I distinguish between
"objective criticism" and "debunking.
The difference between the two forms of skepticism is basically
that a "true skeptic" asks for evidence to substantiate the
claim. This is important to prevent the acceptance of claims
that might be disinformation or delusional in nature. If
insufficient evidence is given, then s/he withholds judgment and
calls the claim unsubstantiated.
A genuine skeptic will
explore alternative explanations such as the evidence has been
withdrawn/tampered with by third parties, etc. Essentially, true
skeptics are critical but open minded. They won't accept
unsubstantiated claims, and will consider alternatives. They
often take an agnostic position on unverified claims.
The 'genuine skeptic' tends
to be respectful of the claims by experiencers that are personal
and therefore deeply emotional. Genuine skeptics tend to have a
scholarly background as in the case of Dr Haisch.
A debunker (pseudo- or pathological skeptic) on the other hand,
will say that the absence of sufficient evidence means that the
person is a fraud, liar, delusional, etc. Alternative
explanations such as the evidence has been withdrawn/tampered
with by third parties is dismissed as hogwash.
Debunkers take up extreme
positions on the claims of experiencers/whistleblowers who are
dismissively regarded as 'true believers', 'delusional' or
'disinformation agents'. Debunkers tend to have non-academic
backgrounds and develop strong prejudices through questionable
research methods. Their position closely resembles that of the
atheist, rather than the agnostic. They can be very
disrespectful towards experiencers or whistleblowers.
Debunking is the tactic used by many UFO researchers who claim
to use the scientific method. However, it's not science to call
someone a fraud/liar/delusional if insufficient evidence is
given. Nor is it science to dismiss alternative explanations
such as a "hard cover up" by national security agencies when
evidence is removed/tampered with, or witnesses silenced.
This is especially the case
with experiencers/whistleblowers, of 'benevolent'
extraterrestrial contact, who have a real problem with
intimidation/intervention by various government agencies.
agencies regularly intervene to prevent such information from
coming out into the open.
A Modern History of Debunkery
Symptoms of Pathological Skepticism
Zen... and The Art of Debunkery
- Or, How to Debunk
Just About Anything
A Modern History of Debunkery
An undocumented and possibly apocryphal timeline of classic debunkery,
assembled from anonymous internet sources:
"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the
ground to try and find oil? You're crazy!"
-Drillers whom Edwin L. Drake
tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859
"Well-informed people know it is
impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it
possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value."
Boston Post, 1865
"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."
Pierre Pachet, Professor of
Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
"The abdomen, the chest and the brain will forever be shut from the
intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon."
-Sir John Eric Ericksen,
British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria,
"This telephone has too many
shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.
The device is inherently of no value to us."
- An internal Western Union
"Radio has no future."
"X-rays are clearly a hoax".
"The airplane is scientifically
- Royal Society president Lord
"Everything that can be invented has
already been invented."
- Charles H. Duell, director
of the U.S. Patent Office, 1 899
"Airplanes are interesting toys but of
no military value."
-Marechal Ferdinand Foch,
Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre, circa 1910
"There is no likelihood man can ever tap
the power of the atom."
-Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert
"The wireless music box has no
imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to
nobody in particular?"
-David Sarnoff's associates in
response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
"Who the hell wants to hear actors
-H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927
"Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly bald.
Can dance a little."
- A film company's verdict on
Fred Astaire's screen test, 1928
"Stocks have reached what looks like a
permanently high plateau."
-Irving Fisher, Professor of
Economics, Yale University, 1 929.
"Television won't matter in your
lifetime or mine."
- Radio Times editor Rex
"A rocket will never be able to leave
the earth's atmosphere."
-The New York Times, 1936
"Forget it. No Civil War picture ever
made a nickel."
- MGM executive, advising
against investing in Gone With The Wind, 1938
"That rainbow song's no good. Take it
- MGM memo after first showing
of The Wizard Of Oz, 1939
"I think there is a world market for
maybe five computers."
- IBM chairman Thomas Watson,
"You'd better learn secretarial skills
or else get married."
- Modeling agency, rejecting
Marilyn Monroe in 1944
"The atom bomb will never go off - and I
speak as an expert in explosives."
- U.S. Admiral William Leahy
"Television won't last because people
will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."
-Producer Darryl Zanuck, 20th
Century Fox, 1946
"Computers in the future may weigh no
more than 1.5 tons."
-Popular Mechanics, forecasting the
relentless march of science, 1949
"If excessive smoking actually plays a
role in the production of lung
cancer, it seems to be a minor one."
-W.C. Heuper, National Cancer
"You aren't going nowhere, son. You
ought to go back to driving a truck."
-The Grand Ole Opry's Jim Denny to
Elvis Presley, 1 954
"I have traveled the length and breadth
of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure
you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year."
-The editor in charge of
business books for Prentice Hall, 1 957
"By 2000, politics will simply fade
away. We will not see any political parties."
-Visionary and inventor R.
Buckminster Fuller, 1 966
"If I had thought about it, I wouldn't
have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that
said you can't do this."
- Spencer Silver on the work that led
to the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It" Notepads, 1970
"So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey,
we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts,
and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We
just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And
they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said,
'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college
-Apple Computer Inc. founder
Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and
Steve Wozniak's personal computer, 1975
"There is no reason anyone would want a
computer in their home."
- Ken Olson, founder, chairman
& president of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977
"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
-Bill Gates, 1981
"To believe that Apple can somehow
succeed where all others have failed is to ignore some fundamental
realities of tablet computing."
- Randall C. Kennedy,
Infoworld, Dec. 22, 2009
Back to Contents
Symptoms of Pathological Skepticism
by William J. Beaty
Many members of the mainstream scientific community react with extreme
hostility when presented with certain claims.
This can be seen in their
emotional responses to current controversies such as,
...and numerous others.
The scientists react not with pragmatism and a
wish to get to the bottom of things, but instead with the same tactics
religious groups use to suppress heretics:
hostile emotional attacks
dehumanizing of the ‘enemy’
intellectually dishonest reasoning
underhanded debating tactics
...and all manner of name-calling and character
Two can play at that game! Therefore, I call their behavior “Pathological
Skepticism,” a term I base upon skeptics’ assertion that various
unacceptable ideas are “Pathological Science.” Below is a list of the
symptoms of pathological skepticism I have encountered, and examples of the
irrational reasoning they tend to produce.
(Note: all the quotes are artificial examples)
Belief that theories determine
phenomena, rather than the reverse
“The phenomenon you have observed is impossible, crazy stuff. We
know of no mechanism which could explain your results, so we have
grave suspicions about the accuracy your report. There is no room
for your results in modern theory, so they simply cannot exist. You
are obviously the victim of errors, hoaxers, or self-delusion. We
need not publish your paper, and any attempts at replicating your
results would be a waste of time. Your requests for funding are
misguided, and should be turned down.”
Erecting barriers against new ideas by
constantly altering the requirements for acceptance
(A practice called “moving the
“I’ll believe it when ‘X’ happens” (but when it does, this
immediately is changed to: “I’ll believe it when ‘Y’ happens.”)
“I won’t believe it until major laboratories publish papers in this
field. They have? That means nothing! Major labs have been wrong
before. I’ll believe it when stores sell products which use the
effect. They do? That means nothing, after all, stores sell magic
healing pendants and Ouija boards. I’ll believe it when a Nobel
Prize winning researcher gets behind that work. One has? Well that
means nothing! That person is probably old and dotty like Dr.
Pauling and his vitamin-C...” etc.
Belief that fundamental concepts in
science rarely change, coupled
with a “herd following” behavior where the individual changes
his/her opinions when colleagues all do, all the while remaining
blind to the fact that any opinions had ever changed.
“The study of (space flight, endosymbiosis, drillcore bacteria,
child abuse, cold fusion, etc.) has always been a legitimate
pursuit. If scientists ever ridiculed the reported evidence or tried
to stop such research, it certainly was not a majority of
scientists. It must have been just a few misguided souls, and must
have happened in the distant past.”
