Skeptics! R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Tugboat Respect“Have I ever heard a skeptic wax superior and contemptuous? Certainly. I’ve even sometimes heard, to my retrospective dismay, that unpleasant tone in my own voice. There are human imperfections on both sides of this issue. Even when it’s applied sensitively, scientific skepticism may come across as arrogant, dogmatic, heartless, and dismissive of the feelings and deeply held beliefs of others.” — Carl SaganThe Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

I like getting my science news from skeptical sources because they are reliable and they love science without sensationalizing it; however, it is a painful exercise when the skeptics are contemptuous of the believers of bad science.

Too many skeptics lack respect for people with questionable beliefs and this is a disservice to advancement of the critical thinking. The teaching of the scientific method is a common cause among skeptics yet their dismissiveness sabotages their mission. Respect begets respect. Disrespecting the believers of pseudoscience will deafen them to scientific evidence.

The most aggravating lack of respect I see is the liberal assignment of negative motives to the actions of the non-skeptics. This contradicts the ideals of skepticism. Where is the evidence of the motives? Science says, that without evidence, they are probably making a fundamental attribution error. The evidence, skeptics’ reports from pseudoscience conferences, supports the case for the attribution effect. Many a time, I have heard the infiltrating reporter remark on the similarity of the ‘we and they’ arguments about motives.

Christopher Hitchens, in his argument for free speech (Be It Resolved: Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate” at Hart House, University of Toronto, November 15, 2006), says “Because what he has to say must have taken him some effort to come up with, might contain a grain of historical truth, might in any case get people to think about why do they know what they already think they know. How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else?” Respect for opposing views is listening to what the other person is saying. Listen and think about why you know what you think you know. That is what skepticism is about.

Respect gets you heard. Respect helps advance scientific skepticism. Respect is a fundamental part of skepticism.

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