Hayley is a Ghost

The skeptical community & I

Posted on: August 29, 2010

The Rather Friendly Skeptic

The title of this blog is not a guarantee. I have been known to be a complete bitch at times, I can also be quite rude and abrupt. However I usually try to be nice and polite and was once described as ‘intellectually sympathetic’ regarding the way I talk about (and to) people who hold beliefs that don’t have evidence to support them.

My aim isn’t to change peoples beliefs, my aim is to use skepticism in my own life. I will discuss beliefs and topics with people who hold opposing beliefs to mine but I will not ridicule them or shove my beliefs down their throats.

Changing your beliefs is a gradual thing, for any skeptic to ridicule somebody because of what they believe is disgusting. Yet it happens and it gets justified and that makes me angry.

The Rather Friendly Skeptic

I no longer identify myself as part of the “skeptical community” or the “skeptical movement” that is so vocal on places like twitter, facebook and on various blogs and forums. This is because there are people in that “community” whose behaviour and attitudes are disgusting and if I remain part of that “community” alongside them then they are representing me.

I am a person who uses the tool of skepticism in everyday life. I am not a skeptic to be popular or cool or build my ego. I sometimes think the way people idolise some skeptics and hang on to their every word is quite farcical.

It’s also weak and pathetic. There are some ‘skeptics’ who make my flesh crawl with disgust. I would truly love to let them know what I think of them but then I know what the backlash from their followers would be like.

How scary is it that skepticism is sometimes similar to religion?

Earlier this year somebody who I regarded as a bit of a skeptical hero revealed their true colours and I was forced to regard them in a completely different way. Embarrassingly enough, prior to me finding out about certain beliefs they held that I opposed I would have supported everything they did or said.

How disgusting of me.

The Rather Friendly Skeptic

On August 20th, 21st and 22nd I was in Warminster, Wiltshire helping to set up, run and participate in the Weird ’10 paranormal & UFO conference. One thing I noticed a lot there was that people held certain views of skeptical people. Bad views that actually made me quite sad.

I regard a lot of people who were there as my friends and yet only some of them understood where I stand with my skepticism and that shocked me into realising I was going wrong somewhere.

My first love has always been paranormal research and ghost stories, yet that very community that I belong to don’t understand where I stand on the topics I love because of the misrepresentation from other skeptics they’ve had dealings with.

First and foremost I am, and I always will be, a paranormal researcher. It doesn’t bother me if my skeptical friends don’t understand that or “get it”. Often, people involved in the skeptical field see my ghost research as quirky or quite funny and yes, after I get into a discussion about it they do find it interesting but they very rarely “get it”.  I do though.

Therefor I have decided that from now on I will be focusing more on my ghost research and less on the skeptical community. Some wont understand by that because they don’t have a true understanding of what skepticism is but that is their loss.

I will still be part of the Righteous Indignation podcast and I will still blog and be around on twitter and facebook etc. but I will not partake in the circus that the skeptical community has become simply because a lot of people who call themselves skeptics are representing me and other people who also call themselves skeptics, and they’re not painting a pretty picture.

& that is that.


19 Responses to "The skeptical community & I"

I post @amsci:s comment from this page
in full for your perusal, since it may be of interest:

“Well, this looks like another opportunity to strap on my chaps (yes, assless; they’re all assless) and hop aboard my hobbyhorse of skeptical value judgments. Once skepticism is seen as an organization or a community, value judgments can find themselves flying out the window. It’s the same in any “movement”. Many Christians will do everything short of hypnotherapy to convince themselves that Christian rock is good, since they feel making a subjective value judgment would be a betrayal to their cause. Or worse, value never enters into the equation. They want to like things because they agree with the larger message, not because of the value inherent in those things.

Skeptics are the same way. Once we see ourselves as members of a community, we naturally feel a pull toward accepting the products of that movement. We want to like all the podcasts, read all the books, attend all the events, sleep with all the– Wait, maybe I’ve gone too far. (Or have I?)

But the truth is, it’s impossible to be broadly accepting of all things skeptical and still maintain honesty in our own tastes and values. It’s the community desire to like the things we otherwise wouldn’t that I feel drives a certain kind of entitlement that feeds criticism.

