s a small chance that that won’t be the case, and the insulting title and proclamation that he’s here to bash you are just a ruse. After all, an argument can be made that stirring the pot this way can push the audience out of its comfort zone and challenge its deepest held assumptions. That can be a good thing. However, pulling that off is a high wire act that takes skill and, above all, a strong understanding of just what it is that the speaker is criticizing, in this case, organized skepticism (“big-S Skepticism”) and even “small-s skepticism.” In other words, you have to know what the hell you’re talking about. Horgan clearly does not and clearly lacks the skill to pull off that high wire act even if he did know what the hell he was talking about. Basically, Horgan starts out with a germ of a good point, namely that skepticism should be applied to more difficult targets as zealously as we apply it to “easier” targets. It’s a point that no serious skeptic would dispute. Unfortunately, Horgan proceeds to drive this point straight off the road into a cesspool of bad examples and arguments coupled with straw man versions of skepticism.

Before I look at some individual points where Horgan goes off the rails, I can’t help but note that there is one thing that permeates every word of his talk, and that’s an overbearing smugness, a moral superiority. I wasn’t there; so I don’t know if that’s how it came across during his actual talk, but it’s there in the written word. Horgan doesn’t try to appeal to the audience to do better through positive example, but rather by trying his hardest to make its members feel as dumb as possible, by preaching to them from a very high pulpit that he portrays as being made of science but I see as being constructed of BS. Unfortunately, whether he intends it or not, by “bashing” what he calls “big-S Skepticism,” Horgan by contrast paints himself as oh-so-much more of a better skeptic (small-s) than his audience. Basically, he was skepticsplaining to some of the most prominent and motivated skeptics around and failing miserably because he seems to think he’s the first person who ever thought of the issues he brought up when in fact these sorts of issues have been discussed by the actual skeptic movement ever since I started identifying with it many years ago, sometimes to the point where I can’t stand seeing another discussion of them again. Horgan reminds me of some of the newbie antivaccinationists who sometimes show up here at RI and start proudly trotting out long debunked antivaccine talking points as though they were the first ones who had ever thought of them and we’d never considered them before, only to run into a buzzsaw of exasperated debunking by those who’ve studied the issues and explained why the antivaccine viewpoint is incorrect more times than they can remember.

“Tribalism”: The perfect shield

Perhaps most annoyingly, Horgan pre-emptively inoculates himself against criticism by invoking tribalism:

So I’m a skeptic, but with a small S, not capital S. I don’t belong to skeptical societies. I don’t hang out with people who self-identify as capital-S Skeptics. Or Atheists. Or Rationalists.

When people like this get together, they become tribal. They pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they are compared to those outside the tribe. But belonging to a tribe often makes you dumber.

Now, if anyone offers criticism to Horgan’s bad arguments, he can simply dismiss it as “defending one’s tribe” without actually addressing the actual criticism, whatever it might be. For example:

Which reminds me:

Which is exactly what Horgan seems to have been doing.

“The Science Delusion”

Let’s look at Horgan’s talk to see if there are any decent points there. In a way, after Steve’s epic deconstruction of Horgan’s self-congratulatory wank, there doesn’t seem to be much left for me, but that never stopped me before. Besides, Horgan particularly annoyed me with a couple of passages. First, there was this:

“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attack disbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food.

These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.

You can see how utterly clueless Horgan is about skepticism just from this passage. For one thing, he seems to view “big-S Skeptics” as a homogeneous group with similar beliefs on the topics he lists. Horgan’s obviously never heard of the libertarian wing of the skeptic movement, which has a tendency to doubt human-caused global climate change and chalk it up to skepticism. Penn Jillette was notorious for this until I saw him a few years ago at TAM respond to a question about global warming with the ultimate dodge of, “I JUST DON’T KNOW.” Indeed, back in 2009, James Randi himself fell into the trap of repeating anthropogenic global warming denialist talking points. Did skeptics let him off the hook because he was Randi, and not just part of our “tribe” but a high ranking member of the “tribe”? Hell no! Skeptics did their best to educate Randi and explain to him where he went wrong.

I also can’t help but note that Horgan also seems ignorant of the whole “militant atheist” versus “accommodationist” schism, or the disagreements between skeptics over how critical we should be of religion. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen skeptics who are more “militant” atheists criticize skeptics more wedded to scientific skepticism for going easy on religion. It’s an argument that has raged since long before I ever started blogging, self-identifying as a skeptic, or going to skeptical conferences. It still bubbles up all too frequently. Good bud and skeptical physician John Byrne makes a similar and related point:

Horgan seems to be of the opinion that skeptics at NECSS dogmatically follow the decree of voices such as Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krause and Michael Shermer (he named them specifically). Ironically, Professor Dawkins was (at one point) disinvited to this very conference for making — in some people’s opinion — offensive insinuations about feminists. Massimo Pigliucci has been very critical of Dawkins over the years. Lawrence Krause was not there this year either, but attended a couple of years ago. He was interviewed on stage by Massimo Pigliucci, who has been among Lawrence Krause’s most vocal critics, challenging him for being scientistic rather than scientific. Pigliucci has also debated Michael Shermer (at NECSS) about scientism and morality. Shermer’s views on science and morality have also been questioned by Dr. Steven Novella –also a NECSS board member– during a December 2015 discussion with Dr. Shermer on The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast. I cannot think of three names in the community that have received as much internal criticism.

But, no. If you believe Horgan’s take on NECSS and “big-S Skepticism,” we all worship at the altar of the “really big-S Skeptics,” like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, James Randi, and the like.

“Soft targets” = What you care about. “Hard targets” = what I care about.

Particularly galling (and arrogant) is the “soft targets” versus “hard targets” gambit that Horgan launches into right after his “tribalism” gambit:

Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions. In the rest of this talk, I’ll give you examples of hard targets from physics, medicine and biology. I’ll wrap up with a rant about war, the hardest target of all.