Belief that science is guided by
consensus beliefs and majority
rule, rather than by evidence.
Indulging in behavior which reinforces the negative effects of
consensus beliefs while minimizing the impact of any evidence which
contradicts those beliefs.
“I don’t care how good your evidence is, I won’t believe it until
the majority of scientists also find it acceptable. Your evidence
cannot be right, because it would mean that hundreds of textbooks
and thousands of learned experts are wrong.
Adopting a prejudiced stance
against a theory or an observed phenomena without first
investigating the details, then using this as justification for
refusing to investigate the details.
“Your ideas are obviously garbage. What, try to replicate your
evidence? I wouldn’t soil my hands. And besides, it would be a
terrible waste of time and money, since there’s no question about
Maintaining an unshakable stance of
hostile, intolerant disbelief,
and when anyone complains of this, accusing them of paranoid
Remaining blind to scientists’
widespread practice of intellectual suppression of unorthodox
findings, and to the practice of “expulsion of heretics” through
secret, back-room accusations of deviance or insanity.
“You say that no one will listen to your ideas, and now the funding
for your other projects is cut off for no reason? And colleagues are
secretly passing around a petition demanding that you be removed? If
you’re thinking along THOSE lines, then you obviously are delusional
and should be seeking professional help.”
Ignoring the lessons of history, and
therefore opening the way to repeating them again and again
“The scientists of old ridiculed the germ theory, airplanes, space
flight, meteors, etc. They were certain that science of the time had
everything figured out, and that major new discoveries were no
longer possible. Isn’t it good that we researchers of today are much
more wise, and such things can no longer happen?!”
Denial of the lessons of history
inability to admit that science has made serious mistakes in the
past. Maintaining the unwarranted conviction that good ideas and
discoveries have never been accidentally suppressed by
closed-mindedness, then revising history to fit this belief.
“Throughout history, the majority of scientists never ridiculed
flying machines, spacecraft, television, continental drift, reports
of ball lightning, meteors, sonoluminescence, etc. These discoveries
are not examples of so-called ‘paradigm shifts’, they are obvious
examples of the slow, steady, forward progress made by science!”
Using circular arguments
to avoid accepting evidence which supports unusual discoveries, or
to prevent publication of this evidence.
“I do not have to inspect the evidence because I know it’s wrong.
I know it’s wrong because I’ve never seen any positive evidence.”
“We will not publish your paper, since these results have not been
replicated by any other researchers. We will not publish your paper,
since it is merely a replication of work which was done earlier, by
Accusing opponents of delusion, lying,
or even financial fraud, where no
evidence for fraud exists other than the supposed impossibility of
evidence being presented.
“Don’t trust researchers who study parapsychology. They constantly
cheat and lie in order to support their strange worldviews. Very few
of them have been caught at it, but it’s not necessary to do so,
since any fool can see that the positive evidence for psi can only
be created by people who are either disturbed or dishonest.
that the unknown is in the far distance, not staring us in the face.
“Your evidence cannot be real because it’s not possible that
thousands of researchers could have overlooked it for all these
years. If your discovery was real, the scientists who work in that
field would already know about it.”
Belief that certain fields of science
are complete, that scientific
revolutions never happen, and that any further progress must occur
only in brushing up the details.
“Physics is a mature field. Future progress can only lie in
increasing the energies of particle accelerators, and in refining
the precision of well-known measurements. Your discovery cannot be
true, since it would mean we’d have to throw out all our hard-won
knowledge about physics.”
Excusing the ridicule, trivialization,
and the scorn which is directed
at ‘maverick’ ideas and at anomalous evidence. Insisting that
sneering and derisive emotional attacks constitute a desirable and
properly scientific natural selection force.
“It is right that new discoveries be made to overcome large
barriers. That way only the good ideas will become accepted. If some
important discoveries are suppressed in this process, well, that’s
just the price we have to pay to defend science against the
fast-growing hoards of crackpots who threaten to destroy it.”
Justifying any refusal to inspect
evidence by claiming a “slippery
slope.” Using the necessary judicious allocation of time and funding
as a weapon to prevent investigation of unusual, novel, or
“If we take your unlikely discovery seriously, all scientists
everywhere will have to accept every other crackpot idea too, and
then we’ll waste all of our time checking out crackpot claims.”
A blindness to phenomena
which do not fit the current belief
system, coupled with a denial
that beliefs affect perceptions.
“Thomas Kuhn’s ‘paradigm shifts’ and sociology’s ‘cognitive
dissonance’ obviously do not apply to average, rational scientists.
Scientists are objective, so they are not prone to the psychological
failings which plague normal humans. Scientists always welcome any
data which indicates a need to revise their current knowledge. Their
“beliefs” don’t affect their perceptions, scientists don’t have
“beliefs”, science is not a religion!
A belief that all scientific progress is
made by small, safe, obvious steps,
that widely-accepted theories are never overturned, and that no new
discoveries come from anomalies observed.
“All your observations are obviously mistakes. They couldn’t
possibly be real, because if they were real, it would mean that
major parts of current science are wrong, and we would have to
rewrite large portions of we know about physics. This never occurs.
Science proceeds by building on earlier works, never by tearing them
down. Therefore it is right that we reject evidence which
contradicts contemporary theory, and recommend that funding of such
research not be continued.”
Hiding any evidence of personal past
ridicule of ideas which are later
proved valid. Profound narcissism; an extreme need to always be
right, a fear of having personal errors revealed, and a habit of
silently covering up past mistakes.
“ X is obviously ridiculous, and its supporters are crack-
pots who are giving us a bad name and should be silenced.”
But if X is proved true, the assertion suddenly becomes:
“Since ‘X’ is obviously true, it follows that...”
Belief in the lofty status of modern
science but with consequent
blindness to, and denial of, its faults. A tendency to view shameful
events in the history of modern science as being beneficial, and a
lack of any desire to fix contemporary problems.
“It was right that Dr. Wegner’s career was damaged; that he was
treated as a crackpot, ridiculed, and died in shame. His evidence
for continental drift convinced no one. And besides, he did not
propose a mechanism to explain the phenomena.”
A belief that Business and the Press
have no tendency towards close-mindedness
and suppression of novelty, and that their actions are never guided
by the publicly-expressed judgment of scientists.
“If the Wright Brothers’ claims were true, we would be reading about
it in all the papers, and flying-machine companies would be
springing up left and right. Neither of these is occurring,
the Wright’s claims are obviously a lie and a hoax.
Refusing to be swayed
when other researchers find evidence supporting unconventional
phenomena or theories. If other reputable people change sides and
accept the unorthodox view, this is seen as evidence of their
gullibility or insanity, not as evidence that perhaps the
unconventional view is correct.
“I’ll believe it when someone like Dr. P believes it.”
But when Dr. P changes sides, this becomes:
“Dr. P did some great work in his early years, but then he destroyed
his career by getting involved with that irrational crackpot stuff.”
Elevating skepticism to a lofty position,
yet indulging in hypocrisy and opening the way to pathological
thinking by refusing to ever cast a critical, SKEPTICAL eye upon the
irrational behavior of scoffers.
“Criticizing skeptics is never beneficial. It even represents a
danger to science. One should never criticize science, it just gives
ammunition to the enemy; it aids the irrational, anti-science hoards
who would destroy our fragile edifice.”
Belief that modern scientists as a group
lack faults, and therefore
clinging to any slim justifications in order to ignore the arguments
of those who hope to eliminate the flaws in Science.
“I think we can safely ignore Thomas Kuhn’s STRUCTURES OF SCIENTIFIC
REVOLUTIONS. Despite his physics training we can see that Kuhn was
an outsider to science; he obviously doesn’t have a good grasp on
real science. Outsiders never can see things in the proper positive
light, it takes a working scientist to see the real situation. Also,
he stressed his central themes way too much, so I think we can
ignore him as simply being a sensationalist. And besides, if he’s
digging up dirt regarding science, then he must have a hidden
agenda. I bet we’ll find that he’s a Christian or something,
probably a creationist.”
