Are Skeptics Sometimes TOO Skeptical?

I generally consider myself a skeptic, when it comes to paranormal and similar claims. I think I have probably always been this way. Even as a child, I was very rational and detached (although I was probably more religious as a child, FWIW).

But I still sometimes wonder: Are skeptics sometimes being too skeptical?

UFO conspiracy theories are all largely nonsense. I don’t dispute that fact. I mean, some UFO theorists claim there might be life on Venus, trying to contact us. The surface of Venus is hot enough to melt lead. I don’t don’t think there is extraterrestrial life there, and I certainly don’t think anyone is trying to contact us from Venus. Sorry.

But I do think ancient astronaut theory might have a little merit. I am not saying it, or the people associated with it, are largely credible either. I am only saying it deserves further study.

Ghost phenomenon fascinates me sometimes. I don’t necessarily believe in an afterlife either. But have you ever heard any of those stories? They are rather striking. And I think, at the very least, it deserves some study, instead of just being rejected out-of-hand.

That’s how I feel at least. What do the rest of you think?


These thing that you feel deserve more study? They’ve been studied extensively, and nothing has come of it. No evidence has been rejected out-of-hand.

Certainly I’d agree that skeptic communities are pretty echo chamber-y and some people will dismiss an idea that sounds like nonsense without actually knowing whether or not it is. I don’t know if I would call that being too skeptical, but maybe.

Our state of understanding changes enough that zealously guarding the status quo is dumb. It is important to be open-minded. Like you’re automatically trying to figure out why something must be wrong instead of trying to understand it first.

I’m seeing vague accusations here. How about a specific example?

Can you name a non-mainstream hypothesis whose conditions have not been studied extensively? For “ancient astronaut”, which I gather involves advanced aliens visiting ancient cultures, compare the number of books written about those cultures that describe such astronauts versus the number of books written about those cultures that don’t describe such astronauts, and didn’t feel they were glossing over or missing anything important.

For example, let’s tally up the number of books about ancient astronauts in ancient Egypt, compared to the total number of books about ancient Egypt in general. I’m guessing that as a percentage, it’s not a high one.

What supernatural claim has been dismissed out-of-hand automatically?

The post above mine, honestly.

Don’t get me wrong. I also don’t believe that aliens visited ancient peoples, but I can acknowledge there are minimal records from those times and no one really knows anything for sure. It’s all just guessing (though some are better than others.)

Without trying to accuse you of anything, concluding that ancient ailens don’t exist is the kind of thing that the kind of overly-skeptical person I describe would say since the community has determined it to be the right answer even though that person isn’t even familiar with the evidence for or against the argument.

I know every mainstream article that is written on any of these subjects, like this one, automatically refers to it as a “pseudo-science”.

Actually, though, that is not what I wanted to add. The one that amazes me, is so-called ghost phenomenon. I don’t have a cite. But I know, scientists are quick to dismiss it, because it has never been demonstrated in a laboratory.

As I already said, there clearly already are some pretty striking stories, put forth by some pretty credible witnesses. Why don’t they talk (or talk more, if you will;)) to some of these witnesses? I will certainly try to find more cites. But I can also offer my own experiences, with the articles I at least have seen, from scientists. IMHO, they are just way to skeptical, sometimes.

I recall one person who simply dismissed every “out-of-body” story as fake - even when the people with those experiences were able to back up their claims by describing things they’d seen in real life that they could not have possible seen while under anesthesia *at that moment *in an operating room.

Sorry, Palooka, I didn’t see you already responded in part to Czarcasm’s post:).

Science is not the right tool to deal with the supernatural. It is designed to deal with the natural.

But no one is stopping you from investigating ghosts and publishing your findings. Knock yourself out. Just don’t expect other people to share your zeal.

Are scientists sometimes too skeptical of newer, natural phenomena? Sure. See: Plate Tectonics. Are they too skeptical about supernatural stuff? Not so much.

I remember seeing a case of a very important skeptic being so skeptical of a scientific issue in the past… but he got better.

Many times bitten, forever shy… So, yeah, as a skeptic, I will, sometimes, jump automatically to the conclusion “This is bunk.”

This happened, just few decades ago, when the whole Enigma code-breakers deal went public. I immediately dismissed it as a bunch of weird revisionism, and disbelieved that a secret that big could have been kept that long.

Oopsie. Wrong. The Enigma revelations were big, historically revisionary…and true!

