Wednesday, December 22, 2010

False Skepticism

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a substantial post about the king of the anti-science shitheads, David H. Dorkski. Today, however, I’m taking a different approach and instead of attacking his insipid, drudging and puerile blog posts, I think I will address his beliefs and the falsehoods behind them. In fact, you can easily take what I am about to discuss and apply it to all of those who follow Doucheski’s vapid talking points.

Orac, and those who worship him, espouses himself as a skeptic. I think that to understand what this means, we must first look at the definition of the word and why he would believe himself to be a skeptic.

What does this mean, though? What is a skeptic?

First off, let us look at the meaning of the word as defined by several English language dictionaries. We will further compound this definition by examining their philosophical outlooks. Then, we will compare that with Orac’s interpretation and see if they match up.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of Skepticism is as follows:

1: an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object

2a: the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain

b: the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics

Let’s start with point one. Does Orac exhibit an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object? For the most part, I will say yes. But, this only goes so far. Before I explain why, let me continue with our analysis.

Looking at points 2a and 2b, does he follow the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain? Does he follow the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics? Consider the following statements that I’m sure that you’ve all seen Orac say on numerous occasions:

“The Science has spoken. Vaccines do not cause autism.”

Ding ding ding!!!! We have a winner, folks!

Now, re-read points 2a and 2b. Is he following the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain (he claims with absolute certainty that vaccines cannot cause autism using flawed studies)? Does he follow the method of suspended judgment, etc. (the science has spoken…there is no more need to look further)?

Before I go any further, let me go back to point 1 again. Does Orac exhibit an attitude of doubt, etc.? As long as it does not defend his personal bias, yes he does. Anything that opposes his personal views, whether it be alternative cancer treatments, mercury dental amalgams, or the vaccine/autism link, then he is extremely doubtful and critical of it. But, when it defends his personal bias, then he does not turn a critical eye to it. Does that fall under the definition of skepticism? No, it does not.

Really, this is a human failing. I do not fault him at all whatsoever for having this selective skepticism because we all have a tendency to defend things that correspond with our own biases. AoA does this, I do this, and most people I’ve seen online do this. But where I take exception is when I see him mock and ridicule someone for being biased. As I have clearly demonstrated, he is just as biased. And I take great glee in pointing out such hypocrisy. This type of double standard is pathetic and should not, in any way, be taken seriously. But, Orac’s feeble-minded and drooling lickspittles soak it up as if it is a gift from the Gods. Disgusting and laughable.

Anyway, let’s move on. Let’s have a look at the Skeptic philosophy and the skeptic movement in general, and then we’ll see if this applies to David.

The closest approximation to Dorkski’s paradigm would be Scientific Skepticism. These types of skeptics are off-shoots of the philosophical skeptics from ancient Greece who believed that they should critically examine whether the knowledge and perceptions that they have are actually true, and whether or not one can ever be said to have absolutely true knowledge. Scientific skeptics are very similar, but they use the scientific method and critical thinking as a basis for testing the truth of their knowledge.

I’ve already addressed David’s lack of critical thinking skills, so let’s bypass that and verify whether or not he meets the definition of a scientific skeptic.

Let us begin by clarifying what we know about scientific skepticism.

Scientific skeptics attempt to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourage accepting claims on anecdotal evidence. Ok, good so far. I can certainly acknowledge that David follows this rationale.

Skeptics often focus their criticism on claims they consider to be implausible, dubious or clearly contradictory to generally accepted science. Ok, again, I can say that David does this. However, things start going into the grey area here. For instance, he doesn’t question or criticize any claims or studies that defend his paradigm when those claims and studies are clearly contradictory.

Scientific skeptics do not assert that unusual claims should be automatically rejected out of hand, but rather they argue that claims should be critically examined and that extraordinary claims would require extraordinary evidence in their favor before they could be accepted as having validity. And, here we see the flaw in his mindset. Scientific skeptics do not make definitive claims without reviewing as much evidence as possible. David rejects the possibility that autism and vaccines could be linked in some cases, but he hasn’t seen or reviewed all of the evidence. He hasn’t looked at the medical records of the children of the parents making these claims. Hell, he has never once in his life even seen an autistic child, most likely. How can he make such definitive claims without reviewing all of the evidence? By going on the incomplete studies that have been funded by parties with vested interests? The same studies that call for more inquiry? But, Doucheski says that more study is unnecessary. The science has spoken!

That doesn’t sound like scientific skepticism, does it? It’s more like a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. That’s not science; that’s religion.

Let’s move off on a tangent for a moment. Trust me; this is related to my point. I feel it is necessary to share with you an email I received from the good “doctor” a few months back when AoA posted his personal information. What does this have to do with my observation on his pseudoskepticism? I’ll get to that in a moment. Enjoy the email.


As much as you despise me, never let it be said that I don't notice and voice appreciation when someone sticks to their principles on my behalf, as you did in the recent slimefest in the comments of Jake's idiotic post. (There's so much wrong there that it would easily take an Orac-length post to deal with it all.) You are absolutely correct. It is cowardly and despicable to take a blog disagreement, no matter how heated, into trying to make trouble for someone at their school or place of work. You may recall that I said as much standing up for Jake against David Brown.