Blindness to the widespread existence of
the above symptoms. Belief that
scientists are inherently objective, and rarely fall victim to these
faults. Excusing the frequent appearance of these symptoms as being
isolated instances which do not comprise an accumulation of evidence
for the common practice of Pathological Skepticism.
“’Pseudoskeptics’ do not exist.
Kooks and crackpots deserve the hostile
mistreatment and derisive belly laughs we give them, but anyone who does similar things to
skeptics is terribly misguided.
Those who criticize skeptics are a danger to Science itself."
Back to Contents
Zen... and The Art of Debunkery
Or, How to Debunk Just About Anything
by Daniel Drasin
Daniel Drasin is a writer,
media producer and award-winning documentary filmmaker based in the
San Francisco Bay Area.
He extends his profuse thanks
to those like-minded colleagues from whom, in composing this essay,
he has shamelessly borrowed some enviable turns of phrase.
So you've had a close encounter with
a UFO or its occupants.
Or maybe you've experienced an "impossible"
healing, a perfectly cogent conversation with your dead uncle or an
irrefutable demonstration of "free energy," and you've begun to suspect that
the official view of reality isn't the whole picture. Mention any of these
things to most working scientists and be prepared for anything from
patronizing cynicism to merciless ridicule.
After all, science is a purely hard-nosed
enterprise that should have little patience for "expanded" notions of
Like all systems of truth-seeking, the scientific method, applied with
integrity, has a profoundly expansive, liberating impulse at its core.
This "Zen" in the heart of science is revealed
when the practitioner sets aside arbitrary beliefs, cultural preconceptions
and groupthink, and approaches the nature of things with "beginner's mind."
Given the freedom to express itself, reality can speak freshly and freely,
and can be heard more clearly. Appropriate testing and objective validation
can then follow in due course.
Seeing with humility, curiosity and fresh eyes was once the main point of
But today it is often a different story. As the
scientific enterprise has been bent toward exploitation, commercialization,
institutionalization, hyper-specialization and new orthodoxy, it has
increasingly preoccupied itself with disconnected facts in a psychological,
social and ecological vacuum.
So divorced has official science become from the
greater scheme of things, that it tends to deny or disregard entire domains
of reality and to satisfy itself with reducing all of life and consciousness
to a dead physics.
In forgetting that all knowledge is provisional and subject to new
discovery, mainstream science seems to be treading the weary path of the
ossified religions it presumed to replace. Where free, dispassionate inquiry
once reigned, emotions now run high in the defense of a fundamentalized
As anomalies mount up beneath a sea of denial,
defenders of the Faith and the Kingdom cling with increasing
self-righteousness to the hull of a leaking paradigm. Faced with provocative
evidence of things undreamt of in their philosophy, many otherwise mature
scientists revert to a kind of reactive infantilism characterized by blind
faith in the absoluteness of the familiar.
Small wonder, then, that so many promising fields of inquiry remain shrouded
in superstition, ignorance, denial, disinformation, taboo... and debunkery.
What is "debunkery?" Essentially it is the attempt to debunk (invalidate)
new fields of discovery by substituting scientistic rhetoric for scientific
While informed skepticism is an integral part of the scientific method,
professional debunkers - often called "kneejerk skeptics" - tend to be
skeptics in name only, and to speak with little or no authority on the
subject matter of which they are so passionately skeptical. At best,
debunkers will occasionally expose other people's errors; but for the most
part they purvey their own brand of pseudoscience, fall prey to their own
superstition and gullibility, and contribute little to the actual
advancement of knowledge. As such, they well and truly represent the Right
Wing of science.
To throw this reprobate behavior into bold - if somewhat comic - relief, I
have composed a useful "how-to" guide for aspiring debunkers. This manual
includes special sections devoted to debunking extraterrestrial
intelligence, alternative healing methods, astrology and "free energy." I
spotlight these fields not because I necessarily support all related claims,
but because they are among the most aggressively and thoughtlessly debunked
subjects in the whole of modern history.
Many of the debunking strategies laid bare here have been adapted nearly
verbatim from the classic works of history's most remarkable debunkers.
Though they often cross the threshold of absurdity under their own steam, I
confess I have nudged a few across it myself for the sake of making a point.
As for the rest, their fallacious reasoning, fanatical bigotry, twisted
logic and sheer goofiness will sound frustratingly familiar to those who
have dared explore beneath oceans of denial and disingenuousness, and have
attempted in good faith to report their observations.
So without further ado...
HOW TO DEBUNK JUST ABOUT ANYTHING
I. SETTING THE STAGE
Before commencing to debunk, prepare
your equipment. Equipment needed: one armchair.
Put on the right face. Cultivate a
condescending air certifying that your personal opinions are backed
by the full faith and credit of God. Adopting a disdainful,
upper-class manner is optional but highly recommended.
Employ vague, subjective, dismissive
terms such as "ridiculous," "trivial," "crackpot," or "bunk," in a
manner that purports to carry the full force of scientific
Keep your arguments as abstract and
theoretical as possible. This will send the message that accepted
theory overrides any actual evidence that might challenge it - and
that therefore no such evidence is worth examining.
By every indirect means at your disposal
imply that science is powerless to police itself against fraud and
misperception, and that only self-appointed vigilantism can save it
Project your subjective opinions from
beneath a cloak of ostensible objectivity. Always characterize
unorthodox statements as "claims," which are "touted," and your own
assertions as "facts," which are "stated."
II. REDEFINING SCIENCE
Portray science not as an open-ended
process of discovery but as a pre-emptive holy war against invading
hordes of quackery-spouting infidels. Since in war the ends justify
the means, you may fudge, stretch or violate the scientific method,
or even omit it entirely, in the name of defending it.
Equate the narrow, stringent, rigorous
and critical elements of science with all of science, while
summarily dismissing the value of inquiry, exploration and
Though stubborn negativity can no more
be equated with science than a braking system can be equated with an
automobile, insist that science consists wholly of the ruthless
application of doubt. If anyone objects, accuse them of viewing
science in exclusively fuzzy, subjective, or mystical terms.
Likewise, while it would be ridiculous
to equate a vehicle with a particular destination, declare that
"science equals the existing body of scientific conclusions!"
Reinforce the popular misconception that
certain areas of inquiry are inherently unscientific. In other
words, deliberately confuse the process of science with the content
of science. If someone should point out that science must be neutral
to subject matter, and only the investigative process can be valid
or flawed, dismiss such objections using a method employed
successfully by generations of politicians: simply reassure everyone
that "there is no contradiction here!"
While insisting with one side of your
mouth that the scientific method is universal in its application and
should be free to inquire into anything whatsoever, use the other
side to deem it ineffectual when applied to unpopular subject
matter. Be sure to assert, in time-honored conservative fashion,
that "freedom isn't license,"... and that "some questions are best
left to the theologians!"
Declare that the progress of science
depends on explaining the unknown in terms of the known. In other
words, science equals reductionism. You can apply the reductionist
approach in any situation by discarding more and more and more
evidence until what little is left can be explained entirely in
terms of established knowledge.
Downplay the fact that free inquiry and
legitimate disagreement are a normal part of science.
Insist that mainstream Western science
is completely objective, and is uninfluenced by covert beliefs,
untestable assumptions, ideological biases, political pressures or
commercial interests. If an unfamiliar or inexplicable phenomenon
happens to be considered true or useful by a nonwestern or other
traditional society, you may dismiss it out of hand as "anecdotal
nonsense," "ignorant misconception," "medieval superstition" or
Declare that individual temperament,
personality type and human emotions exert no influence whatsoever on
the objectivity of "real" scientists. Ignore the fact that the
denial of emotions, prejudices, idiosyncrasies and plain old human
insecurity can exert powerful subconscious influences on the
scientific enterprise, often with hilariously unscientific results.