Still, when you’ve been served poop sandwiches 99 times, you aren’t just gonna bite right into the 100th sandwich someone hands you.

Even outside of a laboratory Harry Houdini and many others showed how many of the famous cases were just frauds. **And that was 100 years ago. **

The dismissal that you see nowadays was not a quick one, it has a lot of evidence of not only many past frauds, but also many failures noted already on a scientific setting.

They are for a reason, and skeptics and researchers have talked with a lot of those people, not just a few. So far, just bupkis.

No. Skepticism is a process by which we try to eliminate what we want the world to be, and what our flawed perceptions might tell us what it is, in order to find out what it actualy is.

You simply have things that you’ve chosen not to be as skeptical about. One thing doesn’t strike your fancy, so you’re comfortable (correctly) dismissing it as almost certainly baseless. But one thing does strike your fancy, so you give it a softer look and think there’s probably something there, even though it’s as baseless as the first thing. You’re applying skepticism to the first thing and failing to apply it to the second.

Skeptics want to learn about the world. If ghosts were real, that’d be really fucking awesome. The idea that skeptical people don’t want supernatural things to exist is silly. Finding out there were ghosts would open radical new paths to understanding the world. It would indicate there’s some sort of afterlife or some sort of life that’s completely outside our understanding. Who wouldn’t want to understand that?

People who credulously believe in something unsubstantiated by evidence won’t be able to answer the questions skeptics pose to them about substantiating that their pet theory is real, so they just try to dismiss them as having their own, opposite bias. “Oh, you just don’t want that to be true, so you’re going to deny my experiences/interests” - it’s a cop out.

If telepathy, little green men abducting people, magic healing crystals, ghosts, or any of that actually existed, I’d be the first guy to want to know everything about them. That would be fascinating. Revolutionary. We apply the process of scientific skepticism to these things exactly to find out if they’re real. And in test after test after test it turns out that they aren’t. That there are alternative non-supernatural explanations that make a lot more sense.

Nothing is dismissed out of hand. Things are dismissed because the claims have been made and investigated thoroughly before and found to have no merit. Anecdotes, perceptions, and personal experience are trivially easy to demonstrate as flawed.

The world looks like how we’d expect it to look if there were no magic, no supernatural. And we would expect a world in which the supernatural did exist to look a lot different from our world. Some people are completely credulous - there’s no woo that they won’t latch onto. Other people are selectively skeptical - they can understand how to use critical thinking to dismiss some things, but refuse to apply that skill to things they want to be true. But the reality is that almost certainly there’s no magic, because that’s the result that evidence and logic tell us over and over again.

That isn’t true, unless you’re stating this tautologically - which is to say that once something exists, it becomes part of the natural.

Lots of supernatural claims could be tested. Oh, you can talk to the dead? Okay, what was Aunt Ellie’s safe combination that only she knew? Oh, you can dowse for water? Okay, this should be trivially easy to prove under controlled condition. Oh, you’re a psychic? Trivially easy to demonstrate.

“Your science can’t understand my woo!” is just a way to avoid explaining why something works or demonstrating that it does. If something has an effect on the real world, we can study it to find out if that effect is a real thing even if we don’t understand the mechanism.

You’ll need to cite this. Undoubtedly people have claimed to do this - but there have been actual tests to study this - for instance, hundreds of hospitals have playing cards above tall cabinets in the room - and to my knowledge no one has ever actually demonstrated having seen them. Sure, people claim this sort of thing all the time. But it’s not verified, even though we have real ways to verify such things and an interest in doing it.

The problem with this “open-mindedness” is that there are people who are familiar with the evidence. Archaeologists and historians have examined the evidence. And the evidence says there’s no signs of alien intervention.

A person who forms conclusions without familiarizing himself with the facts isn’t being open-minded; he’s just making stuff up. The first step to advancing knowledge is to learn what’s already known.

I don’t think so.

Yes. I’ve observed this repeatedly at SDMB and other forums. Sometimes the more ignorant a Doper is, the more willing he is to ignorantly attack a counter-skeptic.

In one discussion I was told that not a single qualified academician disagreed with the conventional wisdom. With a quick Google, I produced a list of five Professors or PhD’s specializing in the relevant field who disagreed … and was told that five was a tiny number equivalent to zero. :smack: I suppose I could have placed tail between legs and asked “Would ten be enough, sir?” but instead I walked away in disgust.

Um, cite? Of that last part, I mean; that someone was dismissive, I could accept casually.