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SYMPTOMS OF PATHOLOGICAL SKEPTICISM         (c)1996 William J. Beaty
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http://www.amasci.com/pathsk2.txt

Still under construction!

Many members of the mainstream scientific community react with extreme
hostility when presented with certain claims.  This can be seen in their
emotional responses to current controversies such as UFO abductions, Cold
Fusion, cryptozoology, psi, and numerous others.  The scientists react not
with pragmatism and a wish to get to the bottom of things, but instead
with the same tactics religious groups use to suppress heretics:  hostile
emotional attacks, circular reasoning, dehumanizing of the 'enemy',
extreme closed-mindedness, intellectually dishonest reasoning, underhanded
debating tactics, negative gossip, and all manner of name-calling and
character assassination.

Two can play at that game!  Therefore, I call their behavior "Pathological
Skepticism," a term I base upon skeptics' assertion that various
unacceptable ideas are "Pathological Science."  Below is a list of the
symptoms of pathological skepticism I have encountered, and examples of
the irrational reasoning they tend to produce.

  (Note: all the quotes are artificial examples)

1. Belief that theories determine phenomena, rather than the reverse.

   "The phenomenon you have observed is impossible, crazy stuff.  We know
    of no mechanism which could explain your results, so we have grave
    suspicions about the accuracy your report.  There is no room for your
    results in modern theory, so they simply cannot exist.  You are
    obviously the victim of errors, hoaxers, or self-delusion.  We need
    not publish your paper, and any attempts at replicating your results
    would be a waste of time.  Your requests for funding are misguided,
    and should be turned down."

2. Erecting barriers against new ideas by constantly altering the
   requirements for acceptance.  (A practice called "moving the
   goalposts.")

   "I'll believe it when 'X' happens"   (but when it does, this immediately
    is changed to: "I'll believe it when 'Y' happens.")

    Example:
     "I won't believe it until major laboratories publish papers in this
      field.  They have?  That means nothing!  Major labs have been wrong
      before.  I'll believe it when stores sell products which use the
      effect.  They do?  That means nothing, after all, stores sell magic
      healing pendants and Ouija boards.  I'll believe it when a Nobel
      Prize winning researcher gets behind that work.  One has?  Well
      that means nothing!  That person is probably old and dotty like
      Dr. Pauling and his vitamin-C..."   etc.

3. Belief that fundamental concepts in science rarely change, coupled
   with a "herd following" behavior where the individual changes his/her
   opinions when colleagues all do, all the while remaining blind to the
   fact that any opinions had ever changed.

     "The study of (space flight, endosymbiosis, drillcore bacteria,
      child abuse, cold fusion, etc.) has always been a legitimate
      pursuit.  If scientists ever ridiculed the reported evidence or
      tried to stop such research, it certainly was not a majority of
      scientists.  It must have been just a few misguided souls, and must
      have happened in the distant past."

4. Belief that science is guided by consensus beliefs and majority rule,
   rather than by evidence.  Indulging in behavior which reinforces the
   negative effects of consensus beliefs while minimizing the impact of
   any evidence which contradicts those beliefs.

     "I don't care how good your evidence is, I won't believe it until the
      majority of scientists also find it acceptable.  Your evidence
      cannot be right, because it would mean that hundreds of textbooks
      and thousands of learned experts are wrong.

5.  Adopting a prejudiced stance against a theory or an observed phenomena
    without first investigating the details, then using this as
    justification for refusing to investigate the details.

      "Your ideas are obviously garbage.  What, try to replicate your
      evidence?  I wouldn't soil my hands.  And besides, it would be
      a terrible waste of time and money, since there's no question about
      the outcome."

6.  Maintaining an unshakable stance of hostile, intolerant skepticism,
    and when anyone complains of this, accusing them of paranoid delusion.
    Remaining blind to scientists' widespread practice of intellectual
    suppression of unorthodox findings, and to the practice of "expulsion
    of heretics" through secret, back-room accusations of deviance or
    insanity.