Consider this: I don’t care for the show “Bones”. The writing is ham-handed. The characterizations are two-dimensional. The acting is borderline alien. I deal with this dislike by not watching the show. It’s pretty simple, really. No button presses required.

What I wouldn’t do is write a letter to the creators of “Bones” demanding they change the show to suit my tastes. As someone with no connection to the show other than a semi-lustful curiosity about David Boreanaz’s current physique (chiseled, with smooth edges, FYI), I don’t feel I have the authority or the right to demand those changes.

But when a skeptic reads a blog post or listens to a podcast or watches a speech by someone who they consider to be an ally for the cause of rationalism, it’s a different story. A skeptic might feel like this person is going down the wrong path. Maybe even being a “dick”. And since the skeptic feels a need to invest in and approve of this person, there’s a desire to want to change that behavior through public criticism, private correspondence, or sleeping wi– (I’ve said too much…)

Skeptics might sleep better if they embraced value judgments and learned to simply dislike the people, the blogs, and the podcasts that don’t suit them.

It can be difficult. I don’t read “Pharyngula”, because I find Myers’ writing to be one-note, sensationalist, hit-whoring, and dimwitted. But I know and love many people who are big fans of his, so I’ll be faced with a retweet or a quote from time to time. Recently, this led to an unproductive and ill-advised Twitter exchange between Myers and me. I was dumb for starting it. I should have just let it go.

Similarly, I find Richard Dawkins to be insufferably humorless, self-contradictory, and condescending. He’s alternately described teaching children to be Christians as abusing the ignorant, then advocated atheist summer camps where kids can sing “Imagine” around a fire. His stance on the possible corrupting powers of fantasy fiction is laughable. His defense of awarding the anti-vaccine Bill Maher a science education award bearing his name is ludicrous.

Even though I’m an atheist, a rationalist, and a pasty white person, I don’t feel a need to care or appreciate what Myers or Dawkins says about anything. I share some of their values, but their messages aren’t for me.

There’s value in trying to shepherd a conversation dear to your heart, but unless you’re willing to make a judgment and let go, I’m afraid you’re doomed to an endless, recursive argument with no solution.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is this: “Eat, Pray, Love” is a fantastic film for men and women of all ages.


To be blunt if you worry about being associated with something or some people in a negative way simply because you choose to self define as a skeptic than perhaps you should focus less on what others say and more on what you say.

Abandoning a “community” (and I use the term in the loosest sense) because of some fear of guilt by association is ultimately counterproductive. Better to say “yes some skeptics may be dicks” and show another side to scepticism than run scared of being tarred with a brush that you’ll get tarred with anyway whether you call yourself a rationalist, a scientist or a critical thinker.

“leaving” the sceptical community isn’t the answer – working within it to shape it into something less dickish is.

I appreciate your comments, Keir, but as I said to you on twitter, it isn’t a guilt by association that has made me write this blog post and feel this way. It’s more a “fed up with being tarred with the same brush as people who are actually rude and egotistical in their approach to skepticim”

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hayley Stevens, Hayley Stevens. Hayley Stevens said: Blog: The skeptical community & I > http://bit.ly/ab9FIQ :/ […]

:/ Mmmph. I know what you mean. :/ Sorry to hear that it’s been that much of an issue that it led you to write this. After being around for many, many years, I’ve learned who my allies are and to make it firm and clear who does *not* represent me with their behavior – much of which really makes me sad when I see the indications of ‘seniors’ in skepticism wholly endorsing them. But then, sometimes it’s not as straight-forward as that. I just wish more spoke out, as you have. 😦


I don’t think the solution is to quit the skeptical community. The skeptical community is a community, and that means by definition there is room for different forms of “skeptic” inside the mouvement.

I like it that way. I think it’s important to have debates over this and I think instead of sayin “I’m not a member of the skeptical community anymore”, you should try to change the mouvement itself, by making your views better known.

With skepticality,

Thank you for writing this. I feel like this from time to time, when I come across a person in the skeptical community who has a position that I strongly disagree with, or someone who goes about skepticism in entirely the wrong way.

It hasn’t been enough for me to “leave” the movement, and I don’t think it ever will, because I know that for every person who stands for something I oppose there are at the very least two more who don’t. I surround myself with people I get along with and try not to enter into pointless arguments. In fact, I can’t stand them. Skeptical politics is tiresome and useless. Time spent bickering could be used to try and educate the public, which should really be the ultimate “goal” of the movement.

