The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance

Denial and Pseudo-Skepticism are Not the Same Thing

Pseudo-skepticism is the form of cynicism wherein a power holding group tampers with methods and science, media and social pressure mechanisms inside a domain of large unknown – in order to craft and enforce on the public, a null hypothesis or conclusion narrative, that might at best be accidentally correct. This is completely distinct from the process of denial. Suspension in denial may be existentially incorrect, but it at least stems in its originality from proper method and does not enforce a particular small-unknown domain conclusion narrative. The distinguishing difference is this: An ethical scientist might be a denialist at times, but an ethical scientist can never be a pseudo-skeptic.

I recently had a discussion on Twitter with a gentleman (and separately a brief dispute with a posing pseudo-intellectual who seemed more focused on me than this topic) about the distinguishing earmarks which separate stances of denial from the methods of pseudo-skepticism. The contention is often made inside social skepticism, that the denial of Anthropogenic Global Warming, constitutes ‘pseudo-skepticism’. This because those who oppose AGW claim to be using skepticism to support their uncertainty over that consensus conclusion. The purpose of this charade in tampering with otherwise well fitted definitions of pseudo-skepticism and denial, is to provide a misdirection with respect to understanding the actions of social skeptics on other issues (true pseudo-skepticism). Social Skeptics enjoy enormously the opportunity to misinform the public through the ridicule that can be generated over highly contentious and visible issues just such as climate change. Denialists may even borrow some of the errant methods taught by social skeptics in their desperation to keep an issue open. But just as vigilantes and police might appear to at times share methods, they are not the same thing at all. (Please note that I am an AGW advocate, I just maintain questions surrounding some of the consensus alternatives which were, or were not, researched in our process of deduction therein. Nor do I extrapolate the science into contentions that evil working Americans or Republicans are therefore worthy of violent opposition and disdain)

Denial is simply dogmatic allegiance to a refusal to accept a consensus based conclusion of science or groups claiming to represent science (dogmatic dissent). And while denial does involve avoiding selection of an alternative or promotion of the null hypothesis as a Verdrängung Mechanism, it really has nothing to do with one being ‘open minded’ – and may indeed be based cruxially upon a closed mindset. It does not mean that one is using skepticism incorrectly necessarily – rather that their dissent has ossified into a condition of dogmatic cynicism – and not that any particular feature of their skepticism is necessarily wrong. There is never a condition of skepticism wherein one just throws up their hands at any kind of questioning, basking in the bliss of the ‘right answer’ – as attractive a surrender as this might appear to the political agenda laden, weary or snowflake heart.

Skepticism itself does not mean that I must accept specific answers, it simply means that I defend the methods of science, even in the face of popular votes – and withhold disposition until a critical nexus is reached. A skeptic can simply be contending that this nexus has not yet been reached – and even disagree with inadequately supported claims to consensus. One can do this however, and still ossify into the cynical specter of denial.  In contrast, and as exhibited in the chart above (click to expand), pseudo-skepticism is the form of cynicism wherein a power wielding group tampers with methods and science, associations, media and social pressure mechanisms in order to create and enforce on the public, a false null hypothesis or conclusion narrative. This is completely distinct from the process of denial. Denial may be existentially wrong – yet still have stemmed from proper science methods originally. Pseudo-skepticism is agenda laden methodical doubt – used to identify the bad guys who don’t accept the right answer – and is only existentially correct in its conclusion by accident. Denial does not enforce any particular conclusion, only pseudo-skepticism does this.

A chief tactic of social skepticism is to blur the distinct integrity of words which might be useful in describing and communicating the methods of masquerade they employ.

A Contrast: Example of Pseudo-Skepticism

Of course, enormous uncertainty surrounds the fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan during the terminal leg of their journey around the world. On the team’s fateful July 2nd 1937 trip, their radio signal was picked up by a number of surrounding radio stations (Oahu, Midway, Howland and Wake islands). Despite Noonan having been trained in what is called Dead Reckoning and Radio Direction Finding navigation, they were unable to utilize the bearing of the radio direction signal from the on-station Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, in order to develop a track from their DR (navigation slang for a ‘Dead Reckoning track’ – an assumed-correct course based upon speed, bearing and time – an inductive extrapolation used frequently in navigation – I have over 7,000 practice hours in this method of navigation). A track which would lead them to a visual confirmation of Howland Island, their destination. Itasca had detected Earhart and Noonan right on the correct bearing for termination of the DR phase of their navigation plot. Yet, despite having the Itasca’s axial measurement on their RDF radio, Earhart and Noonan never showed up for the scheduled landing. A very odd occurrence given that four of five navigational variables (Howland axis, distance, speed, time) had been solved for, and only one uncertain variable remained – axial distance to Howland Island.

When you are a skeptic, who is misapplying skepticism and fail to realize that you don’t understand critical elements of dead reckoning navigation or how radio direction finding antennas work, you might assemble grand logical conjectures which are erroneous in attempting to provide a ‘simple’ explanation to this mystery (note: this is not an instance of Dunning-Kruger Error because neither celebrity skeptic communicator, Michael Shermer nor Brian Dunning are ‘peers’ to any dead reckoning navigators as a discipline group – this is simply an instance of failed skepticism, pseudo-skepticism – and great example at that). Moreover, if the club picks up your ‘rationality’ and hails it as a championing issue, then that error becomes dogmatic – ossifying, from methodical doubt in the handling of Ockham’s Razor sufficient alternatives, into the a priori bias of pseudo-skepticism. For example, in his June 22nd blog, Brian Dunning inexpertly applies apparent common sense to the issue – a grave mistake when used in lieu of actual investigative skepticism:

Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan had followed Itasca’s radio direction finding signal to get there. The water there is very deep, and it’s unlikely that much survives of the plane to ever be found. There’s never been any mystery surrounding her loss at sea.

