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Skeptical Pain

Entry 656, on 2007-12-10 at 18:13:01 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

If you have read many of my blog entries you will know that I have a rather skeptical way of thinking about the world. But its yoo easy to treat everything skeptically so I make sure I am exposed to the other side of the argument as well. One way I do this is to listen to the "Skeptiko" podcast, and initially it was quite worthwhile. Unfortunately the person running it has become increasingly unreasonable and out of touch with reality and it has almost got to the point now where its painful to listen to (actually it has reached that point).

The latest Skeptiko podcast was a rant by the host, Alex Tsakiris, about how narrow minded skeptics are because they won't believe what he believes. It has become increasingly obvious over the months I've listened that Tsakiris believes in some sort of supernatural mind or soul and the associated phenomena of life after death, NDEs, psychic phenomena, etc.

I've pointed out in previous blog entries that its possible to prove any belief if you are selective with the data. Tsakiris is very good at picking a few research projects which superficially support his point of view, ignoring possible flaws in that research, and ignoring the fact that the bulk of evidence doesn't support his ideas. He also uses a lot of anecdotal evidence and makes sweeping and unsupported statements about his opponents.

Some areas of research are quite difficult to perform without biases and subtle errors influencing the results. Even if there is no obvious reason why a particular study is wrong we should probably accept that is likely to be flawed if it contradicts most of the other studies. We shouldn't absolutely reject it, and no true skeptic ever would, even if they rubbish certain beliefs they will revise that rejection if new evidence appears.

But the critical thing is that the good new evidence never does appear. Even after many years of paranormal research we are really no closer to finding anything definitive. That doesn't prove the paranormal is false but it is strongly indicative of that probability.

I have a general that rule I apply to people who support unlikely claims: if they resort to proposing a global conspiracy against them I generally start thinking something like "this is the last resort of someone whose beliefs have been rejected by real research". And yes, in the current episode Tsakiris does propose a global conspiracy by skeptics and the scientific establishment. I'm not saying that conspiracies don't exist but I am saying they tend to indicate a weak argument supporting the underlying claim.

So I guess I will continue to listen to Skeptiko (yes I know I've made similar comments before) just for balance but I think the skeptical pain is just going to increase!

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