This is my 50th post for Skeptoid Blog, so I’m going to do something a little different from my usual conspiracy-busting. Writing for Skeptoid has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a writer, giving me the chance to learn and write about something new every week. One of the most surprising and gratifying aspects of doing this work has been the responses I’ve gotten from readers, both positive and negative. And most ARE positive. But some people have reached far different conclusions than I have, and haven’t been shy about letting me know. So in the spirit of Brian’s occasional “listener feedback” episodes, I want to mark this occasion by responding to some of the responses I’ve gotten. All comments are [sic], of course.
Responding to my most recent Skeptoid post, about the offshoot of the Sovereign Citizens movement called “Freeman on the Land,” Walter Clark wrote:
The obvious stupidity of the FOTL shows that they cannot possibly be taken seriously and the only reason they take themselves seriously is the attention they attract. I therefore take back my praise of Rothschild’s article. It provides attention to them which is the ONLY reason they exist. Your article, Mike should not be sponsored by Skeptoid. It is yellow journalism and I will approach any article you write in the future with extreme prejudice.
Walter is correct in saying that I wrote about the Freeman movement to draw attention to it. Every person who’s ever written any kind of fact-based piece about anything did so to draw attention to it. Whether it’s a political scandal, a historical incident or a fringe movement, people write about things because they want other people to know about them. Giving something attention does not mean you agree with it or even that you find value in the ideology behind it. In fact, it’s very often the opposite. And it’s clear from the piece that I find the FOTL movement’s use of legal gibberish and cherry-picked concepts of common law to be nonsense – and that the world’s judicial system agrees with me. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth knowing about.
For my piece examining some of the most common arguments used by conspiracy believers against skepticism, and why they tend to be rooted in fallacious logic, J responded:
a self proclaimed skeptic that is skeptical because he does not gather all of the possible information on a topic, or only sees what wants to in it, who then writes an article bashing people who are exactly like him. Amusing.
The idea of “gathering all of the possible information on a topic” is a variation on another argument used against skeptics, and one I should have included in the original piece: the admonition to “do your research.” When a conspiracy believer says this to you, it’s almost always because what you’ve determined doesn’t agree with what they already think about a subject, not because you haven’t done the proper research to reach that conclusion. And the material they want you to use in your research, fringe websites and badly-performed scientific studies, will almost always be biased toward how they already feel. That’s why they want you to use it.
What “do your research” actually means is “do research using sources I approve of and finding answers I agree with to reach a determination that supports what I already believe.” This is not the “research” anyone needs to be doing.
In response to my piece about the death of journalist Michael Hastings in a car accident thought by some to be a murder staged by the US government, JustAnotherBlogger wrote:
This is the worst attempt at “debunking” a conspiracy I have ever seen! It’s like you used points that I’ve never even heard mentioned to make your case. Not once have I seen anyone claim he was going 35 mph. You also clearly leave out the possibility of a car being hacked; a quick Google search will show you that hacking a vehicles computer is something even a group of college kids can do with the right equipment. Cut brakes? More like overriding the ABS system. Please, do us a favor and get better at making a case before you try to debunk something.
While I’m honored to be listed among the worst things JAB has ever read, he (or she) makes the common mistake of commenting on something they haven’t actually read closely. If JAB had, he/she would have seen that someone DID claim Hastings was traveling only 35 miles per hour: San Diego blogger Kimberly Dvorak, who played a key role in the creation and spreading of misinformation after Hastings’ death. Dvorak claimed that “a university professor” told her he’d analyzed the security camera footage and determined Hastings was only going 35 miles per hour, as opposed to the 80-90 mph the LAPD determined he was going. Dvorak’s claim was widely cited by conspiracy believers as proof that Hastings was murdered, despite her never naming the professor or backing up her claim with evidence. She later removed it from her website – and has ceased reporting on Hastings altogether.
Additionally, far from “leaving out the possibility” that the car’s computer system was hacked, I spent nearly four paragraphs on what it would take to remotely take control of a car – and that it was possible, but implausible and unlikely. I have no issue with being attacked, but I do have some with being attacked for not saying something I actually said.
