Contrary to what some of my detractors think, I don’t mind criticism of my viewpoints. After all, if I never encounter criticism, how will I ever improve? On the other hand, there are forms of criticism that are what I would call less than constructive. One form this sort of criticism takes is obsessive repetition of points that have already been addressed and failure to pay attention to how they were addressed. This is the sort of criticism that will eventually provoke an exasperated shrug of the shoulders or even an angry—dare I say Insolent?—retort.

Another way criticism can get on one’s nerves is when it takes the form of what I’ve been dealing with the last month or so from a certain famous crank, which has reached the point that I now refer to him as “He Who Shall Not Be Named” and do not link to him anymore, even with the “nofollow” tag or “donotlink.” Of course, everyone who’s a regular reader probably knows to whom I’m referring. In any case, those who’ve paid attention probably remembers that HWSNBN has been talking a lot of smack about me. None of this would be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that he’s been lying in a most despicable fashion, accusing me of things I don’t believe or do. For instance, he’s tried to link me with Farid Fata, the local oncologist who was busted last year for bilking Medicare out of tens of millions of dollars for administering chemotherapy to people who didn’t need it, when in fact I despise Fata and all the evil he’s done. Similarly, he’s tried to paint me as a “psychological terrorist” who uses fear to push women to do mammograms, the better to profit off of them. In particular, what was hilarious about this was that he used a recent book by H. Gilbert Welch as the jumping-off point to attack me, apparently not knowing that last year Dr. Welch and I co-authored an article skeptical of mammography for the New England Journal of Medicine and have written more posts than I care to remember looking in detail at the pros and cons of mammography.

You get the idea.

Of course, HWSNBN lies; so of course one would expect that he wouldn’t care about the the truth of his criticisms, and he doesn’t. Skeptics expect that of him. What’s more disappointing is when one who claims to be on the side of science and even a “small-s skeptic” himself(and who should presumably know better) accuses a group with whom you associate with of things it doesn’t do and doesn’t believe not out of dishonesty, but rather out of ignorance of what your group believes and does combined with laziness that apparently led him not to bother to find out. I’m referring, of course, to an article written by contrarian Scientific American science journalist and blogger John Horgan with the clearly intentionally inflammatory title Dear “Skeptics,” Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More: A science journalist takes a skeptical look at capital-S Skepticism. Note the scare quotes. Note the sarcastic reference to “capital-S Skepticism.” Moreover, Horgan’s article is basically the transcript of a talk he gave at NECSS last weekend in which he proclaims himself “skeptical of skeptics” (what a tired cliche) and basically tells us we’re wasting our time with all that homeopathy and bigfoot stuff.

Heat but little light

Seeing what Horgan said, all I can say is that, although I’m still really unhappy that I couldn’t go to NECSS this year thanks to the demands of my day job, there was one good thing about not going and that was missing Horgan’s talk. As Steve Novella put it, Horgan’s talk was disappointing not because it was critical but rather because of his utter cluelessness about skepticism. (OK, Steve didn’t use the word “clueless”; I did. Steve’s always been a lot less “Insolent” than I have.)

I knew that Horgan’s purpose was to rile up the audience rather than to try to illuminate right from the very beginning of his talk. His purpose is to shed light, but he only sheds heat:

I hate preaching to the converted. If you were Buddhists, I’d bash Buddhism. But you’re skeptics, so I have to bash skepticism.

When someone starts out a talk telling his audience that he plans on bashing what they are there to celebrate, you know with a high degree of probability that what you’re likely dealing with is either an asshole, a contrarian, or both, not someone who is there to challenge the audience in a meaningful way. This is particularly true if that same person entitles his talk as an insulting instruction, an edict. To be fair, there’s a small chance that that won’t be the case, and the insulting title and proclamation that he’s here to bash you are just a ruse. After all, an argument can be made that stirring the pot this way can push the audience out of its comfort zone and challenge its deepest held assumptions. That can be a good thing. However, pulling that off is a high wire act that takes skill and, above all, a strong understanding of just what it is that the speaker is criticizing, in this case, organized skepticism (“big-S Skepticism”) and even “small-s skepticism.” In other words, you have to know what the hell you’re talking about. Horgan clearly does not and clearly lacks the skill to pull off that high wire act even if he did know what the hell he was talking about. Basically, Horgan starts out with a germ of a good point, namely that skepticism should be applied to more difficult targets as zealously as we apply it to “easier” targets. It’s a point that no serious skeptic would dispute. Unfortunately, Horgan proceeds to drive this point straight off the road into a cesspool of bad examples and arguments coupled with straw man versions of skepticism.

Before I look at some individual points where Horgan goes off the rails, I can’t help but note that there is one thing that permeates every word of his talk, and that’s an overbearing smugness, a moral superiority. I wasn’t there; so I don’t know if that’s how it came across during his actual talk, but it’s there in the written word. Horgan doesn’t try to appeal to the audience to do better through positive example, but rather by trying his hardest to make its members feel as dumb as possible, by preaching to them from a very high pulpit that he portrays as being made of science but I see as being constructed of BS. Unfortunately, whether he intends it or not, by “bashing” what he calls “big-S Skepticism,” Horgan by contrast paints himself as oh-so-much more of a better skeptic (small-s) than his audience. Basically, he was skepticsplaining to some of the most prominent and motivated skeptics around and failing miserably because he seems to think he’s the first person who ever thought of the issues he brought up when in fact these sorts of issues have been discussed by the actual skeptic movement ever since I started identifying with it many years ago, sometimes to the point where I can’t stand seeing another discussion of them again. Horgan reminds me of some of the newbie antivaccinationists who sometimes show up here at RI and start proudly trotting out long debunked antivaccine talking points as though they were the first ones who had ever thought of them and we’d never considered them before, only to run into a buzzsaw of exasperated debunking by those who’ve studied the issues and explained why the antivaccine viewpoint is incorrect more times than they can remember.

“Tribalism”: The perfect shield

Perhaps most annoyingly, Horgan pre-emptively inoculates himself against criticism by invoking tribalism:

So I’m a skeptic, but with a small S, not capital S. I don’t belong to skeptical societies. I don’t hang out with people who self-identify as capital-S Skeptics. Or Atheists. Or Rationalists.

When people like this get together, they become tribal. They pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they are compared to those outside the tribe. But belonging to a tribe often makes you dumber.

Now, if anyone offers criticism to Horgan’s bad arguments, he can simply dismiss it as “defending one’s tribe” without actually addressing the actual criticism, whatever it might be. For example:

Which reminds me:

Which is exactly what Horgan seems to have been doing.

“The Science Delusion”

Let’s look at Horgan’s talk to see if there are any decent points there. In a way, after Steve’s epic deconstruction of Horgan’s self-congratulatory wank, there doesn’t seem to be much left for me, but that never stopped me before. Besides, Horgan particularly annoyed me with a couple of passages. First, there was this:

“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attack disbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food.

These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.

You can see how utterly clueless Horgan is about skepticism just from this passage. For one thing, he seems to view “big-S Skeptics” as a homogeneous group with similar beliefs on the topics he lists. Horgan’s obviously never heard of the libertarian wing of the skeptic movement, which has a tendency to doubt human-caused global climate change and chalk it up to skepticism. Penn Jillette was notorious for this until I saw him a few years ago at TAM respond to a question about global warming with the ultimate dodge of, “I JUST DON’T KNOW.” Indeed, back in 2009, James Randi himself fell into the trap of repeating anthropogenic global warming denialist talking points. Did skeptics let him off the hook because he was Randi, and not just part of our “tribe” but a high ranking member of the “tribe”? Hell no! Skeptics did their best to educate Randi and explain to him where he went wrong.

I also can’t help but note that Horgan also seems ignorant of the whole “militant atheist” versus “accommodationist” schism, or the disagreements between skeptics over how critical we should be of religion. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen skeptics who are more “militant” atheists criticize skeptics more wedded to scientific skepticism for going easy on religion. It’s an argument that has raged since long before I ever started blogging, self-identifying as a skeptic, or going to skeptical conferences. It still bubbles up all too frequently. Good bud and skeptical physician John Byrne makes a similar and related point:

Horgan seems to be of the opinion that skeptics at NECSS dogmatically follow the decree of voices such as Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krause and Michael Shermer (he named them specifically). Ironically, Professor Dawkins was (at one point) disinvited to this very conference for making — in some people’s opinion — offensive insinuations about feminists. Massimo Pigliucci has been very critical of Dawkins over the years. Lawrence Krause was not there this year either, but attended a couple of years ago. He was interviewed on stage by Massimo Pigliucci, who has been among Lawrence Krause’s most vocal critics, challenging him for being scientistic rather than scientific. Pigliucci has also debated Michael Shermer (at NECSS) about scientism and morality. Shermer’s views on science and morality have also been questioned by Dr. Steven Novella –also a NECSS board member– during a December 2015 discussion with Dr. Shermer on The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast. I cannot think of three names in the community that have received as much internal criticism.

But, no. If you believe Horgan’s take on NECSS and “big-S Skepticism,” we all worship at the altar of the “really big-S Skeptics,” like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, James Randi, and the like.

“Soft targets” = What you care about. “Hard targets” = what I care about.

Particularly galling (and arrogant) is the “soft targets” versus “hard targets” gambit that Horgan launches into right after his “tribalism” gambit:

Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions. In the rest of this talk, I’ll give you examples of hard targets from physics, medicine and biology. I’ll wrap up with a rant about war, the hardest target of all.

I can’t help but conclude from the totality of his talk is that, to Horgan, “hard targets” are topics he cares about and his “soft targets” are targets you care about that he doesn’t care about (or at least cares about a lot less). His dichotomy is nothing more than “bashing” (Horgan’s words) skeptics because they don’t all care about what he cares about, including political views. From my perspective, a very appropriate response to such a criticism involves the F-word followed by “you” or “off.” (As I said, I’m much more “insolent” than Steve.) Horgan’s argument is no more than telling skeptics that they should care about what he cares about. Of course, that would be all well and good if he had included a positive appeal to entice his audience to care what he cares about and left out the contempt for caring about things he doesn’t care about. You know what I do whenever a commenter shows up in the comments of this blog telling me I shouldn’t pay so much attention to, say, vaccines and should pay more attention to the depredations of big pharma? OK, it usually doesn’t involve the F-word (usually), simply because I don’t like to use the F-word on this blog, but does involve the same sentiment, sometimes somewhat politely stated, sometimes not. No doubt Horgan will view such an attitude as “defending my tribe,” but in reality it just represents a general cussedness in not liking being told what to do by someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about coupled with a very human irritation at being told that what I care about is not important.

A more polite characterization comes from Daniel Loxton, who describes Horgan’s bizarre argument as:

I’ve spent much of my career confronting the common argument that skeptics should not perform the service skeptics do best, but instead tackle other subjects we may not be qualified to address. It’s a head scratcher, honestly. “You have specialized expertise in X, but I think X is trivial. Why don’t you specialize in Y, because I think Y is important?” Nobody ever says this to Shakespeare scholars or doctors or plumbers. (“Dear ‘fire fighters,’ fight fires less and solve more murders”?) Seemingly everyone says it to skeptics.

Indeed. If someone came up to me and said, “Why don’t you stop writing about mammography, cancer, and homeopathy and look at Bigfoot instead?” I’d laugh dismissively. Yet, all too frequently I see the opposite argument being made uncritically by people like Horgan about skepticism.

Why don’t you criticize cancer screening? Oh, wait…

Be that as it may, since Steve handled so much of the other science Horgan mangled so well, I’m going to stick to what I know best, medicine, specifically cancer. I could go on and repeat the points Steve made about Horgan’s mischaracterization of skeptics’ reactions to ideas like string theory, whether we live within a simulation, and multiverses (hint: these issues have been batted about and criticized within the skeptical movement ad nauseam) or Horgan’s attacks on psychiatry and psychotropic medications, but I won’t. Well, not quite. I can’t help but note that Horgan approvingly invokes Robert Whitaker’s claim that psychiatric medications only help in the short term but make people sicker in the long term. As Steve points out, Whitaker mangles his science, but from my perspective I can’t help but note that he is also a favorite of the likes of quacks like Joe Mercola, who has interviewed him several times, and has received approving coverage by the likes of HWSNBN.

On to medicine, though. Horgan is very concerned that we are overtested and overtreated for cancer:

Now let’s take a look at medicine, not the soft target of alternative medicine but the hard target of mainstream medicine. During the debate over Obamacare, we often heard that American medicine is the best in the world. That’s a lie.

Can Mr. Horgan name a single “big-S Skeptic,” big name or or little name, who’s argued that American medicine is the best in the world? I’ve never seen this phenomenon. That’s what’s so irritating about Horgan’s speech. He keeps conflating pop culture and political claims with claims that skeptics make, just as he seems to conflate sloppy science journalism hyping new findings with what skeptics say about them. A recurring theme here and at my not-so-super-secret other blog is to take on how journalists cover science when they do it badly. It’s the same with Steve and many, many other skeptics. To hear Horgan say it, you’d get the impression that we just swallow whatever we’re told. Also, I can’t help but note that “alternative medicine” is anything but a “soft target.” Through the emerging specialty of “integrative medicine,” alternative medicine is becoming part of “conventional” medicine.

Echoing a point that would make Joe Mercola proud, namely that American medicine is supposedly more interested in “profits than health,” Horgan then gets to overdiagnosis:

Over the past half-century, physicians and hospitals have introduced increasingly sophisticated, expensive tests. They assure us that early detection of disease will lead to better health.

But tests often do more harm than good. For every woman whose life is extended because a mammogram detected a tumor, up to 33 receive unnecessary treatment, including biopsies, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. For men diagnosed with prostate cancer after a PSA test, the ratio is 47 to one. Similar data are emerging on colonoscopies and other tests.

Europeans have lower cancer morality rates than Americans even though they smoke more and spend less on cancer care. Americans are over-tested, over-treated and over-charged.

