Weird Research, Anomalous Physics

Other Websites: Skeptic's pages

Some 'Skeptical' sources are filled with shameless emotional bias and intolerance of dissenting opinion. They adopt a stance of hostile apriori disbelief, they fill their arguments with logical fallacies, and they cultivate an attitude of sneering disgust for their so-called 'gullible' opponents. At the same time they hop on the coattails of science by presenting themselves as the voice of "reason." And despite their constant use of dishonest rhetorical techniques and fallacies of logic, they're convinced that they support rationality. In a word, they display the behavior which is the very definition of "pseudoscience."

However, we need to remain aware that many skeptics are not like this Many skeptics actually practice reason and critical thinking, rather than simply giving them lip service and then ignoring them. Some examples are below.

"I am not very skeptical... a good deal of skepticism in a scientific man is advisable to avoid much loss of time, but I have met not a few men, who... have often thus been deterred from experiments or observations which would have proven servicable." - Charles Darwin

The noble art of losing face
may one day save the human race
and turn into eternal merit
what weaker minds would call disgrace.
- Piet Hein

"In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion." -Carl Sagan


"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance--     that principle is contempt prior to investigation." - Herbert Spencer, British philosopher
"The enemy of knowledge and science is irrationalism, not religion" - Stephen Jay Gould
"Our worst enemies here are not the ignorant and simple, however cruel; our worst enemies are the intelligent and corrupt." -Graham Greene
"A danger sign of the lapse from true skepticism into dogmatism is an inability to respect those who disagree." - Dr. Leonard George
"You can get into a habit of thought in which you enjoy making fun of all those other people who don't see things as clearly as you do. We have to guard carefully against it." - Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP meeting
"People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs." - Carl Sagan
"...The chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is its polarization: Us vs. Them -- the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons; that if you're sensible, you'll listen to us; and if not, to hell with you. This is nonconstructive. It does not get our message across. It condemns us to permanent minority status." - Carl Sagan
"The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there's no place for it in the endeavor of science." - Carl Sagan
"arguments about the personality of somebody who disagrees with you -- are irrelevant; they can be sleazeballs and be right, and you can be a pillar of the community and be wrong. " - Carl Sagan
"It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place." - H. L. Mencken
"The right to search for the truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be the truth." - Albert Einstein
"However, even someone who is a 100% knee jerk pseudoskeptic is still right 99% of the time by accident."
- A. Erple, PhACT group


The 'frontier' scientists must admit that the skeptics have a point: pseudoscience and "pathological science" are very real. Free energy and Antigravity and Psychic phenomena might be genuine. This doesn't mean that the world isn't filled with self-deluded scientists and with crackpots, to say nothing of Creationists and Holocaust revisionists, etc.

If we truely desire to understand the world, then we are forced to fight constantly for clear vision. We must fight constantly against our expectation bias, against our human tendency to see only what we want to see. Researchers who assume it's easy to avoid self-delusions and wishful thinking... are probably the victims of self-delusions and wishful thinking. It takes quite a bit of effort to avoid these pitfalls. The effort starts with a painfully honest self-examination, wherein we discover just how large our personal capacity for self-delusion can be.

The best article I've ever encountered on this topic is Richard Feynman's CARGO CULT SCIENCE, in the paper's second half where he discusses the integrity, humility, and unusual honesty which is required of everyone who pursues science.

"The World is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything" - Albert Einstein


"The man who cannot occasionally imagine events and conditions of existence that are contrary to the causal principle as he knows it will never enrich his science by the addition of a new idea." - Max Planck
It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps him young. -- Konrad Lorenz

Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? No. That well-known phrase about "extraordinary claims" contains a formula for rejecting any new idea or discovery on the grounds that the evidence is never "extraordinary" enough.

Instead, we should distrust anyone who has any agenda besides the quest for truth. This goes for the "skeptics" and "believers" both. Our enemy is not credulous delusion, our real enemy is bias of any kind. Huxley says it well (although I would add that HATRED of the marvelous is an equally biasing force)...

"Trust a witness in all matters in which neither his self-interest, his passions, his prejudices, nor the love of the marvelous is strongly concerned. When they are involved, require corroborative evidence in exact proportion to the contravention of probability by the thing testified." - T. H. Huxley

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