Saturday, 2 February 2013

A question for Michael Shermer.

I have kept this short and simple so that the main argument doesn't get overlooked again. It is in response to Michael Shermer's piece in the Huffington Post and I couldn't resist posing him this question.

While I agree with much of what Michael says, there are still some glaring inconsistencies with regard to what is defined as a "value", and why. I do not understand it. Since many skeptics are self-described Libertarians, I'd like to put forward this argument as to why such a label is inconsistent with skepticism, even by scientific skepticism's own criteria...

Society is a complex system. Political ideology is an attempt at predicting said complex system. Science has repeatedly shown, through testing, that it is impossible to predict complex systems over enough time. Further, the amount of time is determined by the extent and accuracy of the data describing both the initial state of the system and the dynamics involved.

Using climate models as an example, I am sure Michael would agree that masses of research and refinements of algorithms have been necessary to get us to this point where models may starting to be considered potentially accurate. I'm not totally sure on that point, or to what extent. But that is irrelevant, because...

Established political ideologies, including Libertarianism, seek to predict a complex system using concepts that pre-date the very existence of the fields of study necessary to even create a model!

It is like claiming climate scientists can make climate predictions without reference to meteorology!

As Michael reminds us, extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence - a staple mantra ignored when skeptics openly identify with a political label. Sure, you may add disclaimers, claim that your belief is not dogmatic, but why then identify with an -ism at all? Why reinforce the legitimacy of ideology as an imposed construct? You might say that belief need not require positive proof, but when the probability of being right is so incredibly low how can a skeptic possibly hold enough ideological conviction that they would be willing to gamble with people's lives? You might say that ideology is all we have to work with politically, but isn't that partly down to ideology being anathema to constructive discourse? It's up to us to break that cycle.

It's not just that complex systems are impossible to predict with such basic tools, its that those almost certainly false predictions are then imposed on non-believers in a manner our ancestors fought so hard to rid with religion.

A skeptic should identify politically simply as 'skeptic', learn the words, "we can't know yet" and "we need more data" and "it is immoral to impose that policy on non-believers in that way with the data you have..." and start some serious, post-ideological political discourse as a community.

Crisis of skepticism? Conversation between Grimeandreason and Daniel Loxton

The following is a storified twitter conversation (or the beginnings off... ;)) between me and Daniel Loxton on the remit of skepticism and the skeptic community...

(Thanks to Kylie Sturgess for compiling the first half from a week ago..)

Round 1:

Round 2:

Note: in round 2, I have taken the time to adjust the order of the tweets slightly to reflect their 'reply' positions, if you get me. If it wasn't clear, I went back into twitter to check. I've let Dan know so that he can double-check. At a glance, it seems round 1 might be a straight time-dependent order, so it might be a little trickier to follow. Daniel enters stage about a dozen tweets in...

I will add more as/if it arrives. I hope you find this useful - it's a much better format for debate than blogging in my opinion.