Of course, this is one of the other passages that made me as a bona fide cancer expert cringe and grind my teeth. It’s a painfully simplistic description of the true situation, particularly if you look at how cancer mortality rates have been declining in industrialized countries. It turns out that mortality rates in the US actually compare reasonably well to Europe for most cancers, with the exception of lung cancer. Basically, we do well with some cancers compared to Europe, not so well with others, and overall our mortality rate from all cancers is pretty similar to major European countries and decreasing at about the same rate. As I’ve pointed out, if you look at our mortality from all cancer, you’ll see the US is in the middle of the pack, our line almost superimposed on the lines from France and Germany (and Canada, which I mention because, even though it is non-European, it spends a lot less on health care), with the UK having a noticeably higher rate of cancer mortality. Horgan has a point in asking whether the US is getting its money worth, given how much we spend relative to Europe or Canada for results that are more or less the same, but he is, quite simply, incorrect to make the blanket assertion that Europeans have lower cancer mortality rates than Americans. To cap off his simplistic analysis, in doing so, Horgan also conflates the problem of overdiagnosis with our higher mortality rate from lung cancer, but guess what? Only recently have we begun to screen for lung cancer and then only in very high risk individuals. He’s comparing apples and oranges.

As for cancer screening, need I repeat yet again that skeptics such as Harriet Hall, myself, and others over at my not-so-super-secret other blog have been writing about overdiagnosis and overtreatment at least since 2008? Steve says there are at least 40 posts there over the eight years the blog has been in existence, and I have no reason to doubt him. Then there’s the aforementioned NEJM article by yours truly. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist mentioning that again. After all, it’s not every day I get published in such a high profile journal.) Of course, Horgan’s treatment of overdiagnosis and overtreatment is as painfully simplistic as his comparison of cancer mortality statistics between the US and Europe, as he castigates skeptics for doing things we’ve been doing for years now, along with suggesting ways forward.

There will always be something “more important”

Horgan ends with a hilarious non sequitur that illustrates why his misunderstanding of organized skepticism is so epic:

In the last century, prominent scientists spoke out against U.S. militarism and called for the end of war. Scientists like Einstein, Linus Pauling, and the great skeptic Carl Sagan. Where are their successors? Noam Chomsky is still bashing U.S. imperialism, but he’s almost 90. He needs help!

Far from criticizing militarism, some scholars, like economist Tyler Cowen, claim war is beneficial, because it spurs innovation. That’s like arguing for the economic benefits of slavery.

So, just to recap. I’m asking you skeptics to spend less time bashing soft targets like homeopathy and Bigfoot and more time bashing hard targets like multiverses, cancer tests, psychiatric drugs and war, the hardest target of all.

I don’t expect you to agree with my framing of these issues. All I ask is that you examine your own views skeptically. And ask yourself this: Shouldn’t ending war be a moral imperative, like ending slavery or the subjugation of women? How can we not end war?

Of course ending war is important, but so what? As Loxton puts it, almost everything skeptics do is less important than ending war, which is “obvious to the point of silliness.” That includes Horgan as a “small-s skeptic.” In fact, I’d go beyond Loxton. Why isn’t Horgan out there curing cancer? A half a million people die of cancer every year in the US alone, after all! Or what about malaria? Over 200 million people a year suffer from malaria, and 415,000 die. Or what about environmental pollution? Or racism? Or sexism? Or ending totalitarian regimes? Why is Horgan wasting his precious time bashing skeptics when he should be bashing the “hard targets” like cancer screening, multiverses, psychiatric drugs, and war? Inquiring minds want to know!

Obviously—painfully so—there will always be issues more important or more impactful than what any of us does, with rare exceptions. Pointing to them and using them to denigrate someone’s efforts as pointless, which, make no mistake, is what Hogan comes across as doing, is not constructive. Rather, it is a very old strategy to denigrate that which you consider unimportant. A much better question is this: Is what one is doing worthwhile? Coming back to the episode of homeopathy, I say yes: Getting rid of homeopathy, if skeptics could accomplish it, would be worthwhile. Pushing for the FDA to regulate homeopathy the way it regulates real drugs would be worthwhile. Getting the FTC to regulate claims about homeopathy would be worthwhile. Keeping people from being defrauded by psychics is worthwhile. Countering antivaccine misinformation is worthwhile and saves lives. It’s also a direct outgrowth of skeptical activism against alternative medicine, as many antivaccine views derive from pseudoscientific health beliefs.

The bottom line is that, contrary to what Horgan implies, the skeptic movement, be it big-S or little-S, does not dogmatically worship at the altars of Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, James Randi, or anyone else, and it can walk and chew gum at the same time. Horgan would know that if he weren’t so clueless about just what skepticism is and what skeptics do. Yes, we can be tribal at times. We’re human beings, after all. However, I haven’t seen any evidence that skeptics are detectably more prone to “tribalism” than any other large group of humans, and it’s not as though we haven’t discussed this tendency ourselves. Basically, after all this time, the kids are all right. Horgan’s talk illustrates a very important principal. Honest criticism can be a very good thing (and I do think Horgan was sincere). However, even the most honest criticism can rapidly devolve into a string of self-righteous, distorted, and downright wrong characterizations like the ones in Horgan’s speech if the critic doesn’t take the time to understand his audience and learn about just what the heck he is talking about. Skeptics can take criticism just fine, but you’ll excuse us if we don’t react that well to uninformed criticism that betrays a lack of understanding about just what it is we are and do.

Comments

  1. #1 palindrom
    May 18, 2016

    Wonderful deconstruction.

    As an academic, Horgan’s article reminded me of the Most Pointless and Annoying Referee Report, which is, of course, “This article should be about something else.” That report is worthy of a bunker rant (cf. “Peer Review Circa 1945”, for those few who haven’t seen it.)

  2. #2 G. Shelley
    May 18, 2016

    I don’t think he was arguing that Skeptics were claiming the American Health care system was the best in the world, just that some people have (which is true) and this has not been challenged by Skeptics (which is not I believe).
    It also seems the Deep roots of War theory is his obsession. He might be right. It’s a pretty obscure theory, and trivial enough that I really don’t care. The idea that people should be wasting time on it rather than important things is a little baffling.

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    May 18, 2016

    Bash homeopathy less?! Somebody administer a Turing test to Horgan, stat! Any reasonably intelligent person who has taken high school chemistry should know that homeopathy is bunk, yet Horgan fails to clear that low bar.

    And if homeopathy is such a “soft” target, then why do certain drugstores (*cough* Walgreen’s *cough*) stock homeopathic remedies?

  4. #4 Dangerous Bacon
    May 18, 2016

    Sorry, but I can’t take Horgan seriously, since he’s ducking world hunger and malnutrition in favor of focusing on things like psychiatric drugs.

    I mean, really – talk about your ultrasoft targets.

    I’d say more, but I have better things to do with my time, like saving lives.

  5. #5 Lighthorse
    May 18, 2016

    To Horgan’s assertion of over-diagnosis, due to a lack of adequate testing, but not “over-testing”, an estimated 1 million Canadians have been misdiagnosed with asthma. One wonders how many Americans are using inhalers for the same reason; namely, a lack of sufficient testing. Skeptics were right to question reports of increasing rates of asthma, just as they are to stay vigilant against the hype attending media reports of scientific findings.

  6. #6 Orac
    May 18, 2016

    Sorry, but I can’t take Horgan seriously, since he’s ducking world hunger and malnutrition in favor of focusing on things like psychiatric drugs.

    I mean, really – talk about your ultrasoft targets.

    I’d say more, but I have better things to do with my time, like saving lives.

    Bwahahahaha.

  7. #7 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 18, 2016

    Orac touched on this, but I think it bears repeating. All of us (little or big S) skeptics have different areas of expertise and interest. I focus mostly on vaccines, with a little bit of ethics and free speech thrown in, because that’s what I know and am able to comment on. I don’t have the knowledge to intelligently comment on something like string theory or the deep roots theory of war.

    Now, he might argue that I should go and gain the knowledge, that claiming a lack of knowledge is just a lazy defense of my “tribalism”. But quite frankly, I don’t have the time or resources to gain the required knowledge, nor does he really make a compelling case for why I should. Especially considering there are already (big or little S) skeptics out there addressing these “hard” targets.

    I missed his talk at NECSS, so I can’t talk about what kind of tone he used. However, a friend was there, live-tweeting, and she was utterly bewildered by what Horgan was going on about. She thought (and I agree after having read his post) that he didn’t know who his audience actually was.

    It’s really disappointing, because he did have a germ of a good idea that he could have fleshed out, instead of just trolling. He’ll probably chalk up his talk as a success, and say that any criticism he receives is nothing more than tribalism at work, thus proving him right. He claims he’s going to respond to Steve’s criticism, though, so we’ll see if he acknowledges his errors, both in tone and in fact.

  8. #8 Orac
    May 18, 2016

    @Lighthorse: I had this same issue myself. My PMD put me on an inhaler for a chronic cough, saying it might be asthma. It did no good. Ultimately I underwent full pulmonary function tests with a methacholine challenge, and they were stone cold normal.

    In fairness, a not uncommon presentation of asthma is a chronic cough and nothing else, and there is something to be said for treating clinical diagnoses. Also, she did refer me for testing when treating failed to relieve my symptom.

  9. #9 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 18, 2016

    Of course, another possibility is that he’ll say something like, “Oh, I didn’t mean Steve or Orac, I meant those other skeptics,” and never define this unknown, nonexistent skeptic he’s referring to.

  10. #10 Mike
    May 18, 2016

    I think you are a little willing to gloss over the effects of tribalism. Humans are hardwired to being tribal. I see these effects clearly in me. While it is from the softer sciences, some of the psychology research into tribalism is interesting. However, I am not aware of “S”keptics being one of the tribes that was studied. maybe you could apply some insolence to the phenomenon of tribalism.

  11. #11 Orac
    May 18, 2016

    Of course, another possibility is that he’ll say something like, “Oh, I didn’t mean Steve or Orac, I meant those other skeptics,” and never define this unknown, nonexistent skeptic he’s referring to.

    Perhaps, especially if he bothers to read the posts on overdiagnosis and overtreatment at my not-so-super-secret other blog. On the other hand, he might just concede that there are a “handful” of skeptics who get it right and then repeat his tropes about the rest while pointing out that neither of us have addressed war (or whatever).

  12. #12 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 18, 2016

    He probably feels better, though, knowing that PZ Myers supports him (though that seems more to do with Myers’ dislike of Jamy Ian Swiss and NECSS than an actual critical evaluation of Horgan’s post).

  13. #13 Orac
    May 18, 2016

    Yep. I thought about addressing PZ’s post but then figured, “Why bother?” After all, as you say PZ’s siding with Horgan seems to derive more from his dislike of Jamy Ian Swiss and his dislike of skeptics who are not into the same social causes he is.

  14. #14 Helianthus
    May 18, 2016

    Horgan seems to be of the opinion that skeptics at NECSS dogmatically follow the decree of voices such as Richard Dawkins […]

    Oh boy, did he pick the wrong table.

    Far from criticizing militarism, some scholars, like economist Tyler Cowen, claim war is beneficial, because it spurs innovation. That’s like arguing for the economic benefits of slavery.

    I’m lacking the context in which Tyler Cowen spoke about it, but his title – “economist” – let me wonder if, maybe, Cowen was talking as an economist.
    Because, well, from an economic standpoint, both war and slavery truly have benefits (at least for the people on top).
    Now, if the context was a debate on the morality of “might make right”…

    I’m asking you skeptics to spend less time bashing soft targets like homeopathy and Bigfoot

    I dunno about Bigfoot, but homeopathy is quite resilient for a soft target.
    I suspect the hard/soft target nomenclature is like the strong/weak acid distingo. Vinegar is no hydrochloric acid, but you still don’t want it splashed into your eyes. Don’t even try trifluoroacetic acid.
    tl;dr: a belief in Bigfoot is a very limited issue, but free-ranging homeopaths do societal damages.

    Why isn’t Horgan out there curing cancer?

    Eh, he did the hard work, I mean, telling us what to do (leaving a few details out, like how to do it).
    His job is done, he can now go home.

  15. #15 Denice Walter
    May 18, 2016

    Bigfoot? Didn’t he just make a film with Andy?

    -btw- HWSNBN stole Orac’s ‘disturbance in the force’ title today and goes on to tell how everything is going haywire.
    There’s a 43 minute audio. I’ll listen to as much as I can stand

  16. #16 Helianthus
    May 18, 2016

    knowing that PZ Myers supports him

    Oh.
    Err, having bad memory flashbacks of past skeptics’ internet flamewars.

    his dislike of skeptics who are not into the same social causes he is.

    That would summarize the starting point of many of the above-mentioned flamewars I witnessed in the online skeptic communities.
    In short, we all have our hobby horses and cannot stand that other people in our “tribe” don’t drop everything at once to come behind us.

    Other than having Bigfoot in it, this photo has little to do with what is written below. Orac just thought it was awesome.

    I concur. Please, where is it from?

    • #17 Orac
      May 18, 2016

      I don’t remember. I just came across it while Googling Bigfoot. You could probably do a Google image search.

  17. #18 KayMarie
    May 18, 2016

    I’ve often wondered about this “leave the soft targets alone” thing as often those are also the popular things.

    I feel we are seeing what plays out when there is not enough effort to fight the good fight on the common beliefs. We don’t challenge (or even support) people in believing in Bigfoot, and faked moon shots and sooner or later they are Birthers and Truthers and believe orange-tinged men who say that one phone call from China can end all the nuclear ambitions of North Korea.

