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The non-skeptical “Skeptiko”

Ah, this brings back memories – Jerry Coyne did an interview with Alex Tsakiris of “Skeptiko”- which is “Skeptiko,” please note, not “Skeptico.” There’s a difference. I didn’t know that in September 2010, which is why I accepted Tsakiris’s invitation to do an interview.

It was a complete dog’s breakfast. The guy’s an asshole. He’s not a skeptic at all, and the name is pretty obviously meant to trap people in just the way that several people – including me – have been trapped. He’s a woo-meister. He didn’t tip his hand for the first few minutes, so we had an amicable conversation for that long, but then he did, and we hit a brick wall.

He bullshitted Jerry Coyne, too.

When I first agreed to the interview, I was told we’d talk mainly about my book and about evolutionary biology.  Several readers acquainted with the show warned me that Alex was a woo-meister who was into things like parapsychology and near-death experiences. Forewarned, I emailed Alex and he verified that we would indeed talk about evolution with perhaps a bit of discussion on the side about free will. He told me I wasn’t going to be “sandbagged.” LOL!

Quite. He’ll tell you anything. He’s an asshole.

Here’s a bit of the one I did:

Alex Tsakiris: [Robert Price] was on the show a couple episodes back. A very, very smart guy, funny guy, entertaining guy. Very competent New Testament scholar and also an Atheist. But the kind of dirty little secret, if you really read, is from a historical perspective we have to accommodate the idea that these visions, these kinds of experiences, these kinds of miracles, are well attested historically. Now, they’re not well attested in the way that Christians might want to fit them in, or they’d want to take this one and leave those ones out.

But from a historical perspective, even historians who are Atheistic agree that from the normal means that we have for looking at history-analogy, and how well the accounts are corroborated by different sources–we’ve got a lot of miracles there that we have to deal with. And this idea of…

Ophelia Benson: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Historians agree to that?

Alex Tsakiris: Well, the New Testament scholars like Bob Price and people of that ilk and I’d imagine other folks who you’d-I mean, this is really what you find from the Jesus Project if you really read what they’re saying…

But what they say is probably true is that these different people had an encounter with someone who is dead. In this case, it was Jesus. They had some kind of experience that they thought was very real, with someone who died. So that has to be incorporated in and yet it’s kind of glossed over depending on which side. Glossed over if you’re of that ilk and you want to see things that way.

Ophelia Benson: Yes, it doesn’t seem glossed over to me. It’s more a matter of saying that having an experience that you think is X is not the same thing as actually having the experience of X.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, maybe.

Ophelia Benson: But the people who saw Jesus could have been hallucinating it. Plus, the record differs in different accounts. None of them are historical accounts as properly-as normally understood.

Alex Tsakiris: Now, there’s a couple different things to tease out there. Yeah, there’s differences. Yeah, there’s contradictions. But this is a pretty well-for that much of ancient history, we have pretty good records. We have pretty good testimony on the different accounts in terms of what historians would normally piece together. And…

Ophelia Benson: I’m not sure that’s right. The way I understand it is that Mark is the earliest one and Mark doesn’t say anything about a vision. And the other stuff came after that and was a development of it. So it was basically confabulation. It was storytelling.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, I’m going to cut it off again here because on this show we haven’t talked too much about this New Testament scholarship stuff and it can get really geeky and really detailed.

So he simply edited out part of the interview. He edited out quite a lot of it, in fact, and substituted his own after-the-fact commentary.

The guy’s an asshole.

Comments

  1. Jeremy Shaffer says

    In the few interviews I’ve listened to with him Tsakiris struck me as arrogant and quick to engage in dismissive tactics. He attempts (and often succeeds) to monopolize the conversation so that only his opinion is aired far more than others, especially if the conversation gets heated. He also seemed to like to get bogged down in the trivial details.

    Granted, my exposure to Tsakiris is limited but what I have heard really doesn’t inspire me to check him out any further.

  2. says

    Yes that was another thing about the interview I did – he did a hell of a lot of talking. That’s certainly not normal interview technique. It wasn’t actually an interview at all, it was a ploy to get someone to comment on his (deeply uninteresting) views.

    The guy’s an asshole.

  3. Marshall says

    No! No, because they’re talking about what happens in a very, very tiny micro level. It does not mean that you can’t predict what happens when billiard balls hit each other on a billiard table for which quantum mechanics is perfectly applicable. It’s as if you’re saying we can’t play billiards and we can’t shoot rockets to the moon because of this stuff that happens on a micro level.

    This is from Alex’s transcript of the interview. HERE’S WHAT COYNE ACTUALLY SAID:

    No! No, because they’re talking about what happens in a very, very tiny micro level. It does not mean that you can’t predict what happens when billiard balls hit each other on a billiard table for which NEWTONIAN mechanics is perfectly applicable. It’s as if you’re saying we can’t play billiards and we can’t shoot rockets to the moon because of this stuff that happens on a micro level.

