Hayley is a Ghost

Of skepticism and skeptics

Posted on: July 4, 2010

When it comes to using skepticism:

It is not proactive to:

– Call people who believe in pseudoscientific ideas rude names

– Openly mock people who believe in pseudoscientific ideas

– forget what skepticism IS

– forget how an open mind works

– forget that you are not always right

– think you are safe from irrational thinking and logical fallacies

It is proactive to:

– Remain calm, friendly and approachable

– learn how to debate without being rude

– listen

– keep your mind open to new possibilities

– realise that humans all make mistakes

– learn how the mind works

– be nice and not give people excuses to assasinate your character.

Why am I making these points? Well, there has been a bit of discussion over this weekend on twitter about how skeptics might not have a good reputation and it’s something I have thought of for quite a while.

See, sometimes people who call themselves skeptics comment on my blog and outright insult the people or the things I have written about. Which is a really inappropriate thing to do.

I’ve also seen the same behaviour from skeptics on twitter, facebook and other blogs and podcasts.

Recently I was part of an interview with Jon Ronson for Righteous Indignation who described his approach to his books and documentires as a humanist approach whilst still being skeptical.

It took my mind back to a comment I recieved after talking in front of the Nottingham skeptics in the pub group. A guy in the audience said that I was intelligently sympathetic towards believers. This was because I used to be a believer in ghosts, an afterlife, table tipping, glass divination etc. I know how easy it is to take on ideas and beliefs that are nonsense without realising you are doing so.

When I held these beliefs I came across people who were skeptical of them and sometimes I was mocked for it and rather than making me think “gee, this person who is making fun of me sure has a point” it instead made me instantly go against anything they said.

The “skeptical movement” or the “skeptical community” have enough to contend with without people who identify themselves as skeptics acting childishly towards people with opposing beliefs and giving every skeptic out there a bad name. Not only does it make skeptics and rational thinkers everywhere seem horrible, it also makes the pseudoscientific ideas that people believe in seem more plausable to them because the skeptics are coming across as close minded.

Rant over.

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6 Responses to "Of skepticism and skeptics"

Well said. I have to say I am getting very tired of people thinking Skepticism is a system of belief, rather than a system of thinking.

Hey Hayley…
You’re probably aware of the podcast “Actually Speaking” by Mike Meraz, but if not or if just to share with the listeners of Righteous Indignation or readers of your blog I thought I’d bring him up. Skeptics do tend to be strident at times and are so often accused of being dogmatic and close-minded that there has to be something to it. Not necessarily that skeptics ARE dogmatic or close-minded, but that they are perceived that way. I think there’s a fairly simple explanation. I’ve rarely met a believer that was as sure of their beliefs as most skeptics are of their non-beliefs, for lack of a better term. It must be frightening to be confronted by someone who is so sure that your world view is a bunch of claptrap. Of course you would immediately shut down your mind and go into bunker mode.

“Actually Speaking” has 10 episodes posted so far, tips to help you be a skeptic without being an asshole. I have to admit that sometimes when I listen to it, it seems somewhat patronizing (to believers), but then we’re not doing that great of a job of making believers comfortable with us, are we? I’ll take the help where I can get it.

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Danny Strickland and Lance Reed. Lance Reed said: RT @hayleystevens: BLOG: Of skepticsm & skeptics – http://wp.me/pTazw-6L […]

Hi Hayley
I have to say, I did start off very much a believer in the afterlife when I became an investigator 6 and half years ago. Back then, pseudoscientific methods were all around and although many didnt realise at the time, like many other groups, we were indirectly influenced by what was on TV. Our group prided ourselves on the fact that we were balanced in our approach and would look for logical explanations first. The group really was a ‘mixed bag’ and no one was ridiculed for their system of thinking. Members could speak without fear of being ridiculed…….
As the years went by however, I have become more and more disillusioned and skeptical so when I joined a science group a couple of years ago in addition to the group I’m in, I took the science methodology and tried to integrate it into the group. I was met with so much hostility and ridicule, I was made to feel that I was stupid and someone even suggested that I has been brainwashed!!!…..I was being mocked for being skeptical so it works both ways.(I must add at this point that none of those members that made me feel like that are in my group now)…they all left a year ago and we now have a wonderful team who work really well together.
There is still pseudoscientific methods in the group but I just announced to them tonight that although I will remain part of the team, I am starting up a science based group. Members were surprised but at the same time, very supportive. They respect my need for exploring the non pseudoscientific methods and likewise, I would never mock them for wanting to continue in their methods.

It’s a shame that your current team aren’t willing to give up the pseudoscience and take up a scientific methodology.
Good for you though, sticking to principles 🙂

Well said Hayley.

Being an avid listener to skeptical podcasts, but also having once been a “true believer” I too am sometimes disturbed by the mockery of people’s beliefs – and the occasional straw man misrepresentation of believers.

I put it down in large measure to the domination of the skeptical “community” by males, who tend to be more confrontational. It is really good that there are more “ladies who do scepticism” because they tend to be more empathetic. Hope I’m not being outrageously sexist…?

Like you, when I was a true believer I would not have been persuaded by someone who mocked my beliefs. Actually I rather relished the notion of argument with people who took a different view – but such debate almost always leads to both sides strengthening their entrenched views, rather than one person persuading the other that they are wrong.

As skeptics we should not have entrenched views, and we should always question everything, and be prepared to change our minds. Rather than confronting people who hold sincere “woo” beliefs it is much better if we can listen to them and question them in the effort to get them to question themselves. I believe that nobody changes their opinion except through their OWN questioning of their beliefs. Rather than mock them we should seek to encourage them to question.

Of course like many things in life, it is easier said than done!

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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