I can’t help but conclude from the totality of his talk is that, to Horgan, “hard targets” are topics he cares about and his “soft targets” are targets you care about that he doesn’t care about (or at least cares about a lot less). His dichotomy is nothing more than “bashing” (Horgan’s words) skeptics because they don’t all care about what he cares about, including political views. From my perspective, a very appropriate response to such a criticism involves the F-word followed by “you” or “off.” (As I said, I’m much more “insolent” than Steve.) Horgan’s argument is no more than telling skeptics that they should care about what he cares about. Of course, that would be all well and good if he had included a positive appeal to entice his audience to care what he cares about and left out the contempt for caring about things he doesn’t care about. You know what I do whenever a commenter shows up in the comments of this blog telling me I shouldn’t pay so much attention to, say, vaccines and should pay more attention to the depredations of big pharma? OK, it usually doesn’t involve the F-word (usually), simply because I don’t like to use the F-word on this blog, but does involve the same sentiment, sometimes somewhat politely stated, sometimes not. No doubt Horgan will view such an attitude as “defending my tribe,” but in reality it just represents a general cussedness in not liking being told what to do by someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about coupled with a very human irritation at being told that what I care about is not important.

A more polite characterization comes from Daniel Loxton, who describes Horgan’s bizarre argument as:

I’ve spent much of my career confronting the common argument that skeptics should not perform the service skeptics do best, but instead tackle other subjects we may not be qualified to address. It’s a head scratcher, honestly. “You have specialized expertise in X, but I think X is trivial. Why don’t you specialize in Y, because I think Y is important?” Nobody ever says this to Shakespeare scholars or doctors or plumbers. (“Dear ‘fire fighters,’ fight fires less and solve more murders”?) Seemingly everyone says it to skeptics.

Indeed. If someone came up to me and said, “Why don’t you stop writing about mammography, cancer, and homeopathy and look at Bigfoot instead?” I’d laugh dismissively. Yet, all too frequently I see the opposite argument being made uncritically by people like Horgan about skepticism.

Why don’t you criticize cancer screening? Oh, wait…

Be that as it may, since Steve handled so much of the other science Horgan mangled so well, I’m going to stick to what I know best, medicine, specifically cancer. I could go on and repeat the points Steve made about Horgan’s mischaracterization of skeptics’ reactions to ideas like string theory, whether we live within a simulation, and multiverses (hint: these issues have been batted about and criticized within the skeptical movement ad nauseam) or Horgan’s attacks on psychiatry and psychotropic medications, but I won’t. Well, not quite. I can’t help but note that Horgan approvingly invokes Robert Whitaker’s claim that psychiatric medications only help in the short term but make people sicker in the long term. As Steve points out, Whitaker mangles his science, but from my perspective I can’t help but note that he is also a favorite of the likes of quacks like Joe Mercola, who has interviewed him several times, and has received approving coverage by the likes of HWSNBN.

On to medicine, though. Horgan is very concerned that we are overtested and overtreated for cancer:

Now let’s take a look at medicine, not the soft target of alternative medicine but the hard target of mainstream medicine. During the debate over Obamacare, we often heard that American medicine is the best in the world. That’s a lie.

Can Mr. Horgan name a single “big-S Skeptic,” big name or or little name, who’s argued that American medicine is the best in the world? I’ve never seen this phenomenon. That’s what’s so irritating about Horgan’s speech. He keeps conflating pop culture and political claims with claims that skeptics make, just as he seems to conflate sloppy science journalism hyping new findings with what skeptics say about them. A recurring theme here and at my not-so-super-secret other blog is to take on how journalists cover science when they do it badly. It’s the same with Steve and many, many other skeptics. To hear Horgan say it, you’d get the impression that we just swallow whatever we’re told. Also, I can’t help but note that “alternative medicine” is anything but a “soft target.” Through the emerging specialty of “integrative medicine,” alternative medicine is becoming part of “conventional” medicine.

Echoing a point that would make Joe Mercola proud, namely that American medicine is supposedly more interested in “profits than health,” Horgan then gets to overdiagnosis:

Over the past half-century, physicians and hospitals have introduced increasingly sophisticated, expensive tests. They assure us that early detection of disease will lead to better health.

But tests often do more harm than good. For every woman whose life is extended because a mammogram detected a tumor, up to 33 receive unnecessary treatment, including biopsies, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. For men diagnosed with prostate cancer after a PSA test, the ratio is 47 to one. Similar data are emerging on colonoscopies and other tests.

Europeans have lower cancer morality rates than Americans even though they smoke more and spend less on cancer care. Americans are over-tested, over-treated and over-charged.

Of course, this is one of the other passages that made me as a bona fide cancer expert cringe and grind my teeth. It’s a painfully simplistic description of the true situation, particularly if you look at how cancer mortality rates have been declining in industrialized countries. It turns out that mortality rates in the US actually compare reasonably well to Europe for most cancers, with the exception of lung cancer. Basically, we do well with some cancers compared to Europe, not so well with others, and overall our mortality rate from all cancers is pretty similar to major European countries and decreasing at about the same rate. As I’ve pointed out, if you look at our mortality from all cancer, you’ll see the US is in the middle of the pack, our line almost superimposed on the lines from France and Germany (and Canada, which I mention because, even though it is non-European, it spends a lot less on health care), with the UK having a noticeably higher rate of cancer mortality. Horgan has a point in asking whether the US is getting its money worth, given how much we spend relative to Europe or Canada for results that are more or less the same, but he is, quite simply, incorrect to make the blanket assertion that Europeans have lower cancer mortality rates than Americans. To cap off his simplistic analysis, in doing so, Horgan also conflates the problem of overdiagnosis with our higher mortality rate from lung cancer, but guess what? Only recently have we begun to screen for lung cancer and then only in very high risk individuals. He’s comparing apples and oranges.

As for cancer screening, need I repeat yet again that skeptics such as Harriet Hall, myself, and others over at my not-so-super-secret other blog have been writing about overdiagnosis and overtreatment at least since 2008? Steve says there are at least 40 posts there over the eight years the blog has been in existence, and I have no reason to doubt him. Then there’s the aforementioned NEJM article by yours truly. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist mentioning that again. After all, it’s not every day I get published in such a high profile journal.) Of course, Horgan’s treatment of overdiagnosis and overtreatment is as painfully simplistic as his comparison of cancer mortality statistics between the US and Europe, as he castigates skeptics for doing things we’ve been doing for years now, along with suggesting ways forward.

There will always be something “more important”

Horgan ends with a hilarious non sequitur that illustrates why his misunderstanding of organized skepticism is so epic:

In the last century, prominent scientists spoke out against U.S. militarism and called for the end of war. Scientists like Einstein, Linus Pauling, and the great skeptic Carl Sagan. Where are their successors? Noam Chomsky is still bashing U.S. imperialism, but he’s almost 90. He needs help!

