Mod+ Starbaby, and other cases where skeptics employed questionable tactics [Resources]

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Sciborg_S_Patel

#1
STARBABY by Dennis Rawlings

(Another telling of the story can be found here, on page 6 of When Science Becomes Scientism)

I used to believe it was simply a figment of the National Enquirer's weekly imagination that the Science Establishment would cover up evidence for the occult. But that was in the era B.C. -- Before the Committee. I refer to the "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" (CSICOP), of which I am a cofounder and on whose ruling Executive Council (generally called the Council) I served for some years.

I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism. I now believe that if a flying saucer landed in the backyard of a leading anti-UFO spokesman, he might hide the incident from the public (for the public's own good, of course). He might swiftly convince himself that the landing was a hoax, a delusion or an "unfortunate" interpretation of mundane phenomena that could be explained away with "further research."

The irony of all this particularly distresses me since both in print and before a national television audience I have stated that the conspiratorial mentality of believers in occultism presents a real political danger in a voting democracy. Now I find that the very group I helped found has partially justified this mentality.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#2
From physicist Brian Josephson:

Scientists' unethical use of media for propaganda purposes


This web page is intended to draw the attention of scientists, the media, and the public to a problem that, while being very familiar to some, is probably unknown to the majority of visitors to this web page. Propagandising of the kind described in the following bypasses the normal carefully considered processes of science, and may wellcreatea distorted impression in the mind of the unsuspecting reader or viewer.
Should one be suspicious of CSICOP's procedures? Let the reader decide.

The initial decision to consider a score of 4 hits out of 7 as 'failure' when the probability of getting such a score is less than two per cent is hardly in step with normal scientific practice. Having adopted it, and used it to declare Natasha a failure ("she had the claim, we tested it, she didn't pass the test"), the investigators moved on to what seems to have been an automatic presumption of deception or self-deception ("people believe that she can do it ... how come smart people can get to believe things that aren't so?").

Manipulation of concepts such as 'failure', and the abuse of statistics, are commonplace in the world of propaganda. Is that what is happening here, or honest science?

The CSICOP organisation is not infrequently taken to have an authority that it does not deserve. Such organisations are in reality pressure groups, taking every chance they can get to press their beliefs in the media, often in ways that have been characterised as misleading. Representatives of the media need to be on their guard against this kind of thing. Some recommendations directed toward this end follow:
  • Keep your critical faculties active, and bear in mind the possibility that what seems, on the face of it, to be a dispassionate scientific investigation may in reality have an underlying unstated agenda. In the above case for example, the choice of cut-off point, and the way the 'failure' was handled, rather strongly suggests some such deliberate intent, but in other cases it may be harder to judge.
  • As a corollary, taking into account such uncertainty, it is well, in writing reports, to avoid phrases such as 'scientists have shown': instead, you can talk in terms of 'claims', which word carries less of a connotation of scientists' pronouncements being absolute truth.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#3
CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview

In examining the scientific status of CSICOP, sociologists Pinch and Collins (1984) described the Committee as a “scientific-vigilante” organization (p. 539). Commenting on an article in SI, medical professor Louis Lasagna (1984) wrote: “One can almost smell the fiery autos-da-fe of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition” (p. 12). Engineering professor Leonard Lewin (1979) noted that in SI articles “the rhetoric and appeal to emotion seemed rather out of place” (p. 9). Rockwell, Rockwell, and Rockwell (1978b) called CSICOP members “irrational rationalists” (see also Kurtz, 1978b; Rockwell, Rockwell, & Rockwell, 1978a). Sociologist Hans Sebald (1984) described contributors to SI as “combative propagandists” (p. 122). Adams (1987) compared CSICOP with the Cyclops; Robert Anton Wilson (1986) labeled CSICOP the “New Inquisition,” and White (1979) called them “new disciples of scientism.” McConnell (1987) wrote: “I cannot escape the conviction that those who control CSICOP are primarily bent upon the vilification of parapsychology and parapsychologists” (p. 191). Clearly, CSICOP has its share of detractors.
 
#4
In examining the scientific status of CSICOP, sociologists Pinch and Collins (1984) described the Committee as a “scientific-vigilante” organization (p. 539). Commenting on an article in SI, medical professor Louis Lasagna (1984) wrote: “One can almost smell the fiery autos-da-fe of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition” (p. 12). Engineering professor Leonard Lewin (1979) noted that in SI articles “the rhetoric and appeal to emotion seemed rather out of place” (p. 9). Rockwell, Rockwell, and Rockwell (1978b) called CSICOP members “irrational rationalists” (see also Kurtz, 1978b; Rockwell, Rockwell, & Rockwell, 1978a). Sociologist Hans Sebald (1984) described contributors to SI as “combative propagandists” (p. 122). Adams (1987) compared CSICOP with the Cyclops; Robert Anton Wilson (1986) labeled CSICOP the “New Inquisition,” and White (1979) called them “new disciples of scientism.” McConnell (1987) wrote: “I cannot escape the conviction that those who control CSICOP are primarily bent upon the vilification of parapsychology and parapsychologists” (p. 191). Clearly, CSICOP has its share of detractors.
None of which makes anything they say "wrong"...

You have to move past this. It's not constructive and completely irrelevent to the what is discussed on here.
 
#5
None of which makes anything they say "wrong"...

You have to move past this. It's not constructive and completely irrelevent to the what is discussed on here.
I think he's creating a grand narrative for himself to save all the lurkers from the foolishness of skeptics.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#9
The Pathology of Disbelief, a lecture given by Brian Josephson at the Nobel Laureates meeting in 2004.

The topics range from cold fusion to ESP, with critics of varied skeptical pronouncements and investigations given.