  18. #19 Daniel Corcos
    May 18, 2016

    The distinction raised by Horgan between “soft” and “hard” targets is tricky. The main question is whether you can combat faith and stupidity with arguments. I personally consider that you cannot, so arguments should be directed to people able to understand them, i.e. true scientists. When “scientists” are unable to understand arguments, because they don’t want to acknowledge their error, then we are in trouble.
    From Melvin Cohn, one of the greatest scientists of our time, in 1994:
    “I now appreciate how much I learn by being wrong; I can change my mind when confronted with a rational argument, without the need to have the change appear to be purely semantic or to hope it will pass unnoticed. What must it be like to be a priest, general, bureaucrat, lawyer, medicine person, or politician who is never permitted to be wrong? No wonder they learn so slowly. I am grateful to be in a profession where, at least in my view, the realization of
    being wrong is equivalent to an increase in knowledge”.
    The profession has changed.

  19. #20 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    May 18, 2016

    Horgan’s dismissal of criticism as tribalism reeks of the shill gambit.

  20. #21 MI Dawn
    May 18, 2016

    A little OT but since it was brought up: I had a PCP try to give me an inhaler for “asthma” when it turned out (my diagnosis from the symptoms, because she never tested or treated me for it) I probably had pertussis. The albuterol treatment in the office gave me horrible shakes and nothing else. The only thing she gave me that helped was a cough medicine with codeine so I could say more than 2 words without coughing until I vomited.

  21. #22 Eric Lund
    May 18, 2016

    it turned out (my diagnosis from the symptoms, because she never tested or treated me for it) I probably had pertussis

    I hope you are wrong about that, because pertussis is a serious illness. One that we used to vaccinate everybody against, before vaccine refusal became all the rage in certain circles. We still vaccinate most people against it, but there have been outbreaks, and thanks to anti-vaxers we are dangerously close to the threshold at which herd immunity breaks down.

  22. #23 Cate K
    May 18, 2016

    This sounds just like all those who criticise feminism for not solely dealing with the big issues like FGM and instead worrying about “trivia” like harassment or Page 3 stunnas (for anyone not in the UK The Sun newspaper featured topless women giving comments on current events on page 3).

    The rebuttal is always that yes some feminists are dealing with the big topics but that those considered trivial by detractors also affect people everyday.

    I don’t think that anyone reading this column regularly would doubt that homeopathy, naturopathy, etc. can be harmful. And actually I find this blog balanced because it does attack SBM where the author finds it lacking.

  23. #24 Eric Lund
    May 18, 2016

    HTML fail in my previous post. The first paragraph was quoting MI Dawn, the second was my response.

  24. #25 Denice Walter
    May 18, 2016

    OT but it’s about HWSNBN, worse than Bigfoot and hopefully, it assists Orac in his cause of illustrating Mikey’s madness…

    I listened to all 43 minutes so you can be spared:

    As my father would often say, * Quel fcking idiot!*

    HWSNBN coalesces several conspiracies into a tightly woven web of flaming stupid:

    dark side of force, destructive, inhuman, globalist, hate life, Dark Lord, David Ickes, lizards, bloodlines, sacrifice innocent children, especially black boys, incredible evil, demonic, false flags staged, nuclear or EMF attack, terrorism, measles at Disneyland, illusion- ‘craft reality’, all news is fake, vaccines, poisoned food, abortions, organ harvest, euthanasia, highest powers are evil, hate freedom, FDA, USDA,EPA, UN takeover
    THEY WANT OUT PLANET!

    He says that sensitive people feel a disturbance in the force and it’s real! They’re not crazy!

    MIkey’s Mission is to inform us of the evil afoot and to guide us on our pathway to the Global Revolution against EVIL
    He is a Guardian.

  25. #26 Orac
    May 18, 2016

    Actually, today marks the one week mark without a new hit piece on me, although there have been a couple of one- or two-sentence swipes at me in articles not about me. 🙂

  26. #27 MI Dawn
    May 18, 2016

    @ Eric Lund: I know. But, this was nearly 14 years ago, before the TDaP was recommended for adults regularly. I was UTD on the “required” immunizations of the time.

    But no, I’m pretty sure I was correct. I hadn’t had a pertussis booster in many years and this “really bad cold that made you cough for months” went through my friends like wildfire as we are all of similar age and booster status. ONE woman was finally (she had been away for a few weeks so on the end of the bunch who caught it) diagnosed with pertussis. That was the first inkling that any of us probably went through it. She broke ribs coughing.

  27. #28 Delphine
    tim horton's
    May 18, 2016

    Europeans have lower cancer morality rates than Americans even though they smoke more and spend less on cancer care.

    Because as we all know, Europeans are pretty much amoral.

  28. #29 Dangerous Bacon
    May 18, 2016

    Horgan might benefit from reading some issues of the Skeptical Inquirer (which features articles from various skeptical luminaries including our host, Steve Novella, Harriet Hall et al).

    In addition to Bigfoot, homeopathy, hauntings etc. there are also articles on non-“soft targets”, including climate change and guns. For all I know, the contributors may also have taken on world peace and galactic harmony.

    It’s just another slice of evidence that Horgan, while intending to make a splash and preen in his I-know-the-important-issues superiority, instead demonstrated ignorance about issues tackled by skeptics.

  29. #30 Renate
    May 18, 2016

    @ Denise Walter
    And HWSNBN accuses Orac of spreading fear?
    It’s a bit ironic, I think.

  30. #31 G. Shelley
    May 18, 2016

    Also, I don’t think Marsh’s criticism was “substantial”, just mocking.
    Horgan’s response was vacuous though

  31. #32 Eric Lund
    May 18, 2016

    He says that sensitive people feel a disturbance in the force and it’s real! They’re not crazy!

    He’s not entirely wrong. Sensitive people do indeed feel a disturbance in the Force (or should I say the Farce). His error is in whom he thinks are “sensitive people”.

    I mean, we have a major party Presidential candidate and presumptive nominee who is serial deadbeat and a buffoonish conspiracy monger. You’d never be able to sell a novel with such a plot hook, because fiction has to be plausible.

  32. #33 Orac
    May 18, 2016

    Heheh.

  33. #34 Denice Walter
    May 18, 2016

    I occasionally feel the great forces of the planet writhe and quiver- fortunately it only happens near fault lines so I’m not in the gripes of any Gaia-sensitivity delusion.

    True story: I awoke at 6 am feeling a trembling in a hotel in SF and, thinking it was a vehicle delivering bok choy to the restaurant next door, went back to sleep. Later, I learned it was a 3.4.

  34. #35 Gilbert
    May 18, 2016

    You should take that sense of yours to the next level, Denice Walter #34.

    Ribas has a tiny magnet near the crook of her elbow that allows her to feel all tremors and earthquakes anywhere on earth, in real time.

    … Ribas says the external physical change is not the point of being a cyborg. “I modified my body, to modify my mind,” says Ribas. As you can see in the video above, she translates the tremors she feels in her arm into dance movements.

    …Ribas’ subdermal implant receives data from a custom iPhone app that aggregates seismic activity

    http://qz.com/677218/this-woman-a-self-described-cyborg-can-sense-every-earthquake-in-real-time/

  35. #36 stewartt1982
    Oxfordshire/Ibaraki
    May 18, 2016

    @34 Denice Walter

    On my first trip to Japan the first earthquake I felt was at ~4am, a shindo 3 (not sure of the magnitude 3.5-4 most likely). Woke up in a stupor thinking a train must be passing… it took a while to remember the train line was over a km distant.

    Things are a bit different now. Felt the M5.6 on Monday (quite a good little jolt) but slept soundly through the M4 and M4.3 aftershocks.

  36. #37 Yvette
    May 18, 2016

    So basically, he seems like the kind of guy who would show up at a conference about how to treat arthritis and scream that cancer and heart disease kill far more people.

  37. #38 Murmur
    UK-ia
    May 18, 2016

    Does this mean that there is yet another conspiracy that I am apparently part of?

    Bugger me, but this is an awful lot of secret meetings I have to attend!

    I demand higher expenses payments and more shill, errrr, shillings!

    All this conspiring doesn’t just do itself.

  38. #39 Politicalguineapig
    May 18, 2016

    DW: I can tell when tornadoes are going to form or when a thunderstorm is coming. I think some people are more sensitive to weather or minor seismic disturbances than others. And it also depends on where people grow up or spend their lives.

  39. #40 Denice Walter
    May 18, 2016

    @ PGP:

    My companion slept through it.

    I also felt something odd when I stood EXACTLY on a fault line.

    I think that sensitivity to weather changes is different- much about changes in pressure. I’ve felt this prior to storms that had extremely low- even record-breaking low- pressure.

    Supposedly cats can sense earthquakes. They like to hide and sleep when a storm approaches.

  40. #41 SkeptcalRaptor
    http://www.skepticalraptor.com
    May 18, 2016

    All good points. Now I’ll spend an hour trying to figure out why Teddy Roosevelt is battling sasquatch using some one handed machine gun holding the American Flag.

  41. #42 KayMarie
    May 18, 2016

    I don’t know how much is confirmation bias but I do tend to notice when the winds or pressure as a storm come in just “feel wrong”.

    I think if you spend enough time paying attention to the clouds and winds you do get a sense of what is atypical. I do think a fair number of folks just don’t happen to pay attention to that. Much like i don’t pay attention to brands of cloths but know people who could probably tell you what brand of undies someone was wearing by the panty lines.

    Where I grew up usually when the winds died down trouble was a brewing. Then I moved here where it is calm much of the time. Took a couple of months to get over the feeling of dread walking out of a building and into still air.

  42. #43 Camer
    May 18, 2016

    Many years ago I read a couple of Horgan’s books: The Undiscovered Mind, and Rational Mysticism. Read these books and you’ll understand that he is no skeptic – at least not in the sense of scientific skepticism. He firmly believe in mysterianism, which is basically a position that says that there are some things that cannot be reduced by material reductionism. He most emphasizes that consciousness is fundamentally mysterian in quality. He’s a man of faith pretending to be a scientist.

  43. #44 Mountainwilliam
    May 18, 2016

    The issue with over testing and treatment is more rooted in the American legal and tort system than with the medical community. Defensive medicine to avoid malpractice ramifications has led to the system being overused but it also has driven innovation. Both Europe and the U.S. benefit from having different systems. Yes, we do pay more but it has helped in developing the U.S. University system into the envy of the world. It’s not the best trait in mankind that profit drives effort and risk but to deny that is true denialism. Also if he has universal, testable facts to ending war, we’d all love to see the plan.

  44. #45 Chris
    May 18, 2016

    Homeopathy is a “soft” target? Oh, deer.

    A member of our extended family had a psychotic breakdown, and spent several weeks in the county psyche ward getting actual medical treatment. When she was released she was feeling better than she had been for years.

    Then she went to visit her naturopath, and decided the Bastyr ND was smarter than the actual psychiatrist. So she skipped the county’s outpatient clinic, dropped the real meds and bought the over priced homeopathic stuff from the ND. Plus some of her issues were related to a history of chronic pain, and instead of regular pain management the ND had her write down every twinge, itch, tiny or big pain she experience.

    Well, as could be expected she started to spiral downward again. Ended up in another county psyche ward, and finally decided to end it all. She is buried in our local Catholic cemetery.

    That is just one reason why I do not consider naturopathy and homeopathy as “soft” targets. The other is dealing with the “helpful” people who have been suggesting “causes”, “cures” and “treatments” to me since my son with several medical issues was born.

    Horgan reminds me of Will Storr, who had the same type of comments, and even attended a TAM in Las Vegas. From the linked article: ” He reports on the famous “homeopathic overdose” event in Britain, and finds that most of the crowd is just copying what their peers are doing—few have done much reading, or know much of the evidence of why homeopathy is fake. He attends The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, but finds many of the skeptics there are too smug and sure of themselves, even though they have never personally investigated why the claims they reject are wrong.”

    I was at that TAM, and it is too bad Storr didn’t ask me what I thought of homeopathy.

  45. #46 Orac
    May 18, 2016

    Now I’ll spend an hour trying to figure out why Teddy Roosevelt is battling sasquatch using some one handed machine gun holding the American Flag.

    Because I thought the picture was cool. That’s all the reason I need. 🙂

  46. #47 Chris Hickie
    slacking in a cul de sac of avoidance
    May 18, 2016

    Skeptics of skeptics of skeptics….aack. Reminds me of a thing Steve Martin once said:

    “It’s so hard to believe in anything anymore. I mean, it’s like, religion, you really can’t take it seriously, because it seems so mythological, it seems so arbitrary…but, on the other hand, science is just pure empiricism, and by virtue of its method, it excludes metaphysics. I guess I wouldn’t believe in anything anymore if it weren’t for my lucky astrology mood watch.”

  47. #48 Delphine
    May 18, 2016

    One of our dogs (the Newf) senses thunderstorms long before they hit and tries to take cover…in the bathtub.

    Q. How do you coax a 130 lbs dog out a bathtub?

    A. Bacon.

  48. #49 Southern Radical
    United States
    May 18, 2016

    I’m often surprised how those accusing others of bias are blind to the possibility that they might suffer from the same affliction. Every time an argument like this comes up, each side accuses the other of tribal thinking, and usually both are right.

  49. #50 Eric Lund
    May 18, 2016

    True story: I awoke at 6 am feeling a trembling in a hotel in SF and, thinking it was a vehicle delivering bok choy to the restaurant next door, went back to sleep. Later, I learned it was a 3.4.

    A cousin of mine was working in one of the towers in San Francisco’s financial district the day the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. The building started to sway–no big deal, as that is a routine occurrence in skyscrapers, and such buildings are equipped with dampers. The building continued to sway for more than a minute. That’s how he knew it was a big one.

    I have only felt an earthquake once. I happened to be in a building built on fill (pro tip: don’t build on fill in an earthquake risk zone) when a 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck somewhere north of Quebec City (the epicenter was about 500 km from where I was at the time). I didn’t feel anything from the Virginia earthquake a few years ago–I happened to be driving over a bridge and didn’t feel anything beyond normal road vibrations. I’ve never felt anything in San Francisco or Japan–possibly luck on my part, but people in those places know how to design earthquake-resistant buildings.

