Here’s an explanation for the hard of thinking.
There’s a difference between taking a claim seriously and asserting that it’s true.
There’s a difference between not expressing incredulity about a claim and asserting that it’s true.
There’s a difference between finding claims credible and asserting that they’re true.
There’s a difference between doubting the denials of claims and asserting that the claims are true.
There’s a difference between finding it more likely that a claim is true than it is that a denial of the claim is true, and asserting that the claim is true.
In short there are many possible views about a particular claim that are well short of 1. assuming that they’re true, let alone 2. asserting that they’re true.
I don’t know that the claims about Michael Shermer are true. I know that I don’t know they’re true. I’m not under any illusion that I know they’re true. I know that I can’t know that they’re true, because I’m not in a position to know.
But that doesn’t mean that I know they’re false. I don’t know that. I know that I don’t know that. I know that I can’t know that, because I’m not in a position to know.
But I think it’s more likely that they’re true than it is that they’re false. There are too many of them to think otherwise. James Randi said as much himself, in Mark Oppenheimer’s article.
Randi is no longer involved in his foundation’s daily operations, but he remains its chair, and he is a legend of the movement, famously not fooled by anybody. He seems not to be naïve about Shermer — although he’s not so troubled by him, either.
“Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference.
“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”
Never mind for the moment the multi-layered horribleness of that passage; here I’m just talking about it as a reason to find the claims about Shermer more likely to be true than Shermer’s denials of them. There are reasons to think the claims are true, and fewer reasons to think they’re not.
Another reason is that the women making the claims have nothing to gain from making them, and in fact were very reluctant. Shermer of course has a lot to gain from making his denials. That doesn’t demonstrate that his denials are false, obviously, but it does mean it’s pretty silly for people to say “Shermer says he didn’t!” As Mandy Rice-Davies said, well he would say that, wouldn’t he.
I hope that clears that up. I’ve never said I know, and I’ve never asserted that the claims are true. That’s a bullshit accusation.