So much of what we do in this field comes under constant and sustained attack by individuals who label themselves as critical thinkers and sceptics, when in reality they are nothing more than pseudosceptics, more popularly known as debunkers.
Therefore, it is important that we are able to identify this behaviour and see it for what it is – simply an attempt to twist and subvert any theory or position that does not subscribe to the mainstream point of view.
Many pseudosceptics also display behavioural traits identified as IDP – Imagination Deficiency Personality which include such symptoms as “delusions of superiority” – which we will come to later.
Before we explore the nature of pseudoscepticism we need to ask what it is that defines a true sceptic?
A true sceptic objectively enquires and seeks evidence, challenging all sides of the debate, including their own beliefs. Real sceptics are not preoccupied with taking sides, but objectively enquire to seek the truth, no matter where it leads. An admirable pursuit indeed.
Pseudosceptics & Pseudoscepticism
Pseudosceptics on the other hand, have a pre-defined agenda to preserve dogma and to dismiss out of hand any ideas not conforming to the establishment point of view. Essentially this makes them establishment defenders.
Pseudoscepticism or pseudo-scepticism is defined as thinking that claims to be sceptical, but is actually faith-based disbelief. Because real scepticism is a justifiable position, pseudoscepticism may also be defined as making pseudo-scientific arguments in pursuit of a sceptical agenda.
Pseudoscepticism is a general term which encompasses two types of faith-based disbelief: making positive claims that something is wrong or unreal without evidence (positive disbelief), and rejecting sufficient evidence.
The term pseudoscepticism was first coined by Marcello Truzzi. Truzzi was sceptical of investigators and debunkers who determined the validity of a claim prior to investigation. He accused CSICOP of increasingly unscientific behavior, for which he coined the term pseudoscepticism. Truzzi stated:
“They tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion. Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them. [...] When an experiment of the paranormal meets their requirements, then they move the goal posts. Then, if the experiment is reputable, they say it’s a mere anomaly.”
Throughout the years, other commentators have made very astute observations about the nature and behavioural charecteristics of pseudosceptics.
“What sceptics fail to understand is that scepticism involves being sceptical of your own position, it does not mean just being sceptical of that which you do not believe in, otherwise we are all sceptics and that renders their use of the term “sceptic” meaningless. A true sceptic casts scepticism on their own position as well. Since the Randi crowd do not employ scepticism in this respect then they are fairly termed pseudosceptics and demean the term scepticism.”
Despite their supposed adoption of the scientific method, pseudosceptics do not even subscribe to scientific means, because they do not update their hypotheses to fit the facts, but instead they always reject any facts that don’t fit neatly into their hypothesis.
Pseudosceptics ridicule and deny all paranormal claims while also denying all conspiracies and facts in support of them, meanwhile they unquestioningly accept any mainstream media spin and establishment proselytism as undisputed fact.
“There are some members of the sceptics groups who clearly believe that they know the right answer prior to enquiry. They appear not to be interested in weighing alternatives, investigating strange claims, or trying out psychic experiences or altered states for themselves (heaven forbid!), but only in promoting their own particular belief structure and cohesion” – Susan Blackmore
“The original definition of sceptic was a person who questions all beliefs, facts, and points-of-view. A healthy perspective in my opinion. Today’s common definition of a sceptic is someone who questions any belief that strays outside of the status quo, yet leaving the status quo itself completely unquestioned. Kind of a juvenile and intellectually lazy practice in my opinion.” – author unknown.
- There is no evidence for paranormal claims. They are all bunk and cannot be true.
- Conspiracies are all false. There is no evidence for them. Official sources are not to be questioned.
- Anything that challenges the status quo and materialism is wrong and must be debunked.
- Only mundane materialistic explanations are acceptable. Paranormal ones are not.
Naval scientist Eldon Byrd put it rather succinctly when he said – “What major contribution has any sceptic made to the betterment of humankind? How many Mother Teresa’s have they produced? How many great scientific discoveries have they made? Many of them are like movie critics–useless and usually wrong.”
Novelist and blogger Michael Prescott very eleoquently described them:
“Their penchant for denigrating and discrediting the paranormal is not simply a tic of the personality, but the ineluctable consequence of a certain fundamental view of life, mind, and the cosmos. Unfortunately, people with a powerful personal agenda do not make the best sceptics – at least not if scepticism is understood as the exercise of unbiased objectivity.
