He gave a talk at a skeptics’ conference, and he called them out on their screwy priorities. You do not question movement skeptics on the importance of fighting Bigfoot.
The references to “Bigfoot” in the headline above and text below were inspired by a conversation I had with conference Emcee Jamy Ian Swiss before I went on stage. He asked what I planned to say, and I told him, and he furiously defended his opposition to belief in Bigfoot.
I can picture this — I’ve seen Swiss in Indignant Fury mode.
What Horgan did was point out that there are a lot of things to be skeptical about, and skeptics have a peculiar fondness for picking the easiest targets, especially targets that are safely outside the mainstream. He points out that there is a lot of troubling nonsense spouted by establishment figures, for instance this recent babbling about the universe being a simulation, or that the politics of health care in the US are totally screwed up.
Another bug-a-boo is bad science reporting in the popular press, which is often gladly adopted by the skeptics. There are a lot of skeptics who think explaining behavior with genetic hardwiring is good science.
Another hard target that needs your attention is behavioral genetics, which seeks the genes that make us tick. I call it gene-whiz science, because the media and the public love it.
Over the past several decades, geneticists have announced the discovery of “genes for” virtually every trait or disorder. We’ve had the God gene, gay gene, alcoholism gene, warrior gene, liberal gene, intelligence gene, schizophrenia gene, and on and on.
And then there’s the bad history, which they love to explain with some form of biological determinism.
The biological theory that really drives me nuts is the deep-roots theory of war. According to the theory, lethal group violence is in our genes. Its roots reach back millions of years, all the way to our common ancestor with chimpanzees.
The deep-roots theory is promoted by scientific heavy hitters like Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham and Edward Wilson. Skeptic Michael Shermer tirelessly touts the theory, and the media love it, because it involves lurid stories about bloodthirsty chimps and Stone Age humans.
But the evidence is overwhelming that war was a cultural innovation–like agriculture, religion, or slavery–that emerged less than 12,000 years ago.
Which reminds me — there are a great many bad actors in the skeptical movement who are never weeded out. Instead, those who point out the flawed characters, or even criminals, who are accoladed by credulous skeptics are ostracized.
Do not expect the skeptical movement to ever confront real social problems. Being skeptical about policy or cultural biases might antagonize the substantial segment of their membership who consider ‘social justice’ to be a dirty phrase. They’ve been working for decades to grow by cultivating a facade that is non-threatening to assholes, and their reward has been to become a welcoming cesspit for assholes. It’s unfortunate, because we need skepticism more than ever.