Skepticism First

So, first post. I have to be honest, the motivation for starting this blog isn’t very positive. As my readers are no doubt aware (do I even have readers right now?), I’ve been involved in the “deep rifts” for a little over half a year now. The lies and hypocrisy coming out of FTB/Skepchick/A+, often documented by the Slymepit, is certainly something important. But it’s even more important not to forget that there are also other issues that need to be tackled, issues in view of many more people than the rather insular “atheist movement”. There are still people who think vaccines should be avoided. There are still people who think separation of church and state is a bad idea. There are even some people, within our very own community of atheism, who still think “you can’t prove a negative”.

The problem isn’t that people are believing things that are false. The problem is that they’re thinking uncritically, that they’e failing to put in the intellectual legwork required to have a well-defended position. Recently, I’ve been “branching out” on Twitter, looking around for people saying things which I disagree with, and challenging them to defend their ideas (all the while trying to promote the hashtag #SkepticismFirst). While I’ve sometimes been a bit antagonistic, I’ve noticed that in almost every instance, I’ve been faced with non sequitors, shifting goalposts, and straight up avoidance in the form of all-caps shouting, name calling, and even blocking. Many of these people identify as atheists.

We should be atheists, yes, but only peripherally. Skepticism is more important than Atheism. Atheism protects you from false gods, but skepticism inoculates you against all forms of bullshit. It’s time to put skepticism first.

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6 responses to “Skepticism First”

  1. Skep tickle (@Ellesun) says :

    You have at least one reader! And a like-minded one at that.

    Though if you don’t regularly tweet or otherwise link to new posts, I might be a one-post reader :)

    Two recent examples of misreporting that I’ve considered responding to, but haven’t:

    1) Several people in the past day or so have tweeted about a girl with leukemia who supposed was injected with HIV in an attempt at cure. That seemed unlikely, so I looked up more info. Turns out a certain subset of her white blood cells were modified in vitro using a nonpathogenic strain of HIV (to form “autologous chimeric antigen receptor–modified T cells”, if it’s the same treatment reported in New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 for another type of leukemia), then were infused back into her as directed therapy against her cancer cells.

    NY Times article w/ more info than most popular reports: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/health/a-breakthrough-against-leukemia-using-altered-t-cells.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
    2011 NEJM article: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1103849

    At any rate, I haven’t (yet) worked on trying to get that into 140 characters. May do so, still.

    2) At FtB, I think Ed Brayton’s blog, in the comments to a blogpost on the efficacy of HPV vaccine, one commenter linked a chart of (declining) cervical cancer rates in several countries and says (in the comment) that HPV vaccine has been available since the early 1990’s (suggesting that that’s the reason for the decline). That comment is here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2013/06/21/the-hpv-vaccine-works-go-figure/#comment-250029

    …Except the HPV wasn’t been available anywhere before 2006, and the HPV vaccine is not the reason for the decline in cervical cancer to date, anywhere. The decline charted is due to Pap screening and early treatment of significantly abnormal Pap smears. Noone has replied to that comment, including to question the info in it. Bugs me, but it’s FtB so I don’t plan to comment there, so I guess that big ol’ misstatement will just stand for posterity.

  2. Skep tickle (@Ellesun) says :

    All right, you inspired (or shamed) me. I couldn’t fit #SkepticismFirst or a link into the tweet, but sent this out:
    https://twitter.com/Ellesun/status/348596818139033602
    __________

    Re girl w/ leukemia “injected w/ HIV”: No, non-pathogenic HIV was used in vitro to create chimeric antigen receptor T cells against CD-19
    __________

    Onward!

  3. Didgya (@Didgya) says :

    Excellent and to the point. This is what brought me to Atheism in the first place. (Not to be confused with Atheism is only led to be Skepticism or visa versa). I just might add that we need to use that method on ourselves, keeping ourselves intellectually honest before someone else has to.

  4. Matt says :

    “The problem isn’t that people are believing things that are false. The problem is that they’re thinking uncritically, that they’e failing to put in the intellectual legwork required to have a well-defended position”

    I wholeheartedly concur. We now live in a fact-free society, and the rampant wishful thinking will probably get us all killed before long.

    In recent years, I’ve experienced a growing frustration with people who I once thought I agreed with. I now realize that, while I might coincidentally share a position with them, I arrived at that position via logic & reasoning, whereas for them it’s unquestioning dogma.

    I’ve also been bolder about challenging this. Two examples: 1) After I mentioned a lingering injury to an acquaintance, they asked, “have you considered acupuncture?” “No,” I replied, “because it doesn’t work,” then gave a concise debunking. They were visibly displeased, but had nothing to counter with;

    2) A close friend heatedly ranted against Israel, insisting they “end their occupation of Palestine.” I asked them “what occupation? Technically, per international law, there is no occupation.” They’d never heard of the Palestinian Authority or The Roadmap, had no idea Hamas ruled Gaza and had broken with Fatah (doubt they recognized the names Hamas & Fatah), were ignorant of The Right of Return and pretty much the entire post-WWII history of the region. When I spoke of ‘free states’ and used Eire 1922 as an example, they stared at me like I was speaking a foreign language. They opposed Netanyahu’s policies (as do I, ftr) but were unable to offer any alternative other than the vague “Israelis need peace, too.” They were steamed when I told them that. being so completely ignorant on the subject, they didn’t get to have an opinion.

  5. Metalogic42 says :

    @Matt:

    I think the Israel vs. Palestine example raises a very important point. I’ve thus far avoided forming an opinion on the issue specifically *because* I’m uninformed. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. When I’m ignorant of a topic, my first step is to go looking for what the expert consensus is, but who do we consider the experts for this?

    Anyway, the point is: opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one. People don’t look closely enough at their own ignorance, they just have to take a stance even while being uninformed. That’s unskeptical, and it’s a big problem.

  6. Matt says :

    It takes a big person to admit they don’t know something! SJW’s are the worst culprits of taking stances while uninformed.

    There was a big protest last week here over an elephant ride booked for our county fair. The operators were accused of animal cruelty based on a one-minute video of their training & handling practices.

    I was asked what I thought, and I said “I don’t know.” I’m a professional horse trainer, and you could make a one-minute video of me that’d make me appear cruel. Yet everyone who watches me at length, hears me explain my approach, and meets my happy horses, forms a very different opinion.

    On horses, I have very strong, very vocal opinions. And animal cruelty makes my blood boil. (I once nearly got into a fist fight with a farrier who was mistreating a horse.) But re. the elephants, I’d have to research elephant behavior more, visit a circus, talk to the trainer. I might also call my friend, who used to train wild animals for movies & TV. It’s also possible there is no humane way to train & keep elephants. I just don’t know.

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