Far from criticizing militarism, some scholars, like economist Tyler Cowen, claim war is beneficial, because it spurs innovation. That’s like arguing for the economic benefits of slavery.

So, just to recap. I’m asking you skeptics to spend less time bashing soft targets like homeopathy and Bigfoot and more time bashing hard targets like multiverses, cancer tests, psychiatric drugs and war, the hardest target of all.

I don’t expect you to agree with my framing of these issues. All I ask is that you examine your own views skeptically. And ask yourself this: Shouldn’t ending war be a moral imperative, like ending slavery or the subjugation of women? How can we not end war?

Of course ending war is important, but so what? As Loxton puts it, almost everything skeptics do is less important than ending war, which is “obvious to the point of silliness.” That includes Horgan as a “small-s skeptic.” In fact, I’d go beyond Loxton. Why isn’t Horgan out there curing cancer? A half a million people die of cancer every year in the US alone, after all! Or what about malaria? Over 200 million people a year suffer from malaria, and 415,000 die. Or what about environmental pollution? Or racism? Or sexism? Or ending totalitarian regimes? Why is Horgan wasting his precious time bashing skeptics when he should be bashing the “hard targets” like cancer screening, multiverses, psychiatric drugs, and war? Inquiring minds want to know!

Obviously—painfully so—there will always be issues more important or more impactful than what any of us does, with rare exceptions. Pointing to them and using them to denigrate someone’s efforts as pointless, which, make no mistake, is what Hogan comes across as doing, is not constructive. Rather, it is a very old strategy to denigrate that which you consider unimportant. A much better question is this: Is what one is doing worthwhile? Coming back to the episode of homeopathy, I say yes: Getting rid of homeopathy, if skeptics could accomplish it, would be worthwhile. Pushing for the FDA to regulate homeopathy the way it regulates real drugs would be worthwhile. Getting the FTC to regulate claims about homeopathy would be worthwhile. Keeping people from being defrauded by psychics is worthwhile. Countering antivaccine misinformation is worthwhile and saves lives. It’s also a direct outgrowth of skeptical activism against alternative medicine, as many antivaccine views derive from pseudoscientific health beliefs.

The bottom line is that, contrary to what Horgan implies, the skeptic movement, be it big-S or little-S, does not dogmatically worship at the altars of Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, James Randi, or anyone else, and it can walk and chew gum at the same time. Horgan would know that if he weren’t so clueless about just what skepticism is and what skeptics do. Yes, we can be tribal at times. We’re human beings, after all. However, I haven’t seen any evidence that skeptics are detectably more prone to “tribalism” than any other large group of humans, and it’s not as though we haven’t discussed this tendency ourselves. Basically, after all this time, the kids are all right. Horgan’s talk illustrates a very important principal. Honest criticism can be a very good thing (and I do think Horgan was sincere). However, even the most honest criticism can rapidly devolve into a string of self-righteous, distorted, and downright wrong characterizations like the ones in Horgan’s speech if the critic doesn’t take the time to understand his audience and learn about just what the heck he is talking about. Skeptics can take criticism just fine, but you’ll excuse us if we don’t react that well to uninformed criticism that betrays a lack of understanding about just what it is we are and do.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

180 replies on “John Horgan is “skeptical of skeptics,” or: Homeopathy and bigfoot versus cancer and the quest for world peace”

Wonderful deconstruction.

As an academic, Horgan’s article reminded me of the Most Pointless and Annoying Referee Report, which is, of course, “This article should be about something else.” That report is worthy of a bunker rant (cf. “Peer Review Circa 1945”, for those few who haven’t seen it.)

I don’t think he was arguing that Skeptics were claiming the American Health care system was the best in the world, just that some people have (which is true) and this has not been challenged by Skeptics (which is not I believe).
It also seems the Deep roots of War theory is his obsession. He might be right. It’s a pretty obscure theory, and trivial enough that I really don’t care. The idea that people should be wasting time on it rather than important things is a little baffling.

Bash homeopathy less?! Somebody administer a Turing test to Horgan, stat! Any reasonably intelligent person who has taken high school chemistry should know that homeopathy is bunk, yet Horgan fails to clear that low bar.

And if homeopathy is such a “soft” target, then why do certain drugstores (*cough* Walgreen’s *cough*) stock homeopathic remedies?

Sorry, but I can’t take Horgan seriously, since he’s ducking world hunger and malnutrition in favor of focusing on things like psychiatric drugs.

I mean, really – talk about your ultrasoft targets.

I’d say more, but I have better things to do with my time, like saving lives.

To Horgan’s assertion of over-diagnosis, due to a lack of adequate testing, but not “over-testing”, an estimated 1 million Canadians have been misdiagnosed with asthma. One wonders how many Americans are using inhalers for the same reason; namely, a lack of sufficient testing. Skeptics were right to question reports of increasing rates of asthma, just as they are to stay vigilant against the hype attending media reports of scientific findings.

Sorry, but I can’t take Horgan seriously, since he’s ducking world hunger and malnutrition in favor of focusing on things like psychiatric drugs.

I mean, really – talk about your ultrasoft targets.

I’d say more, but I have better things to do with my time, like saving lives.

Bwahahahaha.

Orac touched on this, but I think it bears repeating. All of us (little or big S) skeptics have different areas of expertise and interest. I focus mostly on vaccines, with a little bit of ethics and free speech thrown in, because that’s what I know and am able to comment on. I don’t have the knowledge to intelligently comment on something like string theory or the deep roots theory of war.

Now, he might argue that I should go and gain the knowledge, that claiming a lack of knowledge is just a lazy defense of my “tribalism”. But quite frankly, I don’t have the time or resources to gain the required knowledge, nor does he really make a compelling case for why I should. Especially considering there are already (big or little S) skeptics out there addressing these “hard” targets.

I missed his talk at NECSS, so I can’t talk about what kind of tone he used. However, a friend was there, live-tweeting, and she was utterly bewildered by what Horgan was going on about. She thought (and I agree after having read his post) that he didn’t know who his audience actually was.

It’s really disappointing, because he did have a germ of a good idea that he could have fleshed out, instead of just trolling. He’ll probably chalk up his talk as a success, and say that any criticism he receives is nothing more than tribalism at work, thus proving him right. He claims he’s going to respond to Steve’s criticism, though, so we’ll see if he acknowledges his errors, both in tone and in fact.

@Lighthorse: I had this same issue myself. My PMD put me on an inhaler for a chronic cough, saying it might be asthma. It did no good. Ultimately I underwent full pulmonary function tests with a methacholine challenge, and they were stone cold normal.