Avoid addressing the many historical
parallels between the emergence of science and that of democracy,
both of which originally rested on the revolutionary foundations of
independent thought, honest inquiry, the free flow of information
and the questioning of established authority.
Reinforce the popular fiction that our
scientific knowledge is complete and finished. Do this by asserting
that "if such-and-such discovery were legitimate, then surely we
would already know about it!"
Assert that nothing can possibly occur
that circumvents Newton's 17th-century formulations of physical law.
If someone should remind you that the 17th century did not have the
last word on physics, change the subject as deftly as you can.
Characterize any inquiry into a genuine
mystery as "indiscriminate," while equating the summary dismissal of
unorthodox ideas with "intelligent discrimination."
If someone reminds you that "in science,
one point of view requires as much proof or disproof as another,"
invoke the irrelevant truism that "orthodox beliefs have already
State categorically that the
unconventional may be dismissed as, at best, an honest
misinterpretation of the conventional.
If pressed about your novel
interpretations of the scientific method, declare that
"intellectual integrity is a subtle issue!"
At every opportunity extoll the virtues
of "critical thinking," while behaving as if the phrase means
nothing more than ruthless negativity. Avoid explaining that
critical thinking presupposes a willingness to examine all sides of
an issue with equal rigor.
III. LIBERATING THE RULES OF EVIDENCE
When an anomaly rears its head, avoid
examining the actual evidence, and at all costs do not accompany
claimants to their laboratories or to the sites of their
observations. This will allow you to say with impunity, "I have seen
absolutely no evidence to support such ridiculous claims!" (Note
that this technique has withstood the test of time and dates back at
least to the age of Galileo. By simply refusing to look through his
telescope, the ecclesiastical authorities bought the Church over
three centuries' worth of denial free and clear!)
Having avoided examining the evidence,
cover your tracks by reassuring your critics that, after all, you
would certainly "have loved to be honored as a champion of such
fantastic phenomena, so why in the world wouldn't I examine the
If examining the evidence becomes
unavoidable, report back that "there is nothing new here!" If
confronted by a watertight body of evidence that has survived the
most rigorous tests, simply dismiss it as being "too pat."
Deny the possibility of phenomena for
which no plausible explanations have been advanced. Ignore such
contrary examples as the existence of disease prior to the discovery
of microbes, the sun's copious production of energy long before the
discovery of nuclear fusion, and the stubborn persistence of gravity
despite our stubborn ignorance of its inner workings.
With an air of disdain, assert that
"most scientists regard such claims as nonsense!" - implying that
you have surveyed the opinions of 51% of the world's scientists and
found them to be in absolute agreement with your views.
Convince the world of your divine
omniscience by declaring that "there is no evidence for X!" After
all, only someone who knows everything can claim that no evidence
for X exists anywhere in the universe.
Argue that "some things are possible but
not probable!"... although to know all that is or is not probable
would demand complete knowledge of every dimension of reality in the
universe and beyond.
If a card-carrying debunker expresses a
willingness to actually examine an anomalous claim in depth,
excoriate him at once for "abandoning his objectivity."
Equate expertise in an unorthodox
subject with a-priori bias in its favor. Then, using yourself as an
example, assert that only a complete ignoramus can possibly be
trusted to examine it without prejudice.
Since the public tends to be unclear
about the distinction between evidence and proof, do your best to
help maintain this murkiness. If absolute proof is lacking, state
categorically that "there is no evidence!"
When presented with mountains of data
supporting the existence of an anomaly, declare that "since the
probability of its being true is zero, it would take an infinite
amount of data to prove it!"
If sufficient evidence has been
presented to warrant further investigation of an unusual phenomenon,
argue that "evidence alone proves nothing!" Ignore the fact that
preliminary evidence is not supposed to prove ANYthing.
Publicly praise the debunkers who
invented the "absolute proof" criterion - i.e., that ironclad proof
must be attained before an unorthodox claim can gain sufficient
respectability to be discussed seriously. (And a brilliant move it
was, because, in practice, "proof" is a matter of mainstream
scientific consensus. So a marginalized phenomenon can never
actually be "proven!")
If presented with copious documentary
evidence supporting an unorthodox claim, wave it off and declare
"It's only words on paper; no reason to take any of it seriously!"
Imply that proof precedes evidence. This
will eliminate the possibility of initiating any meaningful process
of investigation - particularly if no criteria of proof have yet
been established for the phenomenon in question.
Insist that criteria of proof cannot
possibly be established for phenomena that do not exist!
Although science is not supposed to
tolerate vague or double standards, always insist that
unconventional phenomena must be judged by a separate, yet
ill-defined, set of scientific rules. Do this by declaring that
"extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence!" - but take
care never to specify where the "ordinary" ends and the
"extraordinary" begins, or who gets to draw the line. This will
allow you to manufacture an infinitely receding horizon that keeps
"extraordinary" evidence just out of reach at any point in time.
In the same manner, insist on classes of
evidence that are impossible to obtain. For example, declare that
unidentified aerial phenomena may be considered real only if we can
bring them into laboratories to strike them with hammers and analyze
their physical properties. Disregard the accomplishments of the
inferential sciences - astronomy, for example - which gets on just
fine without bringing actual planets, stars, galaxies and black
holes into its labs and striking them with hammers.
At every opportunity reinforce the
notion that familiarity equals rationality. The unfamiliar is
therefore irrational, and consequently inadmissible as evidence.
"Occam's Razor," or the "principle of
parsimony," says the correct explanation of a mystery will usually
involve the simplest fundamental principles. Insist, therefore, that
the most familiar explanation is by definition the simplest! While
you're at it, imply strongly that Occam's Razor is not merely a
philosophical tool that cuts whichever way you point it, but an
immutable law that always supports your particular views.
Equate a lack of familiar, obvious, hard
evidence with proof of non-existence. Skirt the fact that many
common transient phenomena (the passing of a bird, a breeze, radio
waves, light...) demonstrably exist without leaving behind gross,
collectable evidence as a souvenir, and that many things may exist
for which evidence has not yet been found, has been ignored, or is
subject to interpretation.
Decree that what lies outside the
current scientific framework "cannot exist." Since evidence for the
existence of what "cannot exist" cannot itself exist, declare that
the application of due scientific process to its investigation would
be an exercise in futility.
As needed, repeat the absurd, bromidic
flatulence: "believe no evidence that hasn't been confirmed by
IV. MASSAGING THE CONTEXT
Make every effort to marginalize any
groundbreaking field of inquiry. This will ensure its attracting a
coterie of disgruntled eccentrics who will then self-discredit the
field in perpetuity without your having to lift a finger. If this
fails to occur spontaneously, quietly engage some unemployed
disgruntled eccentrics to jumpstart the chain reaction.
Bear in mind that once a field has been
successfully marginalized, papers in that field tend to be excluded
from the normal processes of scientific assessment and barred from
publication in mainstream scientific journals. So seize every
opportunity to excoriate investigators in such fields for their
"failure to publish in mainstream scientific journals!"
Maintain that in investigations of
unconventional phenomena, a single flaw invalidates the whole.
Regarding possibly-flawed conventional studies, however you may
sagely opine that, "after all, situations are complex and human
beings are imperfect."
Despite copious evidence to the
contrary, assert that conventional science is immune to fraud, and
that any evidence of data-fudging in the mainstream is "purely
Trivialize the case by trivializing the
entire field in question. Characterize the study of orthodox
phenomena as deep and time-consuming, while deeming unorthodox
studies so insubstantial as to demand nothing more than a scan of
the tabloids. If pressed on this, shrug your shoulders, raise your
eyebrows, shake your head, turn up your palms and simply say, with
mock puzzlement, "but there's nothing there to study!"
Discourage any study of history that may
reveal today's dogma as yesterday's heresy.
V. HANDY TIPS AND TRICKS
Use debunkery itself as a-priori
disproof. Gesture as if brushing away a housefly and simply assert,
"Oh, that's been widely debunked."