Self-doubt – or at least the admission of same – is not characteristic of the sceptic, who prefers to radiate an aura of unshakable assurance. To admit any doubt is to cede territory to the forces of unreason – the primordial enemy, which, as we have seen, must be resisted by any means. And here we come to what is, as I see it, the real problem with sceptics. They wish, above all, to be certain – and when reality doesn’t oblige them by offering clear-cut answers, they turn away from reality and seek refuge in pre-existing theory.
They oversimplify history as a battle between good and evil, and miss its complexities and subtleties. They resist modern developments in science and cling to outdated, nineteenth century conceptions. They jump to prearranged conclusions and shut their eyes – and their minds – to anomalous data and alternative explanations.
In their quest to prove themselves right, they lose sight of the ambiguities and paradoxes of life. In their desire to be safe and sure, they turn away from anything interesting and new.
They are creatures of comfort and routine, not explorers. They cannot think outside the box. They will, in fact, deny that there is or ever could be anything outside the box – and they’ll heap scorn on anyone who suggests otherwise.
They’ll call names, cry fraud, and holler that civilization is in danger and the barbarians are at the gates. They’ll do anything, really – except examine their own assumptions with a remotely critical eye.”
Imagination Deficiency Personality
Many of these personality traits are linked with IDP – Imagination Deficiency Personality. In this study, the written works of ten well known sceptics were compared to seven criterion from Barbara & Walters (1883) Imagination Deficient Personality (IDP) scale. In eight cases the sceptics scored seven out of seven and the remaining two sceptics scored six out of seven for these traits. The traits selected from Barbara & Walters are:
- Lack of meta-awareness: Imagination deficient people show a lack of awareness of the motivation or value systems of others. Often they will make assumptions regarding “right thinking” which fail to take into account the unique circumstances or social structure in which other people live. For example, they may argue with people about religion or other unprovable metaphysical beliefs. Low meta-awareness may also be shown by disregard, or in the case of subject 7 hostility towards, minorities or disfranchised people. Subjects 1, 8 and 9 actually organized conferences dedicated to ‘correcting’ the thinking of non-sceptics.
- Curmudgeonality: A person with IDP is often suspicious of or hostile towards new social trends. Note, this is not the same as complaining about progress (95% of IDP were strongly for progress in Barbara & Walter’s study), it is instead a sense that values are slipping, or the world is suffering from spreading disrespect, irrationality or lowered standards. Subjects 1, 7, 8 and 9 frequently made remarks regarding a decline in society, all 10 subjects made at least passing reference to spreading irrationality.
- Transcendental Substitution: The imagination deficient person tends not to participate in traditional social institutions which promote brotherhood, tribal union or spiritual values, so many of them substitute non-traditional institutions they find acceptable. For example, the IDP may take up an interest in magic, or science, or they may join a library. 64% of Barbara & Walter’s IDP subjects subscribed to three or more science magazines. Again, all 10 subjects were positive on this indicator, 2 going so far as to set up temple like structures in which to meet.
- Hyper-realistic representation: This is a tendency on the part of the imagination deficient to expect a realistic or rational representation in all aspects of life. For example, the IDP may engage in nit picking about plot lines in TV programs or books, or complain about contemporary linguistic usage which conflicts with a technical term. Eight of the 10 subjects scored positive on this measure. Subjects 8 and 9 wrote books substantially about correct usage of scientific terms.
- Fictional miss-identification: Often an IDP will react to fictional representations as though they are real. For example, they may complain about how a popular fictional TV programs portrays the paranormal, or get irate if a book they are reading invokes a ghost or spirit, or has a character convert to a spiritual outlook. Some write letters of complaint to newspapers that, for example, carry an astrology column. Once again all subjects were positive on this measure with one (Subject 5) even refusing to fly on an airline whose travel magazine included an astrology column.
- Delusions of superiority: In many cases the IDP will believe that they have special traits or talents not shared by other people. Usually these are confined to a narrow range of human abilities, and tend to center around issues of intelligence or education. In the mildly IDP this may simply come off as immaturity, arrogance or elitism. Subject 3, however, consistently referred to others as “delusional” or made references to “Elevator[s] not going to the top floor,” and subjects 7, 8 and 9 dedicated substantial time to denigrating the works of some obscure scholars.
- Mission directed outlook: The imagination deficient frequently believe that they serve a greater cause, or that some necessary actions must be taken to avoid disaster. All ten subjects, for example, make reference to a “rising tide of irrationality,” and subjects 1, 3 and 5 invoke this before all public gatherings. In extreme cases this may involve actions that resemble attempts at conversion or missionary work.∗