Pseudoskepticism

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Pseudoskepticism is used in two different ways. One of these is correct and another is used by woo promoters in an attempt to dismiss skepticism that steps on their personal toe.

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[edit] Legitimate use

The correct, though less common, use of the term refers to those who declare themselves merely "skeptical" of a concept, but in reality would not be convinced by any evidence. Common targets of this kind of pseudoskepticism are global warming,[1] evolution, AIDS, and GMOs. This essentially is cloaked denialism, as there is a vast amount of real evidence which is willfully ignored by these pseudoskeptics. Saying "I am skeptical of X" seems more reasonable than saying "I don't accept X and never will regardless of the evidence", even if the latter is more accurate.

Real skeptics are always prepared to change their positions based on new evidence, consistent with the scientific method. An example is Einstein's Cosmological Constant, which has gone through numerous revisions as to whether it applies or not[2] - thus making them immune to the accusation of pseudoskepticism. Clearly if an individual has changed their mind on a topic, that is a positive defense against an accusation that they will not change their mind.

[edit] Usage by woo promoters

"Pseudoskepticism" is most often used as a loaded term by woo-promoters to dismiss skeptical criticism of their beliefs as unfounded. Some promoters of woo maintain that demanding evidence before accepting an idea is an extreme position, and they feel that we should all be agnostic about, well, everything. Given the difficulty of absolutely disproving even the most absurd hypothesis they then go on to maintain that all those who ask for evidence are "pseudoskeptics".

Consequently, these woo-promoters try to claim the high ground by calling themselves "open-minded." The intent is to draw a contrast with the scientific establishment as "closed-minded" for demanding actual evidence.

As an example, SCEPCOP maintains that pseudoskeptics "will never accept a paranormal [explanation] that includes metaphysical dimensions because they believe it's impossible."[3] It would be interesting to see what they think of the scientific method and methodological naturalism, as these don't necessarily "not believe" in paranormal explanations. Instead, once you've explained something paranormal or metaphysical, it ceases to be paranormal or metaphysical, and becomes part of normal naturalistic reality!

A testable hypothesis' mere implausibility is not enough to utterly reject it — but many such hypotheses, such as homeopathy or dowsing, have, nonetheless, been scientifically tested and rejected. Apart from its contradiction of established science, there is no logical reason to declare that, for example, homeopathy wouldn't "work", since worlds where water has a "memory" and homeopathy works are logically possible. But double-blind tests show the chemical argument against homeopathy to be valid. In this sense, the questions of "skepticism" or "pseudoskepticism" are moot.

[edit] Skepticism and agnosticism

In any case, skepticism and agnosticism are not necessarily exclusive positions. If somebody maintains that there are invisible, undetectable fairies at the bottom of their garden, there is no way to prove that this is not the case - though equally there is no supporting evidence and they are essentially non-existent by nature of their being "undetectable". There is a possibility that these beings do exist (by some definitions of the word "exist"), and accordingly it can be argued that "agnosticism" towards the claim is the appropriate position. However, being agnostic about a belief does not mean that there is a 50/50 possibility of its being correct - it merely means there is a possibility. In this case, the improbability of the assertion coupled with the lack of evidence justifies our being extremely agnostic about the assertion; in fact a position of such extreme agnosticism that it is, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from disbelief.

In this particular case we could equally easily call ourselves highly skeptical - there is no practical difference.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

Articles on RationalWiki related to pseudo-studies
Pseudoarcheology - Pseudohistory - Pseudolaw - Pseudolinguistics - Pseudomathematics - Pseudoscience - Pseudopsychology - Pseudoscience list - Pseudoscience in advertising - Pseudoskepticism - Pseudovitamin
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