Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cranks, Inc.

James Randi, Esq.

I've met a lot of er, interesting people in my time. And God bless 'em all, even the aforementioned James Randi.

In my study of Psychology I enjoy figuring out what makes people tick, the motivating factors and environment that shapes them, and the actions that follow. But in the broader scheme of things I'm much more interested in social groups.

Over the last more than four decades I’ve been observing at very close hand a huge panoply of social groups: New Age, Cults, UFO's, Spiritual and Psychology based movements, religious, race and nationalistic -isms, and yes, patriot and conspirology based, not ‘theorists’, but people with their own paradigms or memes, and from my own observations, they are every bit as intelligent as everyone else, if a little um, unbalanced in their approach. So I won’t judge them, but just look for the kernel of truth in what they say, because I think divided we fall, and all that.

But, what about groups that actually set out to be divisive?

Disclosure: I was attacked recently by people from the eponymously named James Randi Educational Foundation, a "Skeptics" organization. I'd the temerity to comment, many, many times, on Huffington Post and other crime based sites about the guilt of Amanda Knox. Then, when I was invited to repost my previous article "What Might Have Been" on a site that chronicled proof of her guilt some folk from JREF discovered Google and this website, and the older, web archived one. Much hilarity ensued; since they hadn't been able to effectively debate me on the subject in other forums, they could, um, make fun of my astrological and spiritual beliefs instead.

No big deal, I'd already been unmasked previously by right wing groups for my tens of thousands of anti-war comments on various political web sites. JREF comments, by comparison to right wing nasties, seemed pretty picayune really.

Truthfully, I've been following Mr. Randi's um, career for quite a while now, since he first joined CSICOP, the so called Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (Now CSI, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry)

But my interest isn't in him personally, or the behavior of his followers and the people he associates with, but the fakery that is associated with the entire 'Skeptical Movement'

CSICOP, in spite of its ostensible purpose to investigate the paranormal, actively sought to cut funding for ALL research into the paranoramal and parapsychology by legitimate scientists.

"An early controversy concerned the so-called Mars effect: French statistician Michel Gauquelin’s claim that champion athletes are more likely to be born when the planet Mars is in certain positions in the sky. In late 1975, prior to the formal launch of CSICOP, astronomer Dennis Rawlins, along with Paul Kurtz, George Abel and Marvin Zelen (all subsequent members of CSICOP) began investigating the claim. Rawlins, a founding member of CSICOP at its launch in May 1976, resigned in early 1980 claiming that other CSICOP researchers had used incorrect statistics, faulty science, and outright falsification in an attempt to debunk Gauquelin’s claims. In an article for the pro-paranormal magazine Fate, he wrote: "I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism"

"In 2004, CSICOP was accused of scientific misconduct over its involvement in the Discovery Channel's test of the "girl with X-ray eyes," Natasha Demkina. In a self-published commentary, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Josephson criticized the test and evaluation methods and argued that the results should have been deemed "inconclusive" rather than judged in the negative. Josephson, the director of the University of Cambridge's Mind-Matter Unification project, questioned the researchers' motives saying, "On the face of it, it looks as if there was some kind of plot to discredit the teenage claimed psychic by setting up the conditions to make it likely that they could pass her off as a failure." Ray Hyman, one of the three researchers who designed and conducted the test, published a response to this and other criticisms, and CSI's Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health also published a detailed response to these and other objections, saying that biasing the odds against Natasha was appropriate because her claims were unlikely to be true"

The movement was characterised as moved by "pseudoscepticism" and criticised thusly:

"Surveys show that over half the adult population in the U.S. have had psychic experiences and believe in the reality of the phenomena (Gallup, 1982; Greeley, 1975, 1987; Haraldsson & Houtkooper, 1991). Those who have had the experiences but encounter the debunking attitudes of apparent “scientific authorities” are likely to conclude that science is a dogma and inapplicable to important aspects of their lives. Vallee (1990) has suggested that debunkers “are among the primary contributors to the rejection of science by the public” and are “contributing to the growth of irrational movements in modem society” (p. 21). Ironically, CSICOP’s activities will likely inhibit scientific research on the paranormal and might potentially foster an increased rejection of science generally"

And funnily, this is what's happening now, the movement dedicated to fighting "woo" (Randi's phrase for woo-woo) complaining about growing beliefs in the 'supernatural'

I could devote a whole page to Randi's attacks on Homoeopathy, but I've already defended it in my previous post. Suffice to say he disrupted a homeopathic trial led by French Immunologist Jacques Benveniste. Then when a Greek Homeopath, George Vithoulkas, took up Randi's $1 million challenge and had a signed, agreed upon protocol, Randi backed out of it with the following letter "Forget all previous correspondence exchanged on the subject. What appears here is the current status. First, we require that George Vithoulkas submit a regular, properly-filled-out application and submit it just as we require everyone to do. After that has been received, we`ll go ahead as with any regular applicant - with the arrangements, including the requirement for the preliminary stage".This new turn of events understandably infuriated Vithoulkas after his 5 years of toil. To make matters worse, Randi, according to Vithoulkas, claimed on his website ( that the homeopaths had withdrawn from the experiment. This accusation is strenuously denied by Vithoulkas"

Another example of the false tactics and arguments presented by the Randians:

1) Demand scientific methodology is used and then ridicule any results presented as 'biased' or 'pseudoscientific'.