Put on conservative airs and calmly
report that unorthodox claims "appear not to accord with existing
Practice debunkery-by-association. Lump
together all phenomena popularly deemed unorthodox and suggest that
their proponents and researchers speak with a single voice. In this
way you can indiscriminately drag material across disciplinary lines
or from one case to another to support your views as needed. For
example, if a claim having some superficial similarity to the one at
hand has been (or is popularly assumed to have been) exposed as
fraudulent, cite it as if it were an appropriate example. Then put
on a gloating smile, lean back in your armchair and calmly say, "I
rest my case."
At every opportunity invoke the
unassailability of cold logic. Ignore the fact that logic, however
watertight, can never be more true or useful than the unconscious
assumptions and fudged data underlying its application.
Keep an arsenal of scientistic buzzwords
at the tip of your tongue. So armed, you can effortlessly explain
away even the most firmly acknowledged mysteries with a few
impressive phrases and a wave of your hand. For example, the
undeniable but incomprehensible facts of animal migration may be
definitively ascribed to a "biological spatio-temporal
vector-navigation program." Likewise, you may call upon such
quasi-substantial conceptual conveniences as "biological clock,"
"self-organization" and "cellular memory" to deflate any suggestion
that orthodox science may lack satisfactory explanations for
intractably puzzling phenomena.
Establish a crusading "Scientific Truth
Foundation" staffed and funded by a hive of fawning acolytes. Then
purport to offer a million-dollar reward to anyone who can
repeatably demonstrate a paranormal phenomenon. Set the bar for
paranormality nowhere in particular. Set the bar for repeatability
at a "generous" 98%, safely ensuring that even normal scientific
studies that demand a mere preponderance of evidence, or average
results above chance, would fail to qualify for the prize. Should
someone actually meet or exceed your criteria you can effortlessly
dismiss their claim by pointing out that they'd just proven the
phenomenon to be perfectly normal!
Having established the "Scientific Truth
Prize," discontinue it - with great fanfare - on grounds that it
would be pointless. After all, since nobody had claimed the prize,
the paranormal must be bunk!
When confronted with the notion that
openmindedness may be a good thing, declare that "you don't want
your mind to be so open that your brains fall out!" If anyone should
point out that it is the skull, not the mind, that encloses the
brain, or that an open mind would make things fall IN, not out, put
on a dyspeptic scowl and bark "oh, come on, let's lighten up!"
Learn to psychologize meaninglessly: You
can always don an apparent cloak of wisdom by regurgitating such
obvious, universal truths as "Of course, people always see what
they're looking for." Never let on that, by definition, universal
truths also apply to oneself.
Use the word "imagination" as an epithet
that applies only to seeing what's not there, and not to denying
what is there. For example, accuse people of "imagining they see
UFOs," while you, of course, imagine that they don't.
If a significant number of people agree
that they have observed something that violates the consensus
reality, simply ascribe it to "mass hallucination." Avoid addressing
the possibility that the consensus reality might itself constitute a
If ten teams of scientists at
independent laboratories have successfully replicated an unorthodox
phenomenon, complain that the work of those ten teams, taken
together, "has not been replicated!"
When applying the term "controversial,"
do so with a wink, a half-smile, and an undertone of belittling
Invoke the names of famous people. For
example, in response to an opponent's cogent argument you may reply
with annoyance, "My God, have you never read Nietzsche?" (If someone
should remind you that Nietzsche routinely excoriated cowardly
rationalizers of the status-quo, deftly co-opt the situation by
retorting, "My point, exactly!")
Accuse investigators of unusual
phenomena of believing in "invisible forces and extrasensory
realities!" If they should point out that the physical sciences
routinely deal with both of these (Gravity? Electromagnetism? Subtle
chemistry? Nuclear phenomena? Quantum effects?) respond with a
condescending chuckle that this is "a naive interpretation of the
Label any poorly understood phenomenon
"occult," "fringe," "metaphysical," "mystical," "weird,"
"supernatural," "paranormal" or "new-age." This will get most
mainstream scientists off the case immediately on purely emotional
grounds. If you're lucky, this may delay any responsible
investigation of such phenomena by decades or even centuries!
Characterize any phenomenon as
"paranormal" whose actual degree of normalcy cannot be gauged in the
first place due to perverse social taboos that effectively prohibit
its open discussion and systematic investigation. For example, if
half the population talked to their deceased great uncles twice a
week, it would be considered normal, not paranormal. But how can we
possibly determine whether they do or they don't?
Imply that mainstream religion is the
only philosophical alternative to materialistic science. Therefore,
anyone researching nonmaterial aspects of reality must believe in an
anthropomorphic Judaeo-Christian God.
Declare that since nature's laws appear
to be fixed and eternal, one's understandings and interpretations of
nature's laws must be correspondingly fixed and eternal.
When a rigorous parapsychology
experiment shows only chance results, accept it as conclusive
disproof of psychic functioning. When it shows well above chance,
attribute it definitively to "cherry-picking the evidence."
If there is anything especially brazen
you wish to assert but for considerations of scientific protocol or
civil law, just say "it is widely believed that..." - a universally
handy phrase that lets you say just about anything without fear of
criticism, contradiction or legal jeopardy.
When nailed for your abysmal ignorance
of the subject at hand, declare that "everyone is entitled to their
Your diligence in debunkery must reflect
your constant awareness that you are working at a disadvantage.
After all, the facts must adhere to your theories 100% of the time
without fail, while researchers of the unorthodox only have to get
it right once. So hedge your bets by pigeonholing resistant cases as
"leftovers" or "residue". This will imply that they are just a
small, expectable percentage of anomalies that existing theories
will explain sooner or later.
VI. CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK
Keep your opponents' positions from
being heard and understood by vigorous finger-pointing and by
mounting an impenetrable barrage of meaningless rhetorical invective
such as "Not even wrong!," "Junk science!," "Mere speculation!,"
"Snake oil!" and so forth. To avoid betraying your own de-facto
contempt for the scientific method, pound athletically on the arm of
your chair and vociferously condemn "pseudoscience!!"
Wield the term "pseudoscience"
indiscriminately - for example, to attack claims that never
purported to be scientific in the first place (i.e., empirical
observations not yet ensconced in theory or tested scientifically)
as well as claims arrived at by perfectly scientific means but which
remain debatable or unresolved.
Direct your most vociferous accusations
of pseudoscience against those fields in which occasional fraud has
in fact been perpetrated. Do this despite the fact that most such
fraud has been exposed by insiders, not outside critics, and that
such revelations say more about the effectiveness of measures
against fraud within those fields than about their weakness.
VII. RIDICULE TO THE RESCUE!
If reasoned argument is unavailable to
you, or if you have been shamed for your unscientific behavior, you
can always fall back on the single most chillingly effective weapon
in the war against discovery and innovation: Ridicule! Ridicule has
the unique power to make those unfamiliar with the facts go
completely unconscious in a twinkling. It fails to sway only those
few who are well enough informed, or of sufficiently independent
mind, not to buy into the kind of emotional consensus that ridicule
By appropriate innuendo and example,
imply that ridicule constitutes an essential feature of the
scientific method that can raise the level of objectivity and
dispassionateness with which any investigation is conducted.
Bear in mind that sufficiently
persistent ridicule can push its victims over the edge into
bitterness, anger, homicidal insanity and a colorful spectrum of
sociopathic behaviors guaranteed to discredit their views.
VIII. GETTING TECHNICAL
Employ "TCP": Technically Correct
Pseudo-refutation; i.e., if someone remarks that all great truths
began as blasphemies, respond immediately that not all blasphemies
have become great truths. Because your response was technically
correct, no one will notice that it did not really refute the
With a wave of your hand, declare that
"people get taken in by all kinds of unfounded beliefs!" The
technical truth of this statement will effectively mask the fact
that it does not necessarily apply to the situation at hand, or that
it may just as well apply to your own inestimable capacity for
IX. SLEIGHT OF MIND
Engage the services of a professional
stage magician who can appear to mimic the phenomena in question;
for example, ESP, psychokinesis or levitation. This will convince
the public that the original witnesses to such phenomena must have
been duped by talented conjurors who happened to be passing through
that day and hoaxed the original phenomena in precisely the same
Always consider eyewitness testimony
regarding anomalous events inadmissibly "anecdotal" no matter the
caliber of the witnesses, how mutually independent their
observations, or how firmly they agree on what they saw.
