Exploring the New Skepticism – the View from Woo

“Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” – so They did.

And the loose alliances which populate virtual and real spaces from the Badscience chatrooms to ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ hook-ups have it in for complementary therapies in the UK.

When on 1st March the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) remit was widened to include the web, the skeptics were in the starting blocks, ready to go with an orchestrated shop-a-homeopath campaign, and it’s going strong.  ‘Them’ against ‘Us’: a farce, and it’s not funny!  No room to breathe, to debate or question is left in the crammed confines of ideological scientism.  The new skeptics seem to have forgotten about sceptical enquiry or that key term of science vernacular,  ‘poorly understood’.

Instead there rises a newspeak certitude where skepticism means ideology, where science is reduced to mechanistic computability, yet elevated to quasi-religion.  Such scientism throws the homeopath and the tarot reader into the same pit of sinister woo peddling. 21st century skeptics don’t doubt who owns the truth: they do.  That’s why they are ‘They’.

Google ‘homeopathy’ plus ‘skeptic’ and that unbiased scientific term ‘woo’ (from ‘woo-hoo…’  spooky movie sound effect!).  You may find yourself wholeheartedly agreeing with what you find – or perhaps you haven’t given it much thought and have been entertained/taken in by the funnymen who make sport of ‘woo’:  often hilarious, always shallow, never scientific.

On the other hand you may find yourself shocked at the mega-doses of vitriol and palpable malice that are poured on homeopathy and CAM.  Would you agree with boycotting a yoghurt brand because the cows get homeopathic remedies sometimes? There are some skeptics inciting that boycott right now.  You may wonder also, in passing, how so many of ‘Them’ can find so much time to attack ‘Us’.

And who are ‘They’?  My unscientifically sound investigations show that most skeptics

  • have no personal experience of using complementary therapies
  • are not doctors
  • base ‘scientific’ credibility on a subscription to New Scientist

High profile skeptics, those who get to speak at gatherings, are a heterogenous bunch.  A survey of speakers from a selection of recent big-name skeptic events reveals, for amusement purposes divided into fairly accurate percentages,

  • 45.7% entertainers/performers – of whom 25% magicians and 18.7% comedians
  • 25.7% social scientists (including psychology, policy, philosophy etc)
  • 22.8% ‘real’ scientists with degrees (biology, pharmacology, physics etc)
  • 11.4% politicians and lawyers
  • 5.7% IT experts
  • 2.8% medical doctors

You could make your own pie chart (Lacking online tech skills, I can’t oblige). As can be seen, there is no ‘average’ skeptic celebrity.  Unless it be Stephen Fry.  Except that he is not average.  Misguided, but quite brilliant.  And of course, neither a scientist nor a doctor, so – in the topsy-turvy rationale of the new skeptic movement – ideally placed to judge homeopathy and other CAM.   Stephen: have you tried proper homeopathic treatment?  It could really help you!

Why this exploration of skeptic identity?  Because They do ‘have it in for me’.  I mean Us. Why would they pour so much time and resources into hounding complementary therapists?   Even Ben Goldacre has noticed that most of us are “well-meaning, caring people”.  The newly founded ‘Nightingale Collaboration’ exists to get as many homeopaths’ websites reduced to meaningless blurb as possible by inciting orchestrated complaints to the ASA.  The site provides instructions on how to turn even harmless and well-meaning information into an alleged ‘misleading claim’.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeopaths – most of whom practice solo under shoestring conditions – are being systematically targeted with legalese ASA complaints (some generated by a specially-created piece of software, so the blogosphere tells me)  The world of twitter has been a-chirp with exploits like “I’m releasing a weapon of quack destruction”.   I’m not sure whether grappling with understanding this strange mindset can make a difference.  Still, it beats ignorance.


6 responses to “Exploring the New Skepticism – the View from Woo

  1. Thank you. My natural relationship with geekdom is actually positive, downright fond: one reason why I’m disappointed that otherwise intelligent people living out their inner geek in something so destructive. The spiritual home of the geek is the single-interest hobby, whether online second-life gaming or lay astronomy. Instead… Skeptic ringleader Jack of Kent’s ‘April Fool’ blog denouncing UK skepticism as a ‘cult’ is so accurately observed it shows he knows just how true this is: very witty, fact dressed up as satire).

  2. Brilliant, thank you. Got it in one. Geeks do have a propensity to be irritating in their single-minded approach to life. But this particular band of geeks seem to have morphed into a nasty little mob of loud-mouthed egotistical childmen on a rantrage. Eventually, one hopes, they will either grow up or get subsumed in something else. Meanwhile, voices like yours are a most welcome riposte. As Scattered Gardener says, just what we need. Blog on, oh wise one!

  3. I would also add that skeptics are mostly male and mostly childless…

  4. Apt video clip! And humorous, intelligent writing. Just what we need – thanks:-)

  5. Thanks! The principle of similars holds everywhere – naturally.

  6. Thank you for writing this it is comforting to hear a voice similar to your own among the madness of all that is going on.