For some reason, [TIGHAR’s] Gillespie thinks they flew instead to an island called Nikumaroro, a full ten degrees off the course they are known to have followed, and which their fuel onboard made it physically impossible to reach.1

The astute ethical skeptic will notice primarily that Dunning here is overconfident in his promotion of the single, popular, Occam’s (sic) Razor, conforming and simple Verdrängung Mechanism solution. The argument is over and no further research needs to be done as “There’s never been any mystery surrounding [their] loss at sea.” Well, as it turns out, this entire contention set is incorrect. It is pseudo-skepticism. It may make sense for the general public (the vulnerable of pseudo-skepticism) to consume the idea that a tenacious pilot and experienced navigator just flew mindlessly until they ran out of fuel, but it does not make sense to a seasoned investigator (skeptic).

Pseudo-skeptics package material for general consumption. Their goal is not truth; rather, influence.

First, Noonan followed Itasca’s radio direction AXIS, not bearing (as Dunning implies), and there is a difference which a skilled dead reckoning and RDF navigator knows, a skeptic might ascertain, but a pseudo-skeptic will never know (and more importantly, never get the feedback that their skeptical method was wrong). The ‘Loop’ or axial antenna is shown mounted on top of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra in the photo to the right.2 What this type of direction finding device gives is a two bearing axis, not a single bearing direction.3 So the information Fred Noonan would have possessed was ‘Howland Island is either 350 degrees true from us, or 170 degrees true from us’ (see map above, upon termination of the dead reckoning phase of navigation). Their next step would be to fly one of the axis bearings to see if the signal faded or strengthened. The problem is that they were using very low HF (today’s frequency standards) frequencies, of which the signal propagation will dance around and chaotically strengthen and diminish no matter where you are. I once encountered a circumstance in my communications radio operator days where a 3MHz signal just like they used here, was totally clear from Diego Garcia, 1500 nautical miles away, yet I could not hear another transmitter on that same frequency band which was just 100 nautical miles from me.  This is the way radio frequency HF direction finding works. It bears enormous risk in its interpretation.

In addition, there was no ‘there’ to be gotten to in the first place. The navigation plot was ending its DR phase (an inductive conjecture) and transitioning to a radio directed phase (a deductive measure). This transition occurs at only a theoretical ‘there’. This is why a fix (the yellow circle with a dot inside it, on the chart above) is symbolized by a full circle, and carries more confidence than does a DR (in tomato) which is symbolized by a half circle. These symbols imply confidence on the datum.

Would not such symbology help in matters of science, to distinguish conclusions of induction and abduction pushed by pseudo-skeptics, as distinct from conclusions of deduction on a Query Oriented Normalization schema? But, we learn in pseudo-skepticism that the duty of skeptics is to defend questionable inductive answers (DR half circles) as science and never look again. The DR-science is finished. So…

Second, yes all the water was deep everywhere and no, it is not ‘unlikely’ – rather prohibitive, that any wreckage of the plane survives to this day, had they ditched in open ocean as he suggests.

Pseudo-skeptics rely upon how clever a phrase sounds, rather than its probative value. They will rarely catch a circumstance wherein we have stacked deductive methods on top of inductive conclusions. This is not a sound process – despite its looking ‘sciencey’ through its equipment and analytical tools. It is as dangerous socially for mankind every bit as much as it was navigationally for Noonan and Earhart.

Third, they did not follow a ‘known’ course as Dunning describes it, as Earhart and Noonan did not find the course confirming islands they had hoped for.4 A DR is not a ‘known’ course and speed, it is rather just as in the case of ‘there’ above, an assumption. If the prevailing winds were 10 knots south rather than the 1937 era forecast 3 knots north, then that would impart a 50 nautical mile error into the ‘known & there’. This is called a ‘tail condition’ in arrival distribution science – a less common scenario, but all too possible and real. The purpose of navigation is to use discipline methods to mitigate the risk of this assumption aspect of navigation and any tail condition circumstances.5

Pseduo-skeptics habitually fail to assess risk, tail variance and significance, as well as the impact of human behavior on social systems inside objective scenarios or their own construct analysis.

Fourth, Nikumaroro is EXACTLY ON, Noonan’s RDF search axis with Howland Island, a natural island to find once one has terminated their DR, and begun an uncertain axis search (again, something a pseudo-skeptic would never know).6

Pseudo-skeptics will tamper with terminology, using large footprint equivocal words, altering the meaning of probative terms in order to emasculate them, and switching critical words so as to reduce their expository value – like here, employing ‘bearing’ in lieu of ‘axis’. They are fully aware that 97% of the population, none of their cronies, nor scientists will catch the significance of the shell game.

Fifth, as you can see on the per hoc aditum scenario chart above, if Earhart and Noonan did not have the fuel to reach Nikumaroro, then they did not have the fuel to reach Howland Island, their destination either; unless the wind was just right (emphasis here). I seriously doubt that an experienced global pilot like Earhart would have taken off without enough fuel to cover for unexpected normal circumstance wind set and drift (such as 13 knots to the north or south).

This habit of crafting apparently solid debunkings, which rely upon clever sounding one-liners, in lieu of real understanding – this is a habit of pseudo-skepticism. Once you apply short cut one-liners in one discipline, you will do them in all (see Margold’s Law). The call here is to hold epoché, not craft appeal to authority solutions without real evidence.

Finally, their fuel would have run out EXACTLY about the time of spotting Nikumaroro island, based on the theoretical DR/RDF axis search, which is the standard practice of RDF/DR navigators. They had enough fuel to take the above track and even circle the island to see where they might land; as a reasonably conservative pilot will choose a deserted island beach over a chance of an open sea landing, any day, any time. If they are in trouble, they will land in a place where survival is enhanced and not chance a total loss in trying to find something better. Earhart did not have to be ‘ten degrees off course’ as Dunning inexpertly opines, because the “off course” variation he assumes is explained by the very RDF axis search Fred Noonan was trained to execute (in yellow in the image above).

