The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance

Garbage Skepticism: The Definition

The role of those who identify as ‘skeptic’ is to act in lieu of science in tendering and rigorously and openly enforcing provisional personally preferred conclusions and beliefs. Bullshit. Skepticism is more about asking the right question at the right time, and being able to handle the answer which results – than anything else.

Critical thinking, it is the watchword of the scientifically and skeptically minded. A call to arms on the part of those who seek to ensure that our bodies of knowledge are infused with an indignant form of immunity regarding the bunk, pseudoscience, woo and credulousness proffered by the unwashed masses of believers. Its incumbent and implied skepticism, indeed the preamble held by the fraternity which views itself as the keepers of the Grail of science, is codified by celebrity skeptic, Steven Novella.

The following definition, is brought to you by the man who does not appear to know what a p-value is, cannot consistently define correlation and habitually mis-frames the methods of science so as to favor and dis-favor subjects according to his club’s likes and dislikes (under the guise of ‘scientific’ reason). But we take his word on skepticism, in exemplary credulousness. Yes, celebrity ‘skeptic’ Steven Novella, pretty much sums up the whole fake skepticism movement below. His preferred definition’s codification of abductive logical inference, as it contrasts with ethical (scientific) skepticism, follows thereafter. (Please note, I refer to him as Dr. Novella inside issues of the neurosciences, but in regard to issues of deontology, we are simply peers).

Novellas New ClothesA skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own.

A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves.

Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion. 1

Yes, Novella’s definition can slip by the sensibility litmus of most persons; specifically because it contains socially charged popular phrases, crafted in a type of academic/sciencey, doctor didactic, believe-no-bullshit-sounding milieu of authority. But one must understand, that often such critical virtue signalling constitutes no more than a desire to push a preferred personal cosmology, one not actually vetted by science, via means of Appeal to Skepticism.

If you have ever seriously pursued a scientific discovery or feat of novel engineering – life accomplishments which bear enough difficulty in realization that you begin to garner a wisdom of how such nascency works – this ilk of quick and shallow definition from the more-critical-thinker-than-thou begin to grate on your soul. To the ethical skeptic, the tenderfoot mind replete with its procedural or conceptual credulousness, is not nearly as alarming nor infuriating as is the curmudgeonly old mind, seeking to ascetically enforce its preferred model of methodical cynicism.

When the Continuance of Knowledge is Not Necessarily the Goal: Use Preferential Abduction

Deduction being the most robust form of inference available to the researcher, the provisional methods of short cut inference – and the fact that conclusion is forced prematurely to begin with (see The Real Ockham’s Razor) – are among the principal five errors which are plied by the fake skeptic in their authoritative role representing ‘method’ – and inside the definition framed above by Steven Novella:

Error 1.  Force to Conclusion – the forcing of a conforming answer when no conclusions may even be warranted.

Error 2.   Skepticism in Lieu of Science – skepticism is never to be employed by a casual thinker in lieu of science – it is a discipline of the mind when one prepares to conduct actual science (not pretend science).

Error 3.  Methodical Deescalation of Rigor – deescalate a deductive or inductive challenge to abductive diagnostic inference – when this is an erroneous approach.

Error 4.  Social Inertia – the failure to recognize the negative whipsaw effect of forced, ideologue-driven, provisional or diagnostic abduction authority through society and media structures; ultimately polluting the deontological process of knowledge development (black accrued error curve in the graphic to the right).

Error 5.  Risk Amplification – the failure to recognize the risk gain leveraging effect of multiple stacked provisional or diagnostic abduction inferences on the deontological process of knowledge development (see The Warning Indicators of Stacked Provisional Knowledge).

doubtResearcher beware, as the Novella definition above implies abduction as the method of skepticism. Choosing a lower order of logical inference such as abduction can be a method by which one avoids challenging answers, yet still tenders the appearance of conducting science. But there is a cost in the progression of mankind’s understanding, which arrives at the heels of such errant methods of skepticism.

