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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fake Skeptics Versus True Skeptics

Since I have previously used the term Fake Skeptics, perhaps some explanation is required what is meant with this term. I am distinguishing between fake skeptics and true skeptics regarding scientific debates, based on the form of the arguments and the motivation behind the arguments. The phenomenon of a, if not necessarily large, but the more noisy group of people who act as fake skeptics is for instance particularly present regarding the findings in the field of climate science, since those findings have become highly politicized due to their implications for the human civilization and economics and politics all over the planet.

Fake Skeptics do not argue on the grounds of science, they mostly use non-scientific arguments to attack the findings of science. They misrepresent the science, use logical fallacies, acknowledge and interpret empirical data only very selectively, e.g., by cherry picking those, insofar those appear to be in support of their views. The thinking is governed by cognitive biases too a large degree. The driving force is not primarily scientific curiosity, and the motivation for arguing against findings of science is mostly not just some scientific disagreement. Findings from scientific research are rejected, because those findings are in contradiction to preconceived economical, political, ideological, or religious views. Consequently, since the scientific arguments are lacking, fake skeptics often resort to attacks not just against the results from research, but also against the scientists who have presented those results. Scientists who are presenting results from research which are not liked are being defamed and smeared. Accusations, insinuation, or the use of innuendo against those scientists, asserting or suggesting fraud and malicious manipulation of data and results from scientific studies are common. Resort to conspiracy theories fantasies is common too, which is explainable. How else can the worldview be made whole, if most scientists who work and publish in the field say something else? The ones who act as fake skeptics are mostly people who are not directly involved in the area of research the findings of which are being rejected. Since scientific arguments and rigorousness are lacking, fake skeptic arguments are usually not presented in scientific publications in specialist journals of the field due to the filter mechanism of the peer review process. Instead, they are mostly found in other venues, nowadays especially in Internet opinion blogs, since it is not mandatory in those to uphold strong scientific standards.

True Skeptics are, in contrast, driven by scientific curiosity and they wish to acquire knowledge about the cause-effect relationships that govern the workings of the object or system that is being studied and debated. They argue based on science. If they do not agree with findings presented by scientists, they do this using scientific arguments. They embrace the scientific method and test alternative explanations, if they hypothesize those, against empirical data. True skeptics present their alternative hypotheses and theories, once they have been worked out sufficiently, in the peer reviewed specialist journals of the field, i.e., they uphold for themselves high scientific standards. Personal attacks against scientists who are presenting alternative, competing hypotheses and theories are not being considered as legit arguments against those hypotheses and theories. Professional scientists need to be true skeptics in their daily work. It is part of their professional profile.

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