Talk:Pseudoskepticism

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Contemporary usage[edit]

Why is all the 'contemportary usage' parapsychologists (pseudoscientists) attacking people who disagree with them? Hows about we trim back the ghost-and-UFO-promotion and include maybe holocaust denial or AIDS denial? This is horribly POV, promoting supernatural phenomena and ignoring ACTUAL pseudoscepticism. Not that there aren't a few pseudosceptics in CSISOP or whatever but I would imagine most members simply haven't seen sufficient evidence. Earfetish1 (talk) 10:47, 5 January 2009 (UTC)

Why do you see a need to trim any sourced material which is not incorrect? If you have sources for "ACTUAL pseudoscepticism" (including what that phrase means) please help improve this article. Alternately, if we cannot find usage examples beyond "parapsychologists (pseudoscientists) attacking people who disagree with them" then we really need to change the lead. NJGW (talk) 19:37, 7 January 2009 (UTC)

Thoughts on reading the article[edit]

The key to this article is that as a modern term, pseudo-skeptic was introduced by Marcello Truzzi. Truzzi's argument in On Pseudo Skepticism is a subtle one:

Critics who assert negative claims, but who mistakenly call themselves "skeptics," often act as though they have no burden of proof placed on them at all, though such a stance would be appropriate only for the agnostic or true skeptic. A result of this is that many critics seem to feel it is only necessary to present a case for their counter-claims based upon plausibility rather than empirical evidence. Thus, if a subject in a psi experiment can be shown to have had an opportunity to cheat, many critics seem to assume not merely that he probably did cheat, but that he must have, regardless of what may be the complete absence of evidence that he did so cheat and sometimes even ignoring evidence of the subject's past reputation for honesty. Similarly, improper randomization procedures are sometimes assumed to be the cause of a subject's high psi scores even though all that has been established is the possibility of such an artifact having been the real cause. Of course, the evidential weight of the experiment is greatly reduced when we discover an opening in the design that would allow an artifact to confound the results. Discovering an opportunity for error should make such experiments less evidential and usually unconvincing. It usually disproves the claim that the experiment was "air tight" against error, but it does not disprove the anomaly claim.

Thus Truzzi regards the position of the "agnostic or true skeptic" to be one of provisional disbelief. He distinguishes the line-crossing of the pseudo-skeptic in a very subtle manner. If a possible flaw is discovered in an experiment, this reduces the evidential value of the experiment, but (he claims) some investigators go so far as to claim that the flawed experiment disproves the claim, but these people fail in skepticism because they do not recognise that the burden of proof is now on them.

Now the lead of our article refers to Truzzi, but then it goes off the rails a bit:

University of Washington electrical research engineer William J. Beaty describes pseudo-skepticism as;
"a variety of pseudoscience: the behavior of highly biased 'sneering scoffers' who try to legitimize their prejudice by donning the mantle of science and proper skepticism. They claim to support reason/logic while in fact filling their arguments with plenty of ad-hominems, straw-man, poisoning-the-well, and numerous other emotion-enflaming fallacies and debating tactics."

Now Beaty here is apparently being quoted by Steven B. Krivit in The Rebirth of Cold Fusion: Real Science, Real Hope, Real Energy. Beaty runs a website, called Weird Science, which is well worth a visit. However his views on science and skepticism (as opposed to his science, which is admirable) seem to be rather on the edge. It's probably inappropriate to quote him in the lead section of an article on the subject--I'd prefer to see a more extensive description of Truzzi's position supported by quotes from Truzzi.

Another problem with this article is that some of it is an essay. For instance the much of the section "Pseudo-skepticism and scientific method" is unreferenced and indeed seems to be a synthesis of uncited external sources.

The section "Contemporary usage" just seems to be an assorted set of quotes most likely gleaned from googling.

The main problem here is that a succession of editors have simply jumped in and added descriptions of their favorite primary sources without regard to weight.

Truzzi's usage and his essay have reasonably wide circulation (although I'm not convinced that the usage is widely enough cited in reliable secondary sources to merit a whole article, I'll hold my, er, skepticism in check for now).