We highlight here first a favorite trick of social skeptics – i.e. employing abductive reason in instances where deductive discipline or inductive study are warranted (see Diagnostician’s Error). A second trick can involve the appearance of science through the intensive focus on one approach at the purposeful expense of necessary and critical alternatives (see The Omega Hypothesis). Both tricks result in an erosion of understanding on the part of mankind; something I refer to as Cultivated Ignorance – a condition inside of which one cannot gauge empirical risk, and which cannot be distinguished from social conformance (see Constrasting Deontological Intelligence with Cultivated Ignorance). One can dress up in an abductive robe and tender an affectation of science – but an ethical skeptic is armed to know otherwise (see The Tower of Wrong: The Art of the Professional Lie).

Methodical Deescalation

/philosophy : pseudoscience : inadequate inference method/ : employing abductive inference in lieu of inductive inference when inductive inference could have, and under the scientific method should have, been employed. In similar or distributive fashion, employing inductive inference in lieu of deductive inference when deductive inference could have, and under the scientific method should have, been employed.

One of the hallmarks of skepticism is grasping the distinction between a ‘consilience of inductions’ and a ‘convergence of deductions’. All things being equal, a convergence of deductions is superior to a consilience of inductions. When science employs a consilience of inductions, when a convergence of deductions was available, yet was not pursued – then we have an ethical dilemma called Methodical Deescalation.

The Pretend Definition

A skeptic

First, an authentic skeptic does not identify themselves as ‘a skeptic.’2  To do so raises the specter of bias and agenda before one even begins to survey the world around us all. Skepticism, is something an active researcher employs inside the method of science, it is not something you are. Why? Because of two very important laws of human nature, which those who apply real skepticism understand, and fake skeptics do not get:

Neuhaus’s Law

/philosophy : skepticism : fallacies/ : where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. Skepticism, as a goal in and of itself will always escalate to extremism.

Goodhart’s Law of Skepticism

/philosophy : skepticism : fallacies/ : when skepticism itself becomes the goal, it ceases to be skepticism.

is one who prefers

A person who practices skepticism does not prefer anything. In fact, a true skeptic finds satisfaction at proving his bias preferences wrong. ‘Wrongness’ resides at the heart of scientific integrity, and a true researcher celebrates the value of something or an idea being found wrong. A person who practices skepticism defends a knowledge development process which is consistent with the ethical practices of science. He or she finds integrity in the lack of the prefer.

beliefs and conclusions

A person who practices skepticism does not hold beliefs and must be forced by falsified conjecture, into conclusion – rather they recognize the valid outcomes which have arisen as a result of sound scientific method. Nothing else. Beliefs and conclusions are for the religious among us: those seeking to promote a pre-cooked cosmology and block the ethical actions of sciences one does not like (see ‘prefer’ above).

that are reliable and valid

A principal error of fake skeptics is the propensity to prefer what they deem to be ‘reliable’ information over probative observations, what they call ‘ancedotes’ or anything which can otherwise be cherry sorted out of existence through some fallacious mechanism of fake skepticism.  Real science, like real intelligence, takes probative observations and conducts corroborative and follow up field work to increase their reliability. That is what constitutes validity, not an exercise in how authoritative is your a priori knowledge. It does not take a subjective SWAG of reliability/reliability screening and multiply analytical data and observations by that factor – because, all one gets in that method of science, is a highly risky and SWAG-generated answer – surrounded by lots of made up numbers and intimidating databases.  It is a cheap, hide in your clinical neurologist office from 8:45 am till 4:50 pm, way to do science, but not a very effective (and ironically reliable) one.

to ones that are comforting or convenient

In this statement, the one who has identified them self as a ‘skeptic’ has made the claim that any attestation outside what they personally hold to be ‘reliable and valid,’ is the result of personal emotional or easy pathways of philosophy or verity. This is both a bifurcation (my way or the highway) and a rather extraordinary claim, implicit in this poorly crafted amphibious and equivocal expression. Everyone besides me composes an entire realm of seething, mindless, moaning, religiously orgasmic protoplasm. How wonderful I am (you will notice that the promotion of self is key – inside fake skepticism)!

and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason

And there you have it: The job of skepticism is to act in lieu of science to tender and enforce as reason, personal provisional conclusions. Sophomoric and incorrect philosophy. Amazing that this person ever successfully defended a dissertation (see The Riddle of Skepticism).

