Skeptics

not so skeptical

 

 

 

 

 

 

​Roxana Kreimer

@RoxanaKreimer

@feminiscience

 

I will explore why those who claim to be skeptical may not be as much skeptical as they pretend. Contemporary skepticism is a disposition towards knowledge by which a person is open to examine various hypotheses that explain a phenomenon, but equally committed to not accept any without enough evidence.

 

The skeptic whom I refer to is usually an atheist who questions pseudosciences such as homeopathy, astrology or psychoanalysis, superstitions such as feng-shui; he or she tends to be aware that global warming is linked to human influence,  that since ancient times food has  been genetically modified, and there is no evidence that current food that has been genetically modified is harmful to health. But his skepticism stumbles on five obstacles for which they are not as skeptical as they claim:

1- Obstacle of ignorance: his skepticism collides with this ignorance about entire areas of knowledge, especially those of more recent date. Thirty years ago he could have written something based on an incipient discipline, concluded that it didn´t  have enough evidence and that it was pure speculation. But thirty years later he continues to maintain the same position, without giving written or oral evidence of having updated his readings. He has already taken a position on a field of knowledge, and he is not willing to revise it. In fifty years nobody will remember what he said eighty years ago about that discipline:  the knowledge that  he denies will enjoy of general acceptance.

 

 

2-Obstacle of status: his skepticism clashes with the role of dominance he wants to keep in critical thinking or in academic status, and when someone challenges his ideas in a social network or in a debate, he can become violent, using a derogatory language to refer to his interlocutor. In many cases it is merely the wounded pride of an alpha male who wants to preserve his prestige. Public challenges based on small disagreements can lead him to quickly end a friendship.

3-Obstacle of politically correctness: his skepticism clashes with his ideology. He confuses equality of rights with equality of identity, and if, for example,  there are studies that show that women are on average more empathetic (Baron-Cohen, 2006), it seems implausible to him because it coincides with a social stereotype. He does not even conceive the possibility that, as Lee Jussim (1995) pointed out, many stereotypes could be a consequence and not a cause. Some believe that even if issues such as that of the highest average female empathy were true, knowledge of this kind could not be followed by anything good, so it would be better not to disclose it. But from knowledge of the benefits and limits of empathy (Bloom, 2017), good measures can be derived to improve society. He usually commits the naturalistic fallacy, which is to derive the "ought" of the "is".

4- Obstacle of laziness and fear of confrontation: his skepticism collides on the one hand with the laziness of reviewing the issue in which he defended an untenable position, and on the other with the fear of confronting with people that can be useful for him in the future, and also with indifference for those that have a lower status. If the not so skeptical skeptic receives an email in which another skeptic questions his evidence, he diverts the dialogue or doesn´t respond. Sometimes it is due to lack of time, but this excuse is mere rationalization when he never has time to answer the questioning of a relevant topic. He gets along well with everyone because he doesn´t  participate in the confrontation of ideas. To Aristotle´s phrase: "Plato is my friend, but truth is a better friend ", he would respond "I agree", but only because of his pusillanimity, his philosophy of life is "Truth matters much less than comfort and than the affection of as many people as possible. " He lacks a fundamental virtue for knowledge: intellectual courage. To dare to think on his own, as Kant pointed out, but also to dare to defend or publicly review his ideas with respect and focusing  on arguments.

5- Obstacle of the tribe: her skepticism clashes with the dogma of her tribe. For example, if she is a skeptical feminist, she is an atheist, questions pseudosciences and other topics of skepticism, but when evaluating the evidence of diverse innate psychological predispositions in men and women, she becomes a social reductionist. ¿Evolutionism? Yes, but  from the neck up we descend from a cabbage. There is no paper or evidence that can convince her. She doesn´t say that in the future she will evaluate the evidence. She answers with a raw silence and unfollows other skeptics on Twitter who don´t accept feminist dogmas such as the wage gap, the glass ceiling or the blank slate. When she has to show evidences related to her opinions, she remains silent, without ever revising her evidence. If they touch her tribe, she fails to discern between opinion and data. Being skeptical is fine, as long as you don´t mess with feminist dogmas. In a study Robert Lount (2008) showed that the first impression about something or about someone is the most important. The phenomenon was previously known as "priming" and can become one of our innumerable forms of irrationality. In an experiment Robert Lount showed to what extent if one idea (as a negative impression on the other) is implanted in the first place, it is much more determinant than if it is implanted later. This phenomenon is linked to another also very well-known: the "confirmation bias". We adopt what coincides with our previous ideas and the rest we reject it. Ziva Kunda (1990) calls it "motivated thinking", and assumes that it is protective against manipulation, because it is logical to think that things have to fit with what we already know about the world. However, this intuitive logic in the long run is contrary to the skeptical attitude, which leads us to re-evaluate the evidence when we have objective data that contradicts it.

The five ways that limit the skepticism of the skeptics -obstacle  (1) of ignorance, (2) of status, (3) of the politically correct, (4) of laziness and fear of confrontation and (5) of the tribe- are related to each other. That of ignorance may be associated with the defense of status, and any propensity to dogmatism has something tribal. But to differentiate and increase these few categories may allow us to better understand some irrational forces of those who identify themseleves as skeptics, but don´t honor basic principles and predispositions of critical thinking such as one pointed out by the philosopher Fernando Savater: "A rational being has the pride of being convinced by another person".

And you, reader, how much skepticism are you able to endure?

 

Bibliography

Bloom, P. (2017). Against empathy: The case for rational compassion. Random House.

Chapman, E., Baron-Cohen, S., Auyeung, B., Knickmeyer, R., Taylor, K., & Hackett, G. (2006). Fetal testosterone and empathy: evidence from the empathy quotient (EQ) and the “reading the mind in the eyes” test. Social Neuroscience,, 1(2), 135-148.

Kunda, Z. (1990). The case for motivated reasoning. Psychological bulletin, 108(3), 480.

Lee, Y. T. E., Jussim, L. J., & McCauley, C. R. (1995). Stereotype accuracy: Toward appreciating group differences. American Psychological Association.

Lount Jr, R. B., Zhong, C. B., Sivanathan, N., & Murnighan, J. K. (2008). Getting off on the wrong foot: The timing of a breach and the restoration of trust. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(12), 1601-1612.