When a witness or claimant states
something in a manner that is not 100% scientifically perfect, treat
this as if it were not scientific at all. If the claimant is not a
credentialed scientist, argue that his or her perceptions cannot
possibly be accurate, intelligent or authoritative. The sole
exceptions would be the professional illusionist and fellow
debunkers, whose views may always be deemed objective in any field
regardless of their actual degree of relevant expertise.
If independent investigators verify or
successfully replicate an unorthodox claim, insist that "they must
have been in collusion with the claimants!" If called upon to
justify your certainty, reply that it was "self-evident, due to the
nature of the claim!"
Find a prosaic phenomenon that, to the
uninitiated, resembles the claimed phenomenon. Then suggest that the
existence of the commonplace look-alike logically forbids the
existence of the genuine article. For example, imply that since
people often see "faces" in rocks, clouds and oatmeal, the enigmatic
faces on Mars must be similar illusions and are therefore unworthy
Use "smoke and mirrors," i.e.,
obfuscation and illusion. Never forget that a slippery mixture of
fact, opinion, innuendo, irrelevant information and outright lies
will fool most of the people most of the time. As little as one part
fact to ten parts B.S. will usually do the trick. (Some veteran
debunkers use homeopathic dilutions of fact with remarkable
success!) Cultivate the art of slipping back and forth between fact
and fiction so undetectably that the flimsiest foundation of truth
will always appear to firmly support your entire edifice of opinion.
Remember that you can easily appear to
refute anyone's claims by building "straw men" to demolish. One way
to do this is to misquote them while preserving a convincing grain
of truth; for example, by acting as if they have intended the
extreme of any position they've taken. Another effective strategy
with a long history of success is simply to mis-replicate their
experiments, or to avoid replicating them at all on grounds that to
do so would be "ridiculous" or "fruitless." To make the whole
process even easier, respond not to their actual claims but to their
claims as reported by the media, or as propagated in popular myth.
Deploy the "just because" argument:
First find an internet posting that supports a particular unorthodox
view. Then, while carefully ignoring the substantive evidence for
it, accuse people of believing it "just because they read about it
on the internet."
Insist that such-and-such unorthodox
claim is not scientifically testable because no self-respecting
grant-making organization would fund such ridiculous tests!
Equate the apparent discrediting of
claimants with actual disproof of their claims.
X. USING QUESTIONS AS WEAPONS
Use a question as negative proof.
Example: "There can be no extraterrestrial visitors because how
would they get here fast enough across light-years of space?"
Ask questions that appear to contain
generally-assumed knowledge that supports your views; for example,
"why do no military brass, police officers, air traffic controllers
or psychiatrists report UFOs?" If someone points out that they have
done so for years, insist that they must all be mentally unstable.
Ask unanswerable questions based on
arbitrary criteria of proof. For example, "if this claim were true,
why haven't we seen it on TV?" or "in this or that scientific
journal?" Never forget the mother of all such questions: "If UFOs
are extraterrestrial, why haven't they landed on the White House
XI. HARNESSING THE MEDIA
Shield your views from the possibility
of effective rebuttal by expressing them exclusively in the popular
media. Avoid peer-reviewed scientific journals, which demand
informed discourse and typically allow those criticized to respond.
Arrange to have your opinions echoed in
the popular media by political, academic or cultural icons. The
degree to which you can stretch the truth is directly proportional
to the prestige of your mouthpiece.
At the slightest suggestion that the
light of science may be shone into previously forbidden territory,
make yourself available to media producers who seek "fair and
balanced" reporting of unorthodox views. But agree to participate
only in those presentations whose time constraints and editorial
policies preclude such luxuries as discussion, debate, and
systematic presentation of evidence.
Hold claimants responsible for the
production values, editorial tastes and audience-demographics of any
media or press that reports their claim. If an unusual or
inexplicable event is reported in a sensationalized manner, hold
this as proof that the event itself must have been without substance
Co-opt the cluelessness of mainstream
publications: Make an example of the Scientific American, which for
three years refused to report on the Wright Brothers' first
successful powered flight. Characterize this historic gaffe as a
"textbook example of prudent journalistic conservatism."
Remember that most people have
insufficient time or expertise for careful discrimination, and tend
to accept or reject the whole of an unfamiliar situation. So
discredit the whole story by attempting to discredit part of the
take one element of a case completely out of
find something prosaic that hypothetically could explain
just this element
declare that therefore this one element has
book the National Press club, invite the media,
and announce to the world that the entire case has been explained!
XII. GETTING PERSONAL
If you're unable to attack the facts of
the case, attack the participants - or the journalists who reported
the case. Ad-hominem arguments, or personality attacks, are among
the most effective ways of swaying the public and avoiding the
issue. For example, if investigators of the unorthodox have profited
financially from activities connected with their research, accuse
them of "profiting financially from activities connected with their
research!" If their research, publishing, speaking tours and so
forth, constitute their normal line of work or sole means of
support, hold that fact up as "conclusive proof that income is being
realized from such activities!" If they have labored long and hard
to achieve recognition for their work, you may safely characterize
them as "publicity seekers."
Label any serious investigator of the
unorthodox a "buff" or "freak," or as "self-styled"
- the media's
favorite code-word for "bogus." In a pinch, "conspiracy theorist"
will cover just about anyone expressing any unorthodox view
Contact a major university and arrange
to stage a debate there between yourself and researchers of
unorthodox phenomena. Put up posters exhorting professors to "bring
your students and expose them to science vs. pseudoscience!" Since
such inflammatory language is not conducive to dispassionate debate,
said researchers are likely to decline to participate, leaving them
open to accusations of having "shrunk from the challenge!" The
effectiveness of this strategy presupposes that those wily
researchers do not counter-propose a debate whose posters read
"bring your students and expose them to a potentially historic
confrontation between courageous, paradigm-busting researchers armed
with indisputable evidence vs. cowardly, brain-dead, party-line
pedants and officious, dogmatic buffoons who have been smoked out of
their ivory towers onto a level playing field."
XIII. HARNESSING THE POWER OF BELIEF
Characterize leading-edge researchers as
"true believers." Avoid betraying the fact that, virtually by
definition, debunkers are themselves world-class true believers,
albeit in the status quo.
Imply that making mere reference to, or
expressing interest in, an unorthodox view equals blind belief and
absolute advocacy. Then demand that all such "zealots" know all the
answers to their most puzzling questions in complete detail ahead of
Switch on the charm. Convince people of
your own "sincerity" by reassuring them that you yourself would
"love to believe in these fantastic phenomena." Carefully sidestep
the fact that science is not about believing or disbelieving, but
about finding out.
Diligent research that has been forced
underground by the scientific establishment's attitudes, and is
therefore unfamiliar or inaccessible to the general public, is easy
to debunk. Simply insist, with a patronizing smirk, that such
"alleged research" consists solely of "beliefs."
XIV. THE JOY OF FABRICATION
Fabricate supportive expertise as needed
by quoting the opinions of those in fields popularly assumed to
include the necessary knowledge. Astronomers, for example, may be
trotted out as experts on the UFO question, although studies in
ufology have never been a prerequisite for a degree in astronomy.
Fabricate confessions. If a phenomenon
stubbornly refuses to go away, hire a couple of colorful old geezers
to claim they hoaxed it. The press and the public will always tend
to view confessions as sincerely motivated, and will promptly
abandon their critical faculties. After all, nobody wants to appear
to lack compassion for self-confessed sinners.
Fabricate sources of disinformation.