    Well shit, that changes a few things, doesn’t it? Here again:

    The fact is that assuming that these phenomena apply on most of the levels of reality that we deal with renders everything wrong is simply incorrect. For most micro-phenomenon you’re turning to quantum mechanics. It works fine. And in terms of evolution I don’t see how this quantum mechanics affects evolution at all. I mean, maybe it can affect mutation. You said that these people say that but that turned out to be something you made up. I don’t see how it can and even if it did it would not by any means render mutations non-random in the way that evolution has to mean that they’re random.

    And what was actually said:

    The fact is that assuming that these phenomena apply on most of the levels of reality that we deal with renders everything wrong is simply incorrect. For most MACRO-phenomenon you’re turning to CLASSICAL NEWTONIAN mechanics. It works fine. And in terms of evolution I don’t see how this quantum mechanics affects evolution at all. I mean, maybe it can affect mutation. You said that these people say that but that turned out to be something you made up. I don’t see how it can and even if it did it would not by any means render mutations non-random in the way that evolution has to mean that they’re random.

    Now, I know that Coyne can be a little difficult to understand speaking over a phone like that. But given that, in the first quote, the way he’s transcribed it makes it appear as though Coyne is saying that quantum mechanics applies to macro-phenomena like billiard balls, and that seems to support his position, I’m left wondering whether the mistake in the transcript is an honest mistake or a deliberate misquoting. I NOTICED THIS ERROR ON THE FIRST LISTEN, so it can’t have been that hard for Alex to have noticed it as well, and in the second example it’s very clear from listening to the interview that this is not what was said.

  4. Marshall says

    I think it’s been pointed out in a comment there, too, hasn’t it? Surely he’ll correct it…

    I’m not holding my breath. And this isn’t the end of it either, that entire transcript is borked in so many places… If I thought it would do any good, I’d go back through and then send a corrected version of the transcript to Alex. I might anyway, because if he does refuse to make the corrections, that would just be pretty solid evidence that he’s all for twisting the truth and the words of others in order to make his case.

  5. says

    Yeh. I know he distorted the one I did – commenters there said so! – but I didn’t listen again to pin down all the details; too bored and annoyed by the whole mess. Plus who is going to listen to that kind of thing? He’s a bore and a windbag.

  6. says

    I notice that the full title of Tsakiris’ show is Skeptiko: Science at the Tipping Point. What BS that is. That phrase is becoming overused, especially by people who may not know the many meaning attached to the phrase. My favourite is “in physics . . . adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object can cause it to suddenly and completely topple.” Since Tsakiris is not balanced, he may soon suddenly and completely topple.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_point_%28sociology%29

  7. Aratina Cage says

    He really doesn’t let you talk much (even cutting you off to cite Wiseman), which turns it into not much of an interview.

  8. Cyranothe2nd says

    Wow, I just got done reading the entire transcript of his interview with Jerry. What a pile of shit Alex Tsakiris was trying to pull! Same with your interview–trying to sneak in some total bullshit and hope you didn’t call him on it, so he could get a tacit, foundational “agreement.” What a shitshow.

  9. Aratina Cage says

    That was the first time I’ve heard your voice, I think. But yes, I did feel I was going to go mad listening to Tsarkiris bloviate about his immense knowledge of NDE when it was clear he was an uncritical thinker on the issue.

    But I get the feeling that you devastated his beliefs in imaginary things even further in the parts he edited out and so to publish them would have been too embarrassing for him. It’s so funny that the woo-infected like him never quite seem to recognize the significance of the N in NDE–it means, “I’m not dead.”

  10. piero says

    The erros in the transcript were pointed out in the comments. The errors have not been corrected. Comments on the thread are closed.

    What an asshole.

  11. Gus says

    Ophelia why didn’t you give Jerry the heads up about this kook? Still, it was very funny how he (Alex) lost his nerve when Jerry forced him to stay on topic and present evidence. Funny and embarrassing.

  12. Tim Groc says

    This Skeptiko guy is obviously a crank, in awe of people like Rupert Sheldrake – suggesting Sheldrake’s theories had impacted on physics, biology, etc. He is also fond of quoting “studies” by Discovery Institute stooges and presenting them as fact. Although when challenged to demonstrate why, he completely falters.

    I thought Jerry dealt with him really well, and really put ‘Skeptiko’ on the back foot.

  13. mnb0 says

    I’d like to make a correction. The guy is not an asshole, he is a stupid asshole. Even with the changes as pointed out in @4 by Marshall (why am I not surprised?) Dr. Coyne is simply right.
    My favourite part comes in the epilogue.

    Google on “quantum entanglement in biological systems.” You will quickly notice that this applies to phenomena like photosynthesis, exactly where we should expect it. Thus Dr. Coyne’s “really outdated idea” that “that quantum entanglement only matters at the sub-atomic level” is only confirmed.

    The guy’s a stupid asshole.

  14. John Morales says

    Tim, some disagree with you: check out the first comments at Skeptico’s page.