A pseudo-skeptic will fail to see the non-linear dynamic outcomes of which a system is capable. Solutions are therefore easy, common sense founded upon induction – and become  prescriptive through Lindy Effect from that point onward – most fully unaware of the thin ice upon which their grand cosmologies stand.

Not to mention of course that the final radio direction finding fix of the aggregate of all the RDB reports from the surrounding islands (see on the chart above, the grey bearings reported by Itasca, Oahu, Midway, Howland and Wake islands – collectively support an aggregate fix at the position of the yellow circle fix), much more solidly than does ‘simplest explanation’ skepticism, places Earhart and Noonan about 50 nautical miles north of a nearest proximity island, right on the Howland search axis …Nikumaroro.

What distinguishes fake skepticism, just like fake news, from the real thing – is not the facts you bring to bear; but rather the facts you choose to leave out.

Note as well, that if I use only the radio direction bearings of the two closest radio stations (Itasca and Midway), then I get a two-shot fix right on top of Nikumaroro island. This should have been one of the first places to examine. Never underestimate the impact of the human desire to survive and skilled pilot ingenuity on ‘simplest answer’ alternative hierarchies.

The problem with social skepticism is not that individuals abuse skepticism to prematurely arrive at a personal wrong conclusion. The problem does not reside in simply being wrong. With social skepticism the entire scientific and public community at large, intimidated by simple linear approved thought, arrive at and permanently affix these errant conclusions. We take Dead Reckoning style induction or abduction – and falsely regard it as proved science. Then we stack such conclusions upon each other into grand assemblies of Dead Reckoning tracks – ignorant of the error we have imparted and multiplied (see Contrasting Deontological Intelligence with Cultivated Ignorance).

It does not matter that these individuals are rational and can eventually at a later time, be brought to understand what really happened inside such mysteries. What matters is that they over-confidently estimate their ability to spot and define ‘likelihood’ – and failing to evaluate that risk, compound it by releasing such conclusions as ‘rational’, ‘factual’ and science-based – simply because they think they used skepticism.

They would have circled and landed, only minutes after these transmission bearing measurements, as a precautionary measure. Observe the graphic I assembled above which reflects these final RDF bearings, and note where their weighted three-shot fix resides.7 A very compelling theory – and this is how science actually works. Why did Brian Dunning not do this same research? Because he was applying pseudo-skepticism (see Steven Novella’s definition). He selected for one imperious and likely correct answer, to be enforced by bad method – upon us all. My citing that his biased selection of one answer, constitutes wrong method, does not serve to make me therefore a ‘denier’ – even if 97% of his cohorts support the single answer.

Pseudo-skeptics employ derision or humor, not just to motivate deniers to accede to scientific gravitas, they mostly employ humor to block critical alternatives and prohibit deductive science, because of its distinct probative & epistemic value. They do not care what is truth – they care what you believe is truth. Often the developers of pseudo-skeptic propaganda (like the above fake science tweet from a paid hashtag stuffer – someone employed to squelch disdained ideas) are hired and compensated to play such a role. Deniers typically, not always, but typically rely upon conscience.

Knee-jerk dismissing this compelling theory as a viable and testable alternative, in favor of ceasing science and adopting a simple or socially preferred/conforming explanation, ‘they crashed into the sea’ – this is pseudo-skepticism. You will see it play over and over inside society – it is not the same as denialism.

Denialism is probably being wrong; pseudo-skepticism is being not even wrong.

Dismissal of a very compelling alternative theory – one which is supported to a great degree by the intelligence, one which is rational, one which is highly plausible by expert method, one which bears mechanism and can be tested (not that an ethical skeptic assumes it as a priori correct); dismissing this in advance of sufficient knowledge horizon development or testing is …pseudo-skepticism. It is pseudo-science. More specifically, what have Shermer and Dunning done here? In specific regard to pseudo-skepticism their contentions feature a degree of Methodical Pathology combined with a knee-jerk compulsion to enforce conformity. That is, they have ossified from dissent to cynicism. Specifically many pseudo-skeptics practice the following:

Hints that one might be a pseudo-skeptic (wrong methods and only accidentally correct)

  • A pseudo-skeptic rarely understands an opposing alternative, they socially – just don’t care about soundness or logical calculus
  • Has bought into one single answer
  • Promotes conjecture and conformance inside a subject with a large horizon of unknown
  • Chooses a ceremonial issue
  • Focuses on issues which bear no productive achievement potential with respect to love, an increase in usable knowledge, or the alleviation of suffering
  • Uses non-expert skeptics, as communicators – instead of investigative reporters
  • Decides the likelihood of ideas before the preponderance of compelling theory has been researched
  • Targets groups or legitimate researchers bearing ideas they do not like, as the bad guys (TIGHAR in this case) – polarizing and corrupting the issue a priori
  • Employs hearsay, common and ‘friendly sounding’ information as the principal elements to communicate
  • Enforces a popular standing belief as the ‘simplest explanation’
  • Chooses an issue which will incite their faithful with interest
  • Selects a position which can be perceived as being the ‘rational’ approach
  • Selects a position or issue which will tender them attention
  • Chooses a topic which contains enough unknown such that bias is hard to discern or be held to account for
  • Selects an issue where Nickell Plating (doing sciencey-looking things to appear skepticky) is practicable
  • Chooses an issue where to conform to the standing explanation can be used to show why those who oppose you are ‘irrational’
  • Stands in a position to block the investigation of compelling alternatives or intelligence
  • Assigns a null hypothesis which has been assigned without merit (See The Five Types of Null Hypothesis Error)
  • Never held epoché to begin with
  • Accepts entire bundles of scientific ideas based upon what political side they appear to reinforce
  • Employs false methods of science (often with real true facts) in order to petition for cessation of further investigative activity
  • A pseudo-skeptic considers violence or legal action as a possibility at hand in the enforcement of their conclusions
  • Can never be an ethical scientist
  • Employs false science method – pseudoscience