In fairness, a not uncommon presentation of asthma is a chronic cough and nothing else, and there is something to be said for treating clinical diagnoses. Also, she did refer me for testing when treating failed to relieve my symptom.

Of course, another possibility is that he’ll say something like, “Oh, I didn’t mean Steve or Orac, I meant those other skeptics,” and never define this unknown, nonexistent skeptic he’s referring to.

I think you are a little willing to gloss over the effects of tribalism. Humans are hardwired to being tribal. I see these effects clearly in me. While it is from the softer sciences, some of the psychology research into tribalism is interesting. However, I am not aware of “S”keptics being one of the tribes that was studied. maybe you could apply some insolence to the phenomenon of tribalism.

Of course, another possibility is that he’ll say something like, “Oh, I didn’t mean Steve or Orac, I meant those other skeptics,” and never define this unknown, nonexistent skeptic he’s referring to.

Perhaps, especially if he bothers to read the posts on overdiagnosis and overtreatment at my not-so-super-secret other blog. On the other hand, he might just concede that there are a “handful” of skeptics who get it right and then repeat his tropes about the rest while pointing out that neither of us have addressed war (or whatever).

He probably feels better, though, knowing that PZ Myers supports him (though that seems more to do with Myers’ dislike of Jamy Ian Swiss and NECSS than an actual critical evaluation of Horgan’s post).

Yep. I thought about addressing PZ’s post but then figured, “Why bother?” After all, as you say PZ’s siding with Horgan seems to derive more from his dislike of Jamy Ian Swiss and his dislike of skeptics who are not into the same social causes he is.

Horgan seems to be of the opinion that skeptics at NECSS dogmatically follow the decree of voices such as Richard Dawkins […]

Oh boy, did he pick the wrong table.

Far from criticizing militarism, some scholars, like economist Tyler Cowen, claim war is beneficial, because it spurs innovation. That’s like arguing for the economic benefits of slavery.

I’m lacking the context in which Tyler Cowen spoke about it, but his title – “economist” – let me wonder if, maybe, Cowen was talking as an economist.
Because, well, from an economic standpoint, both war and slavery truly have benefits (at least for the people on top).
Now, if the context was a debate on the morality of “might make right”…

I’m asking you skeptics to spend less time bashing soft targets like homeopathy and Bigfoot

I dunno about Bigfoot, but homeopathy is quite resilient for a soft target.
I suspect the hard/soft target nomenclature is like the strong/weak acid distingo. Vinegar is no hydrochloric acid, but you still don’t want it splashed into your eyes. Don’t even try trifluoroacetic acid.
tl;dr: a belief in Bigfoot is a very limited issue, but free-ranging homeopaths do societal damages.

Why isn’t Horgan out there curing cancer?

Eh, he did the hard work, I mean, telling us what to do (leaving a few details out, like how to do it).
His job is done, he can now go home.

Bigfoot? Didn’t he just make a film with Andy?

-btw- HWSNBN stole Orac’s ‘disturbance in the force’ title today and goes on to tell how everything is going haywire.
There’s a 43 minute audio. I’ll listen to as much as I can stand

knowing that PZ Myers supports him

Oh.
Err, having bad memory flashbacks of past skeptics’ internet flamewars.

his dislike of skeptics who are not into the same social causes he is.

That would summarize the starting point of many of the above-mentioned flamewars I witnessed in the online skeptic communities.
In short, we all have our hobby horses and cannot stand that other people in our “tribe” don’t drop everything at once to come behind us.

Other than having Bigfoot in it, this photo has little to do with what is written below. Orac just thought it was awesome.

I concur. Please, where is it from?

I don’t remember. I just came across it while Googling Bigfoot. You could probably do a Google image search.

I’ve often wondered about this “leave the soft targets alone” thing as often those are also the popular things.

I feel we are seeing what plays out when there is not enough effort to fight the good fight on the common beliefs. We don’t challenge (or even support) people in believing in Bigfoot, and faked moon shots and sooner or later they are Birthers and Truthers and believe orange-tinged men who say that one phone call from China can end all the nuclear ambitions of North Korea.

The distinction raised by Horgan between “soft” and “hard” targets is tricky. The main question is whether you can combat faith and stupidity with arguments. I personally consider that you cannot, so arguments should be directed to people able to understand them, i.e. true scientists. When “scientists” are unable to understand arguments, because they don’t want to acknowledge their error, then we are in trouble.
From Melvin Cohn, one of the greatest scientists of our time, in 1994:
“I now appreciate how much I learn by being wrong; I can change my mind when confronted with a rational argument, without the need to have the change appear to be purely semantic or to hope it will pass unnoticed. What must it be like to be a priest, general, bureaucrat, lawyer, medicine person, or politician who is never permitted to be wrong? No wonder they learn so slowly. I am grateful to be in a profession where, at least in my view, the realization of
being wrong is equivalent to an increase in knowledge”.
The profession has changed.

Horgan’s dismissal of criticism as tribalism reeks of the shill gambit.

A little OT but since it was brought up: I had a PCP try to give me an inhaler for “asthma” when it turned out (my diagnosis from the symptoms, because she never tested or treated me for it) I probably had pertussis. The albuterol treatment in the office gave me horrible shakes and nothing else. The only thing she gave me that helped was a cough medicine with codeine so I could say more than 2 words without coughing until I vomited.

it turned out (my diagnosis from the symptoms, because she never tested or treated me for it) I probably had pertussis

I hope you are wrong about that, because pertussis is a serious illness. One that we used to vaccinate everybody against, before vaccine refusal became all the rage in certain circles. We still vaccinate most people against it, but there have been outbreaks, and thanks to anti-vaxers we are dangerously close to the threshold at which herd immunity breaks down.

This sounds just like all those who criticise feminism for not solely dealing with the big issues like FGM and instead worrying about “trivia” like harassment or Page 3 stunnas (for anyone not in the UK The Sun newspaper featured topless women giving comments on current events on page 3).

The rebuttal is always that yes some feminists are dealing with the big topics but that those considered trivial by detractors also affect people everyday.

I don’t think that anyone reading this column regularly would doubt that homeopathy, naturopathy, etc. can be harmful. And actually I find this blog balanced because it does attack SBM where the author finds it lacking.

HTML fail in my previous post. The first paragraph was quoting MI Dawn, the second was my response.

