Common Arguments Against Skepticism (And Why They're Wrong)
June 17, 2013
If you spend enough time reading pieces on skeptical websites, or commenting on websites that promote conspiracy theories or pseudoscience, you're going to start seeing the same feedback over and over. And by "feedback" I mean hysterical insults and accusations. Unfortunately, fighting back against this nonsense is usually a futile waste of time. But in the interest of shared knowledge (and healthy ranting) I've compiled a list of some of the more common comments I've received and seen, and what my response would be. If I liked to argue on message boards, of course.
"Wake up/open your eyes/take the red pill"
This is by far the most common response I see directed toward skeptics, implying that those who don't accept the existence of conspiracies are sleepwalking through life, content to live on whatever the powers that be spoon-feed them. Of course, it's complete nonsense. I've spent the last year immersing myself in the skeptical movement, and have found that skeptics are among the most curious and open-minded people around.
The skeptic digs deep to find the truth about something, because blathering internet screeds or ominous YouTube videos just aren't good enough to convince them. It's the believers in conspiracies, pseudoscience and false history who accept whatever is spoon-fed to them, as long as it dovetails with what they already believe. So maybe it's the skeptic who is awake.
"How much is (Big Pharma, the government, Big Food) paying you to write this crap?"
Being accused of serving as a paid shill for whatever you're defending is also pretty common, and never fails to amuse me. It assumes that the only reason a person could possibly have an opinion other than "the truth" is because they're being paid to have it. But this is one area where the conspiracy theorist is somewhat correct: every major corporation on Earth has paid shills working for it. They're called the marketing department, and they get paid (and benefits!) to make their employer look good to strangers.
People who post contrary opinions on message boards aren't disinfo agents working for THEM, they're simply people with contrary opinions. I've never seen any real evidence that paid message board shills exist, and it seems like a lame accusation put forth by people who can't defend their own opinions. That said, should any major corporation or government desire my services as a paid shill, please DM me on Twitter. I work cheap and fast.
"Modern medicine gave me only weeks to live, but I've been doing (Kangen water/green coffee beans/cupping) and I've never felt better!"
That's fantastic. However, your personal anecdote isn't science, neither is the experience of your friend, co-worker or cousin. Only science is science. Maybe your illness was cured by your alternative treatment. Or maybe something else you were doing (like taking medicine) helped, or maybe you were misdiagnosed. Or maybe you're just lying because you feel stupid about spending money, sometimes thousands of dollars, on a sham treatment for an illness that doesn't exist. Only your doctor can tell you that. But since they're on the Big Pharma payroll, you'll have to stick with your anecdote and accept my incredulity.
"Can you show me studies proving the safety of (GMO/vaccines/smart meters)?"
Probably, yes. There are numerous studies that prove the safety of each of those things, using proper scientific protocols, blinding and controls. But don't expect them to change the minds of those who demand to see them. This one comes up over and over with believers in pseudoscience. They want to see studies that "prove" they're wrong, and when you show them those studies, they either ask you again to do the same thing you just did, or simply ignore them. Then they cite their own "studies" which are almost always flawed or performed by biased researchers, and demand you refute them. And when you do, they ignore that as well.
"The (Jews/Zionists/Rothschilds) did it."
Maybe I'm more sensitive to this because I'm Jewish and named Rothschild, but there is a disturbing undercurrent of anti-Semitism in conspiracy theory circles. It's not enough for someone to be a shill for the government or Big Whoever, they must also be part of the Jewish agenda to enslave gentiles. Anti-Semitism is as old as Judaism, and allegations that wealthy Jewish bankers are pulling the financial strings have been around for centuries. One of the most popular new buzzwords among conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones is "foreign bankster," but it's just another version of "European banker" or "international usurer," slurs that have deep roots in distrust and loathing of Jews.
This isn't to call Jones or anyone else anti-Semitic, and I'm sure there are plenty of conspiracy theorists who aren't. But just know that when you hear "foreign bankster" you're probably going to also start hearing about Zionism, Rothschilds and Jewish banking as well. And just to show the grip that hatred of Jews has on the conspiracy movement, some people actually think Alex Jones himself is an operative of the Zionists, put forth to discredit actual truthseekers. Personally, I think the moment you use Jews or Israel as a scapegoat for your conspiracy, you've lost the argument. Of course, that's what a Zionist disinfo agent would say...
"Do you really think (the government/Big Oil/ Big Pharma) is looking out for you?"
This is a rhetorical question, and there's no real answer to it. If you choose to believe in monolithic, omnipotent entities controlling your every move, you probably don't think they're looking out for you. But if you think major corporations and governments attract people of all stripes, then it's a tougher question. Yes, some people who work for pharmaceutical companies, oil conglomerates and biotech are as corrupt as the day is long. But others truly want to make a difference in people's lives, and are working hard (and enduring vast quantities of abuse) to do so.
The scientist who researches lifesaving drugs and the corrupt flunky taking kickbacks to ensure doctors prescribe those drugs might both be working for "Big Pharma" but they're different people with different aims, not tentacles in some all-knowing, all-crushing octopus of terror. To write them all off as evil, even the ones who are doing good, is simply disregarding nuance in favor of hysteria.
"Skepticism is just another form of narrow-mindedness."
No, it's not. Rejecting easy, implausible, unprovable "answers" does not mean one is closed-off to finding what the real answer is. Skeptics are constantly accused of having their minds closed to anything they don't agree with, but if that were the case, then conspiracy believers could be accused of exactly the same thing. If I refuse to entertain your theory about 9/11, and you refuse to entertain my theory about 9/11, then we're both doing exactly the same thing. The difference is that your theory about 9/11 is contradicted by the facts associated with my theory. I reject your theory because I know it to be wrong, while you reject mine because you want it to be wrong. It's when a person refuses to acknowledge proven facts that they show themselves to be "narrow-minded."
Agreeing with every insane theory about every subject, facts be damned, is not being "open-minded." It's being gullible.
"Oh, so you believe the 'official story.'"
See above. Until you have a better theory with facts to support it, yes, I do.
"This whole list is a giant straw man designed to make its author feel good by winning an argument against an imaginary opponent."
YOU CAN'T PROVE THAT!!!
These are only some of the most common arguments against skeptical thought. Many more exist, and I'd love to hear what your favorite is. Likewise, if you think I'm a narrow-minded shill of the New World Order, I eagerly await you using these arguments against me.
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