A Contrast: Example of Denial

AGW opponents, contrary to the shtick of social skeptics who promote anthropogenic global warming social agendas, might actually use skepticism.  They might be wrong, they might reside in a state of dogged denial – but those existential circumstances do not serve to relegate their skepticism to status as pseudo-skepticism, simply because they disagree. A denialist just simply might not be willing to accept the consensus alternative. An ethical scientist might be a denialist, but an ethical scientist can never be a psuedo-skeptic. More specifically for this example, a denialist ‘denies’ that the null below has been correctly assigned; and denies further that all of the alternatives below have been falsified through ample research and processes of deductive consilience:

Null – Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, introduced by human activity and increasing from from 280 parts per million in the 19th century to more than 400 today, much more than any other greenhouse gas or factor, is the primary contributor to climate change since 18508

Alternatives –

1.  Cyclical changes in Total Solar Irradiance (TSI), on increase since 1850, is the major contributor

2.  A cyclical shift in Solar Spectral Index (SSI), towards more release of water-vapor-absorptive infrared irradiance by the sun, has occurred since 1850 and is the major contributor

3.  Primary Earth orbital dynamics (obliquity, eccentricity and axis precession), as recorded in the Milankovitch Cycles, are at least partial and not fully understood contributors

4.  Cyclical changes to the Earth’s core nuclear reactor and structural/mantle dynamics (as measurable by geoneutrinos and as observed historically in the Schumann Resonance/Earth temperature record) have served to heat the oceans from the bottom up in the Pacific Rim of Fire and equatorial thermal regions (El Niño and La Niña), and consequently the pole ice from the bottom up, and atmosphere since 18509 10 11 12 13

5.  Deforestation and/or loss of reflectiveness/ocean/ice absorption has been the primary contributor to climate change since 1850

6.  Natural processes of water vapor, carbon and methane atmospheric release, in combination with and as precipitated resulting from the Null, or 1, or 2, or 3, or 4, or 5 or any combination thereof, explain the majority of temp increases since 1850

7.  Carbon, methane and water vapor are all released as a natural sympathetic outcome of climate change, and are not primarily contributed by man – nor the principal cause, rather only a correlation with some other causal condition

Note of Clarity – A denialist denies that the Null has been chosen by valid rational or empirical processes nor that it should be rationally selected for consensus. A pseudo-skeptic denies that the alternatives are even science, or insists that they should never have been seriously investigated to begin with, or merit zero investigation now.

For me personally, I hold the Precautionary Principle as one contributor to the reason I favor taking action based upon the Null Hypothesis in the matter of climate change – and complimentarily because I have read all the material I could find on alternatives 1 – 7, and found nothing compelling enough to be considered as a falsification of the Null. Alternative 4 is interesting, but only interesting so far. I wish we had more study on it. In so far as our temperature models are now outrunning our carbon curves (see graphic I assembled at right which includes the 2017 Mauna Loa data), then we need to keep a skeptical eye on our own conclusions, in order to avoid falling into pseudo-skepticism. Denial in contrast involves ignoring climate change warnings: greenhouse gasses, and carbon dioxide in particular, are not simply a ‘correlation’ with global temperature increases, rather a fingerprint signal. A distinction point which not only denialists, but fake skeptics as well tend to misunderstand (as in the case of autism contributors for example).

I maintain skepticism around the issue and bear some concern that we have not fully investigated the contribution from all alternatives 1 – 7. But like most scientists, hold the need for precaution and the current inductive data – as bearing more concerning gravitas. Should I encounter data which develops a compelling case for Alternative 4 and 6 for instance – that does not immediately serve to make me a denialist.  If however I am protecting the null hypothesis and begin to wage a campaign to have science ignore Alternative 4, then I am indeed a pseudo-skeptic. Do you see the game they are playing with our language in order to obscure this clarification on behalf of the general public (see Wittgenstein Error and Its Faithful Participants)?

These are the kind of games for which an ethical skeptic must be ever vigilant.

Take a hint folks, fake skeptics do not hold the reasoned position I just outlined above. They are correct – but only by accident. Moreover, they employ such correctness to enact goals which have nothing really to do with the science – rather someone they hate. I respect a researching denier much more, for this simple reason. But Let’s be clear here too folks – each of these alternatives listed above are actual scientific alternatives and their investigation is done with actual science methods. In contrast, pseudo-skepticism relies upon false methods. This makes it not science. The rightness or wrongness of the conclusion has nothing to do with it. A denialist, in contrast may practice the following:

Hints that one might be a denialist (right original methods yet may be doggedly incorrect)