OT but it’s about HWSNBN, worse than Bigfoot and hopefully, it assists Orac in his cause of illustrating Mikey’s madness…

I listened to all 43 minutes so you can be spared:

As my father would often say, * Quel fcking idiot!*

HWSNBN coalesces several conspiracies into a tightly woven web of flaming stupid:

dark side of force, destructive, inhuman, globalist, hate life, Dark Lord, David Ickes, lizards, bloodlines, sacrifice innocent children, especially black boys, incredible evil, demonic, false flags staged, nuclear or EMF attack, terrorism, measles at Disneyland, illusion- ‘craft reality’, all news is fake, vaccines, poisoned food, abortions, organ harvest, euthanasia, highest powers are evil, hate freedom, FDA, USDA,EPA, UN takeover
THEY WANT OUT PLANET!

He says that sensitive people feel a disturbance in the force and it’s real! They’re not crazy!

MIkey’s Mission is to inform us of the evil afoot and to guide us on our pathway to the Global Revolution against EVIL
He is a Guardian.

Actually, today marks the one week mark without a new hit piece on me, although there have been a couple of one- or two-sentence swipes at me in articles not about me. 🙂

@ Eric Lund: I know. But, this was nearly 14 years ago, before the TDaP was recommended for adults regularly. I was UTD on the “required” immunizations of the time.

But no, I’m pretty sure I was correct. I hadn’t had a pertussis booster in many years and this “really bad cold that made you cough for months” went through my friends like wildfire as we are all of similar age and booster status. ONE woman was finally (she had been away for a few weeks so on the end of the bunch who caught it) diagnosed with pertussis. That was the first inkling that any of us probably went through it. She broke ribs coughing.

Europeans have lower cancer morality rates than Americans even though they smoke more and spend less on cancer care.

Because as we all know, Europeans are pretty much amoral.

Horgan might benefit from reading some issues of the Skeptical Inquirer (which features articles from various skeptical luminaries including our host, Steve Novella, Harriet Hall et al).

In addition to Bigfoot, homeopathy, hauntings etc. there are also articles on non-“soft targets”, including climate change and guns. For all I know, the contributors may also have taken on world peace and galactic harmony.

It’s just another slice of evidence that Horgan, while intending to make a splash and preen in his I-know-the-important-issues superiority, instead demonstrated ignorance about issues tackled by skeptics.

@ Denise Walter
And HWSNBN accuses Orac of spreading fear?
It’s a bit ironic, I think.

Also, I don’t think Marsh’s criticism was “substantial”, just mocking.
Horgan’s response was vacuous though

He says that sensitive people feel a disturbance in the force and it’s real! They’re not crazy!

He’s not entirely wrong. Sensitive people do indeed feel a disturbance in the Force (or should I say the Farce). His error is in whom he thinks are “sensitive people”.

I mean, we have a major party Presidential candidate and presumptive nominee who is serial deadbeat and a buffoonish conspiracy monger. You’d never be able to sell a novel with such a plot hook, because fiction has to be plausible.

I occasionally feel the great forces of the planet writhe and quiver- fortunately it only happens near fault lines so I’m not in the gripes of any Gaia-sensitivity delusion.

True story: I awoke at 6 am feeling a trembling in a hotel in SF and, thinking it was a vehicle delivering bok choy to the restaurant next door, went back to sleep. Later, I learned it was a 3.4.

You should take that sense of yours to the next level, Denice Walter #34.

Ribas has a tiny magnet near the crook of her elbow that allows her to feel all tremors and earthquakes anywhere on earth, in real time.

… Ribas says the external physical change is not the point of being a cyborg. “I modified my body, to modify my mind,” says Ribas. As you can see in the video above, she translates the tremors she feels in her arm into dance movements.

…Ribas’ subdermal implant receives data from a custom iPhone app that aggregates seismic activity

http://qz.com/677218/this-woman-a-self-described-cyborg-can-sense-every-earthquake-in-real-time/

@34 Denice Walter

On my first trip to Japan the first earthquake I felt was at ~4am, a shindo 3 (not sure of the magnitude 3.5-4 most likely). Woke up in a stupor thinking a train must be passing… it took a while to remember the train line was over a km distant.

Things are a bit different now. Felt the M5.6 on Monday (quite a good little jolt) but slept soundly through the M4 and M4.3 aftershocks.

So basically, he seems like the kind of guy who would show up at a conference about how to treat arthritis and scream that cancer and heart disease kill far more people.

Does this mean that there is yet another conspiracy that I am apparently part of?

Bugger me, but this is an awful lot of secret meetings I have to attend!

I demand higher expenses payments and more shill, errrr, shillings!

All this conspiring doesn’t just do itself.

DW: I can tell when tornadoes are going to form or when a thunderstorm is coming. I think some people are more sensitive to weather or minor seismic disturbances than others. And it also depends on where people grow up or spend their lives.

@ PGP:

My companion slept through it.

I also felt something odd when I stood EXACTLY on a fault line.

I think that sensitivity to weather changes is different- much about changes in pressure. I’ve felt this prior to storms that had extremely low- even record-breaking low- pressure.

Supposedly cats can sense earthquakes. They like to hide and sleep when a storm approaches.

All good points. Now I’ll spend an hour trying to figure out why Teddy Roosevelt is battling sasquatch using some one handed machine gun holding the American Flag.

I don’t know how much is confirmation bias but I do tend to notice when the winds or pressure as a storm come in just “feel wrong”.

I think if you spend enough time paying attention to the clouds and winds you do get a sense of what is atypical. I do think a fair number of folks just don’t happen to pay attention to that. Much like i don’t pay attention to brands of cloths but know people who could probably tell you what brand of undies someone was wearing by the panty lines.

Where I grew up usually when the winds died down trouble was a brewing. Then I moved here where it is calm much of the time. Took a couple of months to get over the feeling of dread walking out of a building and into still air.

Many years ago I read a couple of Horgan’s books: The Undiscovered Mind, and Rational Mysticism. Read these books and you’ll understand that he is no skeptic – at least not in the sense of scientific skepticism. He firmly believe in mysterianism, which is basically a position that says that there are some things that cannot be reduced by material reductionism. He most emphasizes that consciousness is fundamentally mysterian in quality. He’s a man of faith pretending to be a scientist.