Claim that you've "found the person who started the rumor that such
a phenomenon exists!"
Fabricate entire research projects.
Declare that "these claims have been thoroughly discredited by the
top experts in the field!" Do this whether or not such experts have
ever actually studied the claims, or, for that matter, even exist.
XV. DEBUNKING UNORTHODOX HEALING PRACTICES
If an unorthodox healing practice has
failed to reverse a case of terminal illness you may deem it
worthless - while taking care to avoid mentioning any similar
failures of conventional medicine.
If an unorthodox healing practice does
appear to have successfully reversed a case of terminal illness, you
may summarily attribute it to "chance" - or to that useful
catch-all, "spontaneous remission." After all, conventional
medicine, which always has the last word, had already thrown up its
hands. So what, besides "chance," could possibly have turned this
lucky patient around?
Declare homeopathy and acupuncture
dangerous superstitions because the principles of allopathic
medicine cannot explain them. Equate their successes with the
placebo effect, while carefully avoiding any allusions to their
successful application in veterinary and pediatric medicine.
Ignore the fact that the placebo effect
itself, whose reality is fully acknowledged by modern medical
science, can no more be explained in conventional terms than can
homeopathy or acupuncture.
Insist that there is "no credible
evidence" for the efficacy of unorthodox healing methods. In this
way you may retain the appearance of scientific integrity while
rejecting all supportive evidence because it is, to your mind, "not
XVI. DEBUNKING ASTROLOGY
Point out that astrologers have failed
to design research protocols and run controlled tests to provide
evidence for the validity of their art that would meet your personal
standards. Ignore the problem of acquiring research funds in fields
toward which the academic community has consistently expressed such
outright hostility as to make any such fundraising impossible.
Dismiss as a "fluke" the results of the
"Mars-effect" research that does appear to support certain aspects
of astrology on mainstream science's own terms.
Although competing views are considered
a sign of healthy debate in science, and doctors earn a respectable
income providing second opinions, assert that there is "disagreement
among astrologers on how certain celestial configurations are to be
Just as you might invoke Dear Abby to
discredit the entire field of psychology, invoke newspaper
horoscopes as the paradigm example of astrology. Then ask
sarcastically "Oh, come on. What is the likelihood that one twelfth
of the world's population is having the same kind of day?"
Ask "If astrologers are effective, why
aren't they filthy, stinking rich?" - as if astrologers envied the
status of the rich and sought to adopt their attitudes and emulate
Although astrology contends that
conditions change over time, insist that should science ever
evaluate it, it should do so on the "time-honored" basis of randomly
timed samples. In that way, the changes that might otherwise have
been predictable by the astrologer can be dismissed as "mere
Declare that astrology must be bogus
because it was long practiced before the discovery of the three
outermost planets and various asteroids. Ignore the fact that
astronomy was also long practiced before the discovery of those same
planets and asteroids.
XVII. DEBUNKING "FREE ENERGY" AND "COLD FUSION"
Although "free-energy" researchers tend
to claim only that their processes convert one form of energy to
another, always accuse them of naively believing that they're
"getting something for nothing!"
If someone announces a working
"free-energy" device, avoid actually testing it on grounds that
doing so would be a "waste of time." Declare it fraudulent a-priori
on the basis of its appearing to violate 19th-century laws of
thermodynamics. Ignore the fact that ordinary nuclear reactors
blatantly violate 19th-century laws of thermodynamics by producing
massive amounts of heat from stone-cold fuel rods.
Declare that permanent magnets cannot
possibly power a motor, just as surely as the north wind blows all
things southward. Diligently avoid the fact that even relatively
simple devices can do "impossible" things when properly configured;
for example, sailboats - which can sail into the wind.
Trumpet the obvious fact that
free-energy devices would not themselves be free of cost - though no
free-energy advocate has ever claimed they would be.
Despite multiple confirmations at
independent, university and government labs in many countries
(including the US Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center) over
several decades, insist that Low-Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR),
popularly known as "cold fusion," has never been confirmed because
"everyone knows it's a joke!"
Publish a book titled "Cold Fusion - The
Scientific Fiasco of the Century." The mere title may then be
trotted out in lieu of actual disconfirming evidence.
Claim that "nuclear fusion at room
temperature would be contrary to current understanding and would
require the discovery of entirely new processes." Dismiss the fact
that science routinely learns things that are contrary to current
understanding and involve the discovery of entirely new processes.
XVIII. DEBUNKING EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE
Point out that an "unidentified" flying
object is just that, and cannot automatically be assumed to be an
alien spacecraft. Do this whether or not anyone involved has assumed
it to be an alien spacecraft.
Label all concepts such as antigravity
or interdimensional mobility as "mere flights of fancy" because
"phenomena having no conventional explanation cannot possibly
exist." Then if an anomalous craft is reported to have hovered
silently, made right-angle turns at supersonic speeds or appeared
and disappeared instantly, you may summarily dismiss the report.
Declare that there is no proof that life
can exist in outer space. Since most people still behave as if the
Earth were the center of the universe, you may safely ignore the
fact that Earth, which is already in outer space, has abundant life.
Concede that life elsewhere in the
universe is statistically probable, but that if it existed it
couldn't possibly get here from there because we can't get there
Point out that the SETI program (which
believes ET civilizations communicate via Earth's 20th-century radio
technology, and which listens fruitlessly for such signals from deep
space) assumes in advance that extraterrestrial intelligence can
only exist light-years away from Earth. Equate this faith-based
assumption with conclusive proof; then insist that this invalidates
all terrestrial reports of ET contact.
If compelling evidence is presented for
a UFO crash or some similar event, provide thousands of pages of
detailed information about a formerly secret military project that
might conceivably account for it. The more voluminous the
information, the less the need to demonstrate any actual connection
between the reported event and the military project.
When someone produces purported physical
evidence of alien technology, declare that no analysis can prove
that its origin was extraterrestrial; after all, it might be the
product of some perfectly ordinary, ultra-secret underground
government lab. The only possible exception would be evidence
obtained from a landing on the White House lawn - the sole
circumstance universally agreed upon by generations of debunkers as
conclusively certifying extraterrestrial origin!
If crack military pilots flying
state-of-the-art aircraft report having closely pursued or
radar-tracked UFOs, assert that in most cases they must have seen
Venus or Jupiter, and that pilot incompetence and poor equipment
must have accounted for the rest. If one of these objects was
confirmed to have hovered motionlessly for a matter of minutes
before taking off at blinding speed, attribute it to a "government
missile test gone wrong."
If photographs or videos depicting
anomalous aerial phenomena have been presented, argue that since
images can now be digitally manipulated they prove nothing. Assert
this regardless of the vintage of the material or the circumstances
of its acquisition. Insist that the better the quality of a UFO
photo, the greater the likelihood of fraud. Photos that have passed
every known test may therefore be held to be the most perfectly
fraudulent of all!
Declare that "95 percent of all UFO
sightings have been explained, and the remaining five percent are
probably cases of mistaken identity." This will get people arguing
about the remaining five percent, effectively heading off any
embarrassing questions about the actual grounds upon which the
claimed 95 percent might originally have been "explained."
Argue that all reports of humanoid
extraterrestrials must be bogus because the evolution of the
humanoid form on Earth is the result of an infinite number of
accidents in a genetically isolated environment. Avoid addressing
the logical proposition that if alien visitations have occurred,
Earth cannot be considered genetically isolated in the first place.
Insist that extraterrestrials would or
wouldn't, should or shouldn't, can or can't behave in certain ways
because such behavior would or wouldn't be logical. Base your
notions of logic on how terrestrials would or wouldn't behave. Since
terrestrials behave in all kinds of ways you can theorize whatever
kind of extraterrestrial behavior suits your arguments!