    • Enrique Vargas

    Wow…. Every time I think you succeeded in finding the most close-minded dogmatic fanatical materialist high-priest-agitprop-politcomissar, you find somebody even more obnoxious, ignorant and fanatical. It’s incredible how quickly these people lose it and start being openly rude when you corner them making evident their utter ignorance in anything that would contradict the Dogma, no matter how remotely. I enjoyed thoroughly you Mohammed-Ali-ing him on the canvas time and time again…. He must’ve come out groggy out of this one.

    • http://www.skeptiko.com/ Alex Tsakiris

    thx… Jerry is clearly coming at this as an atheist first
    and scientist second… it’s disappointing how prevalent this is in science.

  15. John Morales says

    [OT]

    David, you made the same error as I did above in the external links; I have changed the URL.

  16. says

    Gus @18 -

    Ophelia why didn’t you give Jerry the heads up about this kook?

    He didn’t ask me. I didn’t know he was doing the interview. We don’t communicate any more.

    Anyway, he mentioned that several readers warned him, so he asked Tsakiris for some assurances, which were duly given and then ignored. The guy’s an asshole.

    I did tell Jerry about my interview when it happened, complaining noisily about the bait-and-switch, and he was duly indignant. But that was a year and a half ago and it won’t have stuck in his mind. (I say that because such things don’t stick in my mind.)

  17. Svlad Cjelli says

    @Aratina Cage – Oh, Ophelia’s voice. Hadn’t thought of that. Kind of neat to find out.

    Pfft, too “geeky and detailed”? In the words of an ancient warlord: Silence, groundwalker!

  18. h. hanson says

    My sympathy to Dr Coyne. It was very frustrating to listen to. My family believe all that hogwash too and call me closed minded. How is it open minded to not ask for evidence or to flat out reject evidence? That is the part I can never quite grasp.

  19. Sili says

    So…Alex T…lunatic or liar? Anyone’s call, I guess.

    Well. I does sound like he likes to lord it over his victims.

  20. Pablo says

    How about the interview Alex did with Susan Blackmore?

    Talk about sandbagging!

    It was obvious Alex resents Susan for abandoning her paranormal research decades ago but he attacked her for the fact that other people always bring her up as an example of an ex-paranormal researcher who turned sceptic (as if that were her personal fault).

    While he blamed her for being brought up in other people’s conversation he also confronted her with the latest studies in that field, expecting her to be informed about a field he resents her for abandoning decades ago.

    He then proceeded to further undermine Susan’s credibility by questioning her understanding of Buddhism (how that even begins to be relevant was not clarified).

    Yes, Alex is an asshole. Too bad Susan remained so calm and humble throughout the interview. Assholes should invite assholes to their programmes.

  21. says

    Ophelia said: “Yes that was another thing about the interview I did – he did a hell of a lot of talking.”

    Yeah. I expect a lot of us here have done talks and been asked serious questions which are invariably a couple of sentences long and have a fairly succinct answer even if it’s “I don’t know.” And I bet we’ve also had ‘questions’ which are just five minutes of rambling bullshit ego-spewing strawman construction which are designed to hijack the session and can’t be answered without capitulating with the hijack.

    This is one of the differences between actually trying to learn something – or to establish a dialogue in which *everyone* might learn something – and just being an arsehole.

  22. Chris Hudson says

    Since Skeptico`s inception, Alex has lost all pretence to neutrality or truth seeking; he is now a fully fledged, hard campaigning true believer, who rudely interrogates his more skeptical guests with the air of an expert condescending to lesser minds, while on fact he is at best an amateur journalist with no background in ( still less understanding of )the science he opines about.

    Just go to episode 166 for a complete contrast to the Jerry Coyne debacle. Here, our illustrious host interviews a man who claims to be a psychic spy with the ability to leave his body at will, and who rambles on incoherently about ( among other things ) rocks being conscious, yet Alex laps it all up and fails to hold the guy to absolutely ANY critical account at all! Amazing, very sad, completely revolting.

    Alex has completely lost it. As Tsakiris continues his wooward trajectory, isolates himself further ( through his own actions ) from any skeptical input and immerses himself ever more fully in the paranormal ghetto, things only stand to get much much worse.

  23. cogito says

    In the latest episode he comes out as a 9/11-truther, and ridicules the idea that bin Laden was killed. In other words, he has gone even further off the deep end.

  24. Tara says

    Late into the thread, but I’ll add my two cents worth. I admit I’m writing this basically because I’m mad! I’m mad about how something very forward thinking like Skeptiko is turning into a disaster.

    I do think Alex and Skeptiko could take the high road and do some heavy hitting into today’s(what I see at least)adamant materialistic scientism. BUT! He’s choosing more and more often to splice,dice, and chop whatever he chooses into a podcast to get the results he wants. On top of that he uses little bits and bites of personal e-mails sent to him, as a means of “I gotcha’s”. This is just completely unprofessional in my opinion. It’s high school antics and even my kids would know that was immoral.
    I’m actually sad that it came to this. You likely disagree with me Ophelia…but science as it stands today…needs a good kick up the butt. Materialism died the day the first double split experiment took place, yet most cling to ‘old’ concepts while ridiculing new.

    We’ll never come to any agreement on these issues with deceptive tactics like those being used by Skeptiko. What a shame. :(

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