Read this now

This three-part series on radical skepticism and the rise of conspiratorial thinking about science, by Daniel Engber, in Slate, is required reading for anyone interested in the role of skepticism in science and society. It's called "The Paranoid Style in American Science."

Here's the concluding paragraph to the second of the three parts. But it's not the money quote. For that, you'll have to read the whole thing.

It's no surprise that suspicion of science has grown distended in recent years and now looks a bit like paranoia. Each new uncertainty campaign further degrades our faith in science and softens us up for the next one. The doubt-mongers tend to divide and proliferate. Skepticism breeds more skepticism.

Tip of the hat to the Daily Transcript.

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I thought this was the money quote:

What makes this mode of thinking so effectiveand so prevalent? Like David Berlinski, the doubt-mongers swear by the foundational motto of organized science, first pronounced by the Royal Society of London in 1663: Nullius in verba, "on no man's word." They show a deep commitment to the evidentiary record, always testing the established theories and demanding more data; they attempt to undermine science from within, by aping its vaunted incredulity. But in practice their contrarian mode amounts to something like the opposite of sciencea tireless search for nonanswers, a quest for the null hypothesis.

At my blog I titled the post in which I linked to this article "Psuedo-doubt is the product of pseudo-skeptics."

Yes, skepticism, as a cognitive attitude, is susceptible to corrupting influences, and the result might well be called 'pseudo-skepticism.' But real skepticism is not particularly friendly toward the products of science, even if it is an essential ingredient in the process of science. When presented with some product of science (a theory, a hypothesis, an explanation, etc.), skepticism counsels against either affirmation or denial. Tentative acceptance or rejection is as far as a consistent skepticism can take us.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 21 Apr 2008 #permalink

"When presented with some product of science (a theory, a hypothesis, an explanation, etc.), skepticism counsels against either affirmation or denial. Tentative acceptance or rejection is as far as a consistent skepticism can take us"

What is the real world difference between "tentative acceptance" and "acceptance"? I am skeptical of this kind of Skepticism. If you "tentatively accept" something, you accept it with the possibility that you might change your mind later, but if you "accept something " it is the same. If you have to make a decision based on such a thing, you would still go with the acceptance. If not you don't accept it. If you can never change your mind, then you have faith in something.

Markk - OK, I fudged about "how far" a consistent skepticism can take us. To be more precise, I should have said that it might be possible for a skeptic to tentatively accept/reject a thesis -- it would depend on whether the skepticism was local or global.

As far as the "real world difference" between tentative x and x, it's obviously going to depend on what you pack into the notion of 'tentativeness.'

By bob koepp (not verified) on 23 Apr 2008 #permalink