Author Topic: problems with skeptic podcasting!  (Read 12655 times)

Offline bn

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problems with skeptic podcasting!
« on: July 19, 2012, 03:22:54 PM »
hey everyone.
i have a problem with skeptics podcasts.  >:(

but.
my opinions are a little one sided, because mostly i just yell them at people (who don't yell back)
so i wonder if anyone was interested in having a heated exchange of opinions?
and thereby shape my own opinions?
« Last Edit: July 19, 2012, 03:28:00 PM by bn »
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Offline Ed Lolington

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2012, 03:32:41 PM »
whats your problem (with skeptic podcasting)?

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Offline bn

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2012, 03:36:54 PM »
I don't think that skepics organizations should be carrying the banner for science outreach.
as it stands, i think that they think that their job is to bring science to the people,
and i believe that they are ill suited to it.
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Offline Daneel

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2012, 03:41:31 PM »
Do you walk down the street yelling at people about skeptic podcasting? I think THAT might be your problem with it.

Quote
I don't think that skepics organizations should be carrying the banner for science outreach.
as it stands, i think that they think that their job is to bring science to the people,
and i believe that they are ill suited to it.
Why do you believe that?
I don't now. I try to do science outreach, but I know for a fact that I'm ill suited for the job. But that's why I do it: to be better at it.
I think that if everyone's honest about the reach of their knowledge it's all fine. On of the best think to popularize science, apart from actual science reporting, is listening/reading people passionate about what they love. We may not get everything right, but if they plant the seed of love for science, then you will go and find out the answers yourself; which is the point, anyway.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2012, 03:44:34 PM by Daneel »

Offline bn

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2012, 03:54:38 PM »
Do you walk down the street yelling at people about skeptic podcasting? I think THAT might be your problem with it.

listen man, everyone needs a hobby. even if they're bad at it.

I try to do science outreach, but I know for a fact that I'm ill suited for the job. But that's why I do it: to be better at it.
I think that if everyone's honest about the reach of their knowledge it's all fine. On of the best think to popularize science, apart from actual science reporting, is listening/reading people passionate about what they love. We may not get everything right, but if they plant the seed of love for science, then you will go and find out the answers yourself; which is the point, anyway.

yeah. so my big problem is that skepticism isn't really the same as science. there's a good deal of overlap because they're based in, what is it... rationalism?

but skepticism as I understand it, is the fine art of disbelieving people who are probably trying to lie to you. So you learn all of the different rhetorical ways you can be persuaded, which you probably shouldn't be. Like argument from authority, or straw men arguments.

On the other hand, science is the art of learning what other people have done, forming an idea in your head of how things should work, and then trying to figure out if you're right or not. There's a lot of playing around, and a lot of intuition, and a lot of leaps of faith. the distinction, in my mind, between science and random fake jerk crap, is that there is a lot of finding out that you are wrong, getting up, dusting yourself off, and starting all over again.

and it's this intuition, and leaps of faith, and model construction, which are the primary blind spots in the scientific mind. Scientist can often get persuaded into "agreeing with psychics" and crap like that, because our job isn't to disbelieve, it's to believe and then test.

and i feel that (as I understand it) skeptics don't abide by all this non-concrete faith (which we then test)


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Offline bn

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2012, 03:57:48 PM »
i guess I'd say that science scratches a big itch in the human psyche.

it lets you imagine that you understand how things work.

people love that, and need to feel like they can do it.

which is why they buy into weird pseudo science. because pseudoscientists paint intuitively clear descriptions of how things work.

and skeptics can cut down pseudoscience all they want, but they won't be able to replace the need to understand. so some pseudoscience will probably grow back...

unless passionate scientists get in there and plant some good science to grow in it's place.
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Offline Daneel

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2012, 04:22:44 PM »
and skeptics can cut down pseudoscience all they want, but they won't be able to replace the need to understand. so some pseudoscience will probably grow back...

That's why  Randi talks about the unsinkable rubber duckies.

Look, you make a good distinction but I think that you also have a limited view of what the skeptical movement is about. Yes, it's about refuting pseudoscience, but it's also about communicating the wonders of science and critical thinking. It's like science popularization plus consumer protection. It's a tough act to balance, between the debunking and the "wondering".

Also, skepticism is not just about no believing people who fool you. It's also about knowing how other people can fool themselves and the humbling realization that we can also do it ourselves. It's also a shift in our default way of thinking, stop loving the conclusions and fall in love with the method. That is, the scientific method.