  • A denialist understands the alternative they are denying, as well or better than do its proponents – they disagree on its soundness
  • Has not bought into one single answer
  • Withholds conjecture and consent inside an issue of a small horizon unknown
  • Does not choose an issue, but may have it thrust upon them
  • Focuses on issues of productive achievement potential with respect to love, an increase in usable knowledge, or the alleviation of suffering
  • Uses experts who focus on the salient evidence, eschewing ‘communicators’
  • Resists a priori definitions of likelihood
  • Doesn’t target anyone – just simply disagree with either soundness or logical calculus
  • Sometimes employs hearsay, common and ‘friendly sounding’ information as the principal elements of support only
  • Does not choose a ‘simplest explanation’ – cognizant that things may be more complex than we understand
  • Does not have a faithful following
  • Does not conflate rationality with conformance
  • Does not seek attention
  • Cites and alerts the community to bias – not a specific conclusion
  • Never pretends to be or represent science, just simply skepticism
  • Does not argue ‘rationality’ and ‘irrationality’ – rather corruption and conclusiveness
  • Does not block research of any alternatives – even the one they question
  • Dissents as to the null hypothesis assigned, but may refuse to assign one as well
  • Has held epoché past its utility
  • May resist a whole set of scientific ideas they perceive to be politically motivated
  • Employs real methods of science (sometimes with errant data or assumptions) to encourage more scientific research
  • A denialist rarely or ever considers violence or legal action as an at-hand solution to their debate
  • Might be simply a mistaken ethical scientist
  • Employs science – just errs in conclusion, soundness or logical calculus

Behind the Conflation of the Two Terms

Pseudo-skepticism is an entirely distinct malicious and errant method and is not a set of errant conclusions, per se. False skeptics do not get this. They believe the notion that

The ends justifies the means, the answer justifies the methodology of arriving at the answer.

Vigilantes and Police Forces both take people into custody at gunpoint, and sometimes kill people. They both have headquarter offices, but this does not make them the same thing at all. In similar fashion, just because a denialist might use some of the tactics of social skeptics and pseudo-skeptics at times (after all this is what celebrity skeptics have been teaching the public since 1972), does not serve as a basis to identify them as pseudo-skeptics. Social skeptics will employ the use of traits common to both terminology domains, those traits in the undistributed middle, to provide a basis for conflating and confusing the terms ‘denial’ and ‘pseudo-skepticism’.  They do so, for reasoned purpose: to blur the distinct integrity of words which might be useful in describing and communicating the methods of masquerade they employ.

Characterization by the Undistributed Middle

/philosophy : formal fallacy : fallacy of composition/ : a rhetorical blending of fallacy of composition and affirmation of the consequent, wherein traits shared between two distinct groups are used to underpin the claim that the two groups are indeed identical or falsely that a person in one group actually belongs in the other group. Usually a form of rhetosophy, used to support an agenda, in its conflation. All pseudo scientists promote un-vetted data, the proponent of this argument promoted un-vetted data, therefore the promoter of this argument is a pseudo scientist.

Being right all the time, is not the goal of an ethical skeptic. Investment in such ego and fear assets – introduces bias into the deliberative processes we undertake. I would rather be a mistaken denialist, who pressed their epoché just a little bit more than they should – than a mindless, bad methods, unethical pseudo-skeptic any day.

epoché vanguards gnosis

How to MLA cite this blog post => 14

July 9, 2017 Posted by | Agenda Propaganda, Argument Fallacies, Ethical Skepticism, Institutional Mandates | , , , , | Leave a comment

Intuitionism: Inference versus Impulse

Ethical Skepticism maintains a healthy respect for Inductive and Deductive epistemological inference methods. However the philosophy itself, upon which these logical inference methods are based, stems from sources which cannot be fully defined as epistemological in the first place – save for the instance wherein we are able to test each derived tenet’s mettle through real world application. An additional species of inference exists inside philosophy: that of Ethical Intuitionism. Unlike Impulse Inference, Ethical Intuitionism derives its based development practices from necessity and skilled instinct, not doctrine nor coerced conviction. It focuses primarily on the goals of value, clarity, risk, and probability as paramount above any particular conclusion alone.
Much of impulse originates through emotional damage and fear. But faith and metaphysical selection may still be ethical forms of inference exercised apart from such vulnerability.

Now we just completed a blog about three types of logical inference. To be clear, these three species of logical inference are all logic based forms of reason (see the left side of the chart to the right). There exist as well several other forms of inference. For instance, in mathematics we have the three disciplines of modeling & simulation, mathematical derivation itself and computation (the basis of Artificial Intelligence). There is however another and much more common (but often decried and denied) genre of inference methods. In order to introduce this form of inference we should take a quick look again at the three common rational forms which were developed in our last blog (see The Three Types of Reason).

Abductive Reason

/Diagnostic Inference/ : a form of precedent based inference which starts with an observation then seeks to find the simplest or most likely explanation. In abductive reasoning, unlike in deductive reasoning, the premises do not guarantee the conclusion. One can understand abductive reasoning as inference to the best known explanation.1

Inductive Reason

/Logical Inference/ : is reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying strong evidence for the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument may be probable, based upon the evidence given combined with its ability to predict outcomes.2

Deductive Reason

/Reductive Inference/ : is the process of reasoning by reduction in complexity, from one or more statements (premises) to reach a final, logically certain conclusion. This includes the instance where the elimination of alternatives (negative premises) forces one to conclude the only remaining answer.3


Our fourth form of inference is mathematics itself. However, let’s set that aside for now and focus on the next successive block after Derivation in the chart above, that of Intuitionism. Intuitionism involves a combination of both abductive and inductive pre-mindset, a mathematician’s discipline, combined with a philosopher’s license to base conjecture of principle. I say mindsets, because deeming this form of inference a logical method is not a certainty. This form of inference can sometimes follow a method of logic, but often does not. It involves a set of hunch-based logics known collectively as Intuitionism.


/Inference by Hunch/ : is the process of reasoning from a set of internally developed ideas – in part or alone without necessary reference to objective and a priori reality, sources, epistemology or belief. Such ideas may originate in part from unconscious or conscious extrapolations from prior training, including scientific, mathematical, social, experiential and religious. There are three general forms of Intuitionism.