Stereotype contact claims according to
simplistic scenarios already well established in the popular
imagination. If a reported ET contact appears to have had no
negative consequences, sarcastically accuse the claimant of
believing devoutly that "benevolent ETs have come to magically save
us from destroying ourselves!" If someone claims to have been
traumatized by an alien contact, brush it aside as "a classic case
of hysteria." If contactees stress the essential humanness and
limitations of certain ETs they claim to have met, ask "why haven't
these omnipotent beings offered to solve all our problems for us?"
When reluctant encounter witnesses step
forward, accuse them of "seeking the limelight with their outlandish
Ask why alleged contactees and abductees
haven't received alien infections. Reject as "preposterous" all
medical evidence suggesting that such may in fact have occurred.
Categorize as "pure science-fiction" the notion that alien
understandings of immunology might be in advance of our own, or that
sufficiently alien microorganisms might be limited in their ability
to interact with our biological systems. Above all, dismiss anything
that might result in an actual investigation of the matter.
Travel to an isolated, indigenous
village in the heart of the Amazonian jungle. Upon returning, report
that "nobody there told me they had seen any UFOs." Insist that this
proves no UFOs are reported outside cultures whose populations are
overexposed to trashy science fiction.
Though hypnotic regression by a
multitude of therapists and researchers has yielded consistent
contactee testimony in widespread and completely independent cases,
declare that hypnosis is unreliable at the best of times and is
always worthless in the hands of non-credentialed practitioners. Be
sure to add that the subjects must have been steeped in the
ET-contact literature, and that, regardless of their skills,
credentials and codes of ethics, the hypnotists involved must have
been asking leading questions.
Avoid mentioning the many contact and
abduction cases in which the experiencers' memories were readily
recalled, with no need for hypnosis.
If someone claims to have been
emotionally impacted by a sighting or contact experience, point out
that strong emotions can alter perceptions. Therefore the claimant's
recollections must be entirely untrustworthy.
Maintain that there cannot possibly be a
government cover-up of the ET question... but that it exists for
legitimate reasons of national security!
When government agencies, with their
state-of-the-art security measures, multiple clearance levels,
impenetrable compartmentalization and so forth, are accused of a UFO
cover-up, insist that a cover-up is impossible because "everyone
knows the government can't keep secrets!" Ignore the legacy of the
Manhattan Project, any number of other top-secret military and
intelligence operations, and the entirety of those incalculably
costly, utterly opaque activities funded by the United States
Congress' Black Budget.
Accuse conspiracy theorists of being
conspiracy theorists and of believing in the existence of
conspiracies! Insist that only accidentalist theories can possibly
account for repeated, organized patterns of suppression, denial and
If you represent the military, assure
the public that the military doesn't study UFOs because "it's been
determined that UFOs are not a threat to national security."
Sidestep the questions of how in heaven's name such a determination
could even have been made, and why the military, which has always
been first in line to diligently analyze advanced foreign
technology, has abandoned all curiosity and is now diligently
looking the other way.
XIX. IF ALL ELSE FAILS...
If all else fails and your
gullible enough, simply waving your arms and shouting "You are
wrong!" enough times might pull your bacon out of the fire.
If things get a bit too hot, announce
your long-awaited retirement. Then leave at once for the Caribbean,
the Mediterranean, or the South Pacific.
Since you don't want to be seen as the
last fool to finally get the picture, be prepared to turn on a dime.
For example, should the presence of extraterrestrial life suddenly
be acknowledged by mainstream science as a global mystery of
millennial proportions, simply hail this as a "victory for the
scientific method!" and declare dismissively, "Well, everyone knows
this is a monumentally significant issue. As a matter of fact, my
colleagues and I have been remarking on it for years!"
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by Marcello Truzzi
Founding co-chairman of CSICOP
Marcello Truzzi (1935-2003) was
a professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University. This
article is reprinted, at the author's suggestion, from the Zetetic
Scholar,#12-13, 1987. In his view this criticism of
pseudo-skepticism claiming the authority of science, but actually
impeding science, is as relevant as ever.
Over the years, I have decried the misuse of the term "skeptic" when used to
refer to all critics of anomaly claims.
Alas, the label has been thus misapplied by both
proponents and critics of the paranormal. Sometimes users of the term have
distinguished between so-called "soft" versus "hard" skeptics, and I in part
revived the term "zetetic" because of the term's misuse.
But I now think the
problems created go beyond mere terminology and matters need to be set
Since "skepticism" properly refers to doubt
rather than denial - non-belief rather than belief - critics who take the
negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves
"skeptics" are actually pseudo-skeptics and have, I believed, gained a false
advantage by usurping that label.
In science, the burden of proof falls upon the claimant; and the more
extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded. The true
skeptic takes an agnostic position, one that says the claim is not proved
rather than disproved. He asserts that the claimant has not borne the burden
of proof and that science must continue to build its cognitive map of
reality without incorporating the extraordinary claim as a new "fact."
Since the true skeptic does not assert a claim,
he has no burden to prove anything. He just goes on using the established
theories of "conventional science" as usual.
But if a critic asserts that there is evidence
for disproof, that he has a negative hypothesis - saying, for instance, that
a seeming psi result was actually due to an artifact - he is making a claim
and therefore also has to bear a burden of proof. Sometimes, such negative
claims by critics are also quite extraordinary - for example, that a UFO was
actually a giant plasma, or that someone in a psi experiment was cued via an
abnormal ability to hear a high pitch others with normal ears would fail to
In such cases the negative claimant also may
have to bear a heavier burden of proof than might normally be expected.
Critics who assert negative claims, but who mistakenly call themselves
"skeptics," often act as though they have no burden of proof placed on them
at all, though such a stance would be appropriate only for the agnostic or
A result of this is that many critics seem to
feel it is only necessary to present a case for their counter-claims based
upon plausibility rather than empirical evidence. Thus, if a subject in a
psi experiment can be shown to have had an opportunity to cheat, many
critics seem to assume not merely that he probably did cheat, but that he
must have, regardless of what may be the complete absence of evidence that
he did so cheat and sometimes even ignoring evidence of the subject's past
reputation for honesty.
Similarly, improper randomization procedures are
sometimes assumed to be the cause of a subject's high psi scores even though
all that has been established is the possibility of such an artifact having
been the real cause. Of course, the evidential weight of the experiment is
greatly reduced when we discover an opening in the design that would allow
an artifact to confound the results.
Discovering an opportunity for error should make
such experiments less evidential and usually unconvincing. It usually
disproves the claim that the experiment was "air tight" against error, but
it does not disprove the anomaly claim.
Showing evidence is unconvincing is not grounds for completely dismissing
it. If a critic asserts that the result was due to artifact X, that critic
then has the burden of proof to demonstrate that artifact X can and probably
did produce such results under such circumstances.
Admittedly, in some cases the appeal to mere
plausibility that an artifact produced the result may be so great that
nearly all would accept the argument; for example, when we learn that
someone known to have cheated in the past had an opportunity to cheat in
this instance, we might reasonably conclude he probably cheated this time,
But in far too many instances, the critic who
makes a merely plausible argument for an artifact closes the door on future
research when proper science demands that his hypothesis of an artifact
should also be tested. Alas, most critics seem happy to sit in their
armchairs producing post hoc counter-explanations.
Whichever side ends up with the true story,
science best progresses through laboratory investigations.
On the other hand, proponents of an anomaly claim who recognize the above
fallacy may go too far in the other direction. Some argue, like Lombroso
when he defended the mediumship of Palladino, that the presence of wigs does
not deny the existence of real hair. All of us must remember science can
tell us what is empirically unlikely but not what is empirically impossible.
Evidence in science is always a matter of degree
and is seldom if ever absolutely conclusive. Some proponents of anomaly
claims, like some critics, seen unwilling to consider evidence in
probabilistic terms, clinging to any slim loose end as though the critic
must disprove all evidence ever put forward for a particular claim.
Both critics and proponents need to learn to
think of adjudication in science as more like that found in the law courts,
imperfect and with varying degrees of proof and evidence. Absolute truth,
like absolute justice, is seldom obtainable. We can only do our best to
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