I don't know why people believe weir pseudoscience. It probably has to do with a variety of things. Cognitive biases, cultural imperatives, dogmatic ideology and just plain ignorance. There's actually a fair bit of science being done trying to answer this very question. Very interesting science that, I may add, other scientists could use in their day to day work.

Offline Ed Lolington

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2012, 04:40:16 PM »
I took too long to write what I wanted to and so somehow Daneel wrote it for me? Mods? Anyway, I agree that skepticism and science can co-exist in a weird duality of both imaginative innovation and the questioning of new ideas. I also think that it would be hard for skepticism to exist without the scientific method to use as a measuring stick with which to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Skepticism is not about debunking things. At its heart it's about asking questions.

Offline Bullypulpit

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2012, 07:19:30 PM »
I guess it would depend on how well it was done. If the questions were done with good thought and research it could be well done and thought provoking.
Not sure if either is based in rationalism but science is based well in scientific method if we look at the philosophical concepts behind it.
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Offline Bullypulpit

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2012, 07:22:55 PM »
Actually with sense experience as the basis behind rationalism I guess scientific discovery does fall into that but the ideas behind scientific method go back to Plato.
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Offline stephako

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2012, 03:34:35 AM »
Ben, you are right in that skeptics are not the same as scientists (and hopefully none of them claim that), but neither are most of the people doing awesome documentaries. I don't think you have to be a scientist to bring science to the people, just be passionate about it and try to know what you are talking about (and many of the prominent members of the skeptical community have a science background). So I don't see why they shouldn't be science advocates.

I think the reason skeptics have so much to do with science advocacy is that a lot of people use pseudo science for their purposes and that their is a trend for people to dismiss science as useless. The other point is that if you want to disprove some claim you almost always need some sort of science for it.

I also don't think that skepticism is necessarily against leaps of faith. It just warns you that there is a significant risk to fall. Because, as with good old cartoons, if you are not aware that you are hanging in the air, you might not fall at all.

Quote
and i believe that they are ill suited to it.

Do you have criteria for the suitability for science outreach or is this a gut feeling?
« Last Edit: July 20, 2012, 06:24:44 AM by stephako »
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Offline Daneel

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2012, 07:25:17 AM »
I also don't think that skepticism is necessarily against leaps of faith. It just warns you that there is a significant risk to fall. Because, as with good old cartoons, if you are not aware that you are hanging in the air, you might not fall at all.

I think a good working description of skepticism is "adjusting your beliefs in concordance to the weight of the evidence". So, it's fin to make "leaps of faith" as long as you are aware of what their are and what they are based on.

Offline bn

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2012, 08:10:33 AM »

Do you have criteria for the suitability for science outreach or is this a gut feeling?

yeah,
As Daneel put it so well earlier in the conversation, the skeptic needs a fine understanding of how people can be wrong, how they can fool themselves, and how they can be mislead.

whereas the scientist needs a strong intuitive sense of their field, broad working knowledge of the standing scientific consensus and history of their field.

one big difference between the two camps involves the approach to the fallacy of appeal to authority.

the skeptic refutes the appeal to authority because, lets face it, it gets used a LOT to add credibility to people selling snake oil.

the scientist must, in her heart, accept on faith the words of others who are of good standing in the scientific community. (For instance, all my love for relativity is built upon a trust that all of the people who have verified it (from people doing moon ranging experiments down to arthur eddington and michelson and morley). there aren't enough hours in my professional lifetime to reproduce all of the tests on my own.) this statement must be taken with a clarification that scientists must also have faith in the scientific method and community: we have faith that any fraudulent statements which exist in the literature (if anyone cares about them) will be discovered and corrected in time by people who seek to build on the findings. Thus, scientists trust that the scientific method, and that the scientific community, will fix problems in time.

Thus, the skeptic must refute all faith, while the scientist seeks to rely on it, and trust that those untruths which do exist will be fixed in the future.

Add this to the way the skeptic and the scientist (presuming that the skeptic is not a scientist) differ in how they can communicate a scientific theory. the skeptic is not a technical expert, and can only brush the surface of facts, communicating these facts to the audience. whereas the scientist is a technical expert, and has the capacity to translate their understanding of *why* the theory works the way it does, and how all of the facts are interrelated. the scientist will also, naturally, be a lot more enthusiastic about the subject.