Realizing that we skeptics shouldn’t be necessarily idolizing well-known members of the community was the turning point for me. I’ll give heaps of credit when it’s due and sing praises, but I will no longer back a person who a lot of people may support if they’re doing more harm than good. PZ Myers is one such person – when he writes about science, he kicks serious science communication ass. But every time he gets people to “polljack” an Internet poll, or he writes a blog post filled *only* with insults, I find myself shaking my head. People may look up to him, but it’s really only because he’s popular, not because his message is intrinsically more valuable.

Thank you again.

PZ’s reaction to Plait’s talk (see my comment below) was one that really riled me up. And even Jerry Coyne’s reaction (who can calmly and assertively tell the world why evolution is true) disappointed me.

It really does look like certain high profile figures believe that calling someone an idiot is the only way to do it, because they’re “right”

It really does look like certain high profile figures believe that calling someone an idiot is the only way to do it, because they’re “right”

So is the right way to do it Phil Plait’s way? Since he won’t give a shred of evidence for this except for two anecdotes he has started the logical fallacy (I almost typed in phallacy) that when a skeptic disagrees with you or challenges you on the evidence that the skeptic is a dick?

Without a plain statement showing what he believes is dickish behaviour that is what he has done.


I know you are responding to another comment on here. However, I just want to point out that what I feel and think has nothing to do with Phil Plait.

Hi Haley,
I think you’ve been doing a great job. I’ve listened to every episode of RI since episode 5. I have no idea of the person/s or event that may have upset you (I am writing from Australia after all). Do you think that that event is fully representative of “the skeptical community”?
Sadly it’s impossible to enforce standards of behavior in a community group.
If you think that taking a gentle approach to convincing people to change their mind is best, I suggest you have the evidence on your side to back up that thinking. You can find it here:


Above all, skeptics should be convinced by evidence and shouldn’t just let off steam because it feels good.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts recently about all this, mainly because of the reaction to Phil Plait’s “don’t be a dick” talk.

I haven’t been entirely comfortable either.

[…] At Westminster Skeptics In The Pub, Frank Swann (@SciencePunk) said that he no longer labels himself a skeptic. Then more recently, Hayley Stevens made a similar statement: she no longer wishes to identify herself as part of the “skeptical community”. […]

It’s the nature of human groups – whether religious, skeptical, political, scientific, or whatever – that there will be intense disagreement. Many Christians feel about other Christians how you, as a de facto if not self-identified skeptic, feel about other skeptics. To expect cohesion and the adherence to the values you hold is naive.

And…. erm… hold on. You’re happy to be part of the paranormal ‘community’ but not the skeptical ‘community’? Despite the fact that he former contains as many, and arguably many many more, horrid people than the latter? Maybe I’m missing something (I don’t know you, after all, and I’ve only poked about your blog a bit) but that seems a like a double standard.

I think the difference is that the skeptical community are expected to be the more rationally behaved.

Fair point. But… a lot of the disagreement here lies in values and aims, not rationality. I’m with Isaiah Berlin: conflict about values – intense conflict – is ineliminable by any means, and there is no clear, single “answer” around which groups can rally. The disagreement between, say, PZ and Penn & Teller on one side, and Plait and Mooney on the other, isn’t simply about strategy, it’s about ends and values. You can disagree with people like PZ, of course, but it’s not as simple as calling him irrational for being mean.

So… what I’m saying is that conflict in any group is inevitable, and even in a totally rational one. Insisting on leaving groups over such conflict is insisting on not being in any groups at all. (Which is fine, of course, but be clear about what’s going on).

(I’m probably not expressing these ideas particularly clearly).

It makes me sad to read this post. There are idiots in every group, and every time decent people leave, the proportion of idiots goes up!

Isn’t it best to lead by example?

I agree that there are a lot of bad attitudes in skeptism. Richard Dawkins is insufferable. Ben Goldacre can be extremely scathing. Thinking yourself correct doesn’t excuse rude, arrogant behaviour.

Steven Novella manages to get his point across without being insulting. Skeptism needs more people like him (and you) so that other people are more likely to accept what we say, rather than dismiss us as opinionated, misguided know-alls.

This post is oooooold

I’m sure there’s a logical fallacy about that 🙂

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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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