I propose that the best thing to do would be to trim the article down and limit it to a discussion of Truzzi's critique of skepticism, some of the other references that appear in reasonably widely published sources (not just stuff on the web, please!) and the section "Other usages" which describes uses of the term mostly unrelated to Truzzi's coinage. --TS 14:31, 7 January 2009 (UTC)

A really big problem with this article is that it was at one time simply a vehicle for Truzzi's view points, and an extension of the ongoing tension on Wikipedia between "skeptics" and "non-skeptics" (mainstream vs. fringe). You can see this in the extensive discussions above. I tried cleaning it up, or at least changing the wording to reflect the fact that this article is just about Truzzi, but that wasn't quite accepted and now we have all these examples of other people using the term. Perhaps the thing to do is to merge it with Truzzi, as this seems to be a wp:NEO problem. NEO states that you need sources about the topic of the article, not ones that just mention the term in passing. A google scholar search shows this type of source may not exist. NJGW (talk) 19:49, 7 January 2009 (UTC)
I think it may well belong with Truzzi, but at the moment I'm only concerned with removing the undue weight, which is essentially a load of uses of the term apparently gleaned from googling (perhaps in reaction to your earlier attempts to hightlight that it's basically about Truzzi).
As I've tried to show, Truzzi's point is quite a subtle one. He deliberately brings up the distinction between atheist and agnosticism, which is also rather subtle. --TS 08:36, 8 January 2009 (UTC)
Okay, I had a go at clearing the clutter, including a huge amount of linkspam. The "Contemporary uses" section probably needs work. --TS 08:57, 8 January 2009 (UTC)
I had a closer look at the "Contemporary" section and didn't see anything particularly worthy of note. I think we could easily encapsulate this entry as "Marcello Truzzi once compares skeptics to agnostics and suggested the term 'pseudo-skeptic' for those who failed to adopt an agnostic approach to extraordinary claims". Nothing seems to have been added to that over the past three decades. --TS 20:50, 9 January 2009 (UTC)

Proposed merge with scientific skepticism or Marcello Truzzi[edit]

I'm proposing that this article, which really just relates to Marcello Truzzi's critique of a certain trend in scientific skepticism, be merged either to scientific skepticism or Marcello Truzzi. Discuss this at talk:scientific skepticism. --TS 14:46, 11 January 2009 (UTC)

I left a comment on the first talk page already suggesting that there needs to be a coupe of sentences there, but from looking at the second article I think what it already has covers this topic quite admirably, so this article should just redirect to that one. DreamGuy (talk) 17:26, 11 January 2009 (UTC)
I've gone ahead with the merge to Marcello Truzzi. --TS 22:17, 17 January 2009 (UTC)
I've gone ahead and undid your improper, discussion-free merge. --Wjbeaty (talk) 21:55, 24 January 2009 (UTC)
Hi, you'll find the discussion on talk:scientific skepticism. No problem with undoing it. --TS 22:12, 24 January 2009 (UTC)
But I also notice that you've hauled back into the article a rather large amount of material that I had deleted in a cleanup. Could you explain why you did that, please? Please come and discuss your concerns at Talk:Scientific skepticism#Marcello_Truzzi:_a_proposed_merge_for_pseudoskepticism. --TS 22:14, 24 January 2009 (UTC)

Some editing[edit]

I removed some of the mere mentions, but they could be re-inserted if they go more in depth. I don't have access to all the source material. The other uses are interesting, but only incidentally. I kept some mentions since they actually do go in depth with some surrounding problems that people have with pseudoskepticism other than the dry definition per Truzzi. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Benjaminbruheim (talkcontribs) 05:34, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

I've changed the following unsourced statement:
Generally the term is used for somebody who declares an idea to be wrong without inquiry into the field or doing experimentation and thus commiting an a priori fallacy.
My proposed replacement correctly characterizes the term:
Generally the term is used for somebody who declares disbelief rather than simply withholding belief.
--TS 16:07, 25 January 2009 (UTC)
I've removed the section "Pseudo-skepticism and the scientific method", which seems to be a mini-essay, entirely original research. --TS 16:13, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