One of the thorniest issues to emerge from conspiracy circles in the last few years is Agenda 21. Most people see it simply as a non-binding United Nations plan for sustainability. Others, led by Glenn Beck, view it as a secret plot advocating depopulation and herding survivors into Soviet-style megabuildings. Reader Peter G Brooksbank responded to the piece I wrote debunking the conspiracy:
I think this site should be renamed Gullibleoid instead of Skeptoid.
I offer no answers and no solutions in the interest of encouraging the questioning of everything as a healthy skeptic should do. Take nothing as read, I aren’t saying agenda 21 is a diabolical road map to wiping out the masses but I’m not saying it isn’t.
Yes, it’s perfectly appropriate to be skeptical of Agenda 21. It’s also perfectly appropriate to be skeptical of the conspiracy theory that says it’s designed to kill billions of people. Which is why I read the relevant sections of Agenda 21, looked at the arguments both for and against it as a secret death plot and determined that there’s nothing to fear from it, and the hysterical objections to it are driven mostly by misinformation and ideology.
For Peter to declare “I’m not saying it is and I’m not saying it isn’t” a plan to kill billions is saying he hasn’t decided what it is. And that’s perfectly fine. But those like me, who have decided, are no more “gullible” than those who haven’t. I haven’t found any evidence supporting the conspiracy, and there’s nothing “skeptical” about giving credence to a position with nothing to support it simply because we’re supposed to “question everything.”
In response to my piece about the history and misapplication of the term “false flag,” an anonymous reader writes:
Although you claim the latest incidents are not actual false flags you give no evidence of your own to support your theory, just restating whats been said by conspiracy skeptics. Although you are well spoken (written) you lack substance and mainly evidence. Your words mean as much as a Chili’s menu…
This reader is probably someone who believes that the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newton, Connecticut, along with the bombing of the Boston Marathon, were incidents perpetrated not by killers acting of their own accord, but agents of the government. And anonymous is right, I didn’t give any evidence that these were false flags. Because none exists, beyond the fevered imaginations and YouTube screeds of those who desperately want our government to be actively plotting against us.
As I wrote in the piece, false flags are a real phenomenon that have occurred many times throughout history, The term has also become a lazy way to create an instant conspiracy where none exists. Did something happen somewhere? Just claim it’s a false flag, and accuse anyone who says differently of being “in on it.” Since the government engineering a school shooting in order to take our rights away is an extraordinary claim, it requires extraordinary evidence, and it’s the burden of the one making the accusation to provide it. In fact, I asked anonymous if he/she could prove these incidents WERE false flags. He/she never responded to me.
Since I started writing for Skeptoid Blog, the piece that’s attracted the most comments, and it’s not even close, is my dissection of an email forward built around a speech from Kitty Werthmann, an Austrian woman who survived the reign of Hitler, and now sees a similar evil in our current president. I didn’t agree with Ms. Werthmann, and many commenters were loud and verbose in telling me just how naive and stupid I was for it.
Typical of the comments I received, this anonymous one says:
Obviously the author of this article has already been sucked in! Are you so blind that you don’t see all the things happening around you? Welfare (Socialism) at an all time high, a suden push to take away our second amendment rights, and the list goes on. You Sir have already been sucked in!
I choose this comment because it’s one of the shorter negative ones, and also has the typical poor grasp of history shown by those intent on comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. Just to use the points made in this comment, welfare is not at “an all time high” and Hitler wasn’t an opponent of gun rights, at least not for anyone who wasn’t Jewish. It’s perfectly reasonable to object to President Obama and his policies without comparing him to one of the most genocidal tyrants in human history.
In fact, making such a comparison pretty much invalidates your argument, as the two men are nothing alike. The US in 2013 is possibly the most free and prosperous nation in history. Nazi Germany enjoyed virtually none of the freedoms we hold so dear – which include the freedom to call the president a dictator.
Many commenters also scolded me for saying that it couldn’t happen here. Which I never said, and don’t believe. What I did say and do believe was that it’s not happening here, and is very unlikely to, for a variety of reasons. Comparing Obama to Hitler simply because you don’t like where America is going is an insult to the actual victims of Hitler and his twisted ideology.
Readers, keep those comments coming. I read and appreciate all of them. And I’ve got some big plans coming up for future blog posts, so stay tuned.