• Heads and Assholes

    Over at Skepchick, Amy Davis Roth has a post up putting the entire skeptic movement on blast. Here is the basic takeaway, in a nutshell:

    Skeptics are all awful people because if you think that the biggest problems one faces in life is whether or not there is a bigfoot or if someone thinks they are psychic, you’re actually a huge asshole. There are much bigger problems in society. Ignoring those bigger issues to pick on people who you think you are smarter than makes you a terrible person who is blind to the real problems in the world.

    That is a paraphrase of an unnamed correspondent, but Roth ultimately concludes that she was correct on all points. There are at least three things glaringly wrong with this analysis. Most obviously, skeptics do not generally insist that scientifically examining the claims of cryptozoologists and psychics (among many other testable claims) are among the biggest problems one is likely to face. Indeed, I challenge anyone to find a single skeptic of any notoriety who has ever said anything remotely like that.

    Secondly, skeptics do not claim we must ignore social issues in order to do work on scientific skepticism. One need not look far on Skeptic Ink to find us writing about social issues such as economic inequality, gun control, abortion, racism, mass incarceration, gay rights, along with a whole host of others.

    Finally, this analysis invokes the fallacy of relative privation (aka “Dear Muslima”) which often serves to delegitimize working on a small local problem by invoking some vastly worse problem elsewhere in the world. In this case, the author really should know better, having been on the bad end of that bad argument before.

    Roth goes on to characterize the skeptic movement as a load of rich white men sipping scotch:

    The only issues that were acceptable, were issues that rich white men could joke about over an expensive scotch. Wage gaps, gun control, healthcare for women, the school to prison pipeline or police violence in black communities were not something that skeptics could be bothered with. Theirs is a game of Bigfoot and blaming religion which comfortably allows them to slip back into making fun of people they think they are smarter than. Skepticism is for white men.

    I’m not about to apologize for my skin color or my love of expensive scotch. As to the various issues listed above, most of them do not fall under the remit of scientific skepticism (described here) simply because we aren’t generally dealing with scientifically testable claims, but values claims. (A few exceptions may apply here, such as when we are using science education and critical thinking to refute typical anti-choice arguments.)

    Even if none of the social and scientific facts on the ground were in any dispute, we would still have social struggles such as wage gaps, access to healthcare, mass incarceration, and so forth. As moral agents, humanists, and voters we have a duty to address these issues, but we need not reconceptualize or divorce skepticism in order to do so.

    Your thoughts?

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.
    • I have gelato

      “Your thoughts”

      Once expensive scotch was mentioned my whiteness took control and forced me to ignore all other problems and contemplate scotch.

    • Bram Kaandorp

      Wow. Someone on Skepchick used the “dear muslima” argument.

      That’s rich…

      What’s next? Is she going to argue that feminists can’t be atheists because the dictionary doesn’t include nonbelief in deities in its definition?

    • My thoughts? Is there anyone left who actually cares about what a bunch of entitled, racist and sexist SJW brats complain about?

    • BertB

      Why is it wrong to point out irrational or illogical cognition on issues of any magnitude? Of course, one can be arrogant and abusive in the process but that is usually counterproductive anyway. I must add, that no matter how polite and reasonable one is, arguing against a person’s faith-based belief is usually futile. The only reason to do it is so that it might influence other readers. And that rarely works unless the argument is convincing….and polite.

    • Try as I might, I’m having a hard time reading her as saying much more than, “If you don’t share my values and priorities, you are a bad person.” I used to think this sort of thing was primarily the purview of Christians. She and others like her have helped me to see that I was wrong.

    • An Ardent Skeptic

      Amy Davis Roth is confused about what skepticism is. It isn’t promoting the causes she feels are important. The mission of skeptic organizations should be to teach people how to evaluate claims using reason and evidence. As a woman who has been involved in the promotion of skepticism for the last 30 years, I find her claim that skepticism is for white men who drink expensive scotch rather insulting. The promotion of skepticism has never been about what’s between someone’s legs. It is about what’s between someone’s ears.

      • If it’s any consolation, she has recently been thrown under the bus by “skeptics” even more ideologically pure than herself. Live by the sword…

      • An Ardent Skeptic

        Actually, I’m not the least bit happy that Surly Amy has been “thrown under the bus”. It’s just more of the same nonsense that has pushed me away from the skeptic and atheist communities. This incident shows just how intolerant and unforgiving people can be. Surly Amy showed some contrition for having used what some people consider an inappropriate word, yet she is not to be forgiven.

        I’m thinking of going back to church where people are regularly reminded “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” 😉

      • BertB

        If only they practiced what is preached at them…

      • An Ardent Skeptic

        Very true!

      • BertB

        It seems to be human nature to demonize those who disagree with you, particularly on moral issues. Well, no that is not quite right.
        As I said here (//bigelowbert.com/?p=737), self-righteousness rears its head on issues as trivial as what car you should buy.

      • You’re a better humanist that I am. After Roth’s big public-shaming art show I’m willing to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude when she is publicly shamed in turn for committing microaggressions against stupid people.

    • Bram Kaandorp

      Maybe I shouldn’t have read the comments accompanying the article, but I have the nagging feeling that I should stop being a skeptic to tip the balance more towards non-white non-males.

      Does anyone know a good pseudoscience I can believe in?

      Holy Zarquin singing fish…

    • Otto Greif

      The claim wage gaps, the school to prison pipeline, etc., are real problems merits skepticism.

      • What sort of evidence would convince you that a gender wage gap actually exists in some given field? I may be able to help.

      • Otto Greif
      • That article references various forms of evidence revealing the problem of gender wage gaps as a result of disparate social expectations placed on women and men. For example:

        Another important reason for the gender gap is the difference in labor force attachment between men and women. Women are likely to leave their careers temporarily for childbirth and raising children. Such leaves may be associated with a decrease in human capital and with temporary delays in training and promotion, which consequently lead to lower wages. In addition, women are more likely to work part time and less likely to work overtime than men because of family responsibilities.

        One study found that, because women have weaker labor force attachment than men, women tend to be assigned to positions where turnover is less costly. As a result, women are employed in positions that have a shorter duration of on-the-job training and that use less capital. The study concludes that these differences in on-the-job training and capital in positions filled by men and women, along with an implied lower value placed on women’s prior labor market experience, account for a substantial part of the gap in wages between males and females.

        This sounds like just the sort of inequality that feminism generally seeks to minimize or eliminate.

      • Otto Greif

        I think women leaving jobs to raise children is a good thing.

      • Isn’t that just a values statement which we cannot subject to skeptical analysis?

        Alternatively, are you making some empirical claim about outcomes?

      • Otto Greif

        That statement can be subjected to skeptical analysis, from a number of angles.

      • Sounds like something I’d like to see.

    • jg29a

      My thoughts? I call myself a “skeptic”, but mostly what I seem to be is pro-science within social science. I don’t think that I have to, or ought to, abandon careful reasoning or statistical literacy in order to figure out how to actually help some slices of the worst off among the best off. The arguments of such as these to join them impress me as little as the arguments of churches that they help the poor in Africa, and for the same reasons. Number one: I couldn’t bring myself to believe the bullshit anyway. Number two: the poor in Africa can be helped in better ways. Number three: those missionaries obviously care more about proselytizing than helping anyhow.

      • BertB

        Amen, Brother!

    • josh

      Do people like this show up at community food drives and bawl them out for not putting a stop to the Iraq war?