Reason Based (Philosophy and Mathematics)

Ethical Intuitionism – a set of ideas that our intuitive awareness of value, or intuitive knowledge of clear evaluative facts and our ability to sense and measure plausibility, risk and probability, form the foundation of our ethical knowledge and knowledge development processes. This form of inference derives its basis from a solid background in inductive and deductive training and experience; however does not demand that every inference be based upon solely sources, epistemology or belief. Since philosophy derives (by necessity) many times from relatively intuition based inferences – it is rightfully thought of as a type of Ethical Intuitionism. It’s quality is proved out through the success of the science which employs methods adhering to its tenets.4 5

Mathematical/Physical Intuitionism – an approach wherein mathematics (or alternately physics as well) is considered to be purely the result of the constructive mental activity of humans rather than inferred through our discovery of fundamental principles claimed to exist in a referenceless, objective and a priori reality. That is, logic and mathematics are not considered analytic activities wherein deep properties of objective reality are revealed; rather, are instead considered the application of internally consistent methods used to realize more complex mental constructs, regardless of their possible independent existence in an objective reality.6 7

Impulse (pathos)

Intuitionism (Metaphysical Selection) – the philosophical theory that basic truths can be derived or are always known intuitively. The opposite of empirical and epistemological inference methods, often involving some degree of teleology. The philosophical basis of the idea that existence, cause, effect, purpose, being, origination of existence, theology or lack thereof, can all be derived through the foundationalism about moral knowledge: the view that some moral truths or views about god, existence, cause and purpose can be known non-inferentially (i.e., known without one needing to infer them from other sources, epistemology or beliefs). It revolves around three principles:

1.  Objective moral truths do exist (and for some, objective moral and causal Agents do exist)

2.  Fundamental moral truths (and moral and causal agents) have no precedent, nor can they be broken down into simpler or predicate components (this is parallel to the position of Philosophy – however extends to conclusions, rather than simply practices and disciplines)

3.  The belief that human beings are granted, can freely derive or have a past innate memory of such moral truths (and moral or causal agents).8

This is a form of metaphysical selection (a belief) – rather than a derivation which is achieved at the end of a process of logical/mathematical calculus or philosophical development of practice standards. A danger resides in conflating the pathos based intuitionism of belief, with the reason based intuitionism of mathematics and ethics.


When one elects to undertake a pathway involving ontological or impulse intuitionism, one should be honest and understand that this process of metaphysical selection (belief) – stands distinct from any form of mathematical derivation or intuitionism, ethical intuitionism, philosophy, abduction, induction or deduction. When exercised sincerely, and in this circumspect light of understanding – the practitioner is executing a principle called faith.  Faith is the condition wherein no pretense is offered by the claimant as to proof, evidence, logic, science, epistemology, right, wrong, authority, etc. The claimant simply and transparently makes it clear that they have exercised a metaphysical selection. It fits their gut. This is why faith is considered a more virtuous form of pathos and ontological intuition.

The telltale earmarks which serve to distinguish Religious Doctrine from Faith are the urgency, one way communication and coercion typically involved.

Impulse Inference (Religious Doctrine and Dogma)

This is a twisted and sick-minded form of metaphysical selection or faith. The only practice set which operates under a masquerade in this set of inference species and genres, is the practice of religious assumption, doctrine and dogma. This of course includes the habits of those who practice social skepticism. These religions will attempt to pass their doctrines as species of logical inference – through a process known as apologetics. This is a type of pathology wherein the participant very desperately wants to seek validation for a taught or personally adopted set of metaphysical conclusions. This is not truly an actual form of inference, however because of its peer status as an exception to the other genres and forms, it is depicted on the chart alongside all the forms of legitimate inference (including metaphysical selection and faith) which it pretends to be. The key clarifying aspect of this species of inference, is that it is in at least part based upon forms of coercion, fear and duty.

Of the three forms of Intuitionism above however – only Ethical Intuitionism provides for the distinct possibility to inductively or deductively test each assumption as to how it performs ‘in real life’. Mathematics intuition claims can be independently derived in proof, but such pathways inevitably progress into realms where definition uncertainty begins to provide for shaky ground in terms of final certainty (not to mention utility); for instance, in the case of the dispute over infinity as an existential or only practical incremental concept.9

Ethical Intuitionism, because of its philosophical basis – and focus on clarity, value, risk and probability over any specific conclusions, is often mistaken for sophistry by those unfamiliar with skepticism or who are highly committed to an abductive or impulse intuition based set of answers. 

The willingness to tolerate an unknown – the staunch defense of the methods of science against the twisted logic of the agenda laden poser – these standards serve to aggravate and inflame the religious impulse minded. The religious rarely ever ‘get’ Ethical Intuitionism. After all, its very core philosophy is anathema to religion – not necessarily metaphysical selection or faith – but religion. However, pointing this out rarely does any good.

As an ethical skeptic, one should just chuckle at such ignorance and move on; hoping that some day the accuser will see the light of their own bullheadedness.

epoché vanguards gnosis

July 8, 2017 Posted by | Ethical Skepticism | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Three Types of Reason

Not all methods which seek to achieve some kind of benefit through the clear, value laden and risk abating processes of inference can be used in every circumstance. Most of science recognizes this. But when induction is used in lieu of deduction or abduction is used in lieu of induction, when the higher order of logical inference could have been used – beware that pseudoscience might be at play.
Choosing the lower order of logical inference can be a method by which one avoids challenging alternatives and data, yet still tenders the appearance of conducting science. One can dress up in an abductive robe and tender all affectation of science; utter all the right code phrases and one-liners about ‘bunk’ – but an ethical skeptic is armed to see through such a masquerade.

There is this thing called logical inference. Simply put, logical inference is the process of taking observed premises and transmutating them into conjectures. Hopefully beneficial conjectures. Such a process usually involves risk. So, when we are challenged with the need to make some kind of benefit happen, say to alleviate a sickness, or fly from place to place, at times we must face risk in order to achieve such an advancement. The process of science involves a carefully planned set of steps, which allows us to bridge this gap between premise and robust conjecture by means of the most clear, value laden and risk abating pathway which we can determine.