The issue with over testing and treatment is more rooted in the American legal and tort system than with the medical community. Defensive medicine to avoid malpractice ramifications has led to the system being overused but it also has driven innovation. Both Europe and the U.S. benefit from having different systems. Yes, we do pay more but it has helped in developing the U.S. University system into the envy of the world. It’s not the best trait in mankind that profit drives effort and risk but to deny that is true denialism. Also if he has universal, testable facts to ending war, we’d all love to see the plan.

Homeopathy is a “soft” target? Oh, deer.

A member of our extended family had a psychotic breakdown, and spent several weeks in the county psyche ward getting actual medical treatment. When she was released she was feeling better than she had been for years.

Then she went to visit her naturopath, and decided the Bastyr ND was smarter than the actual psychiatrist. So she skipped the county’s outpatient clinic, dropped the real meds and bought the over priced homeopathic stuff from the ND. Plus some of her issues were related to a history of chronic pain, and instead of regular pain management the ND had her write down every twinge, itch, tiny or big pain she experience.

Well, as could be expected she started to spiral downward again. Ended up in another county psyche ward, and finally decided to end it all. She is buried in our local Catholic cemetery.

That is just one reason why I do not consider naturopathy and homeopathy as “soft” targets. The other is dealing with the “helpful” people who have been suggesting “causes”, “cures” and “treatments” to me since my son with several medical issues was born.

Horgan reminds me of Will Storr, who had the same type of comments, and even attended a TAM in Las Vegas. From the linked article: ” He reports on the famous “homeopathic overdose” event in Britain, and finds that most of the crowd is just copying what their peers are doing—few have done much reading, or know much of the evidence of why homeopathy is fake. He attends The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, but finds many of the skeptics there are too smug and sure of themselves, even though they have never personally investigated why the claims they reject are wrong.”

I was at that TAM, and it is too bad Storr didn’t ask me what I thought of homeopathy.

Now I’ll spend an hour trying to figure out why Teddy Roosevelt is battling sasquatch using some one handed machine gun holding the American Flag.

Because I thought the picture was cool. That’s all the reason I need. 🙂

Skeptics of skeptics of skeptics….aack. Reminds me of a thing Steve Martin once said:

“It’s so hard to believe in anything anymore. I mean, it’s like, religion, you really can’t take it seriously, because it seems so mythological, it seems so arbitrary…but, on the other hand, science is just pure empiricism, and by virtue of its method, it excludes metaphysics. I guess I wouldn’t believe in anything anymore if it weren’t for my lucky astrology mood watch.”

One of our dogs (the Newf) senses thunderstorms long before they hit and tries to take cover…in the bathtub.

Q. How do you coax a 130 lbs dog out a bathtub?

A. Bacon.

I’m often surprised how those accusing others of bias are blind to the possibility that they might suffer from the same affliction. Every time an argument like this comes up, each side accuses the other of tribal thinking, and usually both are right.

True story: I awoke at 6 am feeling a trembling in a hotel in SF and, thinking it was a vehicle delivering bok choy to the restaurant next door, went back to sleep. Later, I learned it was a 3.4.

A cousin of mine was working in one of the towers in San Francisco’s financial district the day the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. The building started to sway–no big deal, as that is a routine occurrence in skyscrapers, and such buildings are equipped with dampers. The building continued to sway for more than a minute. That’s how he knew it was a big one.

I have only felt an earthquake once. I happened to be in a building built on fill (pro tip: don’t build on fill in an earthquake risk zone) when a 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck somewhere north of Quebec City (the epicenter was about 500 km from where I was at the time). I didn’t feel anything from the Virginia earthquake a few years ago–I happened to be driving over a bridge and didn’t feel anything beyond normal road vibrations. I’ve never felt anything in San Francisco or Japan–possibly luck on my part, but people in those places know how to design earthquake-resistant buildings.

The world is big enough that people can concentrate on what interests them. And, although I find Steven Novella to be more of a generalist who has an uncanny ability to write on subjects with broad emotional appeal, I see nothing wrong with specialization. In fact, both are necessary.

I think Horgan’s talk was a waste of others’ time by just being adversarial and concur he could have inspired skeptics to not just to widen their interests but also lead them to becoming more introspective.

I’ve written this before (and will risk being considered a sycophant by writing this again) but for all your bluster, I find your ability to be introspective your most appealing quality. Sure, I can admire intelligence, tenacity and a sense of humor but I it doesn’t lead me to trust someone. And this earned trust works even when I don’t agree with you, belong to your tribe, get insulted by you or invest large amounts of time researching the subject currently being discussed.

You’re my Google Scholar into a world I can barely comprehend, but you help me navigate within it. That counts for this n=1.

But don’t tell anybody I said this, ok?

I think Horgan was woefully uninformed about what the skeptic movement is all about. He came in guns blazing without a clue about his audience. He picked on the wrong crowd this time. His galloping gish of straw men was so sloppy it was farcical. I can’t believe this guy is a science journalist. Where are the editors at SCI AM? The blowback from his sloppy journalism is going to explode any credibility he ever had. Skeptics have a new mission and scrutinizng his every word from now on will be de rigueur.

Maybe it’s me, but I’ve never understood how arguments of the form “You should abandon your own pet interests for mine” are even supposed to work. They seem to assume that interests are as interchangeable as clothing, without taking into account why people develop them in the first place.

Horgan (and others who argue similarly) seem to think that skeptics enjoy activism for its own sake and would gladly take up, say, political activism if only we could be convinced that our current concerns are trivial. But that’s like saying that stamp collectors do it because they like rectangles and should collect books instead, since books are far more important than stamps!

My sense is that most of us start out as science enthusiasts and only take up skeptical activism because we see the need for it and no one else is doing it. But if there were no need for a dedicated skeptics movement – if working scientists as a community did it themselves, for example – I’d guess that most of us would still spend a lot of time reading, thinking and talking about science. We might still form associations and invite speakers to enlighten us about new developments in the world of ideas (which our conferences already do, in part). And we might still advocate for a Mars launch, increased research in various fields, or any one of a number of causes. But most of it would still be science-based.

Whether that’s a good thing or not in the grand scheme of things is a separate question, of course. But any attempt to persuade us otherwise would have to start with a good understanding of where we’re coming from, as you and Steve and nearly everyone else have already said.

Horgan’s comeback includes two classic tactics used when someone does not have substantive points to make in response to criticism.

First, cite people who supposedly lavish praise on you while remaining anonymous (typically these mystery supporters are quoted as saying they’d come forward publicly but are afraid of censure by diehards. At least Horgan doesn’t stoop so far as to conjure up this scenario).