Hufford, Leiter[edit]

I've removed the reference to Hufford because he seems to be applying a general critique to the systemic bias of scientific culture against woo as "radical skepticism" (which would include skeptics such as Truzzi!) --TS 17:33, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

This is a common misconception. Truzzi's zeteticism is closely related to pyrrhonism which is a step less skeptical than radical skepticism. Radical skepticism is about being skeptical about everything while pyrrhonism is about witholding judgement until you know everything. The difference is subtle, but in practice very different. It's worth noting because often a flawed assumption about these philosophical perspectives lead to a lot of debacle: A person who allows a radical position to be spoken can be misunderstood of supporting it. --Benjaminbruheim (talk) 02:04, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

There are also problems with Leiter--he is extremely unfocussed and it's a fringe opinion. Basically this seems to be a bit of special pleading, complaining that scientists who dismiss the paranormalist claims won't "read significantly into the literature on the subjects about which they are most skeptical". This is related to Hufford in a way: Leiter doesn't like the way science works. Why would a scientist read a book written by and for credulous people when there is such a dearth of actual scientific evidence and such a multiplicity of extraordinary claims? --TS 17:37, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

I aggree with the removal of Hufford. He is a folklorist commenting on "most of the scientific community", and he is talking about his personal perceptions of the feild of science 24 years ago (seems a non-notable source for this sort of issue). I don't know of many true scientists who will even say anything definitive about their own areas of study, much less the areas of other researchers.
Leiter is misquoting Truzzi. He's says Truzzi used the term specifically for "organized skepticism", but doesn't get into what's wrong with an organization of skeptics other than calling PhACT "dysfunctional." If this adds to the understanding of our concept, I'll have to be shown how. NJGW (talk) 18:58, 25 January 2009 (UTC)
I tweaked your comment to stop it interleaving with mine (which made the section almost impossible for me to read). --TS 19:13, 25 January 2009 (UTC)
This is wrong. He is not quoting Truzzi. Leiter posits that organized skepticism is not scientific skepticism or healthy skepticism but pseudoskeptical. I fixed the link to the article so you can check for yourself. I'll read over this and his follow up article. --Benjaminbruheim (talk) 02:17, 26 January 2009 (UTC)
When Leiter says, "organized skepticism appears to be something very different: it might be called [...] in the words of Marcello Truzzi, pseudoskepticism," he is implying that Truzzi uses this application. You're right that he's different in that he calls them "scientifically inclined, but psychologically scarred." Now that I read it again, I see he's not talking about all organized skeptics, just the ones that treat the organization like an AA of sorts.
I'm having a hard time seeing what this has to do with the concept, as Leiter has a different idea of the word than is presented in the lead. He's not even talking about pseudoskepticism anyway, but about organized skepticism (as this discussion of Leiter's discussion backs up). Besides, who is he and why is he notable? NJGW (talk) 04:07, 26 January 2009 (UTC)
L David Leiter is just this guy. The term "peer review" as applied to JSE appears to mean that the paper is read and checked by other members of the SSE before publication. I don't think we should be giving this fellow's muddled opinion much prominence. --TS 05:40, 26 January 2009 (UTC)
I agree he's not very notable, except that he caused a number of back and forths on the topic. But it was not very constructive and mostly just an extended version of internet-drama. The edit I did was just to clarify the article before it is eventually removed. I am still interested in finding the source of Huffords' comment, since it seems very relevant to "pathological skepticism". I also think that the article lacks a "positive theory" - which the previous "science"-essay that was removed acted as. --Benjaminbruheim (talk) 06:00, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

Blackmore[edit]

I've restored the Blackmore quote from the source. I don't know where the previous--completely different--statement attributed to Blackmore came from. --TS 17:46, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

