Levels of pseudoskepticism
Last week, I wrote how there were different levels of skepticism. There a similar levels of pseudoskepticism. Pseudoskepticism is the practice of promoting an unsubstantiated idea or theory using the language of skepticism. Denial is a big part of the philosophy, but many logical fallacies are also to blame. Frequently, the word skeptic is placed after theory. For example, evolution skeptic and global warming skeptic are commonly seen. Of course the word skeptic is not necessary and pseudoskepticism can take many forms. The point here is that you can still have healthy skepticism towards any topic, but conclusions shouldn’t be be based on pseudoscience or plain old denial.
Below I have listed the different levels of pseudoskepticism as I see them. Just like with my levels of skepticism, I don’t want this post to insult anyone, but to hopefully open people’s eyes to the shenanigans all around us. I will be using examples from Intelligent Design proponents as I am most familiar with the movement’s methods and techniques.
Level 1 pseudoskeptic
The first level of a pseudoskeptic is someone who doubts a particular idea or theory. There is a small difference here between the real skeptic and the pseudoskeptic. The key difference here is that a skeptic will look at the evidence before coming to a conclusion. In intelligent design, a skeptic would look at the two sides and conclude that there is a scientific consensus and actual evidence for evolution, while none exists for intelligent design. The level 1 pseudoskeptic would look at the same evidence and conclude that since there is not perfect evidence for either, neither one is more likely to be true.
Level 2 pseudoskeptic
The second level of pseudoskeptic is someone who has made up their mind for the pseudoscientific side of a debate in spite of the evidence to the other side. This person outright denies that there is evidence contrary to their position. They rely heavily on logical fallacies to prove their point. They also claim that they are the real purveyors of science. For example, evolution skeptics (or ID/creation proponents) outright deny that their are transitional fossils. They also argue that evolution could not possibly happen because they couldn’t imagine how random mutation and natural selection could lead to the current state of life’s diversity (argument from personal incredulity).
Level 3 pseudoskeptic
A third level pseudoskeptic is someone who is spreading their false skepticism through a website/podcast/ etc. These people are actively trying to undermine real scientific observations and conclusions. These people will often rely on non-experts or non-peer reviewed studies. Anecdotal evidence or anomalies will also be presented. In fact, anything but actual science will be presented. One example from an evolution skeptic is Denyse O’Leary. She has several blogs which attack evolution through the techniques mentioned above. She has no real scientific training, but that doesn’t stop her from spreading her pseudoscientific wares.
The highest level of a pseudoskeptic is someone who is well known throughout the pseudoskeptic circles. These people have a large influence over the similar minded people. One thing that makes people like this so dangerous is that they sound like the voice of reason to the unsuspecting. It is not apparent without prior knowledge that they are not giving the accurate or complete story. Often these people have no real training in the subject that they are focusing on.
One prime example of someone that has reached this stage is Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute. Luskin exhibits all the characteristics. He may not be as recognizable as Richard Dawkins or James Randi, but he certainly is well known in the “evolution skeptic” circles. He repeatedly denies the existence of evidence for evolution, comments on scientific discoveries of which he is nowhere near qualified, and relies heavily on logical fallacies.