Secondly, attempt to marginalize your critics by referring to them as “angry” or “hostile”. This is done on the theory that angry people are unattractive. It avoids treating opponents as reasonable folks who have good justification for differing with you.

Horgan’s response also contains a whiff of troll, as he seems glad to have stirred things up, even if his followup is lame (“see, you’ve proved my point”).

Such a shame, as from my perspective he’s gone from a totally unknown writer to a ninny in one easy step.

Just read Mr. Hogan’s response – if he seriously thinks this post constituted an “angry denunciation” he should read some of Orac’s posts about quacks and grifters of various stripes who actually do harm. It’s also sort of odd that he casually admits “instead of calling my talk ‘Hard Versus Soft Targets,’ I could have called it ‘Stuff You Care about Versus Stuff I Care About,’ as if there’s no difference between admitting your personal bias as opposed to essentially accusing people of cowardice and/or superficiality.

And Mr. Horgan has responded to (mainly) Steve and (less) to me:

You have already demonstrated that you were disagreeing with him purely out of tribal-identity defensiveness.
It was good of Horgan to provide such a sterling example of how to step outside the tribal boundaries, preach to the non-converted, and change the minds of people who do not already agree with you.

If only other skeptics could abandon their conformist, group-think ways and all blog about the same issues as Horgan!

I must really not understand Mr Hogan, because I can’t see how “multiverses” are like “war”.
Like, no one is going to die because some people believe in multiverse theory (at least as I understand it). People die in war. It’s kind of the definition.

Orac,

I find it interesting that you show TR. Are you saying that Horgan is using his position as a bully pulpit.

Oh, TR must have been a heck a man to be able to fire a BAR one handed.

I’m pretty sure he’s showing that Roosevelt the Elder shooting at a sasquatch is a very cool thing to have painted.

Very cool indeed.

MESSAGE BEGINS——————————————

Shills and Minions:

What are we going to do about this . . . atrocity?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAOPNX0qZUY

Lawyers? Obsidian Shock Troops? Hatchlings? I’m at a loss . . .

Lord Draconis Zeneca VH7ihL
Forward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Glaxxon High Command, Pharma Overlord with Capsule Clusters

0010111001001011111001

—————————-MESSAGE ENDS

I have to say I think Orac is being too defensive here. I read the text version of Horgan’s talk, and it did indeed strike me as a pot-stirring polemic that ignored various aspects of diversity in the skeptic community in favor of stereotypes, but obviously,/i> so, as figurative speech. His specific examples of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ targets was also screwy enough that rebuttal on those subjects shouldn’t really be necessary. Unless you’re really worried about Bigfoot Truthers, I guess…

I submit the properly skeptical attitude towards criticism from gadflys (as opposed to woo-promoting trolls) is to chuck out the off-target details and do some honest self-examination on the broader issues, trying to take a step outside your weltanschauung, try on another set of lenses, and see how things look – with the proviso that this may still lead to dismissal of the critique rather than any sort of mea culpa. But it’s a useful exercise even if it gets to the same destination along a different path.

In this case, skeptics might ask themselves, ‘are we tribal in any way that’s problematic?’; ‘how do we justify our targets as a general social concern outside of our own interest?’; and ‘are there any “dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions” we’re giving a pass?’ – but in each case the ‘we’ wouldn’t be ‘all skeptics’ but whatever each individual identifies as a meaningful reference group. After all, Horgan isn’t addressing individuals, but a community. It would silly to tell Todd to spend less time concerned with vaccines and devote time to The Deep Theory of War (whatever that is) instead, and I’d guess Horgan knows that and is just trying to express a sort of ‘well, somebody should be using a skeptical lens on stuff like this.’ But it wouldn’t be silly for any of us to ask ourselves whether we might have too readily given a pass to some “claims promoted by major scientists and institutions” that do fall into our areas of knowledge and interest, due to some confirmation biases common amongst our ‘tribes’.

Horgan did himself no favors by using the language of ‘hard and soft targets’ especially using Bigfoot as an exemplar out of his pique with the moderator of his conference talk. The terms call up too many different meanings, most of which it seems he did not mean to address. So lets look at his definitions: “Soft target” = “bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you… preaching to the converted”. “Tribalism’ = “pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they [sic] are compared to those outside the tribe”. ‘Hard targets’ for capital-S Skeptics then would be ‘going against the grain’ on matters where the ‘tribe’ tends to be blind or near-sighted to some of it’s own avowed principles. I think there’s plenty of good grist for that mill, but I’m not about to suggest any of that should be at the top of anyone’s agenda.

Since Horgan also cited homepathy, I do have to note I think that’s a questionable target. There aren’t that many Hahnemannian 30C diluters in practice, and they’re not much of a threat. Naturopathy, IMHO, is a genuine danger, but as far as I can tell it’s embrace of homeopathy per se is just a symptom, and the real harm comes from the wider armamentum of ‘natural cures’ that mostly have some substance in them, and thus form more credible-seeming ‘alternatives’ to real medicine for serious medical conditions. However, I’ve come to consider even the practice of naturopaths to be small potatoes in the harm department in comparison to the whole ‘natural remedies’ OTC and mail-order market, which extends from pure-evil supplement shills like Truehope, through all-purpose wackos like Health Deranger and his Natural News store, down to a whole aisle at the local Walgreens filled with products labeled with outrageous claims. (In comparison to the supplement section, the OTC homeopathics at chain pharmacies are barely worth mention…)

As far as ‘soft targets’ and ‘hard targets’ go, my critque of RI would take different meanings of those terms than Horgan uses. I submit that quacks themselves are indeed ‘soft targets’, and the ‘hard targets’ are the ‘major institutions’ that just shrug and let them get away with bilking the public and threatening the health and lives of the vulnerable. In this, ‘quackademia’ and NCCIH are both small and mitigating players, and the responsibility rests mainly with the do-nothing medical boards and professional associations. To my mind, it’s just total WTF that supplements remain unregulated, chiropractors/naturopaths/acupuncturists/etc.-etc. can practice all sorts of nonsense without consequence, and the medical establishment at large, the groups any layman or policy-maker would logically look to for guidance on these issues are either silent or just muttering mild objections soto voce. IMHO, the first order of business for advocates of medical science over pseudo-science is excoriating the medical profession for the ignorance or self-interest or convention or cowardice or whatever leads to their shrugginess, and demanding that they get wise, grow some cohones, and take a stand against the tidal wave of crapola. Just my 2¢…

DW: I think that sensitivity to weather changes is different- much about changes in pressure. I’ve felt this prior to storms that had extremely low- even record-breaking low- pressure.