This needs more context. First of all, the two places I see Kennedy quoting Blackmore disaggree over whether she said "worst kind of pseudoskepticism,"[1] or "worse kind of pseudoskepticism".[2] Either one doesn't give us much context, as it implies she thinks there's more than one kind of pseudoskepticism, and the follow up quote is just her ranting about males not believing. There is no clear connection between Blackmore's use of the term and the quoted sentences. Someone needs to find the 1994 source and verify what's actually being said.
The non-Blackmore quote was originally attributed to "University of Washington electrical research engineer William J. Beaty" in Steven B. Krivit's, The Rebirth of Cold Fusion: Real Science, Real Hope, Real Energy. If anybody has access to this we can verify what's acctually said there. Interestingly, Wjbeaty is the username of the person that reverted the redirect to a version with "William J Beaty" in the lead. NJGW (talk) 19:29, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

The table[edit]

There's a table that goes "Truzzi attributed the following characteristics to pseudoskeptics". I tried to balance it by adding a similar table describing Truzzi's ideal of skepticism.

What concerns me about this is that it reduces Truzzi's nuanced opinion to a set of sound-bites.

Truzzi himself wrote:


"In science, the burden of proof falls upon the claimant; and the more extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded. The true skeptic takes an agnostic position, one that says the claim is not proved rather than disproved. He asserts that the claimant has not borne the burden of proof and that science must continue to build its cognitive map of reality without incorporating the extraordinary claim as a new "fact." Since the true skeptic does not assert a claim, he has no burden to prove anything. He just goes on using the established theories of "conventional science" as usual. But if a critic asserts that there is evidence for disproof, that he has a negative hypothesis --saying, for instance, that a seeming psi result was actually due to an artifact--he is making a claim and therefore also has to bear a burden of proof....


"...Thus, if a subject in a psi experiment can be shown to have had an opportunity to cheat, many critics seem to assume not merely that he probably did cheat, but that he must have, regardless of what may be the complete absence of evidence that he did so cheat and sometimes even ignoring evidence of the subject's past reputation for honesty. Similarly, improper randomization procedures are sometimes assumed to be the cause of a subject's high psi scores even though all that has been established is the possibility of such an artifact having been the real cause. Of course, the evidential weight of the experiment is greatly reduced when we discover an opening in the design that would allow an artifact to confound the results. Discovering an opportunity for error should make such experiments less evidential and usually unconvincing. It usually disproves the claim that the experiment was "air tight" against error, but it does not disprove the anomaly claim."

The first quote is already in our article on Truzzi, the second is from two paragraphs further on in Truzzi's article.

I think that taken together these two lengthy quotes give a very accessible explanation of the phenomenon he was concerned about. The beauty of the writing above is that it depersonalizes the term and lays the issues bare--something even Truzzi himself was not always at pains to do. --TS 05:55, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

The link farm[edit]

Some of this is good, most of it is junk. Some of it is just broken links. I've brought it here for now. The WikiQuote thing didn't work because the section it pointed to no longer exists on WikiQuote.

--TS 06:34, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

The problem[edit]

I don't think the pathological skepticism thing holds up. The examples we have here, Leiter, Meynell, Kluft, even Blackmore to a certain extent, are diverse and focus on different aspects. Leiter has encountered former fundies who have swung to the other side of the pendulum. Meynall basically caricatures orthodox skeptical approaches. Kluft wishes for more dispassionate (and presumably less derisive) skeptics. Blackmore comes closest to a genuine characteristic when she highlights a priori dismissal. She seems to be using the term "pseudoskepticism" in the same sense as Truzzi.

And perhaps Truzzi's "psi" example seemed more weighty when Geller was still claiming to be doing something other than entertain people.