Okay, so the net effect is that when skeptics who aren't scientists try to debunk pseudoscience, they can succeed (and often, much better than the scientists). However, when they try to fill in the hole of understanding which their skeptic-shovel has made with scientific knowledge, the very assertion becomes an appeal to authority (which comes across as disingenuous). also, it tends to be superficial and uninspiring.

whereas the scientist is at peace with their reliance on appeals to authority, since they have a broader working knowledge of their field. they're also better able to describe the complicated interplay between theory and experiment and history; since they have a stronger sense of all these things.

So I'd like to see a lot more scientists doing outreach. because my criteria for suitability for explaining science is that I want to be able to leave with my heart full and my head full of an intuitive sense of the theory.





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Offline Lynx Cat

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2012, 01:02:10 PM »
I took too long to write what I wanted to and so somehow Daneel wrote it for me? Mods?

Yeah, friggin' mods, with their scooters and suits and mod musics!

There's a podcast here in Brazil that I started following recently, which proposes to explore the "frontiers of science", focusing mainly on the distinction between science and myth. In practical terms, though, it mostly ends up being like this:

Person 1: "Okay, let's talk about homeopathy."
Person 2: "Sure. Homeopathy is a silly pseudoscience that endangers people by making them not get proper medical treatment."
Person 3: "And it says some pretty stupid things. Like, for example, they think that [description of some homeopathic principles]."
P2: "Yeah, that's stupid as hell and makes no sense! Right, you guys?"
P1: "Right, of course. It's craaazy. Anyway, seriously folks, homeopathy is wrong. Go to a proper doctor."

In other words, they don't really examine the pseudoscience or fringe science or controversial scientific viewpoint at all - they mostly just point fingers and go "haha, those guys are silly". I used homeopathy as an example because their episode on it, as well as the one on astrology, really ticked me off due to how pointless the whole exercise seemed to me. I mean, who are they talking to? Scientists? Those don't need to hear any of that, and neither do regular people who don't trust homeopathy. If they're talking to homeopathy advocates and users though, they're not really going to accomplish anything other than reinforce the impression that skeptics are arrogant and closed-minded. I think it's hard or impossible to reach out to someone who swears by a pseudoscience or whatever if you don't take it seriously. And yeah, the whole questioning argument to authority, ad hominem, poisoning the well and similar fallacies and then going and doing the very same thing to defend science and debunk pseudoscience does happen, and it comes across very badly.

I consider myself a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, and still the whole focus on debunking pseudoscience and defending science really annoys me. In my personal view, skepticism means not accepting anything at face value, or alternatively, considering that everything is susceptible to questioning. And everything means everything, including science, or the postulate that pseudosciences/mysticism/etc. are false. Sure, it's necessary to take several things for granted in order to have a functioning and productive life, including the idea of accepting established scientific authority - however, that's done only for practical reasons. I think one should keep in mind that while, yes, established science should be considered as "proven true" for all intents and purposes, it's important to not forget that, in principle, any given postulate or conclusion could be wrong. And, in fact, the very reason why I trust science for practical purposes is because it's built on skeptical principles, like falsifiability and the necessity of experimentation and peer review.
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Offline Daneel

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Re: problems with skeptic podcasting!
« Reply #14 on: July 20, 2012, 01:04:01 PM »
I don't know, Ben, I think that most skeptics actually understand the subtleties of the argument from authority. As I said, one aspect of skepticism is understanding how easy it is to fool ourself and to distrust your own judgement. That's a humbling experience that make us rely on the authority of the scientific consensus.

You said you were listening to the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, right? In many episodes Steve Novella talks about the authority of the scientific consensus. I remember distinctly one where he talked about the extinction of the dinosaurs and how he had to defer to the scientific consensus on the matter since he wasn't a palaeontologist.
It comes down to the principle of adjusting your beliefs to the weight of the evidence, really. In my mind, a scientific consensus is actual evidence that something is probably right.
I do agree that there a lot of skeptic minded people who don't really understand this distinctions and may be brush any argument from authority as invalid, even though there's such a thing as a valid authority. I found that some skeptics have a hard time wrapping their head around global warming and would accuse me of committing a fallacy when I invoked the solid scientific consensus on the subject.

Anyway, I think I've derailed from the topic and have to go now.
My main point, Ben, is that you seem to have a simplified idea of how a skeptic my operate and what skepticism stands for. I personally think that every good scientists needs to learn about cognitive biases, cognitive heuristics, pareidolia, publication bias, and all those cool ways our brains deceive themselves. That way they can make better and more robust science. If not, we have researchers like Daryl Bem (the dude with the psi paper published a while  ago in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) who don't really understand statistics, for example, and think that it's ok to test for every random correlation that you might find in your noisy data (specially in psychology) and then call it a discovery.