  50. #51 Not a Troll
    May 18, 2016

    The world is big enough that people can concentrate on what interests them. And, although I find Steven Novella to be more of a generalist who has an uncanny ability to write on subjects with broad emotional appeal, I see nothing wrong with specialization. In fact, both are necessary.

    I think Horgan’s talk was a waste of others’ time by just being adversarial and concur he could have inspired skeptics to not just to widen their interests but also lead them to becoming more introspective.

    I’ve written this before (and will risk being considered a sycophant by writing this again) but for all your bluster, I find your ability to be introspective your most appealing quality. Sure, I can admire intelligence, tenacity and a sense of humor but I it doesn’t lead me to trust someone. And this earned trust works even when I don’t agree with you, belong to your tribe, get insulted by you or invest large amounts of time researching the subject currently being discussed.

    You’re my Google Scholar into a world I can barely comprehend, but you help me navigate within it. That counts for this n=1.

    But don’t tell anybody I said this, ok?

  51. #52 Mrs Grimble
    May 18, 2016

    For anybody who is curious about the Roosevelt v Sasquatch image, here’s the artist: http://sharpwriter.deviantart.com/
    He has some seriously cool stuff (IMO).

  52. #53 Mike Callahan
    Sacramento
    May 18, 2016

    I think Horgan was woefully uninformed about what the skeptic movement is all about. He came in guns blazing without a clue about his audience. He picked on the wrong crowd this time. His galloping gish of straw men was so sloppy it was farcical. I can’t believe this guy is a science journalist. Where are the editors at SCI AM? The blowback from his sloppy journalism is going to explode any credibility he ever had. Skeptics have a new mission and scrutinizng his every word from now on will be de rigueur.

  53. #54 SethA
    May 18, 2016

    Maybe it’s me, but I’ve never understood how arguments of the form “You should abandon your own pet interests for mine” are even supposed to work. They seem to assume that interests are as interchangeable as clothing, without taking into account why people develop them in the first place.

    Horgan (and others who argue similarly) seem to think that skeptics enjoy activism for its own sake and would gladly take up, say, political activism if only we could be convinced that our current concerns are trivial. But that’s like saying that stamp collectors do it because they like rectangles and should collect books instead, since books are far more important than stamps!

    My sense is that most of us start out as science enthusiasts and only take up skeptical activism because we see the need for it and no one else is doing it. But if there were no need for a dedicated skeptics movement – if working scientists as a community did it themselves, for example – I’d guess that most of us would still spend a lot of time reading, thinking and talking about science. We might still form associations and invite speakers to enlighten us about new developments in the world of ideas (which our conferences already do, in part). And we might still advocate for a Mars launch, increased research in various fields, or any one of a number of causes. But most of it would still be science-based.

    Whether that’s a good thing or not in the grand scheme of things is a separate question, of course. But any attempt to persuade us otherwise would have to start with a good understanding of where we’re coming from, as you and Steve and nearly everyone else have already said.

  54. #55 Orac
    May 18, 2016

    And Mr. Horgan has responded to (mainly) Steve and (less) to me:

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/my-response-to-responses-to-my-critique-of-skepticism/

    Not surprisingly, it’s a doubling down that ignores a lot of the substantive criticism coupled with a lot of patting himself on the back.

  55. #56 Dangerous Bacon
    May 18, 2016

    Horgan’s comeback includes two classic tactics used when someone does not have substantive points to make in response to criticism.

    First, cite people who supposedly lavish praise on you while remaining anonymous (typically these mystery supporters are quoted as saying they’d come forward publicly but are afraid of censure by diehards. At least Horgan doesn’t stoop so far as to conjure up this scenario).

    Secondly, attempt to marginalize your critics by referring to them as “angry” or “hostile”. This is done on the theory that angry people are unattractive. It avoids treating opponents as reasonable folks who have good justification for differing with you.

    Horgan’s response also contains a whiff of troll, as he seems glad to have stirred things up, even if his followup is lame (“see, you’ve proved my point”).

    Such a shame, as from my perspective he’s gone from a totally unknown writer to a ninny in one easy step.

  56. #57 Denice Walter
    May 18, 2016

    re what Orac linked:

    Oh J-sus, he cites Robert Whitaker.

  57. #58 Sarah A
    May 18, 2016

    Just read Mr. Hogan’s response – if he seriously thinks this post constituted an “angry denunciation” he should read some of Orac’s posts about quacks and grifters of various stripes who actually do harm. It’s also sort of odd that he casually admits “instead of calling my talk ‘Hard Versus Soft Targets,’ I could have called it ‘Stuff You Care about Versus Stuff I Care About,’ as if there’s no difference between admitting your personal bias as opposed to essentially accusing people of cowardice and/or superficiality.

  58. #59 herr doktor bimler
    May 18, 2016

    And Mr. Horgan has responded to (mainly) Steve and (less) to me:

    You have already demonstrated that you were disagreeing with him purely out of tribal-identity defensiveness.
    It was good of Horgan to provide such a sterling example of how to step outside the tribal boundaries, preach to the non-converted, and change the minds of people who do not already agree with you.

    If only other skeptics could abandon their conformist, group-think ways and all blog about the same issues as Horgan!

  59. #60 JustaTech
    May 18, 2016

    I must really not understand Mr Hogan, because I can’t see how “multiverses” are like “war”.
    Like, no one is going to die because some people believe in multiverse theory (at least as I understand it). People die in war. It’s kind of the definition.

  60. #61 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    May 18, 2016

    Orac,

    I find it interesting that you show TR. Are you saying that Horgan is using his position as a bully pulpit.

    Oh, TR must have been a heck a man to be able to fire a BAR one handed.

    • #62 Southern Radical
      May 18, 2016

      I’m pretty sure he’s showing that Roosevelt the Elder shooting at a sasquatch is a very cool thing to have painted.

      Very cool indeed.

  61. #63 Lord Draconis Zeneca
    Undisclosed
    May 18, 2016

    MESSAGE BEGINS——————————————

    Shills and Minions:

    What are we going to do about this . . . atrocity?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAOPNX0qZUY

    Lawyers? Obsidian Shock Troops? Hatchlings? I’m at a loss . . .

    Lord Draconis Zeneca VH7ihL
    Forward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Glaxxon High Command, Pharma Overlord with Capsule Clusters

    0010111001001011111001

    —————————-MESSAGE ENDS

  62. #64 sadmar
    May 18, 2016

    I have to say I think Orac is being too defensive here. I read the text version of Horgan’s talk, and it did indeed strike me as a pot-stirring polemic that ignored various aspects of diversity in the skeptic community in favor of stereotypes, but obviously,/i> so, as figurative speech. His specific examples of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ targets was also screwy enough that rebuttal on those subjects shouldn’t really be necessary. Unless you’re really worried about Bigfoot Truthers, I guess…

    I submit the properly skeptical attitude towards criticism from gadflys (as opposed to woo-promoting trolls) is to chuck out the off-target details and do some honest self-examination on the broader issues, trying to take a step outside your weltanschauung, try on another set of lenses, and see how things look – with the proviso that this may still lead to dismissal of the critique rather than any sort of mea culpa. But it’s a useful exercise even if it gets to the same destination along a different path.

    In this case, skeptics might ask themselves, ‘are we tribal in any way that’s problematic?’; ‘how do we justify our targets as a general social concern outside of our own interest?’; and ‘are there any “dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions” we’re giving a pass?’ – but in each case the ‘we’ wouldn’t be ‘all skeptics’ but whatever each individual identifies as a meaningful reference group. After all, Horgan isn’t addressing individuals, but a community. It would silly to tell Todd to spend less time concerned with vaccines and devote time to The Deep Theory of War (whatever that is) instead, and I’d guess Horgan knows that and is just trying to express a sort of ‘well, somebody should be using a skeptical lens on stuff like this.’ But it wouldn’t be silly for any of us to ask ourselves whether we might have too readily given a pass to some “claims promoted by major scientists and institutions” that do fall into our areas of knowledge and interest, due to some confirmation biases common amongst our ‘tribes’.

    Horgan did himself no favors by using the language of ‘hard and soft targets’ especially using Bigfoot as an exemplar out of his pique with the moderator of his conference talk. The terms call up too many different meanings, most of which it seems he did not mean to address. So lets look at his definitions: “Soft target” = “bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you… preaching to the converted”. “Tribalism’ = “pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they [sic] are compared to those outside the tribe”. ‘Hard targets’ for capital-S Skeptics then would be ‘going against the grain’ on matters where the ‘tribe’ tends to be blind or near-sighted to some of it’s own avowed principles. I think there’s plenty of good grist for that mill, but I’m not about to suggest any of that should be at the top of anyone’s agenda.

    Since Horgan also cited homepathy, I do have to note I think that’s a questionable target. There aren’t that many Hahnemannian 30C diluters in practice, and they’re not much of a threat. Naturopathy, IMHO, is a genuine danger, but as far as I can tell it’s embrace of homeopathy per se is just a symptom, and the real harm comes from the wider armamentum of ‘natural cures’ that mostly have some substance in them, and thus form more credible-seeming ‘alternatives’ to real medicine for serious medical conditions. However, I’ve come to consider even the practice of naturopaths to be small potatoes in the harm department in comparison to the whole ‘natural remedies’ OTC and mail-order market, which extends from pure-evil supplement shills like Truehope, through all-purpose wackos like Health Deranger and his Natural News store, down to a whole aisle at the local Walgreens filled with products labeled with outrageous claims. (In comparison to the supplement section, the OTC homeopathics at chain pharmacies are barely worth mention…)

    As far as ‘soft targets’ and ‘hard targets’ go, my critque of RI would take different meanings of those terms than Horgan uses. I submit that quacks themselves are indeed ‘soft targets’, and the ‘hard targets’ are the ‘major institutions’ that just shrug and let them get away with bilking the public and threatening the health and lives of the vulnerable. In this, ‘quackademia’ and NCCIH are both small and mitigating players, and the responsibility rests mainly with the do-nothing medical boards and professional associations. To my mind, it’s just total WTF that supplements remain unregulated, chiropractors/naturopaths/acupuncturists/etc.-etc. can practice all sorts of nonsense without consequence, and the medical establishment at large, the groups any layman or policy-maker would logically look to for guidance on these issues are either silent or just muttering mild objections soto voce. IMHO, the first order of business for advocates of medical science over pseudo-science is excoriating the medical profession for the ignorance or self-interest or convention or cowardice or whatever leads to their shrugginess, and demanding that they get wise, grow some cohones, and take a stand against the tidal wave of crapola. Just my 2¢…

  63. #65 Politicalguineapig
    May 18, 2016

    DW: I think that sensitivity to weather changes is different- much about changes in pressure. I’ve felt this prior to storms that had extremely low- even record-breaking low- pressure.

    Yup. You can definitely feel it when the pressure drops.

    Kaymarie: Yeah. I don’t *think* I pay all that much attention to weather, but I know enough small signs that I sort of subconciously adjust to the weather as it happens- like double-checking myself and grabbing my rain jacket, or sticking close to home on a day where there might be a thunderstorm so I’m not on my bike when it hits.

  64. #66 sadmar
    May 18, 2016

    The Teddy vs. Bigfoot painting is by Jason Hauser – aka ‘SharpWriter’ – and was the first of a series of over-the-top presidential portraits he sells on DeviantArt and Etsy. Reagan riding a dinosaur, W. riding a Sharknado down from Air Force One. Lincoln riding a grizzly, carrying a machine gun. Nixon beating down a sabretooth tiger (“he was transported back to the ice age” when “there was a considerable malfunction with his time machine”). Of course, the paintings receive comments lauding their patriotism , among which (per Poe’s Law) one can’t tell which might be genuine and which are jokes.
    Brief profile: http://tinyurl.com/h5mr9mt

  65. #67 Denice Walter
    May 18, 2016

    @ sadmar:

    Remember when you asked about the Lizard King ™ ”
    Well, here he is ( #63).

    Be properly deferent to him, perhaps he’ll send you something in the mail

  66. #68 Liz Ditz
    Great State of California
    May 19, 2016

    He [Horgan] most emphasizes that consciousness is fundamentally mysterian in quality.

    You mean like this?

  67. #70 Kay Brown
    sillyolme.wordpress.com
    May 19, 2016

    I’m so… glad that I’m not the only one who has been unimpressed with Horgan. Each time I make the mistake of reading one of his essay, I have to shake off the mind numbing effect of “WTF?” Is this guy a crypto science denialist setting up imaginary strawmen to knock down?

    But this issue of “tribal”… I’ve heard that one before, being used by a science denialist dismissing my use of evidence and logic as mearly “promoting (my) tribe”… all the while using tortous mislogic based on post-modernistic denial of objective reality. This is what I feel Horgan does much of the time.

    But I’ve gotten smart lately… if I see that an essay is written by Horgan, I simply don’t read it. I already know that it will be a waste of time at best, or I might need to use mental floss to remove the bad taste in my mind… but I will never come away thinking, “Wow, that makes me think…” Just doesn’t happen.

  68. #71 Liz Ditz
    Great State of California
    May 19, 2016

    He says that sensitive people feel a disturbance in the force and it’s real! They’re not crazy!

    Uhm. Does it mean anything that I can almost always tell which way is north?

  69. #72 Sarah
    La Crosse, WI
    May 19, 2016

    It really annoys me when people go after psychiatric meds. I got into an argument with a guy on Facebook about that. He kept trying to convince me that I was poisoning myself. I unfortunately do not have a background in medical science. I tried to argue with him that I had been on it a few years and have yet to get diabetes, and I don’t look nearly as mean and stressed out as when I was unmedicated. My quality of life went up with the meds. The movie A Beautiful Mind kind of annoys me too because that was part of the reason I went unmedicated as long as I did. It also makes schizophrenia look kind of benign.

  70. #73 Brian Lynchehaun
    Vancouver, Canada
    May 19, 2016

    “Basically, Horgan starts out with a germ of a good point, namely that skepticism should be applied to more difficult targets as zealously as we apply it to “easier” targets. It’s a point that no serious skeptic would dispute.”

