When circling the drain, skepticism will of course fall for the same old scams

As a former member of the skeptic community who hung out with the same people Rebecca is talking about here, this is a good and rather depressing summary of ‘skeptic’ thought over the last few decades.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    The prank is beautiful! It is Elin Musk-level dysfunction.
    Also, as the time factor would have allowed aliens to completely colonise the galaxy including the solar system if they had evolved even during the last per cent of the age of the universe, I have pretty much written off “aliens in the Milky Way” as a possibility.

  2. wzrd1 says

    Flying saucers are real and extremely dangerous. So, avoid being around domestic disputes.
    I’ve not only met many aliens, I’ve been a resident alien. Not a one involved outer space, save that between the ears.
    I’ve also saw a fair number of unidentified flying objects, thankfully the majority were eventually identified. Some, I’m still now allowed to talk about, but can be safely classified as highly mundane.

    I do have conclusive proof that there’s a vast amount of empty space between my ears. The yams sitting on top of the fridge that I keep forgetting to cook and eat are evidence to support the claim. :/

    Speaking of idiocy and space between ears, I finally got my grocery delivery issue sorted. Walmart still won’t accept my card, Giant had an IT problem that’s since been resolved, so I’ll be accepting delivery tomorrow of around $350 in groceries. With plenty of greens to enjoy!
    I’ll be making a fine batch of pasta sauce over the weekend. :D
    So, anyone in the Harrisburg area, feel free to pop on by.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    Sam Harris’ limited intellectual abilities have been evident to some of us for quite a while, but now it seems he has removed all doubt.

  4. lotharloo says

    I have always maintained that Sam Harris is really stupid and in fact, I have argued in the past that some of his behavior or writings might not actually be bigoted because that guy is so stupid, he fits the “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” bill.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Eric Weinstein on Joe Rogan’s show;

    Erik Bard is like almost the only other person who has some idea of what differential forms are; tensor analysis…

    Almost the only other person? Apart from the thousands of physicists who’ve studied GR, and the doubtless many more thousands of mathematicians who’ve studied geometry and topology. Twit.

  6. azpaul3 says

    Love this girl. This vid is in my feed and I’ll watch later. Right now I’m steppin in to see how one of my favorite profs is doing. Later.

  7. Tethys says

    “These men tended to hold their own intelligence in higher regard than was warranted, IMO”

    That is a far kinder understatement than is warranted. Hubris doesn’t quite cover the actions of being so deeply steeped in white male privilege that you think you can declare social justice an unnecessary distraction to your goals of promoting skepticism and critical thought.

  8. Ada Christine says

    @lotharloo #5

    In the past I have proposed a corollary to this rule: stupidity and malice are not mutually exclusive.

  9. says

    birgerjohansson @1

    Also, as the time factor would have allowed aliens to completely colonise the galaxy including the solar system if they had evolved even during the last per cent of the age of the universe, I have pretty much written off “aliens in the Milky Way” as a possibility.

    I don’t know. There are possibilities like any advanced species is different enough from us that they don’t feel any need to keep expanding out, or they could be too much like us that they inevitably kill themselves off because doing anything to not kill themselves off is too much of an inconvenience. Or space travel beyond the confines of a planet’s immediate vicinity to the point where other planets are being colonized might just be impossible, even more so if trying to find a planet that’s fits what a species has evolved to survive on. As much as we’ve learned in finding planets around other stars, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to tell if we could really survive on one without going there and getting a closer look.

  10. geezer septuagenarian says

    In 1960 I was 18 and a relative of a friend of mine told us about the alien being studied at Roswell. Wow over 60 years ago and they still can keep it a secret! The mind wobbles.

  11. StevoR says

    @1. birgerjohansson : “I have pretty much written off “aliens in the Milky Way” as a possibility.”

    I haven’t. I don’t think they are coming here anytime soon but there are plenty of explanataions for answering the Fermi paradox that don’t involve aliens – even technologically advanced ones simply not existing inour Galaxy. Its a very big place.. astronomicaly big even.

  12. Ed Peters says

    I too was fooled by Harris. It feels like a long time ago. I remember at first being convinced he was a decent person interested in the truth and not just fame or wealth – after all, wasn’t he already rich and famous? But when he went anti-Muslim after 911 he showed his true self: not a skeptic, but someone looking to find some nice and easy intellectual scores that got him glory, and flattered his intellectual vanity.

    We don’t always agree on this site, a sign of health IMO, but from what I have read in the comments here over the years, we all believe in the skeptical POV. Not as a pose for friends or family. But because we care about the truth. We test ourselves regularly, if not eagerly, to be sure we’re not falling into the kind of mental traps Sam Harris fell into long ago.

    Sam was a much needed reminder (to me) to not have heroes. Skeptics should have no need for their own John Wayne.

  13. says

    @lotharloo #5

    We live in an age where “never attribute to stupidity that which can adequately be explained by malice” is the proper rule of thumb. For example, conservatism is vastly better explained by “they’re a bunch of racist, patriarchalist, theocratic shitbags” than by “they’re stupid.” It’s not even a close call which is the better explanation.Letting stupidity take the blame is just another version of both-sideserism.

