Respectful Insolence

Can you count the straw men about skepticism?

Woo-meisters love to build massive straw men about what skepticism is, the better to tear it down with gusto and paint skeptics as close-minded “debunkers.” I just came across a video that does just that (click on the link for even more straw men in addition to the video), but in one of the most overblown and ridiculous ways I’ve ever seen. Can you count the number of straw men and outright lies about skepticism and skeptics in this video?

I lost track fairly early on, so fast and furious came the misinformation, particularly because the portrayal of skeptics and skepticism wasn’t even particularly clever in its attacks. In fact, I feel stupider for having watched this video, which clearly produced neuron apoptosising waves that had to be fought off. On the other hand, caricaturing skeptics and scientists is about the only thing cranks are any good at.

You know, I have a couple of scientific (allegedly) papers lying relevant to various pseudoscience. Maybe I’ll discuss one or both of them over the next couple of days–in honor of Daniel Drasin, of course. At the very least, it’ll cleanse the palate after tasting of such misinformation.

Comments

  1. #1 Coryat
    November 17, 2010

    So very stupid.

  2. #2 Ge
    November 17, 2010

    Isn’t this some sort of ironic video or joke? The end is kind of hilarious; the ‘scientist’ knows there are aliens because she has seen them!? That’s not a very convincing argument, even for a ‘woo-meister’. Maybe you shouldn’t take it at face value.

  3. #3 Clam
    November 17, 2010

    I think that you’ve been conned by a brilliant attempt at extracting urine. The “Skeptic” is so obviously using all the arguments of loony creationists, climate change denialists and other woo-meisters who consider themselves to be right just because, well, they’re right.
    Look at the cartoon from the point of view of a CLIMATE-CHANGE SKEPTIC. (Sorry about the shouting, but I don’t know how to use HTML to embolden). He considers himself to be a skeptic. Now see how the scientist shoots him down.

  4. #4 Orac
    November 17, 2010

    Isn’t this some sort of ironic video or joke? The end is kind of hilarious; the ‘scientist’ knows there are aliens because she has seen them!? That’s not a very convincing argument, even for a ‘woo-meister’. Maybe you shouldn’t take it at face value.

    I thought of that, but follow the links on the blog where the video appears. I linked to it in my introductory paragraph.

  5. #5 Ge
    November 17, 2010

    Oh… my bad. Followed the link this time and I have to agree; Apparently Daniel Drasin never heard the frase ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof’.
    He actually thinks that the mere mentioning of seeing an ‘alien’ witnessing an “impossible healing”, or the experience of a perfectly cogent conversation with your dead uncle, is enough proof for an “expanded notion of reality”. No need for proper documentation, apparently.

    Well: I’m going to adjust my irony-meter now…

  6. #6 Thinker
    November 17, 2010

    Considering other videos from xtranormal use the same style of deadpan “humor”, I do believe this is meant to be ironic (and actually aimed at “denialists” more than at skeptics).

    Not the best they’ve done, though…

  7. #7 Chris Lindsay
    November 17, 2010

    I couldn’t finish watching it. I need to go slam my head against a table and kill the 10% of my brain that I only use.

  8. #8 IHC Jay
    November 17, 2010

    Looking at some of the other links on the parent site made my head hurt from the stupid…

  9. #9 Ge
    November 17, 2010

    @Chris Lindsay,

    not to crush you’re spirits but the 10% thing is a myth.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=people-only-use-10-percent-of-brain

    Having trouble finishing the video, I do get however.

  10. #10 Kristen
    November 17, 2010

    From what I can tell from his website his arguments sound logical, then goes off into la-la land.

    Sadly, I can picture a person reading his work and finding his conclusions reasonable.

  11. #11 Composer99
    November 17, 2010

    I got through maybe 15 seconds and had to stop. The dryness of the dialogue and the constant refrain of ‘I’m a skeptic’ were driving me nuts.

    Apart from Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off who is that boring?

  12. #12 Composer99
    November 17, 2010

    Also, one gets the feeling that a little bit of digging into the blogger’s quotes will reveal some low-hanging picked cherries. Mmm mmm good.

  13. #13 Kristen
    November 17, 2010

    Composer99

    low-hanging picked cherries. Mmm mmm good.

    I read this, navigated away from this page, thought for a moment, then got it…I don’t know how much more coffee my laptop can take.

  14. #14 sheldon101
    November 17, 2010

    The video demonstrates a problem I find over and over again when it comes to the woosters, hubris and laziness.

    One of the few specific fact statements regards the problem of Scientific American not acknowledging the first flight of the Wright Brothers for three years because “that’s an example of prudent scientific journalism.”