2) Belittle any scientist or academic appearing to move away from orthodoxy.

3) Demand peer review of any paper presented for publication (by definition, this is very hard to achieve in totally new areas of research).

4) Do not offer assistance of any kind.

5) Heavily and widely publicise that 'hoaxing' and 'fraud' are the only explanations for what is reported.

6) Do not engage in discussion. The organisation's associates should be called upon to provide the 'expert' viewpoint. The use of academic titles such as Doctor, Professor and Nobel Prize Winner adds 'credibility'.

7) Adopt a caring and protective attitude as the guardians of 'ordinary' people who could be 'duped' by unscrupulous 'tricksters' trying to make money out of them.

Yet, for an organization that prides itself on its scepticism, it seems they applaud the staus quo and have a well coordinated, attack dog response to anything alternative or challenges entrenched interests or memes. Therefore, ALL conspiracy theory must be trashed, as if government never lies to you. GMO foods are NOT harmful. Fluoride in the water is beneficial. Aspartame is safe. Randi forgot himself a moment and actually said he didn't believe in Global Warming then had to backtrack when even his followers questioned that. The Skeptical Inquirer Magazine seems to have a area all its own (False Memory Syndrome) which by its sensationalistic pieces seem to belittle all accusations of organized pedophilia.

Here's more criticism:

Michael Prescott-Why I'm Not a Skeptic

"Here we have not innocent open-mindedness, but a narrow and intolerant creed, which is today often recognized as such. The word "skeptic" is, in fact, increasingly conjoined with "dogmatic," "zealous," and "militant." Some people accuse skeptics of being nothing but cynics in disguise. A few wags have dubbed them "septics." Admittedly, that's not very nice – but, truth be told, skeptics have brought such attacks on themselves by repeatedly characterizing their opponents as credulous, gullible, simpleminded, ignorant, irrational, and foolish"

"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.

And that's why I'm not a skeptic"

Some final words on the Skeptics:

Skeptical of a Skeptic-Greg Taylor

"there needs to be a change to the blind acceptance of the words of individuals who claim ownership of the title “skeptic”. This might best begin within skeptical organizations themselves, by promoting more internal criticism and an end to the demagoguery that pervades the likes of CSI(COP) and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)"

"The calm critic can only say that (their arguments) either displays the grossest ignorance of the facts and the subject, or it is a colossal piece of constructive lying. The authors may take either horn of the dilemma they like"

It is this comment from the above article that interests me the most: 'emlong' writes the following:

"There is huge online troll community that has thoroughly infected the social networking sites, and their calling card is often an in your face ad hominem anything goes attack style. They tend to pedestalize the Amazing Randi and Penn and Teller from whom they have picked up the very worst sensationlism. They are typically as much about syle as they are about substance, and the very first thing they like to do is insult you and mock you. It is also very easy to get caught up in it and start giving it back to them in which case they "have won" because they have then managed to lower the quality of discourse irreparably.

Randi and Penn and Teller are emotionally still children, and their legions of cohorts tend to be children too despite whatever their numerical age might happen to be. As with shock TV these days, science has also become the battleground where the lords of the flies now prevail - at least on the blogs and chat rooms"

And that is so true. They recruit socially disaffected individuals, stunted bullies who use their supposed intellects to propagate intellectual dishonesty, congenital word parsers, name calling individuals to go out and spam social websites.

That they front for Pharma funded sites like Quackbusters and NCAHF and spam the same scripts provided by those orgs every where also points to their lack of integrity

My recent personal experience of them was on Huffington Post, where they could be counted on to show up on all the Homoeopathy threads with specious arguments that showed they had no knowledge of the subject whatsoever, the Autism threads where they promptly insulted ANY parent who felt their child had been harmed by vaccination, and the numerous Amanda Knox threads where their favourite reply to anyone who disagreed she was innocent was they were "stupid idiots" and a relentless debating style that broke down any time someone ignored them and used wit and intelligence instead.

And their arguments were so similar to the template I'd observed on JREF and CSICOP (mostly, they lied, blatantly, copiously, obnoxiously, and rudely) yet not one of them admitted they had come from those organizations.

Never mind. I enjoyed observing their pathology, which really was so awful they couldn't appreciate it when I said I was studying them. Interestingly, I met a whole bunch of ex-JREF'ers who'd been driven out in a hail of abuse because they'd been sceptical of the claim that Amanda Knox was innocent.

Yet even these nice people who thought it was a safe and respectful place for sceptical debate believed that behavior was typical only of the Knoxii, as I call them. Sorry, but that's the way they've dealt with dissent and unconventional thinking for thirty years, and you just discovered that now?

In the end, the saddest thing of all is that the JREF'ers fail to see how their 'debating methods' are just a poor parody of that used by the vast army of right wing trolls who are sent out by PR agencies every day to battle for war, for nuclear power and against 'left wing liberal values' on America's social websites.

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