    “A more polite characterization comes from Daniel Loxton, who describes Horgan’s bizarre argument as:

    I’ve spent much of my career confronting the common argument that skeptics should not perform the service skeptics do best, but instead tackle other subjects we may not be qualified to address. It’s a head scratcher, honestly. “You have specialized expertise in X, but I think X is trivial. Why don’t you specialize in Y, because I think Y is important?” Nobody ever says this to Shakespeare scholars or doctors or plumbers. (“Dear ‘fire fighters,’ fight fires less and solve more murders”?) Seemingly everyone says it to skeptics.

    Indeed. If someone came up to me and said, “Why don’t you stop writing about mammography, cancer, and homeopathy and look at Bigfoot instead?” I’d laugh dismissively. Yet, all too frequently I see the opposite argument being made uncritically by people like Horgan about skepticism.”

    So………………..

    By your own definition, neither you nor Loxton are “serious skeptics”?

    This whole rant is riddled with this kind of bungled self-contradiction.

  71. #74 Brian Lynchehaun
    Vancouver, Canada
    May 19, 2016

    [I submit the properly skeptical attitude towards criticism from gadflys (as opposed to woo-promoting trolls) is to chuck out the off-target details and do some honest self-examination on the broader issues, trying to take a step outside your weltanschauung, try on another set of lenses, and see how things look – with the proviso that this may still lead to dismissal of the critique rather than any sort of mea culpa. But it’s a useful exercise even if it gets to the same destination along a different path.

    In this case, skeptics might ask themselves, ‘are we tribal in any way that’s problematic?’; ‘how do we justify our targets as a general social concern outside of our own interest?’; and ‘are there any “dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions” we’re giving a pass?’ – but in each case the ‘we’ wouldn’t be ‘all skeptics’ but whatever each individual identifies as a meaningful reference group. After all, Horgan isn’t addressing individuals, but a community. It would silly to tell Todd to spend less time concerned with vaccines and devote time to The Deep Theory of War (whatever that is) instead, and I’d guess Horgan knows that and is just trying to express a sort of ‘well, somebody should be using a skeptical lens on stuff like this.’ But it wouldn’t be silly for any of us to ask ourselves whether we might have too readily given a pass to some “claims promoted by major scientists and institutions” that do fall into our areas of knowledge and interest, due to some confirmation biases common amongst our ‘tribes’.]

    I dunno, Sadmar. That kind of thing just reeks of the principle of charity, and other critical thinking 101 ideas.

    Why thoughtfully engage with the topic, when you just type up a multi-thousand word rant that stirs up your followers instead?

  72. #75 Helianthus
    May 19, 2016

    @ Rich Bly

    Oh, TR must have been a heck a man to be able to fire a BAR one handed.

    OT
    Is it a BAR or a M60?
    The nuclear belt buckle may be helping.

    IRL, Teddy Roosevelt was indeed someone not to be trifled with. He earned a nice post on the Badass of the week website.

    In fiction, Mike Resnick wrote a few short stories featuring the Bull Moose. As usual with Resnick’s use of historical characters, it is difficult to distinguish where reality stops and where fictitious accounts begin. One story happens in London, UK, and is called Redchapel. I’ll let you guess which serial killer TR is hunting.

  73. #76 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    May 19, 2016

    @Helianthus:

    Is it a BAR or a M60?

    It’s an M60. If you look closely, you can see the ammunition belt feeding into it.

  74. #77 Rebecca Fisher
    That London
    May 19, 2016

    @Denise

    Re: Cats – My cat can not only sense thunderstorms and earthquakes, but mild breezes, sunny spells, the coming of the apocalypse, dogs in the garden, the release of a new Adele album, the imminent shooting of a politician, Wednesdays, burglars, and the launch of a new TV channel.

    He predicts all these by hiding and going to sleep.

  75. #78 Rebecca Fisher
    May 19, 2016

    Sorry. “Denice”.

  76. #79 herr doktor bimler
    May 19, 2016

    Uhm. Does it mean anything that I can almost always tell which way is north?

    Perhaps you have symbiotic magnetotactic bacteria.

  77. #80 sadmar
    May 19, 2016

    Liz:
    Yes, consciousness is ‘mysterian’ exactly like that. But No, I don’t think that’s Horgan’s position. 🙂

  78. #81 sadmar
    remedial HTML tag typing class
    May 19, 2016

    on Kay Brown’s comment, but meant for everybody here…

    I had never heard of Horgan before this, but I read several of his pieces today, and while I’m mostly unimpressed, I think I ‘get’ his position. That is, my being unimpressed comes from assessing that he’s not very good at what he does, but I want to argue that ‘that sort of thing’ can be quite worthwhile, if you take it with the right approach and the right set of filters.

    So, without defending him specifically, I have to say he hardly comes off to me as a ‘crypto’ science-denialist. He writes in another piece that he believes in “the attainability of truth and progress” and considers science “by far our most powerful means of understanding and improving our world.” But with any power comes a potential for mis-use, and I take Horgan as trying to be a gadfly flagging those potentials for the purpose of keeping science on the path not just of ‘truth and understanding’, but ‘progress in improving our world’.

    He clearly considers himself ‘inside science’ and I think he embraces terminology from the humanities for a sort of shock effect of establishing an ‘i don’t follow in lockstep with my tribe’ cred. For example, in an essay ripping Steven Pinker (http://tinyurl.com/zv7uen8), he accuses Pinker of “scientism” and labels his critique of Pinker as “postmodernist”, which I take as an act of deliberate provocation as I figure he knows full well that such language is likely to twit the sensitivities of SA’s readership, who are likely to consider it a sort of outlawry in the context of science journalism.

    [Horgan says “Pinker never seems to have understood postmodernism,” which is true, but Horgan doesn’t understand PoMo either. I wrote out a brief-for-me explication, but it’s a digression, so you’ve been spared. 😉 ]

    Anyway, I take Horgan’s schtick to be a lame gloss on ‘critical science studies’ more or less echoing some broad sentiments of that critique while badly mangling a lot of the details and mis-applying it to some of his pet issues. The mainstream of ‘science studies’ (and I used to move in academic circles with some of it’s notable figures, so I feel qualified on this point) is anything but ‘science denialist’. You don’t say “you’re over-reaching here” or “you’re being mis-used there” if you think the base project is worthless. You do that because you think the base project is hella important. Think of science studies scholars as a sort of analog to the friend who’ll tell you your new haircut just doesn’t work for you, or your significant other is feeding you a line of BS.

    What I cannot emphasize strongly enough: in thinking Horgan sounds like a science denialist Kay has it exactly backwards. Surely you all know how woo-slingers abuse the sciences, yes? Pseudo-science sounds like science, but isn’t of course. You might as well damn real scientists for sounding like Intelligent Design or climate-change-is-a-hoax ‘scientists’. Woo-ists abuse EVERY legitimate discourse. You should assume that EVERYTHING they say is a fake, a corrupt co-optation of any and all available legitimate discourses into the service of their agenda. it infuriates me to no end that so many skeptics don’t see this, and having encountered certain terms or ideas first and primarily from quacks and kooks, imagine these woo-ists made them up, and their use is inextricably tied to their pseudo-scientific projects, when in fact they’re just doing pseudo-humanities. Trust me, if Lionel Milgrom says it, it’s wrong, and the thinkers whose ideas he steals and mangles – the people ‘who sound like him’ if you will – consider him a laughable asshat.

    (to be continued…)

  79. #82 Peter Dugdale
    homeofhomeopathy
    May 19, 2016

    I’ve just looked, and there were no comments on Horgan’s post at SciAm. That’s not surprising: Scientific American has become very restrictive on commenting. Most posts (including on blog pages) don’t allow for it, and it’s easy to get black-listed or your post taken down if they don’t like it. I’ve seen posts taken down which were unimpeachable in tone, if, for example, you argue pro-atomic power

    Horgan is allowed to be as controversial as he likes, including equating the US with terrorism, but if you reply in similar terms you get the ban-hammer and your post gets removed. So he can skulk there and create the impression that the left has all the arguments and supporters.

    So it’ll have to be here that I characterise conflating Bigfoot advocates with those of homeopathy as intellectually dishonest.

  80. […] yesterday’s epic mid-week rant about a man who thinks he knows what skepticism is but clearly doesn’t, it’s time to get back […]

  81. #84 Orac
    May 19, 2016

    @Peter: In fairness, Horgan has said that there have been problems with the SciAm commenting system for a while now that make commenting difficult and unreliable. Personally, I can’t figure out why SciAm wouldn’t place a high priority on fixing such a problem, but that’s what Horgan says and I have no reason to doubt him.

  82. #85 Orac
    May 19, 2016

    What I cannot emphasize strongly enough: in thinking Horgan sounds like a science denialist Kay has it exactly backwards. Surely you all know how woo-slingers abuse the sciences, yes? Pseudo-science sounds like science, but isn’t of course.

    If Horgan is not a science denialist, he sure can sound like one at times. I’ve read some of his posts on mammography and cancer, and he tends to cherry pick the studies that make mammography look the worst and ignore the ones that don’t. As I discussed above, he completely misinterpreted cancer mortality data in the US and Europe to make broad, general statements that wouldn’t be out of place on Mercola.com or NaturalNews. There is no nuance or even recognition that there is another side to the story other than to dismiss that other side. He might not be a science denialist himself, but at times he sure lets his rhetoric go in that direction. Maybe that’s a function of incompetence at what he is trying to do. I don’t know.

    I had forgotten about having addressed Horgan before, but you can get an idea of Horgan’s “thinking,” such as it is, from this post:

    https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/on-the-right-to-challenge-a-medical-or-scientific-consensus/

  83. #86 Daniel Corcos
    May 19, 2016

    “Horgan is allowed to be as controversial as he likes, including equating the US with terrorism, but if you reply in similar terms you get the ban-hammer and your post gets removed. So he can skulk there and create the impression that the left has all the arguments and supporters.”

    Orac has another strategy: let the minions amplifying his voice as if this could replace arguments and evidence.

    • #87 Orac
      May 19, 2016

      And yet I still let you post here, as obsessed as you are with a couple of points and as much as you have annoyed other commenters and me. Funny that.

  84. #88 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    May 19, 2016

    @sadmar #81:

    I take Horgan as trying to be a gadfly flagging those potentials for the purpose of keeping science on the path not just of ‘truth and understanding’, but ‘progress in improving our world’.

    In other words, he’s a smug, self-righteous and supercilious person who assumes others need guidance. This is reinforced by his dismissal of critiques of his “critique” as motivated by tribalism.
    People like that irritate me.

  85. #90 Politicalguineapig
    May 19, 2016

    Camer: He’s a man of faith pretending to be a scientist.

    Yes, I think you’re right. And that never ends well. In the current state of American Christianity, an interest in the sciences is not encouraged, and it’s becoming really difficult to work in the sciences and be active in the church. Either the scientist risks social isolation, loses their faith, or ends up fudging the data or renouncing science entirely because the pressure from their fellow parishioners and the pastor becomes too much. Muslim scientists have the same problem, though non-Hasidic Jewish scientists do not, largely because over time they’ve learned to ignore God’s prohibition on knowledge and literacy.

    About the only thing that Horgan and I might agree on is that Pinker’s as out there as any quack. Pinker’s latest book rubs me all the wrong ways, mostly because he’s so wrong that he might as well be living in an alternative universe. Humans are not less violent than they used to be. If anything, they’re more. And the only way to change that would be to make humans not be Homo Sapiens anymore. It’s like all those stupid injunctions against bullies that make teachers and educators feel they are DOING SOMETHING and making a difference.

  86. #91 TBruce
    May 19, 2016

    So it’ll have to be here that I characterise conflating Bigfoot advocates with those of homeopathy as intellectually dishonest.

    Absolutely! Bigfoot is scientifically plausible.

  87. #92 Lord Draconis Zeneca
    The Front Porch of Infinity
    May 19, 2016

    MESSAGE BEGINS———————-

    Exalted Domina Walter:

    So kind of you to inform Sandman of our largesse. PharmaLucre is so very irresistible. But Lizard King? Really, you’re too kind. While I hold many titles across the confederated systems of the Empire, King, alas, will never be one of them. As you well know, we are an Ovomatriarchal Pharmalogical Continuum, and as such, run by our Great EggMothers. That, and we can, under the right stressors, change our genders, so Queen maybe, but never King.

    So, Sampan, you too could be rolling in piles of delicious cash, you need simply to dedicate your worthless life to Her Imperial Highness Clopidogra XXIII (may she kill quickly should I disappoint her), and take our Free Personality Test at your convenience. A new life awaits you!

    And EDW, loved that ensemble you wore to the last Pharma Phuntime Jamboree opening reception. Such a fearless approach to color!

    Lord Draconis Zeneca VH7ihL
    Very Forward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Imitated by Bloviating Bastards, Class VII Flensmaster

    0011010101110101

    Imperial Shuttle Tedium of Transit

    ————————————–MESSAGE ENDS

  88. #93 Julian Frost
    South Africa
    May 19, 2016

    @Politicalguineapig:

    In the current state of American Christianity, an interest in the sciences is not encouraged

    Citation needed.

    …and it’s becoming really difficult to work in the sciences and be active in the church

    Citation needed.

    Either the scientist risks social isolation, loses their faith, or ends up fudging the data or renouncing science entirely because the pressure from their fellow parishioners and the pastor becomes too much.

    Citation needed.

    Muslim scientists have the same problem, though non-Hasidic Jewish scientists do not, largely because over time they’ve learned to ignore God’s prohibition on knowledge and literacy.

    Citation REALLY needed.

    Humans are not less violent than they used to be. If anything, they’re more.

    Then why has the homicide rate fallen each century over at least the last five centuries, even counting for the two worlds wars in the 20th century?

  89. #94 Gilbert
    May 19, 2016

    To my mind, it’s just total WTF that supplements remain unregulated

    To what degree, sadmar #64?