A skeptic does not ‘apply science’ – A researcher employs skepticism. Grasping this understanding is key to discerning sciencey-sounding chicanery from ethical research.

Reason is not an a priori art. See Rationality is Not What False Skeptics Portray.

Implicit inside this statement is the provision, wherein, if one does not want to go through the bother of using the methods of science in order to derive a conclusion, then the magic of ¡reason! can also be used (equally valid to scientific method). Therefore, one can also sit in their university office, or basement, or celebrity convention and completely fabricate their scientific conclusions, and this all still stands as valid – beliefs and conclusions from reason, acting in lieu of science! Will wonders never cease. Our entire knowledge base as humanity, derived via basement and cubicle keyboards; shoved down the throats of anyone who is comforted or convenienced by daring to ponder anything different.

Rigorously, as cited here can mean – that one drives home a conclusion, even in absence of sufficient evidence to do so. ‘Rigorously destroy’ is the implied context, not rigorously research. Openly means, to declare your preferences on Twitter and in ‘science’ blogs to all the world; nay promulgate this to your malevolent minions, once you have reasoned your conclusion through the insufficient but ‘rigorous‘ evidence which allowed for its adoption.

So, far 100% bullshit – a moron’s definition of skepticism – but let’s continue.

to all empirical claims, especially their own.

Now here, a slip up of sanity encroaches on this fantasy of personal power and aggrandizement. Yes, skepticism is applied to ‘claims’ and not observations (but you will find that conflating the two is a key habit of fake skeptics – who have never filed a patent nor issued a lab report). Skepticism is not applied to observations, intelligence and data, not to faith, not hopes, not art, not music and drama, not to subjects and not to persons. It is applied to the process of vetting hypotheses (not screening the intelligence which drives their necessity, …and there is a difference), asking procedural and contextual scientific questions and undertaking the scientific method, on the part of someone qualified inside the research at hand. If this is what Novella means by ‘empirical claims,’ or more accurately, claims to empiricism, then this is correct. The purpose of skepticism is not to prove that a priori reason is right, or to prove or disprove religions, nor act as the whip of authority proffered by external observers, nor to settle arguments. These are the abuses of skepticism by the dilettante and malevolent.

If by ‘their own‘ he means: “First and foremost finds fulfillment through disciplined pursuit of an insatiable curiosity; scrutinizing and maintaining caution around his own assumptions, regardless of where they are obtained; discriminating with discipline, ontological and religious cosmologies from actual science.” Then he is correct on this point.  If however, the contention that one examines their own claims, rises tantamount to an apologetic as to why one’s beliefs and conclusions are therefore superior through purported self-examination, then this is not what skepticism involves. Skepticism is never employed as a boast, and fake skeptics do not get this.

A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance

A skeptic does no such thing. A skeptic is averse to any such action. A skeptic may entertain multiple constructs as possible or likely, but they do not call those assessments conclusions, nor do they stack such risk-bearing sentences into a religion they call science or skepticism – yes, even provisionally. The skeptic must recognize that any logical inference is not stand alone. Our need in science is to sequence and stack inferences so that they become useful. But in such stacking we imbue risk into the equation – risk which is often times not acknowledged. Such activity inevitably leads to large ‘simplest explanation’ abductive reasoning houses of cards. These houses of cards further then becoming proscribed orthodoxy (reason), under Neuhaus’s Law. This is the methodical process of a pretend skeptic.

to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence

Again, all the fake skeptic needs in his quiver under this framing, is to declare something logical, and to base a prematurely forced conclusion upon the ‘available evidence‘ (which is very often woefully inadequate to support any conclusion).  This constitutes a Transactional Occam’s Razor fallacy. Its being ‘thorough‘ in no way excuses the pseudoscience entailed therein. The phrase is an amphibology crafted so as to excuse any mode of thought one or one’s club chooses (describing this as ‘fair‘), as qualifying to stand in lieu of science. This is institutionalized dishonesty plain and simple.