The irony is that I stood up for Jake in the comments of my own blog, even though he despises me and I'm not too thrilled with him, either. Then Jake repays the favor by being complicit in trying to do exactly the same sort of thing that I defended him against. Never let it be said that a good deed goes unpunished. Here's hoping your good deed is an exception to that rule.


P.S. As much as you don't believe it, we are not enemies.

Now, dear readers, I’ll leave it to you to formulate an opinion as to the sincerity of his email. Personally, I didn’t feel it was very sincere. David saw that I was “taking his side” and wanted to cultivate a potential ally in these online autism wars.

However, what I see here is someone who is supremely arrogant and full of himself. He is ultimately proud of his knowledge and gladly and gleefully throws his credentials and assuredness in the face of anyone he talks to. He’s a doctor, damnit, so you had better listen to him because he knows more than all of us combined.

But, this isn’t science (ah, now he gets to the point!). Science is defined by an intense curiosity about the world around us. One of my favorite authors and scientists (and someone who David and I share considerable admiration for) Carl Sagan, to me, epitomizes what a scientist should be. He was knowledgeable. He was intensely curious about the world around him. And he was awed and humbled by what he did not know. Arrogance was not part of who he was because arrogance is the antithesis of science. He followed the philosophy of “the only thing I know for certain is that I don’t know everything.”

That, my friends, is what a scientist should be. Does this apply to David H. Gorski and his mob of mindless minions? I’ll let you be the judge of that.


  1. A quote from Sagan from Cosmos:

    "There are many hypotheses in science that are wrong. That's perfectly all right; it's the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny. The worst aspect of the Velikovsky affair is not that many of his ideas were wrong or silly or in gross contradiction to the facts; rather, the worst aspect is that some scientists attempted to suppress Velikovsky's ideas. The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge and there is no place for it in the endeavor of science. We do not know beforehand where fundamental insights will arise from about our mysterious and lovely solar system, and the history of our study of the solar system shows clearly that accepted and conventional ideas are often wrong and that fundamental insights can arise from the most unexpected sources."

  2. Josh,

    Sagan was a man well ahead of his time. Truly, he was a scientist with brilliant insight and a way with words that was profound.

  3. "That doesn’t sound like scientific skepticism, does it? It’s more like a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. That’s not science; that’s religion."

    It's also called dogma. His site, and many that he collaborate with are preaching dogma. The irony is thick.

    I think the ultimate display of arrogance from those fools is the coining of the term "science based medicine". If you read their definition carefully, they have decided that they don't like the definition of evidence based medicine because it includes what they consider modalities that they personally deem "scientifically implausible". In other words, if we don't understand the mechanism, then even if the evidence points to something we don't understand, it's not "science based".

    In reality, it's a completely arbitrary classification moderated by what they personally "believe" to be plausible. Everything else is not scientific and therefore should be casually disregarded.

    As you pointed out, this is completely contrary to the acceptance that our understanding is incomplete, and that curiousity should rule the day.

    You have provided yet more evidence that these are false skeptics, preaching dogma, and they try to shut out all discourse about any conflicting views while claiming heresy. What an appropriate observation to make at Christmas.

    Don't forget, we've touched on the false skeptic topic here before:

  4. We lost a great man and mind when Carl passed. I felt he went a little overboard with the denouncing of astrology (that said, I was so young at the time and maybe astrology needed to be knocked down if it was as rampant as the series portrayed), but for the most part Cosmos was wonderful, imaginative, and opens the universe for everyone. Unlike the so-called "science" hacks of today -- coughcough Dawkins -- Sagan refused to bleed the wonder out of the unknown, embraced curiosity, and was inclusive instead of elitist and exclusive.

  5. Craig, I've got a request/suggestion. Could you add categories to your blog? Make it easier to find a group of articles on a particular topic?

  6. Well said. I agree with your assessment of Dr. David H. Gorski's false skepticism.

  7. Minority, I will try a couple of different formats for categories. Right now, I have the labels up as a way to navigate. Please let me know if that works for you, or if you'd like me to try something different.

  8. the labels help, but, for example, it would be helpful for people who are fans of Schwartz to be able to find all of his articles, or for people who find Kwombles a pain to be able to find all of your articles discussing her blog. That is the sort of thing I was hoping for.

  9. "By their own admission, Ken and Jamie were breaking the rules of the conference by taking photographs of the event."

    Not true. I was not taking photographs, and I broke no rules. I registered in March under my own name. I paid my $25, and produced my receipt. My conduct was not disruptive, and nobody alleged that it was disruptive. Teri Arranga could not tell me why I was being ejected. Do you know something she doesn't?

    In the four hours I spent at the conference, I saw multiple instances of attendees taking photographs. The signs posted throughout conference referred only to video and audio recordings. Jamie took two photos, and she deleted them from her memory card in front of Teri Arranga and the Lombard officers. One photo was of the Generation Rescue lounge, and the other was of a sign at the hyperbaric oxygen display. But Teri did not tell Jamie she was being ejected for taking photographs. If that's what she told police, then that information will be in the official police report.

    I never admitted to taking a photograph. I did not take a photograph. If you are truly middle of the road, this might be a good opportunity for you to question why Generation Rescue is afraid to allow skeptics to attend their conference.

    Thank you for allowing me to comment.

  10. I'll copy this comment over to the proper article and respond to it when I get the chance.