All of those objections are coming from the heterodox side (Blackmore still chafes), and they're very weak and disorganized. Can somebody convince me, perhaps with examples from the "link farm" above, that there's a coherent phenomenon distinct from Truzzi's "biting off more than one can chew" pseudo-skepticism? --TS 08:12, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

I suppose what I'm getting at is that there are bad painters, there are names for bad painting, such as "daubing", but there is no article on bad painting, or pathological painting, and daubing is a redirect to wattle and daub, an entirely different meaning of the word. There is a phenomenon known as pathological science, but compared to the few comments about pathological skepticism this is an absolutely vast field, with sources by Nobel Prize-winners and science professors. I suspect that pathological skepticism may be more towards the "daubing" end of the spectrum of "bad ways of doing things that have names" than the "pathological science" end. Significant criticisms of scientific skepticism (and there are some in the link farm) should probably be mentioned in scientific skepticism, but probably do not need a separate article in my view. --TS 01:04, 27 January 2009 (UTC)
There has been no response in over a week. I'm inclined to restore the redirect, and include the Blackmore quotation as an example of the use of the term with the same meaning by others. The "link farm" contains much dross, but I propose to move it to the talk page of scientific skepticism to see if there's material in it that can be worked into that article. --TS 04:35, 5 February 2009 (UTC)
I agree, restore the redirect. There's just no reason to have this article as a separate toic. DreamGuy (talk) 19:24, 5 February 2009 (UTC)

I agree, and I've restored the redirect. --Akhilleus (talk) 19:39, 5 February 2009 (UTC)

I apologize but I missed this conversation. Can I request that we do a proper "Merge" discussion before we do such a redirect? Thanks. -- Levine2112 discuss 19:47, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

Merger proposal[edit]

Okay, I set up a proper merge template and am opening this for community discussion. Thanks again! -- Levine2112 discuss 19:50, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

Undid it. We can see if there's consensus to undo it, but this has been done twice already. NJGW (talk) 19:53, 18 February 2009 (UTC)
Okay. Can you please point me to the two proper Merge conversations? I can't seem to find it (except for one informal one on this page from 2007). Thanks. -- Levine2112 discuss 19:57, 18 February 2009 (UTC)
"Proper"? Is there such a thing as an "unproper merge conversation"? This was discussed extensively over the course of months. Read the talk page and archives. Feel free to state your case, but existing consensus is that they should be merged. NJGW (talk) 20:00, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

The merge process that's been followed is just fine, since merging has blissfully remained free of the elaborate processes involved in WP:AFD, WP:RM, etc. Obviously I think the merge was a good idea, too. --Akhilleus (talk) 20:12, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

I'm not sure if it was a good idea or not. I'm not really commenting on that at the moment. I just want to make sure that the standard protocol (including a merge template on this and the target article) was followed. Above I see a decision made by a limited amount of editors without the benefit of such a template. The templates are used to garner more community input. That is the way to properly propose a merge and have a discussion. If such a process has already occured, that is fine. I am just asking to be pointed to some diff of the article or section of the talk page where the "Merge proposal" discussion happened. Thanks. -- Levine2112 discuss 20:37, 18 February 2009 (UTC)
If you're not commenting about the redirect then you're disrupting Wikipedia to make a wp:POINT. Please don't do that. Have a look at the article history and the process above, in which a group of editors (and by the very nature of WP, a group will ALWAYS be limited) whittled down the article TWICE until they realized there was nothing left worth its own article. You were bold, I reverted, let's discuss what you think the issue with the redirect is, not what you think the only way to do a merge is. NJGW (talk) 20:44, 18 February 2009 (UTC)
The article was still in flux, but I found it pointless to edit with people who were more concerned about getting the article deleted than developing an article on the philosophical debate that caused the schism in csicop. The same kind of debate happened repeatedly on every topic on this schism. Just check out all the links in the article now pointing to the truzzi article. And how all the references that were in place in the article has been moved into a a biography on Truzzi, ie not his work. It's silly and the wp:POINT was really just a bunch of editors feel pseudoskepticism is a touchy subject. Remember this article started as "pathological skepticism" - but renamed pseudoskepticsm later on. This edit-and-reduce-then-delete tactic is annoying to us editors who like to return to articles when we DO find something to add instead of getting it deleted because we can't present data on the subject within two days. --Benjaminbruheim (talk) 02:38, 20 February 2009 (UTC)
I would suggest that you continue to add to the "Pseudoskepticism" section of the Truzzi article. If enough well-sourced, encyclopaedic information is added there which establishes the notability of the concept "Pseudoskepticism", then it will become too big for the Truzzi article, and as such, we would be mandated to split the Pseudoskepticism information off into its own article. -- Levine2112 discuss 02:56, 20 February 2009 (UTC)
Well, I feel it is bad form, because anything on pathological skepticism belongs here and not to Truzzi. But I guess there's no option at this pace. I'd prefer a stub notice rather than being forced into a section in a barely relevant article; and notice what's gone in the merge. --Benjaminbruheim (talk) 03:09, 20 February 2009 (UTC)
I agree. I think the merge was decided on and executed poorly. That said, I am not sure what I would have "voted" if this had gone through the proper merge procedure. For now, don't think it weird to add non-Truzzi-related information to the "Pseudoskepticism" portion of the Marcello Truzzi article. For all intents and purposes, that section is the Pseudoskepticism article now and can and should be treated as such. Again, if that section becomes too overwhelming and irrelevant for the Truzzi article, then splitting it off to its own article would be warranted. -- Levine2112 discuss 03:13, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