More on Josephson's ideas about Mind and Matter here.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#15
How different is it from your narrative that we're all woo-mongerers?
Well I would note at least two distinctions :):

1) I'm not advocating the truth of a paradigm, I'm advocating an honest examination of reality to determine the correct paradigm. Legitimate skepticism if you will.

2) I'm not critiquing people for holding to belief in a paradigm, I'm critiquing what people do in defense of a paradigm as well as the paternalism that IMO is inherent to pseudoskeptical evangelism.

eta: I should note Steve001 is referencing a comment I made regarding the melodramatic Chaoskampf I see the pseudoskeptical movement engaged in.
 
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#17
I dislike the term "pseudo-skeptic." I don't think it describes the situation accurately. The term I used in my book and which has become my go-to description is "ideologue skeptic."

This term correctly conveys that there is a certain type of skepticism that is based on a belief system that is so strong that it leads to biased conclusions. It also correctly captures the evangelical nature of this skepticism and explains the general intolerance associated with it. JREF and CSI are certainly evangelical skeptical organizations that have demonstrated intolerance towards opposing viewpoints.

I also like this term because it doesn't imply that someone has turned off their brain. People can be ideologues in one area of their life and sensible in others. It implies bias, but not stupidity. I think that's important because the one thing skeptics are not is stupid.

Skeptical pseudoscience, such as Randi's challenge and various skeptical "debunkings" arise out of this ideological bias.

Examples of skeptical misbehavior date back to over a hundred years ago and have continued in unbroken succession to present day. There are far too many to list.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#18
Examples of skeptical misbehavior date back to over a hundred years ago and have continued in unbroken succession to present day. There are far too many to list.
I think an attempt should be made to list at least a few, spread out across history. This way people can see the trend.

=-=-=

How Martin Gardner bamboozled his readers



Strangely, Gardner sometimes notes facts that undermine his case for bamboozlement:

"In later years Mrs. Piper’s voices were replaced by automatic writing. While in trance her right hand rapidly scribbled messages. Frequently she pressed so hard the pencil broke. For a while she spoke and wrote simultaneously. On several occasions three discarnates came through, one speaking, one writing with one hand, one writing with the other. (Mrs. Piper was strongly ambidextrous.)"

So here we have someone writing two different messages and talking at the same time. Yet Gardner wants us to believe that it was all a trick. Some trick!

Then comes the inevitable appeal to cold reading:

"Records of Mrs. Piper’s séances show plainly that her controls did an enormous amount of what was called 'fishing,' and today is called 'cold reading.' Vague statements would be followed by more precise information based on how sitters reacted. Mrs. Piper usually held a client’s hand throughout a sitting, sometimes holding the hand against her forehead. This made it easy to detect muscular responses even when a sitter was silent. Moreover, her eyes were often only half closed, allowing her to observe reactions."

Somehow, Gardner forgets to tell us that many of the readings involved proxy sitters - people who did not know the facts of the case they were inquiring about. Strange how this little fact was overlooked. Could Gardner have forgotten to mention it because cold reading is useless in a proxy sitting?
I agree with Prescott - while someone communicating three personalities isn't definitive proof, it is something worthy of note.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#19
The challenge, part one

For years superskeptic James Randi has touted his million-dollar challenge as his ultimate argument against the paranormal. If these phenomena are genuine, Randi and his many fans insist, why hasn't anyone won the million dollars yet?

Randi's detractors counter that the challenge is a publicity stunt, and that Randi and JREF (the James Randi Educational Foundation) make it difficult for people to apply successfully for the challenge, or to be tested even if their applications have been successful. They also argue that JREF's standards are loose and ambiguous, and that they can ignore or dismiss an applicant for any number of reasons, some of which are purely subjective.
Now we return to our question: How objective is JREF in deciding which applicants will be accepted? Well, it appears that JREF categorizes virtually all paranormal claims as "extraordinarily implausible" and assumes that many, perhaps most, applicants are mentally ill. JREF reserves the right to ignore an application from anyone whose claim is too "incredible" to be taken seriously, or whose claim contradicts the findings of "Science," as understood by JREF. Further, JREF reserves the right to ignore applications from people who are psychologically impaired - a determination that can be made by JREF alone.

Now, given all of the above, just how easy is it to get an application approved by JREF, and how many people have managed it? Those are questions we'll look at in part two.

The challenge, part two


The one thing that stands out here, beyond the obvious difficulty of getting an application approved in the first place, is the disparity between the number of people who successfully apply and the number who are actually tested. Do all these claimants drop out voluntarily even after going to the trouble of applying, or are there other factors involved?

We'll look at that question and wrap things up in part three.

The challenge, part three

At every stage of the process, the applicant finds himself facing long odds - and not just because he may or may have the ability to demonstrate a paranormal phenomenon. The application process is arduous and time-consuming, often requiring multiple resubmissions over a period of months or even years. Applicants can be rejected for virtually any reason, including the "incredible" nature of their claims. Applicants may be placed in the position of trying to prove they are not mentally ill. Applicants are effectively muzzled from criticizing JREF or Randi either publicly or privately, and may be dismissed at any time for a variety of offenses subjectively determined by JREF administrators, including rudeness and "sap[ping] JREF resources." JREF is the final authority in all cases; there is no mediator and no appeal. Since no lists of applicants and outcomes have been made available on the Internet by JREF, and since Randi himself does not seem to know the number of claimants who've actually been tested, we can only guess at how many people succeed in reaching even the preliminary testing stage. By Randi's own estimate, the number is small, with the "vast majority" of applicants failing to negotiate the application process, or dropping out or being dismissed before the test is attempted.

Given all this, is it really such a mystery that the more sophisticated researchers and test subjects in the paranormal field steer clear of the much-publicized JREF Challenge?
 
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