Friday, January 26, 2007

The Death of Skepticism?

Is it official? Is skepticism dead, replaced by pseudoskepticism in the service of a secular worldview?

Michael Shermer has issued an impassioned denunciation of PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) for issuing a press release falsely claiming that Bush administration appointees had forbidden employees at Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) to provide the scientific explanation of the formation of the grand canyon and its age. This denunciation, eloquently written, would be a remarkable tribute to Skeptic Magazine's integrity were it not for the fact that it was issued AFTER eSkeptic ran with the story without bothering to contact the National Park Service or GCNP for confirmation.

Unfortunately, in our eagerness to find additional examples of the inappropriate intrusion of religion in American public life (as if we actually needed more), we accepted this claim by PEER without calling the National Park Service (NPS) or the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) to check it.

Accepting without question received information bolstering one's world view out of "eagerness" to support one's worldview is NOT skepticism. Running with a story based solely on a press release from an activist organization without even attempting to verify its claims is the ultimate mortal sin of journalism.

In my review of The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal, I asked whether the word "skeptic" had become a selling point rather than a mark of intellectual rigor. Is this the answer? Is skepticism dead?


Blogger Chris O'Connor said...

Excellent point. Shermer and his crew should have done their homework. A skeptic is typically also a "freethinker," in that they form their opinions through rational anaysis and not the blind acceptance of authority and dogma. I'd say Skeptic didn't live up to their name.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Thank you. I think this derives partly from a narrow focus on the supernatural amongst many but not all self-described skeptics. It also partly draws from the natural human capacity of not reflecting as deeply on our own beliefs as we do on those of others. It's easier to challenge "them" than "us." And, of course, there's always the fact that it is impossible to be consciously aware of much that goes into our thought processes.

I still, however, expect more from skeptic publications and rue the narrow-minded and all-too-often self-righteous focus on the "other" that seems to be degrading the level of scholarship bearing the skeptic label.

6:47 PM  

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