Benjamin, the fact that there used to be an article called "pathological skepticism" does not mean that you should try to change what used to be here into that topic. If there is enough to recreate that article, then there is no reason not to create the article under that name. Under this name however, there is not enough for an article. I think Levine's advice about editing Truzzi is good advice, and that if you feel too restricted there, you could try recreating Pathological skepticism... though you should read up on the debates surrounding its move so you know the pitfalls to watch out for. NJGW (talk) 05:24, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

That article was this article. This article is about the concept pseudoskepticism and the word pseudoskepticism was solely chosen because it was a better designator. That is from reading and following the debate. That the article turned into specifically defining pseudoskepticism and not the wider (and with more names) the phenomena and concept is because editors seems to have forgotten this. Actually it would rather make sense to merge it with scientific skepticism since that article is now devoid from criticism (and that is due to the same process that this article has gone under). And pseudoskepticism is mostly a critique of the shallowness of the culture surrounding scientific skepticism after all. --Benjaminbruheim (talk) 09:13, 20 February 2009 (UTC)
I haven't been around long enough to have been a part of those changes. Making Scientific skepticism a more dynamic article may be a good idea too, as long as it's done well and without being too attached to this term. I'm just concerned that, given the sources I've seen and dug up personally, any article under the name 'pseudoskepticism' would be a wp:coatrack for Truzzi's philosophy... which it didn't even do so well to begin with. NJGW (talk) 15:48, 20 February 2009 (UTC)
It has been stated that the merger was not tagged and discussed. That is incorrect as can be seen in the history of this merger, which was first proposed on January 11th with formal taggings. --TS 07:29, 20 February 2009 (UTC)
For clarification, I was looking for a merge tag and subsequent formal discussion about merging this article with Marcello Truzzi. The merge tag which you added on January 11 was for Scientific skepticism, not to Marcello Truzzi. I see that a discussion happened not here on this article talk page, but rather at Talk:Scientific_skepticism#Marcello_Truzzi:_a_proposed_merge_for_pseudoskepticism. That's fine. But I don't see much of a consensus for such a merger there. I see three editors in favor and two editors against. Am I missing something? -- Levine2112 discuss 08:37, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

In Summary[edit]

So to summarize, I believe that the first part of the article may be taken as an explanation of the way in which "pseudoskeptic" was a neologism developed in the middle of the nineteenth century to describe the philosophical overreach that tempted young European gentlemen who, having received proper upbringings in good Christian homes, encountered troubling cognitive dissonance upon reaching educated, thoughtful adulthood.

At the same time the second part of the article describes the hijack of this very word at he end of the twentieth century by an obtuse and derivative sociology teacher of no particular merit who provided the stunning revelation, constituting absolutely no news whatsoever among the community of thoughtful skeptics, that James Randi can often be a kind of a prick.

Is that correct?

Rt3368 (talk) 08:16, 6 October 2013 (UTC)