In general, there are three rational processes by which we can arrive at a sought-after conclusion or explanation. Abductive, inductive and deductive reason – in order of increasing scientific gravitas and strength as developmental models of knowledge – constitute the three genres of thought inside which we mature information and methods of research, towards this end. In the graphic to the right, you will observe the three genres of logical inference compared by the mechanism of science which it brings to bear as a strength. As you can see, the most expedient form of answer development is abduction, and the most science-intensive form is deduction. As you move from left to right in the table, the epistemological basis of the explanation increases commensurate with the rigor of research and discipline of thinking. Each ‘scientific mechanism’ is an element, step or feature of the scientific method which affords an increase in verity inside the knowledge development process. A blue check mark means that inference method provides or satisfies the science mechanism. An orange check mark denotes the condition wherein the inference method only partially provides for the scientific mechanism.

When Knowledge is Not Necessarily the Goal

Deduction therefore, is the most robust form of inference available to the researcher. Unfortunately however, not every inquiry challenge which we collectively face, can be resolved by deductive methodology. In those instances we may choose to step our methodology down to induction as our means of resolving difficult-to-falsify research (or deescalate). Induction introduces risk into the deontological framework of the knowledge development process. It presents the risk that we become fixated upon one single answer for long periods of time; possibly even making such an explanation prescriptive in its offing – rendering our process of finding explanations vulnerable to even higher risk by introducing habitual abductive methods of logical inference.

They key is this: What is the ‘entity’ being stacked under each inference type, as complicated-ness increases or we conjecture further and further into a discipline featuring a high degree of unknown? (moving to the right on the graph to the right). Often the actual entity being stacked is either risk of error, or error itself – and not, as we misperceive, actual knowledge.

Abduct:  Correctness – Assumptions are stacked (Understanding Codifies)

Induct:   Likeliness – Iterations or Predictive Trials are stacked (Understanding Matures)

Deduct:  Conclusiveness – Falsified Ideas are stacked (Understanding Evolves)

As we stack entities, induction therefore is preferential over abduction and deduction is preferential over induction because of the accumulation of unacknowledged a priori error in each entity addition. Obviously, one should only seek to deescalate their method of logical inference when forced to do so by the logical framework or evidence available to the discipline. However, researcher beware. Choosing the lower order of logical inference can be a method by which one avoids challenging answers, yet still tenders the appearance of conducting science. We start first with a favorite trick of social skeptics – i.e. casually shifting to abductive diagnostic reason in instances where deductive discipline or inductive study are still critically warranted (see Diagnostician’s Error). A second trick can involve the appearance of science through the preemptive or premature intensive focus on one approach at the purposeful expense of necessary and critical alternatives; conjectures involving ideas one wishes to ignore at all costs (see The Omega Hypothesis). This is a furtive process called Methodical Deescalation. It is a theft of knowledge, by slow, sleight-of-hand. One can dress up in an abductive robe and tender all affectation of science; utter all the right code phrases and one-liners about ‘bunk’ – but an ethical skeptic is armed to see through such a masquerade.

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 fashion employing inductive inference in lieu of deductive inference when deductive inference could have, and under the scientific method should have, been employed.

Take Two Skepticisms and Don’t Call Me in the Morning

An example of a circumstance wherein induction was applied in lieu of deduction – favoring an Omega Hypothesis – can be found in our history of research on the epidemiology of peptic ulcers. The desire to protect pharmaceutical revenues and an old ‘answer to end all answers’, involved the employment of acid-blockers as primary ulcer treatments. This dogmatic answer was promoted through propaganda in lieu of the deductive knowledge that the h. pylori bacterium was the cause of the majority of ulcers. It stands as a prime example of methodical deescalation played by industry fake skeptics seeking to protect client market share and revenues.

Another example involves the case where dogmatic skeptics begin to refuse to examine evidence, in favor of maintaining 50-year old understandings of science which are backed by scant study done long ago in questionable contexts and circumstances of bias.  Such fake skepticism usually involves choosing the good people and the bad people first, then the good subjects and the bad subjects, followed by implication that all this enormous depth of study exists regarding the subject that they dislike (when 95% of the time such is not the case at all). To the right you can see an example interview from MedPage Today where, celebrity skeptic Steven Novella uses Diagnostic Habituation Error to fail to serve patients who come in and complain of a whole series of symptomatic suffering. It is clear that his 50-year old science, his desire to stop the progress of scientific inquiry (especially medical), and his disdain for both patients, researchers and doctors who carry a ‘narrative’ (this is science?) he does not like – is disturbingly and bias-confirmingly high.1

What he has done here is to remove medical science from the realm of deduction (no study should be conducted because it has ‘already been done’ or ‘was settled 50 years ago’) – moving us nominally to a purported process of induction. But he is not really using induction here at all either. What skeptic Novella is slipping by in this furtive expose on skepticism – is that – the predictive strength of standing theory needs no longer be strengthened by the process of iterative predictive confirmation. No actual science deduction or induction ever seems warranted in his small world – inference only meriting a twisted form of club-quality trained ‘finding’.

Take his chosen example on the right, regarding disease which is one in a variety of poorly understood immune responses, can be complicated by a multifaceted appearance and nonspecific symptoms, mimics at least 8 other diseases, and requires more than clinical neurology to diagnose.2 He chooses habitually to handle this process of logical inference with knee-jerk abduction, in one single discussion – by a non-related field clinical technician. All because the patient used a bad word from the bad people. Perhaps Dr. Novella might be freed from his skeptic community shackles here, and perform his job (or refer continued diagnosis to a nephrologist, rheumatologist, endocrinologist, hematologist, gastroenterologist, etc.) – if we took a page from pop star Prince’s notes and renamed this disease “The Disease Formerly Known as Chronic Lyme Disease” – then perhaps this pseudo scientific spell he is operating under might be dispelled and actual science might get conducted. He is so fixated on a moniker and the propaganda surrounding the bad idea and the bad people, that he cannot let one scientific or medical thought enter his brain as a result.3 This is no different, in terms of process of inference, than pulling leeches out of a jar and setting them on the patient.