    I drink therefore I take supplemental thiamine, choline, and inositol. Will these things get locked up behind a prescription-wall? Will I risk imprisionment for buying valerian root down by the third alley behind the hot water pipes??

    I do wish there were some warnings on things such as the megadoses of folic acid (a poison). Then again, I wish it were pointed out more clearly that the labeling of folic acid in food products has become a number to strive to minimize; Like “too much” sodium (LoL).

  90. […] surrounding John Horgan’s article about skeptics, which I responded to previously. (See also Orac’s and Daniel Loxton’s responses.) At the core of Horgan’s piece is a logical fallacy so […]

  91. #96 EmJay
    In the stacks
    May 19, 2016

    “… non-Hasidic Jewish scientists do not, largely because over time they’ve learned to ignore God’s prohibition on knowledge and literacy.”

    Your comment about God’s prohibition on knowledge and learning? With all due respect, PGP, that’s not true.

  92. #97 MI Dawn
    May 19, 2016

    @Gilbert: I’d settle for the supplement companies having to do a lot of quality testing so that if I decide to buy, for example, valerian root, I know I’m getting what it says on the bottle per each capsule, rather than wondering how much of it is just chalk dust.

  93. #98 herr doktor bimler
    May 19, 2016

    If Horgan is not a science denialist, he sure can sound like one at times.

    He leans over backwards to praise denialists. I read one of his posts on climate-change denialism where he reckoned that most people who accept the reality of AGW are merely sheep-like tribalists who simply accept authorities without bothering to examine the actual science… whereas the AGW-denying minority all delve deeply into the climatological details before they reach the wrong conclusions.
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/neuroframing-the-global-warming-issue-wont-win-converts/

    His evidence for the intellectual superiority of denialists is their eminence as media columnists.

    Two sources at the Science Times section of the New York Times have told me that a majority of the section’s editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.

    Also, it is all Al Gore’s fault for politicising the issue by publicising it while being a Democrat.

    This is central to his image of being non-tribal, above the fray, looking down on skeptics and denialists alike from a position of lofty superiority.

  94. #99 Gilbert
    May 19, 2016

    That is a good point, MI Dawn #97. Though, with valerian root, it would be pretty easy to tell if it were bunk or not.

    Depending on the path this ‘regulation’ chooses to persue, most of the supplement companies will not be able to afford/comply with FDA testing and standards. I suspect Centrum vitamins (poisonous little things) and Glaxxo Biotin toothpast will still be around.

  95. #100 Dangerous Bacon
    May 19, 2016

    ‘His evidence for the intellectual superiority of denialists is their eminence as media columnists’

    “Two sources at the Science Times section of the New York Times have told me that a majority of the section’s editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.”

    This is another example of lots-of-people-agree-with-me-but-I-won’t-tell-you-who-they-are.

    Why, I’ll bet laudatory e-mails are flooding his inbox right now.

  96. #101 herr doktor bimler
    May 19, 2016

    the intellectual superiority of denialists

    Afterthought: Horgan reminds me of Jonathan Haidt, who identifies as a liberal while making a career out of praising the superior morality of cultural conservatives. Which springs from deep-rooted visceral prejudices and is therefore more authentic than the carefully-thought-out ethical frameworks favoured by liberals.

  97. #102 Narad
    May 19, 2016

    non-Hasidic Jewish scientists do not, largely because over time they’ve learned to ignore God’s prohibition on knowledge

    So what’s PGP’s excuse?

  98. #103 Mary M (mem_somerville)
    May 19, 2016

    I really wish that Horgan would deal with his own tribe–I mean, all those “gene for X” stories that we have to battle are coming from media mischaracterizations of actual work that’s being done. In his triple-down post (the Meta-Skepticism) he’s complaining with a piece he wrote in 1993 as his evidence. Oh, yeah–we didn’t blog enough about the “gay gene” then, that’s for damn sure. We didn’t have blogs, you numpty.

    And while he’s at it, how about all this media consolidation? Information is in a few small hands at this point. I mean, SciAm could be owned by…nevermind

    Anyway. His priorities are a mess. See also world hunger. I agree with Dangerous Bacon.

    [see what we did there?]

  99. #104 Gilbert
    May 19, 2016

    Ohh, come on; PgP is the soft target–Ya’ll are bigger than that.

  100. #105 herr doktor bimler
    May 19, 2016

    all those “gene for X” stories that we have to battle are coming from media mischaracterizations of actual work that’s being done

    If skeptics really cared about crap science journalism — the malign collaboration between headline-seeking press agents and churnalists, and the funding structure that motivates the collaboration — we would all have pulpits at SciAm from which to denounce it. Our failure to join Horgan with high-profile positions within the crap-science media proves that we are siding with crap-science journalism. Out of misplaced priorities.

  101. #106 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    May 19, 2016

    That is a good point, MI Dawn #97. Though, with valerian root, it would be pretty easy to tell if it were bunk or not.

    There’s also contamination with random crap around the room they’re made in, in addition to potency issues. Supplement companies could easily absorb the costs of certification and consumers would be getting cleaner and better-defined products.

  102. #107 JustaTech
    May 19, 2016

    Gilbert @99: If supplement manufacturers can’t comply with GMP then that’s their problem. Yes, it’s annoying and a lot of paperwork, but it’s not *hard*. Write a procedure, and stick to it. Document everything.
    Everybody else does it, why do supplement makers get a pass? Heck, for a while in California *cookies* were more tightly regulated than supplements.

  103. #108 Narad
    May 19, 2016

    Y’know, I’d never even heard of Horgan, but between this* and “The Death of Proof,”** I’m already profoundly unimpressed.

    * “I remain skeptical of inflation.” Yah. Once again, h[]tp://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=7715&cpage=1#comment-218357
    ** Prime number gaps, anyone?

  104. #109 herr doktor bimler
    May 19, 2016

    “I remain skeptical of inflation.”.

    Having spent the last 20 years proclaiming the impending end of scientific and mathematical discovery, Horgan has little choice but to reject every new discovery as hyped or fraudulent. Then he accuses the skeptic movement of tribalist conformity because they don’t agree with him.

  105. #110 Narad
    May 19, 2016

    I see that Peter Woit has offered “kudos” to Horgan, although he’s more nuanced in the comments. I suppose this is not overly surprising.

  106. #111 Mary M (mem_somerville)
    May 19, 2016

    So Nature News deleted Sharon Hill’s and my comments. And I was quoted in the damn piece. (Nature’s parent owns SciAm, right?)

    Last time I respond to their request for a quote.

  107. #112 Politicalguineapig
    May 19, 2016

    Emjay:Your comment about God’s prohibition on knowledge and learning? With all due respect, PGP, that’s not true.

    What was the Garden of Eden about then? Aside from showing God’s need to kick something perpetually? And why is it that every time there’s a scientific advance or a new scientific concept floated the various churches feel the need to take it down?

    Julian Frost: Then why has the homicide rate fallen each century over at least the last five centuries, even counting for the two worlds wars in the 20th century.

    First of all, more resources are available to more people, so they don’t feel the need to off someone for land/food/shelter/whathaveyou anymore. Consequences have also increased. A few hundred years ago in some places, no one would *ever* go to jail for homicide. Until the 1800s, no one tried to unify the local police forces, and they only had as much power as the local landowners gave them.
    As for my cite to point out that Christians are not interested nor encouraged to be interested in Science, I give you the House Science Commitee, who are all Christian, all Republican, and who collectively know less science than an average eighth-grader. The House member from Atlanta, Georgia is on record as saying embryology and cosmology are ‘demonic’ and most of them still think the Earth is flat. Also, see the Discovery Institute, with

    As for Muslim scientists, how many have any recognition in their fields? Heck, are there any functioning universities outside of Turkey, Indonesia, and Malaysia run without state interference and where the graduates can chose any field they wish?

    Gil: Your help is unasked for and unwanted.

  108. #113 Chris
    May 19, 2016

    Mary, it looks like they deleted every comment.

  109. #114 Mary M (mem_somerville)
    May 19, 2016

    @Chris: oh, were there more? I only knew of ours.

    So you can’t comment at SciAm. You can’t comment there. Way to have conversation.

    Well, gotta say this for the drama. I think this is the most aligned I’ve seen skeptics since I’ve been hanging around with them. Nothing unites like a common Horgan.

  110. #115 JustaTech
    May 19, 2016

    PGP @112: Your ignorance of history is stunning sometimes.
    1) In Britain in the 1700’s you could be hung (or transported) for stealing bread. People weren’t sent to jail for murder, they were executed. All the time.

    2) In the past Muslium scholars, mathematicians and scientists were far and away the best in the world. Look at the numbers you use every day. Algebra.
    I personally have known many brilliant Muslim scientists who study all kinds of topics. Many of them are from Iran. So please don’t go around insisting that all [blank] are [blank]. You do that all the time here and the commentariat has called you out on it regularly.

    Painting all members of all possible sects of Christianity with the same brush as the idiots on the House science committee is as unreasonable as saying that all women are Bloody Mary.

  111. #116 Chris
    May 19, 2016

    Mary: “@Chris: oh, were there more? I only knew of ours.”

    I have no idea. The last time I read that article was before there were comments, and now there are none. So I did not know there had only been two comments.

    Truthfully, I try not to read the comments on news sites. Mostly for the same reason Popular Science shut down the comments on their articles. Sorry.

  112. #117 Vicki
    May 19, 2016

    PGP: It is no more inherently reasonable to say “this group of Christian Republican politicians are anti-science, therefore all Christians are anti-science” than to say “this group of Christian Republican Americans are anti-science, therefore all Americans are anti-science” or “these Republican Christian men are anti-science, therefore all men are anti-science.”

    One of the many obnoxious things about that strain of racist, sexist, homophobic authoritarians is the way that they have convinced a great many people that they are the real Christians. I’m not saying they aren’t really Christian: but I’m not going to let them tell me that my queer, progressive Christian friends aren’t real Christians either.

    [It’s possible that one of those House Republicans is a woman; it’s not possible that a Republican member of the U.S. Congress isn’t an American.]

  113. #118 Politicalguineapig
    May 19, 2016

    Justatech: People weren’t sent to jail for murder, they were executed. All the time.

    If they were poor. Up until the 1800s (and in some places not until the 1900s), rich people could literally get away with murder. Transportation and execution was only for the poor. Laws did not apply across *all* classes as they do today.

    Thing is, you don’t hear anyone condemning the House Science Comittee, ever. Or penning articles saying that one can be a Christian and a scientist. The scientists just shrug and hunker down, and other Christians just ignore the controversy. So it’s not unreasonable to think that Christians don’ care or are actively opposed to science.

  114. #119 John Phillips
    On the other side of the channel from somewhere else.
    May 19, 2016

    PGP, please stop demonstrating your widespread ignorance about so many subjects. Here, have a read about possibly one of the first real scientists named Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham, who used both thought experiments as well as empirical testing and, among many other works, wrote a 7 volume Opus on light and the eye in the 11th Century regarded as a true classic. Today he likely would have been regarded as a bit of a polymath.

    https://www.elsevier.com/connect/how-an-ancient-muslim-scientist-cast-his-light-into-the-21st-century

    The sad thing is that later, due to internal and external stress Islam became a much more orthodox and reactionary ideology and hence a bit like many of today’s republican politicians with regard to science. As to modern day research, you might want to try and read up on the research being done in Iran on things like stem cell research. To mention just one subject that has problems getting support from many on the right in the US.

    Your violence today statement also, surprise surprise, not really, shows just as high a degree of ignorance as does the rest of your post. If you bother to look at deaths from violence, the odd blip aside and even counting wars it has been falling almost year on year on a pro rata and real numbers basis.

    Does the Guinea Pig part of your nym refer to you being cruelly used as a test subject to post garbage to blogs to see what response you get. Or are you just naturally this ignorant about the subjects you choose to rant about.

    As to your last post, heard about Ken Miller, a very active Xian biologist who wrote the biology text book used in the US who regularly fights against the fundies and anti-science creationists and the anti-science strain of too many in the US. You sound exactly like the people who are constantly complaining about Muslims who don’t condemn Islamic extremists because either you don’t see it when they do and partly because the MSM rarely reports it when they do. But if you open your eyes you will find it. Though I doubt you are interested as it will give you one less thing to ignorantly rant about.

    And stop moving the goal posts, your post where you implied that people didn’t get punished for murder by saying that they didn’t get sent to jail was only right because instead of being sent to jail, they were routinely executed. Now mentioning the rich versus the poor is just you shifting the goal posts after being shown wildly wrong once again. You gish gallop much like a creationist or an anti-vaxxer.

    By the way, using your logic, going by the garbage you post time and time again you obviously don’t care about the truth or the facts.

  115. #120 Narad
    May 19, 2016

    PGP, please stop demonstrating your widespread ignorance about so many subjects.

    I only see PGP’s comments when they’re quoted, but even this was amazing, to return to a fuller version of the bit I previously quoted:

    non-Hasidic Jewish scientists do not, largely because over time they’ve learned to ignore God’s prohibition on knowledge and literacy.

    I mean, even if one considers the Haredi (m.m. Amish) stop-at-the-eighth-grade routine, literacy is absolutely essential for Torah and Talmud study.* I can’t even imagine a dumber accusation.

    * The social dynamics of this is a wholly separate can of worms.

  116. #121 Narad
    May 19, 2016

    At 120 comments in, though, I’d like to pose a somewhat related question: Does “friendship” require otherness?

  117. #122 Narad
    May 19, 2016

    ^ Eh, forget it. The question is asymmetric, viz., presumes plural minds.

  118. #123 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    May 20, 2016

    I feel compelled, against my better judgement, to respond to PGP’s comment #112.

    What was the Garden of Eden about then?

    The tree was the tree of knowledge of GOOD AND EVIL, not of all knowledge.

    And why is it that every time there’s a scientific advance or a new scientific concept floated the various churches feel the need to take it down?