       "You say that no one will listen to your ideas, and now the funding
        for your other projects is cut off for no reason?  And colleagues
        are secretly passing around a petition demanding that you be
        removed?  If you're thinking along THOSE lines, then you obviously
        are delusional and should be seeking professional help."

7. Ignoring the lessons of history, and therefore opening the way for
   repeating them again and again.

     "Scientists of old ridiculed the germ theory, airplanes, space
     flight, meteors, etc.  They were certain that science of the time
     had everything figured out, and that major new discoveries were no
     longer possible.  Isn't it good that we researchers of today are much
     more wise, and such things can no longer happen!"

8. *Denial* of the lessons of history.  An inability to admit that
    science has made serious mistakes in the past.  Maintaining a belief
    that good ideas and discoveries are never accidentally suppressed by
    closed-mindedness, then revising history to fit this belief.

     "Throughout history, the *majority* of scientists never ridiculed
      flying machines, spacecraft, television, continental drift, reports
      of ball lightning, meteors, sonoluminescence, etc.  These
      discoveries are not examples of so-called 'paradigm shifts', they
      are obvious examples of the slow, steady, forward progress made by
      science!"

9. Using circular arguments to avoid accepting evidence which supports
   unusual discoveries, or to prevent publication of this evidence.

    "I do not have to inspect the evidence because I know it's wrong.
     I know it's wrong because I've never seen any positive evidence."

    "We will not publish your paper, since these results have not been
     replicated by any other researchers.   We will not publish your
     paper, since it is merely a replication of work which was done
     earlier, by other researchers."

10. Accusing opponents of delusion, lying, or even financial fraud, where
    no evidence for fraud exists other than the supposed impossibility of
    evidence being presented.

      "Don't trust researchers who study parapsychology.  They constantly
       cheat and lie in order to support their strange worldviews.  Very
       few of them have been caught at it, but it's not necessary to do
       so, since any fool can see that the positive evidence for psi can
       only be created by people who are either disturbed or dishonest.

11. Unwarranted confidence that the unknown is in the far distance, not
    staring us in the face.

     "Your evidence cannot be real because it's not possible that
     thousands of researchers could have overlooked it for all these
     years.  If your discovery was real, the scientists who work in that
     field would already know about it."

12. Belief that certain fields of science are complete, that scientific
    revolutions never happen, and that any further progress must occur
    only in brushing up the details.

      "Physics is a mature field.  Future progress can only lie in
       increasing the energies of particle accelerators, and in refining
       the precision of well-known measurements.  Your discovery cannot
       be true, since it would mean we'd have to throw out all our hard-
       won knowledge about physics."

13. Excusing the ridicule, trivialization, and the scorn which is directed
    at 'maverick' ideas and at anomalous evidence.  Insisting that
    sneering and derisive emotional attacks constitute a desirable and
    properly scientific natural selection force.

      "It is right that new discoveries be made to overcome large
      barriers.  That way only the good ideas will become accepted.
      If some important discoveries are suppressed in this process, well,
      that's just the price we have to pay to defend science against the
      fast-growing hoards of crackpots who threaten to destroy it."

14. Justifying any refusal to inspect evidence by claiming a "slippery
    slope."  Using the necessary judicious allocation of time and funding
    as a weapon to prevent investigation of unusual, novel, or threatening
    ideas.

      "If we take your unlikely discovery seriously, all scientists
       everywhere will have to accept every other crackpot idea too, and
       then we'll waste all of our time checking out crackpot claims."

15. A blindness to phenomena which do not fit the current belief system,
    coupled with a denial that beliefs affect perceptions.

    "Thomas Kuhn's 'paradigm shifts' and sociology's 'cognitive
     dissonance' obviously do not apply to average, rational scientists.
     Scientists are objective, so they are not prone to the psychological
     failings which plague normal humans.  Scientists always welcome any
     data which indicates a need to revise their current knowledge.  Their
     "beliefs" don't affect their perceptions, scientists don't have
     "beliefs", science is not a religion!