This is why astronomers and doctors make for the poorest skeptics. They mistakenly believe that the rest of life, indeed all other science, is as straightforward in the linear employment of one single process of inference, as is their discipline.

But alas, this sad play outlined above might have been half palatable had Dr. Novella actually applied even diagnostics – instead, the reality is that here he has not even served diagnostic abduction. If we had, the patient might have even been helped with Lyme-disease mimicking symptom treatment, and a suspension of disposition might have been warranted. We neither have offered the patient a clear pathway of diagnostic delineation, nor leveraged off any diagnostic data to develop an inference. Our only options left are to either jam the symptom set into another malady definition, or if the other suitable malady does not exist – defacto proffer the diagnosis of hypochondria, without saying as much. Novella simply and in knee-jerk fashion, tells the patient that they are following a narrative from people he does not like and to ‘use skepticism’. He has even failed the standard of abductive logical inference (see below). I have fired five doctors in differing circumstances, all who have done this to me in the past. It turned out that I was right to do so, all five times. In each case I on my own, or another less dogmatic doctor, found the actual solution – and the doctor in question turned out to be wrong. Take two skepticisms and don’t call me in the morning.

If your doctor ever does something like this to you, fire his ass quick. He is more concerned about a club agenda than he is science or your well being.

I am sure Dr. Novella’s patient’s suffering went away, probably with the patient leaving his practice (poetically offering him absolutely no feedback on his method, other than inference on his part that he was right). With that being said, let’s examine these three types of reason, all of which Steven Novella failed in the example above.

Reasoning (Logical Inference) Types


Abductive Reason

/Diagnostic Inference/ : a form of precedent based inference which starts with an observation then seeks to find the simplest or most likely explanation. In abductive reasoning, unlike in deductive reasoning, the premises do not guarantee the conclusion. One can understand abductive reasoning as inference to the best known explanation.4

Strength – quick to the answer. Usually a clear pathway of delineation. Leverages strength of diagnostic data.

Weakness – Uses the simplest answer (ergo most likely). Does not back up its selection with many key mechanisms of the scientific method. If an abductive model is not periodically tested for its predictive power, such can result in a state of dogmatic axiom. Can be used by those who do not wish to address clarity, value or risk, as an excuse to avoid undertaking the process of science; yet tender the appearance that they have done so.

Risk of Methodical Error:  Moderate

plausible propter hoc ergo hoc solus (Plausible Deniability) – Given X, and Given X can cause, contribute to or bear risk exposure of Y,   and Given Y’   ∴ X, and only X, caused Y’

Effect of Horizontal or Vertical Pluralistic Stacking:  Whipsaw Error Amplification

Chief Mechanism: Occam’s Razor

“All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one.”


Inductive Reason

/Logical Inference/ : is reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying strong evidence for the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument may be probable, based upon the evidence given combined with its ability to predict outcomes.5

Strength – flexible and tolerant in using consilience of evidence pathways and logical calculus to establish a provisional answer (different from a simplest answer, however still imbuing risk into the decision set). Able to be applied in research realms where deduction or alternative falsification pathways are difficult to impossible to develop and achieve.

Weakness – can lead research teams into avenues of provisional conclusion bias, where stacked answers begin to become almost religiously enforced until a Kiuhn Paradigm shift or death of the key researchers involved is required to shake science out of its utility blindness on one single answer approach. May not have examined all the alternatives, because of pluralistic ignorance or neglect.

Risk of Methodical Error:  Moderate to Low

provisional propter hoc ergo hoc (Provisional Knowledge or House-of-Cards Knowledge) – Given provisionally known X,  and Given X provisionally causes, contributes to or bears risk exposure of Y,   and Given Y’   X, and provisionally for future consideration X, caused Y’

Effect of Horizontal or Vertical Pluralistic Stacking:  Linear Error Amplification

Chief Mechanism: Consilience

“Multiple avenues of investigation corroborate a provisional explanation as being likely.”

Chief Mechanism: Predictive Ability

“A provisional model is successful in prediction, and as it is matured, its predictive strength also increases.”


Deductive Reason

/Reductive Inference/ : is the process of reasoning by reduction in complexity, from one or more statements (premises) to reach a final, logically certain conclusion. This includes the instance where the elimination of alternatives (negative premises) forces one to conclude the only remaining answer.6

Strength – most sound and complete form of reason, especially when reduction of the problem is developed, probative value is high and/or alternative falsification has helped select for the remaining valid understanding.

Weakness – can be applied less often than inductive reason.

Risk of Methodical Error:  Low

Effect of Horizontal or Vertical Pluralistic Stacking:  Diminishing by Error Cancellation

Chief Mechanism: Ockham’s Razor

“Plurality should not be posited without necessity. Once plurality is necessary, it should be served.”

Chief Mechanism: Consensus

“Several alternative explanations were considered, and researchers sponsoring each differing explanation came to agreement that the remaining non-falsified alternative is most conclusive.”


And the astute ethical skeptic will perceive that this last quote relates to the true definition of consensus. Take note when abductive or inductive methods are employed to arrive artificially at consensus. Odds are that such a matching of sustained logical inference with science communicator claims to ‘consensus’ in the media, amount to nothing but pluralistic – or worse jackboot – ignorance.

epoché vanguards gnosis

June 25, 2017 Posted by | Ethical Skepticism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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