Yup. You can definitely feel it when the pressure drops.

Kaymarie: Yeah. I don’t *think* I pay all that much attention to weather, but I know enough small signs that I sort of subconciously adjust to the weather as it happens- like double-checking myself and grabbing my rain jacket, or sticking close to home on a day where there might be a thunderstorm so I’m not on my bike when it hits.

The Teddy vs. Bigfoot painting is by Jason Hauser – aka ‘SharpWriter’ – and was the first of a series of over-the-top presidential portraits he sells on DeviantArt and Etsy. Reagan riding a dinosaur, W. riding a Sharknado down from Air Force One. Lincoln riding a grizzly, carrying a machine gun. Nixon beating down a sabretooth tiger (“he was transported back to the ice age” when “there was a considerable malfunction with his time machine”). Of course, the paintings receive comments lauding their patriotism , among which (per Poe’s Law) one can’t tell which might be genuine and which are jokes.
Brief profile: http://tinyurl.com/h5mr9mt

@ sadmar:

Remember when you asked about the Lizard King ™ ”
Well, here he is ( #63).

Be properly deferent to him, perhaps he’ll send you something in the mail

I’m so… glad that I’m not the only one who has been unimpressed with Horgan. Each time I make the mistake of reading one of his essay, I have to shake off the mind numbing effect of “WTF?” Is this guy a crypto science denialist setting up imaginary strawmen to knock down?

But this issue of “tribal”… I’ve heard that one before, being used by a science denialist dismissing my use of evidence and logic as mearly “promoting (my) tribe”… all the while using tortous mislogic based on post-modernistic denial of objective reality. This is what I feel Horgan does much of the time.

But I’ve gotten smart lately… if I see that an essay is written by Horgan, I simply don’t read it. I already know that it will be a waste of time at best, or I might need to use mental floss to remove the bad taste in my mind… but I will never come away thinking, “Wow, that makes me think…” Just doesn’t happen.

He says that sensitive people feel a disturbance in the force and it’s real! They’re not crazy!

Uhm. Does it mean anything that I can almost always tell which way is north?

It really annoys me when people go after psychiatric meds. I got into an argument with a guy on Facebook about that. He kept trying to convince me that I was poisoning myself. I unfortunately do not have a background in medical science. I tried to argue with him that I had been on it a few years and have yet to get diabetes, and I don’t look nearly as mean and stressed out as when I was unmedicated. My quality of life went up with the meds. The movie A Beautiful Mind kind of annoys me too because that was part of the reason I went unmedicated as long as I did. It also makes schizophrenia look kind of benign.

“Basically, Horgan starts out with a germ of a good point, namely that skepticism should be applied to more difficult targets as zealously as we apply it to “easier” targets. It’s a point that no serious skeptic would dispute.”

“A more polite characterization comes from Daniel Loxton, who describes Horgan’s bizarre argument as:

I’ve spent much of my career confronting the common argument that skeptics should not perform the service skeptics do best, but instead tackle other subjects we may not be qualified to address. It’s a head scratcher, honestly. “You have specialized expertise in X, but I think X is trivial. Why don’t you specialize in Y, because I think Y is important?” Nobody ever says this to Shakespeare scholars or doctors or plumbers. (“Dear ‘fire fighters,’ fight fires less and solve more murders”?) Seemingly everyone says it to skeptics.

Indeed. If someone came up to me and said, “Why don’t you stop writing about mammography, cancer, and homeopathy and look at Bigfoot instead?” I’d laugh dismissively. Yet, all too frequently I see the opposite argument being made uncritically by people like Horgan about skepticism.”

So………………..

By your own definition, neither you nor Loxton are “serious skeptics”?

This whole rant is riddled with this kind of bungled self-contradiction.

[I submit the properly skeptical attitude towards criticism from gadflys (as opposed to woo-promoting trolls) is to chuck out the off-target details and do some honest self-examination on the broader issues, trying to take a step outside your weltanschauung, try on another set of lenses, and see how things look – with the proviso that this may still lead to dismissal of the critique rather than any sort of mea culpa. But it’s a useful exercise even if it gets to the same destination along a different path.

In this case, skeptics might ask themselves, ‘are we tribal in any way that’s problematic?’; ‘how do we justify our targets as a general social concern outside of our own interest?’; and ‘are there any “dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions” we’re giving a pass?’ – but in each case the ‘we’ wouldn’t be ‘all skeptics’ but whatever each individual identifies as a meaningful reference group. After all, Horgan isn’t addressing individuals, but a community. It would silly to tell Todd to spend less time concerned with vaccines and devote time to The Deep Theory of War (whatever that is) instead, and I’d guess Horgan knows that and is just trying to express a sort of ‘well, somebody should be using a skeptical lens on stuff like this.’ But it wouldn’t be silly for any of us to ask ourselves whether we might have too readily given a pass to some “claims promoted by major scientists and institutions” that do fall into our areas of knowledge and interest, due to some confirmation biases common amongst our ‘tribes’.]

I dunno, Sadmar. That kind of thing just reeks of the principle of charity, and other critical thinking 101 ideas.

Why thoughtfully engage with the topic, when you just type up a multi-thousand word rant that stirs up your followers instead?

@ Rich Bly

Oh, TR must have been a heck a man to be able to fire a BAR one handed.

OT
Is it a BAR or a M60?
The nuclear belt buckle may be helping.

IRL, Teddy Roosevelt was indeed someone not to be trifled with. He earned a nice post on the Badass of the week website.

In fiction, Mike Resnick wrote a few short stories featuring the Bull Moose. As usual with Resnick’s use of historical characters, it is difficult to distinguish where reality stops and where fictitious accounts begin. One story happens in London, UK, and is called Redchapel. I’ll let you guess which serial killer TR is hunting.

@Helianthus:

Is it a BAR or a M60?

It’s an M60. If you look closely, you can see the ammunition belt feeding into it.

@Denise

Re: Cats – My cat can not only sense thunderstorms and earthquakes, but mild breezes, sunny spells, the coming of the apocalypse, dogs in the garden, the release of a new Adele album, the imminent shooting of a politician, Wednesdays, burglars, and the launch of a new TV channel.

He predicts all these by hiding and going to sleep.

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