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Oct 07 2009

Skeptic on Skeptic

In the context of the Atheist Alliance International presenting contrarian Bill Maher with the Dawkins award, Steve Novella has written a very interesting post at Skepticblog on balancing concern for the skeptical movement as a movement and the need for skeptics to not place any person or idea beyond criticism. As you can imagine, this has relevance far beyond the skeptics movement.

But while we are being polite to each other, we should also be uncompromising when it comes to factual accuracy. No one is suggesting otherwise, and Brian was explicit on this point. Open discussion, even conflict and disagreement, is a good thing. It is part of science and skepticism, and it makes our movement intellectually healthy.

I also think it is OK to show this to the public, and perhaps I differ a bit from Brian here. I don’t think a united front is as important as a collegial front. It might even be to our advantage to show that we happily and openly disagree and correct each other.

Rather, I think colleagues should not attack each other in public without fair warning. There may be a fuzzy line there, but one worth contemplating.

It’s a very politically astute post, perhaps the most astute I’ve seen on the topic. I highly recommend reading it.

3 comments

  1. 1
    Jason Thibeault

    I don't think I could agree more with this, especially as concerns our corners of the interwebs. We should not only be willing to discuss openly our points of disagreement, but we should be able to do so without bruising one another's egos or undermining one another's public image. I think the best way to set about doing that would be, when confronted with facts that contradict what we've said elsewhere, we should own up to our errors and correct them.

  2. 2
    Philip H.

    Jason,I agree that these "should" be goals, and I htink you and I can probably brainstorm up a great list of internet-based conflicts where, if they had been applied, the outcome would have been radically different. Honestly, half the time when I "get in trouble" on blogs, it is precisely because these rules aren't being adhered to.That said, "should" and "would" only getyou so far. Like it or not, there are those who claim for themslevs the mantle of Skeptic who are adamant that THIER ideas really are the only good ones in an argument, and they and their supporters will literally run someone into the ground rather then admit there might be a different view on something. What do we do about those folks? I haven't a clue – but I'd love to hear some ideas.

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    This is all assuming that the groupings we assume are natural (e.g. skeptics, atheists, etc.) are actually oriented toward the same goal at all. Take, for instance, the accomodation schism. While Mooney may be an atheist, and he may be pro-science, he's also doing a lot of damage to other folks in these "same camps". When people like him get your side completely and utterly wrong, how much should you defer? http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/10/my_regrets_on_your_traumatic_b.phpI don't have any answers as to what to do. There should not be any sort of purity movement, but when the attacks come from, ostensibly, within your own camp, and they are not only damaging but demonstrably false, we can't hesitate to set the record straight or our silence becomes like a tacit agreement. And we obviously can't claim them as allies while they're punching us in the head repeatedly.

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