and studies the pitfalls of human reason

Aha! Finally some actual study! Unfortunately it arrives in the form of “I am here to study the reasons why, despite my being rational, you are stupid-pseudoscience.” So far the definition framer has completely ignored the ‘observing, assimilating intelligence, reducing, developing necessity and exploring several diametrically opposed constructs’ actual research work, the hallmark of real skepticism. They have invested their sole effort regarding actual study – into the discipline of understanding why everyone else is so stupid besides them self (see The Habits of the Pseudo-Skeptic Sleuth). This is a game of pretense and malevolence. It is the hallmark of a spoiled, ego laden and arrogant person.

and the mechanisms of deception

Whoops, they missed this definition – as this is a pretty large set of study, which they have failed to apply to their cabal.

so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves.

One does not avoid being deceived by ‘provisionally proportioning acceptance to beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid’ – this simply means that you are just another one of the con men yourself. Just with a different flim-flam pitch, called ‘skepticism.’ Fake skepticism: The best con job in the business. Con yourself first, con a club of con men, then con others.

First, the surest way to bring a con job into inception, is to begin to enforce it by means of an non-dissent-tolerant and punitive club (see Why Club Quality Does Not Work).

Second, in true skepticism, one avoids being deceived by holding pre-scientific dispositions in an attitude of suspended judgement, epoché. One meticulously, and as a priority, avoids joining clubs of consensus. Hence the statement Epoché Vanguards Gnosis. Errant information will eventually step on its own dick and falsify itself, all you have to do is be patient. Squelching of information and ideas, does nothing but squelch this natural reductive process. This is the process of skepticism, it does not involve prematurely adopting and shooting down things we choose as valid and invalid. It is not something you are, it is a discipline you practice. Its virtues are curiosity, intelligence, tolerance and patience (see The Nurturing of the New Mind).

Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.

Close, but no cigar. Steven wants this to sound like he is referring to the scientific method – but he is not. This phrase, especially given context preceding it, is referential to methodical cynicism, not scientific method. True skepticism values qualified knowledge, ie. that which is effective at underpinning the further improvement of understanding or in alleviating suffering, and the scientific method. Over anything else. Even their own provisionally proportioned acceptance of beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid. What hogwash.

The definition framed here by Steven Novella is not what skepticism is at all. This is childishly obvious to a graduate level philosopher or anyone who has reduced a set of hypotheses to isolate an actual scientific discovery. Understandably, most people do not bear these qualifications, and fall easy prey to this errant pop-definition. But this is the fight we ethical skeptics must undertake. Changing the minds of those who have been media brainwashed. Allowing them see the farce for what it is, maybe for the first time.

The Emperor Wears No Clothes.

epoché vanguards gnosis

  1. Skeptic – The Name Thing Again, Steven Novella, Nov 17 2008; http://skepticblog.org/2008/11/17/skeptic-the-name-thing-again/
  2. ‘The Ethical Skeptic’, the title of this blog is crafted in the non-first person and subjective sense contextually. It is parallel in reference to ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ if you will. It is speaking about thought disciplines which have been proven out through efficacy and integrity. When I refer to myself as The Ethical Skeptic, it is more of a case of expediency and to serve as a contrast in identity to a moniker driven social pressure world in which we exist. In person, I do not boast of being a ‘skeptic’ – in fact I bristle at being categorized by such a name. Rather I use the disciplines (many of my own crafting, despite finding out later that they are also practiced by other researchers) to accomplish science. But my overriding ethic is to investigate and see what merit a case may bring. In this regard, many of my colleagues and friends will not call me a skeptic, because I do not spout off the familiar jargon, nor practice the familiar brand of lazy abductive ignorance, with which they have been indoctrinated.

February 11, 2016 - Posted by | Agenda Propaganda | , , ,

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