16. A belief that all scientific progress is made by small, safe, obvious
    steps, that widely-accepted theories are never overturned, and that no
    new discoveries come from anomalies observed.

     "All your observations are obviously mistakes.  They couldn't
      possibly be real, because if they were real, it would mean that
      major parts of current science are wrong, and we would have to
      rewrite large portions of we know about physics.  This never
      occurs.  Science proceeds by building on earlier works, never by
      tearing them down. Therefore it is right that we reject evidence
      which contradicts contemporary theory, and recommend that funding
      of such research not be continued."

17. Hiding any evidence of personal past ridicule of ideas which are later
    proved valid.  Profound narcissism; an extreme need to always be
    right, a fear of having personal errors revealed, and a habit of
    silently covering up past mistakes.

      " X is obviously ridiculous, and its supporters are crack-
        pots who are giving us a bad name and should be silenced."

    But if X is proved true, the assertion suddenly becomes:

       "Since 'X' is obviously true, it follows that..."

18. Belief in the lofty status of modern science but with consequent
    blindness to, and denial of, its faults.  A tendency to view shameful
    events in the history of modern science as being beneficial, and a
    lack of any desire to fix contemporary problems.

      "It was right that Dr. Wegner's career was wrecked; that he was
       treated as a crackpot, ridiculed, and died in shame.  His evidence
       for continental drift convinced no one.  And besides, he did not
       propose a mechanism to explain the phenomena."

19. A belief that Business and the Press have no tendency towards close-
    mindedness and suppression of novelty, and that their actions are
    never are guided by the publicly-expressed judgement of scientists.

     "If the Wright Brothers' claims were true, we would be reading about
      it in all the papers, and flying-machine companies would be
      springing up left and right.  Neither of these is occurring,
      therefor the Wright's claims are obviously a lie and a hoax.

20. Refusing to be swayed when other researchers find evidence supporting
    unconventional phenomena or theories.  If other reputable people
    change sides and accept the unorthodox view, this is seen as evidence
    of their gullibility or insanity, not as evidence that perhaps the
    unconventional view is correct.

      "I'll believe it when someone like Dr. P believes it."

     But when Dr. P changes sides, this becomes:

      "Dr. P did some great work in his early years, but then he destroyed
       his career by getting involved with that irrational crackpot
       stuff."

21. Elevating skepticism to a lofty position, yet indulging in hipocricy
    and opening the way to pathological thinking by refusing to ever cast
    a critical, SKEPTICAL eye upon the irrational behavior of scoffers.

     "Criticizing skeptics is never beneficial.  It even represents a
      danger to science.  One should never criticize science, it just
      gives ammunition to the enemy; it aids the irrational, anti-science
      hoards who would destroy our fragile edifice."

22. Belief that modern scientists as a group lack faults, and therefore
    clinging to any slim justifications in order to ignore the arguments
    of those who hope to eliminate the flaws in Science.

    "I think we can safely ignore Thomas Kuhn's STRUCTURES OF SCIENTIFIC
     REVOLUTIONS.  Despite his physics training we can see that Kuhn was
     an outsider to science; he obviously doesn't have a good grasp on
     real science.  Outsiders never can see things in the proper positive
     light, it takes a working scientist to see the real situation.
     Also, he stressed his central themes way too much, so I think we can
     ignore him as simply being a sensationalist.  And besides, if he's
     digging up dirt regarding science, then he must have a hidden agenda.
     I bet we'll find that he's a Christian or something, probably a
     creationist."

23. Blindness to the widespread existence of the above symptoms.  Belief
    that scientists are inherently objective, and rarely fall victim to
    these faults.  Excusing the frequent appearance of these symptoms as
    being isolated instances which do not comprise an accumulation of
    evidence for the common practice of Pathological Skepticism.

     "This 'Pathological Skepticism' does not exist.  Kooks and
      crackpots deserve the hostile mistreatment we give them, but
      anyone who does similar things to skeptics is terribly misguided.
      Those who criticize skeptics are a danger to Science itself, and we
      must stop them."