    People exhibiting actual malice are fully responsible for their malice and should not be let off the hook with accusations that they are merely stupid. They may be stupid and usually are, but the motivation for their malicious behavior is that they are genuinely malicious.

  14. says

    14.20 and ahead strikes me as strange. Isn’t he just explaining how these people are full of shit, constantly promising great revelations and then no delivery? For THREE YEARS!?
    So, why is he still listening to them?

  15. Reginald Selkirk says

    @18: Well you see, all that revelatory material is TOP SECRET CLASSIFIED, of course. He is privileged just to know of its existence.

  16. Reginald Selkirk says

    @16: I was never fully on the Harris bandwagon. I did read his book, in which he argued for torture with a contrived ticking time bomb scenario- and assumed that torture was effective in deriving accurate information. It is mind-boggling to me that a critic of religion, who should be aware that torture-derived confession was the favorite tool of every inquisition and witch hunt, should concede such a thing.

  17. says

    A posting I did a few years ago: Sam Harris on why is it that you never criticize Israel? my conclusion is that Harris is not “anti muslim” – he’s profoundly dishonest on the topic, endlessly conflating “islam” with Hamas, which hardly represents islam, and is a relatively recent arrival on the scene. Harris relies on a lot of cheap rhetorical tricks in the service of the one thing of overriding importance in Harris’ world: being right about everything all the time.
    When I saw a bunch of skeptics promoting themselves as thought leaders I inmediately noticed that “right all the time” dynamic, and it raised my suspicions.
    No movement, no heroes.

  18. microraptor says

    @21: His torture argument is especially bad given that in his other book he talks about how the Inquisition would torture confessions out of people (of course, he also attributes torture techniques that were probably never used by anyone in real life to them).

  19. pacal says

    Reginald No. 21
    Harris` hupothetical – The ticking time bomb scenario – is a perfect example of the forced hypothetical. Basically what you do is think of a situation in which doing something ussualy considered bad is forced on you has the right thing to do.

    The purpose of such hypotheticals is to make someone agree that under certain set circumstances that doing X is the right thing to do.

    Of course the problem with such hypotheticals is that such circumstances are generally so extreme that they will hardly ever turn up in real life. And of course you can always think up such hypotheticals excusing all manner of terrible acts.

    Thus the whole ticking time bomb scenario is a interesting thought experiment, but has it ever happened ever in real life? Well maybe but I suspect that the actual number of times it has happened is tiny. And bluntly does Harris actually believe that under extreme circumstances, regardless of the law, torture would not be resorted too?

    Like certain other people Harris’ purpose here is not too outline a thought experiment but to justify torture and lesson resistence to it. In other words Harris is arguing in bad faith. The purpose is to lesson safeguards against torture and make it more acceptable has a method of extracting information from people.

    And of course Harris ignores the following. The torture may not work, the person involved may be completely innocent or doesn’t have the information. Harris seems to think that under such circumstances torture could extract reliable information. The history of the use of torture gives few if any grounds for believing that such is the case. Instead torture would be at best a desperate last resort and the idea that under such extreme circumstances a law forbiding torture would be much of an impediment warrents little credence.

    But then that is the not the point. The point is to make torture acceptable has a tool against the evil other.

  20. lotharloo says

    @Robert Johnston, 17:
    It depends on what you mean with “they’re a bunch of racist, patriarchalist, theocratic shitbags”. If you mean it as an unchangeable inherent “evilness”, then I definitely disagree. People are turned evil because they are radicalized and brainwashed and that is because they are typically not well-educated and vulnerable to propaganda. The obvious examples are young non-white muslim men who live in Western countries who are generally vulnerable for radicalization by muslim extremists. But your almost broke 65 years old white uncle also belongs to the category of people vulnerable for radicalization by white conservative Christian recruiters.

    When it comes to stupidity in the case of Sam Harris though, I don’t mean it as “low intellectual power” because probably he can get “above average IQ results” whatever that means. But what I mean is that he is suffering from a toxic combination of having shallow knowledge, lack of curiosity, extremely big ego, being hostile to criticism and self-criticism, lack of self-reflection, and undue confidence that his trivial observations about complicated topics such as moral philosophy are interesting for the experts. It still amazes me that he thought he can write a book about moral philosophy, only a stupid person can do that.

  21. plutosdad says

    I am pretty shocked even these supposedly smart guys think ‘unidentified’ means ‘alien.’ Aren’t they always saying ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ or is that only a Dawkins quote?

    I remember seeing Harris talk/get interviewed around 2015 or so, before the “IDW” was coined, I was a fan of his until I saw him speak. He talked about Muslims and why there are not more women in the movement. Then i realized how he refuses to listen and is just talking out his butt about what he thinks is true. I finally left the organized skeptic community shortly after Trump was elected, i just couldn’t take these guys anymore.