    Every time? Even allowing for your typical hyperbole, that is an astonishing thing to say, PGP. One of the first proponents of the Big Bang was a Jesuit Monsignor. Gregor Mendel, who gave us Mendelian Inheritance, was an Augustinian monk.
    I have seen the argument that you can be either a scientist or religious, but not both. To me, it is a false dilemma.

  119. #124 Amethyst
    The Crystal Gem
    May 20, 2016

    But how would the knowledge of good and evil suddenly make them realize that they were naked? Being nude is neither good nor evil after all…

  120. #125 Delphine
    feeling unsafe and deeply troubled
    May 20, 2016

    As for Muslim scientists, how many have any recognition in their fields?

    Further Mathematics? No? Never did any?

  121. #126 KayMarie
    May 20, 2016

    [blockquote]And why is it that every time there’s a scientific advance or a new scientific concept floated the various churches feel the need to take it down?[/blockquote]

    I usually see this as not specifically about science as there are those who react to anything new with “nope, nope, nope”.

    Fear of newness seems to be common in humans. It doesn’t just apply to science, and it isn’t just confined to the religious.

    Although I suspect that those with a stronger resistance to change and fear of newness may gather with others who find discomfort with that new-fangled thingy over there.

    Now there are things in human nature that balance out that fear of the new or we never would have migrated across the world.

  122. #127 Dangerous Bacon
    May 20, 2016

    While blasting poor beleaguered Mr. Horgan for his criticism of skeptics who don’t give enough time to issues _he_ thinks are important, we should give him credit for one thing.

    At least his “tribalism” accusation, while not exactly novel, is better than the lame jibe employed by alties, about how science is a religion/cult.

    I have always wondered how people for whom (as a group, anyway) religion/spirituality is vital can believe that labeling their opponents as religious is a dire insult. But logic has never been a strong suit for such folk.

  123. […] Horgan’s Admonition to Skeptics, so I’ll just note that there are two good critiques, one by Orac on Respectful Insolence and the other by Steve Novella on Neurologica.  They’re similar, but both worth reading, and […]

  124. #129 EmJay
    in the stacks
    May 20, 2016

    Thank you, Narad and Julian Frost for your replies to PGP. I don’t need to add anything, but I don’t want to appear as a hit-and-run poster, so . . .

    PGP @ 112
    What was the Garden of Eden about then? Aside from showing God’s need to kick something perpetually? And why is it that every time there’s a scientific advance or a new scientific concept floated the various churches feel the need to take it down?

    All churches? Assumes facts not in evidence.
    OK, it’s OT but … the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil. Hebrew School was a long time ago, and I’m going from memory. Adam & Eve eating the fruit of the tree gave them ability to discern good from evil and the consciousness to make that choice. Remember, there is no Original Sin in Judaism.

    Narad @ 120
    And even the most ultra-orthodox of the ultra-orthodox rabbis don’t demand their followers forgo electricity* or modern medicine**.

    *Although they’re quite strict about what technology is allowed.
    **There’s an outbreak of chicken pox in Williamsburg among unvaccinated kids.

  125. #130 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 20, 2016

    @EmJay

    Re: Williamsburg chickenpox outbreak

    My understanding is that the disease outbreaks we see in communities like Williamsburg are largely due to cultural isolationism, rather than any overt anti-vaccine sentiment. Access to information is tightly controlled, so the importance of vaccines just isn’t generally known or stressed among the community.

  126. #131 Mary M (mem_somerville)
    May 20, 2016

    Update: Nature News restored 3 comments. And then closed them.

  127. #132 Melissa
    May 20, 2016

    I really wish that Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster were real.
    I really fondly wish that ESP, telepathy and ghosts were real.
    I really wish that UFOs are spacecraft from other worlds.
    I really fondly wish that beings from other worlds and other universes visit our earth and our universe. Alien visitation, interstellar travel, and time travel would be wonderful, beautiful and exciting events if they were real.
    I truly wish that the quest for world peace results in a global utopia.

    Homeopathy is an evil, harmful scam, though. Homeopathy will never cure cancer.
    Cancer cannot be eradicated by a singular one-size-fits-all cure because cancer is really hundreds of cell proliferation diseases and disorders.
    God and Mother Nature never really intended for the human species to ever find a miracle cure for all types of cancer.

  128. #133 Alain
    May 20, 2016

    Can I allow myself to be dead serious in wanting an unrestricted access to psych science literature, medical and biological science literature…basically an access to an university library for which I could do a thesis on why dedicating effort to the end of war is not a possible endeavour?!?!

    Let me repeat how I’m dead serious: you all know, to some degree what I went through and I’m going into a six months rehab therapy in the next two weeks for which I’ll work on said thesis which is mostly about myself but which cover human nature and also, the social strain theory for which our dear friend Rene Najera is working on too. It is relevant to a rebuttal of Mr Horgan although nowhere near about him.

    Can someone please give me access to an university library account so I can access the thousands of papers I need to do the job?

    Al

  129. #134 Alain
    May 20, 2016

    Oh btw, title of the thesis: Human autonomy.

    Al

  130. #135 Alain
    May 20, 2016

    Orac has another strategy: let the minions amplifying his voice as if this could replace arguments and evidence.

    Seriously?!?! Now that’s the first time I have to question your judgement. Would you like to know that I form my fr!ggen opinion by my fr!ggen posterior research skill as opposed to Orac’s post? Hell yess I share most of the same finding but then, do you really think that I obey Orac’s finding 100%, hell, no and there has been a few examples of that (specifically my recommendation wrt JP’s medication habits some time ago).

    Al

  131. #136 Daniel Corcos
    May 21, 2016

    @ Alain
    “Now that’s the first time I have to question your judgement.”
    Then you are not one of Orac’s minions.

  132. #137 Alain
    May 21, 2016

    there are a few postulates or principles that guide my behaviour wrt other people in general: the first one is that I only have power over myself with the provision that my rights stop where other people’s rights begin, and vice-versa.

    From what I inferred by the last blog post of Mr Horgan as well as Orac’s post here, it look like he tried to impose his priorities regarding the skeptics movement and got grilled.

    Personally, he deserves the grilling. Now Dr Corcos, my opinion is that a royal number of commenters here do enjoy the same autonomy regarding skeptical issues so on the one end:

    1-: they are minions who obey every subjects that Orac blog about and use the mindset.

    2-: they are free thinkers who’s interest align nearly as well as Orac blog about.

    Now, you’re free to postulate about these 2 different views of the situation here in your own corner :p and get back to us on which of these postulate or any other one which is most likely 😉

    Me? I’ll enjoy a bit more reading of a very nice philosophy book:

    Causation: a very short introduction.
    Stephen Mumford & Rani Lill Anjum

    In my own little corner that is 🙂

    Al

  133. #138 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    May 21, 2016

    Will we have a round of “no true minion” fallacy?

  134. #139 Alain
    May 21, 2016

    MOB,

    I hope not.

    Al

  135. #140 Daniel Corcos
    May 21, 2016

    @ Alain
    For me, true minions necessarily belong to your first category, and as a consequence frequently question my judgement.
    I had a look at your philosophy book on philpaper and it seems pretty hard. Do you know Judea Pearl?

  136. #141 shay simmons
    soggy, soggy Houston
    May 21, 2016

    “So it’s not unreasonable to think that Christians don’ care or are actively opposed to science.”

    It’s wholly unreasonable, but quite typical of broad-brush, bigoted attempts at stereotyping.

  137. #142 Torbjörn Larsson
    May 21, 2016

    “I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen skeptics who are more “militant” atheists criticize skeptics more wedded to scientific skepticism for going easy on religion.”

    Those sets of people are not faithfully mapped. I’m a bit vague on the history, but not the sets:

    – The label ‘militant atheist’ seems to have been created by religionists, and seem to mean those atheists that openly criticize religion. As such many are based (“more wedded to”) scientific skepticism. Dawkins is an example.

    – The label accommodationism seems to have been created by atheists, who complain that some skeptic or scientists fail to apply their skepticism equally on religion. If we can tell that Bigfoot is unlikely, we can tell that of any religions magical agencies. (In fact, we can tell better, since there are many versions of magic agency religions, but only a few versions of Bigfoot crypto-zoology.)

  138. #143 Not a Troll
    May 21, 2016

    Daniel Corcos,

    How do you really know if someone is a minion or not?

    In this venue, I don’t disagree with Orac b/c most everything I don’t see eye to eye with him on is either over my head, a difference of opinion or one of us is wrong. Life is too short to irritate the host when ill prepared, based on what works for me, or just ignorance on my part.

    However, I have been known to disagree with his alter-ego on Twitter. So, you tell me if I’m a minion or not.

    Btw, for those who have tried to leave comments on SA and other places, John Horgan is on Twitter. Whether he pays attention to tweets sent his way or not, I have no idea.

  139. #144 antipseudoskeptic
    May 21, 2016

    For a harder look at these spoon bending “pseudo-skeptics” please visit:

    https://storify.com/deltoidmachine/how-we-won-the-james-randi-dollar-1-000-000-parano

    Sums up some of the chief defects in their “rationality” without compromise.

  140. #145 Alain
    May 21, 2016

    For me, true minions necessarily belong to your first category, and as a consequence frequently question my judgement.

    2+2=4 but 4=1+3, 4=2*2, 4=1+3, 4=1*4, etc… You can never know and you are a medical doctor so you know it takes a history in front of the patient to accurately assess the condition of the patient in front of you.

    Can you do the same here?

    Do you know Judea Pearl?

    Not yet, definitely not yet. I will.

    Alain

  141. #146 Alain
    May 21, 2016

    Dr Corcos,

    Furthermore, language is an approximation of what we think which an approximation of the world as it presents. Of course determining if we are minions or not may require just language but do please think in term of causation and my previous comment to determine why it’s not so simple.

    With that said, I’m done with the current homework.

    Later 😉

    Al

  142. […] El asunto tuvo repercusión mundial, y por ello se trató también en la revista “Nature”.  http://www.nature.com/news/scientific-sceptics-hit-back-after-rebuke-1.19945?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews y en una bitácora de la revista “Science”, donde defendieron a los escépticos pero admitiendo su comportamiento de secta (tribal) http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/05/18/john-horgan-is-skeptical-of-skeptics-or-homeopathy-and-… […]

  143. #148 Daniel Corcos
    May 22, 2016

    @NotaTroll
    I cannot know for sure who is a minion. I have an operational definition: somebody who tries to bash me without any valid argument each time I contradict Orac. Those are more numerous on ScienceBasedMedicine (WLU, MadisonMD) and most of them are anonymous.

  144. #149 gaist
    May 22, 2016

    C’mon Daniel Corcos, name some names… Who here is a true minion? Surely someone is/are, otherwise evoking them is nothing but a straw man…

  145. #150 herr doktor bimler
    May 22, 2016

    Who here is a true minion?

    I prefer to think of myself as a myrmidon, because of the extra points in a game of Scrabble.

  146. #151 Daniel Corcos
    May 22, 2016

    @ gaist
    Here, I could mention Dangerous Bacon and John Phillips, but there is a couple of others.

  147. #152 Orac
    May 22, 2016

    I called it first, comparing John Horgan’s criticism to that of HWSNBN. It appears that HWSNBN agrees:

    http://www.naturalnews.com/054105_science_skeptics_Scientific_American_cult_of_scientism.html

  148. #153 Daniel Corcos
    May 23, 2016

    @ Orac
    It appears that HWSNBN agrees with your friend Welch, too.

  149. #154 Amethyst
    The Crystal Gem
    May 23, 2016

    @Orac

    “We’ve done a lot of original research here at Natural News, and we’ve made some extraordinary scientific and humanitarian breakthroughs with the potential to help save millions of lives.”

    Talk about masturbatory article – and that is just the very first paragraph!

  150. #155 Amethyst
    May 23, 2016

    Wait… that was not the article you linked… Do they have some sort of redirecting issue on that website or something=

  151. #156 EmJay
    in the stacks
    May 23, 2016

    @Todd W. #130
    It can vary within the community, depending on which rabbi a family follows. Two Jews, etc.

  152. #157 Denice Walter
    May 23, 2016

    @ Amethyst:

    They sure do!

  153. #158 shay simmons
    May 23, 2016

    I prefer to think of myself as a myrmidon,

    Cohort. I have always wanted to “gleam in purple and gold.”

  154. #159 Gray Squirrel
    May 24, 2016

    Speaking of homeoquackery:

    A couple of weeks ago I had the Cold From Hell (it was not flu, the symptoms were cold symptoms and in any case I got my shot last Fall). I went to the local pharmacy to get some cough drops, cough syrups, and decongestants: the usual symptomatic relief while staying home to avoid spreading the damn thing.

    And there on the shelves, were all these nice bright orange and yellow packages.

    In general I just look at ingredients lists, to get right to the bottom line. I prefer to take my meds one at a time rather than combined meds that give me stuff I don’t need at a particular time of day. Expectorant when I get up, decongestant in the middle of the day, cough suppressant before bedtime, and plenty of strong menthol cough drops during the day to soothe the sore throat.

    So I look on the back of one of those new bright boxes.

    One of the ingredients on the list is labeled 1x

    This, I know from reading this blog, is a warning sign of homeopathy. And, lo & behold, on the front of the package, the words “Homeopathic remedy” in medium sized font. Oy.

    I eventually found what I was looking for, and that was that. If I want a nice placebo (and who doesn’t?;-), I stick to chicken soup and lots of it, because hey it really does soothe the throat, and the steam is nice for the nose.

    Long story short, homeocrap is now insinuating itself into real pharmacies. Yeah, y’all have been covering this for a while, but it was “tres interesting” to see if first hand.

    And the danger to the public is

    People who are sick with colds and flu, and ignorant of what homeopoop really is, may be popping those sugar pills, think they’re getting better, and then running around infecting everyone around them.

    Yes that’s a problem with regular OTC symptomatic relief meds too.

    But homeogarbage is worse because people usually know that OTC cold meds are symptom-relievers only, whereas they may think that the homeodreck is actually curing them.