    To me, if I didn’t know any more, (which I do) this claim sounds very unusual. Scientific journals, especially for technological information, are pretty quick to publish. So I would spend a few minutes researching first A google for “Wright Brothers” and a quick read of wikipedia (scan for “Trouble Establishing Legitmacy” provides a reasonable reason for Scientific American’s waiting.

  15. #15 Chemgeek
    November 17, 2010

    Is that milk in the water cooler?

  16. #16 Chris
    November 17, 2010

    I saw that when someone posted in the comments a few days ago trying to do “Hey, look at you skeptics!”.

  17. #17 Denice Walter
    November 17, 2010

    Horrendous! But it could have been *even worse* if they had gone into “scientism”. ( Maybe that’s “Part II”).

  18. #18 nancyinwi
    November 17, 2010

    @Chemgeek– given the content of the video, I suspect it’s a flavor of koolaid.

  19. #19 Michael
    November 17, 2010

    For the last time, the absence of a plausible mechanism for a phenomenon is not the same as a phenomenon that would require half the laws of physics to be rewritten if it actually existed (e.g. homeopathy).

  20. #20 techskeptic
    November 17, 2010

    Strawman??? Its the exact opposite of skepticism. I couldn’t get past 1.2 way through tthat stupidity.

  21. #21 Composer99
    November 17, 2010

    Kristen: I am to please. Or soak laptops/keyboards with coffee/beverages of choice. Take your pick. :)

    More seriously, it looks like one of this blogger’s key points of argument against atheism/methodological naturalism has to do with the supposed lack of objectivity that such a position entails vis-à-vis morality.

    Now, I’m not an atheist, but I really can’t see his point.

    Consider that Christians would hold that being a moral person entails following the two “Great Commandments”:
    1- Love God (with heart, mind, strength, &c.)
    2- Love your neighbour as yourself
    which, per Jesus, are the foundation of “all the law and the prophets” (that is, of all conventional sources of morality in the Judean culture of the time).

    To get a non-theist foundation for morality, just take out part 1 of the above and reword part 2 a bit to get something like:
    “Operate on the presumption that other people’s interests as equivalent to yours”, with the caveat that the equivalence of interest applies to like interests (e.g. my interest in fulfilling personal ambitions is not equivalent to other people’s interest in self-preservation or securing material necessities).

  22. #22 MikeMa
    November 17, 2010

    @Chemgeek,

    Is that milk in the water cooler?

    Dare we hope its propofol?

  23. #23 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    November 17, 2010

    I do not think that word means what they think it means.

  24. #24 John Miller
    November 17, 2010

    composer99
    >Apart from Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off who is that boring?

    The animation at xtranormal.com is automated – you write a script and (at its simplest level) they handle the rest. Hence, everyone sounds like Stephen Hawking. Orac linked to this site before:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/10/for_whenever_i_start_feeling_sorry_for_m.php

  25. #25 a-non
    November 17, 2010

    xtramnormal.com has jumped the shark. I find these videos more annoying than funny now, even when the content is good.

  26. #26 Calli Arcale
    November 17, 2010

    Composer99:

    To get a non-theist foundation for morality, just take out part 1 of the above and reword part 2 a bit to get something like:
    “Operate on the presumption that other people’s interests as equivalent to yours”, with the caveat that the equivalence of interest applies to like interests (e.g. my interest in fulfilling personal ambitions is not equivalent to other people’s interest in self-preservation or securing material necessities).

    Or, as G’kar put it, “the Universe runs on the complex interweaving of three elements: energy, matter, and enlightened self-interest.” While many religions espouse very good morals (even if their adherents are a bit spotty in the actual implementation), religion is not, in fact, necessary for morality. In fact, I tend to think it works the other way around — morals are necessary for religion. I think most organized religions start out as a means of codifying a set of morals.

  27. #27 Vince Whirlwind
    November 17, 2010

    Hilarious! Loved it!

    Especially the punchline at the end.

  28. #28 bobbytg
    November 17, 2010

    What is with crazy people using these terribly produced, computer voiced animations? I’ve seen creationists use them a lot. Nearly impossible to watch. As if the message wasn’t bad enough, the delivery hurts.

  29. #29 Toxicology Kat
    November 18, 2010

    The site xtranormal.com lets people make animations by typing in their own dialog. Probably it attracts people with no budget, no skills in animation, and who are not put off by the stilted results. Perhaps non-wackaloons have more creativity or access to better tools, or don’t like the results and opt out of sharing them.

  30. #30 mistermuz
    November 18, 2010

    It described nicely a lot of climate change deniers and general contrarians I’ve run into, as they consider themselves “true skeptics” along similar lines. But I’m not sure what effect they were really going for tere.

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