An epic fail that’s closer to home

Yesterday, when I posted about several stories that I grouped under the collective category of epic fails, one commenter pointed out one that I’d forgotten to include, one within the skeptical community. The other day, Michael Shermer posted his semi-regular column on Skepticblog, a blog hosted by those involved in the yet-to-be-sold pilot episode of The Skepologists.

The problem is that Shermer used Skepticblog to once again promote his libertarian politics. Now I recognize that the skeptical community largely consists of two political persuasions, liberals and libertarians. And while I happen to belong to the former, I also recognize that some of the best skeptics I know are libertarians. However, I personally find libertarianism to be a very flawed ideology that takes a lot more on faith than otherwise rational libertarian skeptics would like to admit. And I feel that some skeptics have done an excellent job rationally dissecting and critiquing libertarianism, particularly when it seems to hinder the critical thinking of otherwise good skeptics.

But that’s not my objection to Shermer’s piece.

Not at all.

If he had posted a well-written critique of big government that included appropriate facts that were backed by evidence, I’d be a little concerned about his bringing politics into skepticism but would ultimately accept it as I too am prone to bringing abortion, gay marriage, public health care, religion, etc into skepticism when I feel that specific claims made by public figures are objectively false.

Again, while I don’t share Shermer’s politics, that is not the reason why I feel this is an inappropriate entry on Skepticblog. If he were to address finance from a science-based perspective or at least an evidence-based one, that would have been fine. However, that’s not the piece that Shermer had written. Instead, his piece on Skepticblog was an incoherent, logical-fallacy-filled rant about how much money is being spent by the Obama Administration.

One commenter using the name Ebenezer Clipperlock did a great job pointing out Shermer’s fallacies:

“Well, I am a skeptic, and I can find “appeal to emotion”, “a.o. incredulity”, “pulling out of context”, “association / causation” and “comparing apples with oranges”. I wonder if there are more. Interestingly, three of those are not on the oft cited list at http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx.

But sadly, many commenters have sided with Shermer. Though I couldn’t find one that supported the entry but said they disagreed with its subject matter. In fact, at least most of those supporting the piece not surprisingly happen to agree with his position. I’m not making an argument here. It’s just an observation, a depressing one considering one would expect readers of a skeptical blog to be more objective in their assessments.

Shermer’s rant is not a skeptical article and does not belong on a skeptical blog. Skeptics could sit around and argue politics till the apocalypse but that’s counterproductive and not the purpose Skepticblog is supposed to serve. It’s supposed to be promoting critical and evidence-based thinking.

I’m all for critiquing religion in skepticism from an evidence-based perspective and I’m all for critiquing political claims from an evidence-based perspective, whether it’s a position I agree with or not. But inserting one’s subjective political diatribes unbacked by evidential claims hurts not only Shermer’s own reputation but also hurts the credibility of the entire blog because if Shermer turns people off with his politics, the site might lose some readers entirely.

And lastly, to those who are cheering Shermer’s piece who happen to also share his position, please explain to me precisely how turning this forum into a political shouting match furthers the cause of skepticism? I really would like to know.

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One Response to An epic fail that’s closer to home

  1. JonA says:

    As someone who is more libertarian than liberal (I dislike unions and big government, but don’t believe in scrapping the Fed). Despite agreeing with some of Shermer’s politics I agree with you that it’s a bad idea to push an unscientific ideology/view on a skeptic blog. It’s divisive and confuses people what skepticism is about.

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