    So I’d say this particular target has been getting a bit harder lately (not to mention, quackademic medicine), and is in serious need of more and better attack. Fire away!

  155. […] El asunto tuvo repercusión mundial, y por ello se trató también en la revista “Nature”.  http://www.nature.com/news/scientific-sceptics-hit-back-after-rebuke-1.19945?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews y en una bitácora de la revista “Science”, donde defendieron a los escépticos pero admitiendo su comportamiento de secta (tribal) http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/05/18/john-horgan-is-skeptical-of-skeptics-or-homeopathy-and-… […]

  156. […] El asunto tuvo repercusión mundial, y por ello se trató también en la revista “Nature”.  http://www.nature.com/news/scientific-sceptics-hit-back-after-rebuke-1.19945?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews y en una bitácora de la revista “Science”, donde defendieron a los escépticos pero admitiendo su comportamiento de secta (tribal) http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/05/18/john-horgan-is-skeptical-of-skeptics-or-homeopathy-and-… […]

  157. […] El asunto tuvo repercusión mundial, y por ello se trató también en la revista “Nature”.  http://www.nature.com/news/scientific-sceptics-hit-back-after-rebuke-1.19945?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews y en una bitácora de la revista “Science”, donde defendieron a los escépticos pero admitiendo su comportamiento de secta (tribal) http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/05/18/john-horgan-is-skeptical-of-skeptics-or-homeopathy-and-… […]

  158. […] resonates with the wider public. For direct criticism of the content of Horgan’s presentation David Gorski, and Steven Novella have wonderful […]

  159. […] El asunto tuvo repercusión mundial, y por ello se trató también en la revista “Nature”.  http://www.nature.com/news/scientific-sceptics-hit-back-after-rebuke-1.19945?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews y en una bitácora de la revista “Science”, donde defendieron a los escépticos pero admitiendo su comportamiento de secta (tribal) http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/05/18/john-horgan-is-skeptical-of-skeptics-or-homeopathy-and-… […]

  160. #166 David Kennedy
    June 1, 2016

    I read most of your article… but skimmed some admittedly –

    I think Horgan’s statements were still correct (most of them), and for the most part your criticisms of them were mostly correct as well.

    How can that be?

    He was talking about skeptics as a group and generalizing, your reply was to point out specific instances where that wasn’t true, like “oh ya, we don’t criticize X? Well look at this article” or “have you heard what such and such person said about that?”

    I’d say Horgan’s rant was off in certain areas, but he’s right about the general premise — but I’m gathering you disagree.

    Yes, I agree with him that skeptics tend to laugh at poke fun at the silly beliefs and crack pot views — then they (generally) back anything by the science community without using that same skeptic eye. They rarely are skeptics of skeptics as well. YES, that’s a GENERAL statement about the behavior of skeptics, it’s a blanket statement and doesn’t reflect every individual.

    For what it’s worth, I found both Horgan’s statement and yours flawed in many places and both a bit juvenile in presentation. They both felt like children pointing fingers saying “did not!” “did to!”.

    But I want to come back to my first sentence — I think (again, generally speaking) both articles were correct. Isn’t that strange?

  161. […] At this point, it would be very easy to go on a fun (and hopefully funny) rant about just how bad things have gotten in quackademic medicine that anyone at an actual medical school would take the claims of spoon bending at face value. Very easy indeed. It would have been a hell of a lot of fun, too, which made it difficult for me to restrain myself. However, as I read over this sad story of credulity, I was reminded of something that happened a mere two weeks ago at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS), when Scientific American journalist John Horgan gave a talk with the intentionally inflammatory title, Dear “Skeptics,” Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More: A science journalist takes a skeptical look at capital-S Skepticism, which he later posted on his Scientific American blog. It provoked a lot of reactions because it was so fractally wrong, including two responses from Steve Novella, Daniel Loxton, Jerry Coyne, and, of course, yours truly. […]

  162. #168 SocraticGadfly
    Earth
    June 5, 2016

    A semi-rhetorical question … how much of the heat of criticism is due to ox-goring re Orac and Novella over what Horgan said about modern medicine, including overtesting driven in part by the fee-for-service model?

  163. #169 SocraticGadfly
    June 5, 2016

    Also, since Pop Ev Psych, as practiced by the likes of Steve Pinker, is pretty much pseudoscience, Horgan, if anything, could have been even MORE critical of movement skeptics there. The number of them that still believe in this sexist, unfalsifiable pablum is eyeroll-inducing.

  164. #170 SocraticGadfly
    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com
    June 5, 2016

    Finally, there was no need to reference Mike Adams in this piece. Doing so, before even discussing Horgan, qualifies as an ad hominem in my world.

    That’s philosophy.

    But, in part per the likes of Massimo Pigliucci (as well as, indirectly, per Horgan), too many movement skeptics … whether through outright scientism or other things, seem disdainful of philosophy.

  165. #171 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    June 5, 2016

    A semi-rhetorical question … how much of the heat of criticism is due to ox-goring re Orac and Novella over what Horgan said about modern medicine, including overtesting driven in part by the fee-for-service model?

    What do you think Orac’s view is of over testing?

  166. #172 Orac
    June 5, 2016

    Shhh. You’ll ruin a perfectly good straw man argument. And, whatever you do, don’t ask him to search this blog or my not-so-super-secret other blog for “overdiagnosis” or mention that NEJM article I was co-author on last year. 🙂

  167. #173 Another skeptic of Skeptics
    USA
    August 6, 2016

    If I ever get attracted by some “Woo” I appreciate the Skeptics have previously debunked the “Woo”.

    I have a possibly irrational loyalty to science and truth. Self proclaimed skeptics usually claim to also support science and truth but in my experience self proclaimed skeptics may be more loyal to conventionality than to science and truth.

    Homeopathy is a placebo with a very weak back story. SSRI medications seem to be placebos with a much more sophisticated back story. Perhaps SSRIs have some legitimate use. I understand people need to be protected from wasting their money on Homeopathy and Skeptics help; but wouldn’t you think Skeptics would also be enthusiastically debunking SSRI medications? Have Skeptics helped debunk DXM for coughs or do Skeptics leave that work to http://www.cochrane.org.

    On foreign policy the mindsets of people like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Wolfowitz, and Susan Rice strike me as highly questionable. Attempting to achieve and maintain hegemony is very expensive. The Bush / Clinton foreign policy does not look all that successful to me. There has been extensive false versions of recent history put forward by the media in support the Bush / Clinton foreign policies. I understand that American hegemony is supposed to benefit everybody but I think this project is unachievable, expensive and destructive. I wish the skeptic community spent some energy investigating the rationality of American foreign policy.

  168. #174 sadmar
    August 7, 2016

    Wouldn’t you think Skeptics would also be enthusiastically debunking SSRI medications?

    No. SSRIs are hardly equivalent to homeopathy, which proposes a completely impossible mechanism of action, and offers remedies demonstrably absent of any ‘active’ ingredients as cures for physiological ailments. SSRIs certainly can be questioned in comparison to placebo… and lo and behold, you can find quite critical articles about them at the other not-so-secret blog where Orac is a contributor. But since the damn things do actually do something to your head, the critique isn’t going to be at ‘debunking’ level, and since there’s no demonstrated effective treatment for the horrible affliction of major depression, ‘enthusiasm’ would be misplaced… unless you’re a closet disciple of L. Ron Hubbard.

    I guess that makes me skeptical of skeptics of Skeptics…

    There’s also the matter that the effect of mental health treatments are extremely difficult to measure, and research typically winds up being based on some type of patient self-report or another. As a depressive, I’ll aver we’re not the most reliable assessors of our own conditions. Compared to research that would show some 30C dilution has no effect on the progress of infections as claimed, there’s no objective measure for SSRIs, the data is ‘low quality’ and the conclusions hardly rock solid. If anything, Skeptics haven’t been skeptical in equal measure to the studies suggesting “SSRI medications seem to be placebos” as they have been skeptical to the claims for SSRIs.

  169. #175 sadmar
    August 7, 2016

    @ SocraticGadfly

    Dude, I feel ya’ about movement Skeptics disdain for philosophy, and I’ll throw in history for good measure. Pinker’s a tool, and almost all social psychology is pseudo-science, to which movement Skeptics seem utterly blind. The criticism of Horgan IS overheated, Orac and Novella seem to be taking it too personally,..

    BUT, [ahem} NONE of the heat aimed at Horgan is over ox-goring re over-testing driven in part by the fee-for-service model.

    But you WILL get heat at RI for under-use of the Search box. 😉 And asking semi-rhetorical questions…

    And the reference to Mike Adams isn’t an ad hominem at Horgan. Orac doesn’t need Adams for that. 😉

  170. #176 Jay
    August 7, 2016

    SSRI medications seem to be placebos with a much more sophisticated back story.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you can’t overdose on placebos, you can with SSRI medications.

  171. #177 Dangerous Bacon
    August 7, 2016

    SSRIs have helped a _lot_ of people overcome or live with depression. Equating these drugs with placebo (and homeopathy (!)) is foolish, despite debate about how many people (and in what populations) should receive them.

    A recent review of SSRIs in major depression found that their usefulness was understated due to a common measure used in rating them:

    “In conclusion, we suggest that many SSRI trials that have been deemed negative, and often never published, do provide scientifically valid support for the tested drug being antidepressant, the negative outcome being caused by the use of an insensitive measure of improvement. Our observation that, in spite of the many methodological shortcomings marring antidepressant trials, 29 out of 32 comparisons in this analysis (including those with suboptimal dosage) did pick up an antidepressant signal from the tested SSRI suggests the antidepressant effect of these drugs to be highly consistent across trials.”

    http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/v21/n4/full/mp201553a.html

  172. #178 Murmur
    UK-ia
    August 7, 2016

    Oooooh, thanks for that link DB!

    I’ve long thought that the Hamilton scale was a bit “meh!”, nowhere near as good as something like Beck.

    However, it is still better than others I have seen used for supposedly measuring depression in various papers. It has sometimes appeared that rating scales are picked for speed of use rather than sensitivity. It is also worth noting that no-one in clinical practice would use a rating scale as anything other than one part of a detailed assessment…

  173. #179 Another skeptic of Skeptics
    USA
    August 7, 2016

    @sadmar
    You wrote “No. SSRIs are hardly equivalent to homeopathy, which proposes a completely impossible mechanism of action, and offers remedies demonstrably absent of any ‘active’ ingredients as cures for physiological ailments.”

    I completely agree with you about Homeopathy. I find it somewhat amazing that Homeopathy still exists. Homeopathy is a great example of a “soft target”. People keep spending money on Homeopathy so I guess even soft targets need debunking.

    On the other hand placebos work. More expensive Placebos work better than cheaper placebos. Placebos with side effects work better than placebos without side effects.

    The good thing about Homeopathy is that it is usually harmless. I still don’t like the idea of people wasting their money on Homeopathy. I also don’t the idea of people using Homeopathy instead of modern medicine unless they have a disease that modern medicine can’t treat.

    Unlike Homeopathy which is an obvious fraud, the story around SSRIs is more complex. There is some high quality mind numbing gobbledygook in defense of the use of SSRIs for depression. Despite all the money that has been spent defending SSRIs and despite all the well meaning psychiatrists and patients that still defend SSRIs I concluded that the cases had been sufficiently made several years ago that SSRI medications were not superior to active* placebos at treating mild and moderate depression. SSRIs were quite effective at treating depression but active* placebos were also quite effective at treating depression.

    SSRI “poop out” is probably really placebo “poop out”. In severe depression neither placebos nor SSRIs were likely to be effective but SSRIs did slightly statistically outperform active placebos with the severely depressed.

    The evidence against SSRI medications for OCD was not as compelling as the evidence against SSRIs for depression.

    I have not revisited the SSRI issue much in the last few years as I thought the case was already closed and SSRIs will end up being an embarrassment to the psychiatric community.

    What surprises me is the slow pace of the science getting through to the psychiatrists and the public. Considering how enduring Homeopathy is despite the blatant clarity of the science I guess I really should not be surprised the use of SSRIs persists.

    Homeopathy was a soft target. SSRIs are a hard target.

    * “Active placebo” means a placebo with side effects.

    A proper study should also be double blind. The people in contact with the study patients should not know who is getting the medication and who is getting the placebo.

    I will read the links here defending SSRIs but my conclusion a few years ago was that SSRIs as significantly effective medicine for depression had already been debunked.

    The the question arises “is it really a good idea to destroy an effective placebo”?

    I have waded through some defenses of SSRIs since that time and decided that they were flawed defenses. Some defenses were sufficiently unreadable that I never could form an opinion about them.

    More double blind SSRI vs active placebo studies would be helpful. Seeing how enduring Homeopathy is I really should not be surprised that only overwhelming evidence will convince psychiatrists to lose faith in SSRI medications.

    With some Skeptics was that I was getting the impression that they thought debunking fringe thinking and alternative medicine validates conventional thinking and conventional medicine. It is not logical to think that debunking soft targets validates hard targets.

    People might want to check on whether dextromethorphan, Tamiflu, and guaifenesin actually work before they spend money on them.

  174. #180 Vicki
    August 7, 2016

    The thing about Tamiflu is that it used to work very well, and was approved and much used on that basis.

    Then the flu virus evolved to resist it, and that resistance quickly spread to almost all flu viruses. So yes, it’s worth knowing that Tamiflu is now unlikely to help you—I’m certainly not buying any—but it’s a very different case from something that never actually worked.

    Rather than general credulity, what we have here is the tendency to treat things as solved problems: I know how to cross the street, how to cook scrambled eggs, how to brush my teeth, which pill is likely to ease my headache, where to buy bread…

    When I moved three thousand miles, it was pretty obvious that I needed to find a new place to buy bread (and I knew how to do that). It’s less obvious that how to cross the street is different in different places, and as far as I know my tooth-brushing technique is valid anywhere with a reliable supply of clean water.

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