‘Skeptics’ and ‘Skepticism’ as mentioned in this study

 

The context of this case study into harassment occurring on wikis and my own personal  dispute mentions editors that were encountered on Wikipedia and Rational Wiki whom are self declared ‘skeptics’, and this should be clarified.

The words ‘skepticism’, being ‘skeptical’, and being a ‘skeptic’ have a variance in meaning that can cause misunderstanding in this study easily.

Obviously most educated and professional people are natural skeptics. I believe myself to be a skeptical person too. ‘Skepticism’ is a word to denote a general agnosticism of any claim without evidence.

This is not how the word ‘skeptic’ is used in this study.

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Skeptical Activism

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Skepticism in this study is activism. Skeptical activism is it’s own ideological movement that has many organizations, proponents, speakers, and bloggers. I call them skeptics because that is how they refer to themselves.

‘Skeptics’ in this study refer to those individuals whom adhere to the ‘skeptical’ movement as an ideology of some form and are active in promoting their worldview, common to any ideology or social group, and act as a group with meet ups, conferences, social networks and events.

Specifically the ‘skeptics’ as mentioned in this study are a small collective of editors on Wikipedia, and a predominant collection of editors on Rational Wiki.

The behaviors of skeptic activists that I have encountered in this study are probably more influenced by privileged young white male angst rather than any true philosophical ideology, but that is just my personal impression.

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This study is not an indictment of Skeptical Activism or more broadly ideological skepticism in general

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This study is not an attack on the ideology of skepticism or scientism.

Much of work ‘skeptic activism’ seeks to perform are  genuine social services, and are helpful in exposing ‘frauds’ in fortune teller scams or quack research. Skeptic activists such as James Randi and Penn and Teller have a strong credibility for this reason. Additionally, Skeptical activism provides a strong voice against religious fundamentalism and their attempts to interfere with science in public education.  I believe this is valuable.

This study has nothing to do with the subject matters or individuals on Wikipedia these activists were engaged in. This study is not informed or paid for by alternative medical research, psi or any fringe scientific research, or any known or unknown researchers or groups of researchers in that area. 

This study just happens to deal with a small handful of skeptical activists on a Wikipedia article and details the tactics they use on Wikipedia to control an article.

Since this is a very active online group – I use this group’s activities on Rational Wiki and Encyclopedia Dramatica, even Reddit – to show the effects of toxic consensus building and the effects of online harassment and the steps online users can take in a ‘wiki war’.

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Skeptical activists and ‘pseudoscience’.

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The skeptical movement, like most ideological movements, also have their ‘enemies’ and opponents. The two individuals that I worked with to assist in them resolving their wiki wars are two of these such people, Rupert Sheldrake and Deepak Chopra.

Skeptics are avowed to exposing claims that exceed what they believe to be the scientific orthodoxy, making Deepak Chopra a mainstream celebrity deferred as a charlatan by skeptic organizations and Rupert Sheldrake’s credibility as a Cambridge biologist is deferred to as pseudoscience. Both individuals do indeed exceed current scientific orthodoxy, and my experience showed me that skeptic activists are very reactionary and ‘pseudo scientist’ becomes more of a derogatory term used to discredit individuals instead of a reasoned word applying the philosophy of science to ideas, not people.

Words like ‘pseudoscience’ and ‘pseudoscientist’ are often used as pejoratives to frame the points of view of those skeptics  disagree with, sometimes even used as a weasel word to discredit an idea or individual. Although once a descriptive word more applicable in the philosophy of science, the word ‘pseudoscience’ is now a term of discredit and ill repute.

For example, in my case – many of these skeptic activists publish articles on me and a discrediting term for me is a ‘promoter of pseudoscience’, although I work in media and technology and simply edited on Wikipedia on two biographies of individuals they somewhat demonize.

Skeptic activists call those that have other view points the ‘woo’ or ‘true believers’.  Based on my experience, you or anyone you know can get this label if you’re interested in at least one of large palate of ideas from pop or Jungian psychology, philosophical dualism, philosophical holism, ‘alternative’ medicine like Chinese medicine or Ayurveda, any form of spirituality, religion, yoga, martial arts, indigenous beliefs or practices, meditation practices, futurism, fringe sciences,  such as ‘cold fusion’, and of course psi, psychics, ghosts, supernatural big foot and lock ness monsters.

Making this cultural problem complex, there is a wide variety of different points of view, acceptance, cultural and academic viewpoints in many of these areas skeptic activists are prone to find. While ‘skepticism’ may be an organized movement with a consistent voice that centers around a scientific orthodoxy  – the realm they consider ‘pseudoscience’ or ‘woo’ is the exact opposite, having countless voices, perspectives, cultural biases, and philosophical backgrounds.

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Pseudoscience vs Pseudoskepticism, a ‘sub culture’ war happening online.

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A pejorative term for the skeptical movement is called ‘pseudoskepticism’ – inferring that a ‘skeptical’ point of view is biased towards a strict philosophical materialism, physicalism, or scientism and not a genuine brand of philosophical skepticism. This is also sometimes referred to as ‘scientism’, a belief system that is comprised soley within the boundaries of orthodox science.

This term when used infers that many in the activist skeptic movement are not truly skeptics as they are not skeptical about their own ideology, just the ideologies of all other belief systems, creating a cultural war between philosophical materialists and everyone else. Often bigotry is cited against these type of activists.  [1], [2], [3], [4]

These distinctions are necessary to understand the tensions landscape of editors and abuses involved.

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I’m biased too (but I try not to be)

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Honestly, one of the experiences that bothered me so much in this story is that I was being harassed online simply because I was suspected of having views that do not conform to scientific orthodoxy, which to me was a little Orwellian but utterly fascinating from a cultural perspective. At one point one Wikipedia editor suggested I was involved with a cult, citing Deepak Chopra.

I think it’s ridiculous I even need to defend my own beliefs. Luckily for me, I’ve hardly any. As the author of this study and blog, my own bias of course may easily effect my own judgements, so I thought it fair to disclose my own philosophical point of view on these issues that cross over into the two biographies I edited on Wikipedia. I’m an agnostic from the Robert Anton Wilson perspective – I am not just agnostic about religion, I am agnostic about everything. I identify myself as an agnostic humanist. But only if I had to, or I was asked.  Or if anyone cared. No one cares.

Except for about a dozen or so anonymous individuals editing Wikipedia and Rational Wiki influencing public and social opinion on a large number of articles found on the web that call themselves ‘skeptics’. The charge that I, as a laymen, was a ‘promoter of pseudoscience’ and a ‘true believer’ have been used to discredit myself along with a handful of other editors on Wikipedia.

 

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