There’s a certain point in researching anomalistic science where the astute investigator realizes that the skeptical sub-culture is near illiterate in their understanding of cultural issues, and because of this, they, as a self identifying group, lack any discernment into the areas that they feel strangely compelled to mock, deride, dismiss and hoot at like drunken frat students who’ve been huffing dust off. A harsh comparison perhaps, that in fact does little to get to the core of the infantile reactions these media pundits seem capable of producing at the drop of a hat.
The most recent example of this is Jerry Coyne’s unfortunate article for New Republic magazine, Pseudoscientist Rupert Sheldrake Is Not Being Persecuted, And Is Not Like Galileo. In reading it, I challenge anyone who is of sober mind, whatever side of skepticism you fall on, to support this piece of gibberish as a serious critique or apology for the scientific method.
14 uses of the word ‘woo’ should be a psycho-linguistic clue that the writer is not mature enough to sit back and take the time to come to any true analytical conclusions. If that isn’t enough the second paragraph centers on the sentence:
“I don’t really understand a penchant for things that aren’t supported by evidence, but that’s probably a failure of empathy on my part—as well as a product of my scientific training to doubt.”
Are we to assume that in writing this Coyne has taken the time to address over 130 years of investigation into anomalous experiences? That he’s gone through the databases organized by Dean Radin to counter these exact same ignorant statements about evidence? That he’s proficient in multiple languages, and has scoured the various archives around the world looking into these experiences from every angle? Or that he’s tackled the literally thousands of pages of material that’s been declassified from the U.S. government’s psychic development programs?
Considering that he makes no mention of any studies, evidence or tangible material that he could debate and discuss, it would seem that he hasn’t. Yet he some how feels justified that there is “no evidence.” I don’t even know many professional parapsychologists who can address the breadth of research available, yet Coyne feels he is capable of this astonishing feat. How could this be?
Literacy is often assumed to mean the simple ability to read words, but in fact, true literacy has more to do with comprehension and the ability to recognize larger patterns within the text as it relates to broader applications. Looked at in this light, Coyne provides a key to the skeptical sub-cultures gross inability to identify meaning in what they are analyzing.
Coyne makes a very telling error in this article. In providing the source for his mention of Gallileo in the title of his piece, he says the following:
“(Sheldrake) thinks himself an unrecognized genius, persecuted like Galileo. The proper answer to this is given on the NeuroLogica website:
The definitive assessment of this comparison comes from the original version of the movie, “Bedazzled.” Dudley Moore’s character calls Satan a nutcase (for claiming to be Satan), and Satan replies, “They said the same of Jesus Christ, Freud and Galileo.” Moore then replies, “They said it of a lot of nutcases too.”
Unfortunately for Coyne, this comparison completely fails to support his argument in the context of the movie that he is quoting from. In Bedazzled, Dudley Moore’s character is in fact dealing with the devil, making his comment about nutcases the erroneous statement, not the legitimate claim by the devil to be, in fact, the devil.
It’s a fictional piece, which must be ‘read’ in the context of its fictional setting. Whether one believes or disbelieves in a real devil, within the story the devil is real, and Moore’s character makes a pact.
So what definitive assessment are we supposed to draw from this? Coyne would have us titter with a thousand infantile “woos” over how silly it is that someone would claim to be the devil, yet this isn’t the context of the source he is citing.
Another difficulty with this citation was pointed out by Dr. David Luke, Senior Lecturer at the University of Greenwich (London) in the Department of Psychology and Counselling:
"It was actually (the skeptical) John Maddox, editor of Nature, in 1981, that first likened Sheldrake to Galileo (when he said): "Sheldrake is putting forward magic instead of science, and that can be condemned, in exactly the language that the popes used to condemn Galileo, and for the same reasons: it is heresy"
It would seem that the same error in ‘reading’ the context of the movie and misunderstanding where the original attribution of Galileo came from, is also what supports Coynes ability to remain blind to the experimental evidence that has been collected by scientists and researchers attempting to discover what is going on in the widely reported instances of exceptional and anomalous human experience. Looking at the evidence requires no belief in the paranormal, magic, supernatural or any other culturally loaded term. All it requires is an objective look at the data, and an analysis that doesn’t find fuel in personal bias and childish jargon like ‘woo.’
Further in the article we find this statement in regards to Sheldrake’s claims that the Guerilla Skeptic movement was behind the misinformation in his Wikipedia bio:
"Sheldrake is dead wrong in his accusations. The person who did most of the woo-removing edits of Sheldrake’s page, not a member of GSoW, has posted an article decisively refuting the claim that there is a Guerrilla Skeptic “conspiracy” to debunk Sheldrake. Tim Farley of Skeptical Software tools has investigated the edits thoroughly and confirmed that no Guerrilla Skeptics seem to have been involved.”
So we are to assume then that a widely reported centralization and mobilization of the skeptical sub-culture, which includes a YouTube video on the James Randi Education Foundation page detailing operative goals and techniques, had no effect on inspiring actions from people who may not take on its label? Really?
Ideologies are funny things, anyone who is up on the latest business best practices should be at least passingly familiar with the concept of “leaderless organizations.” Others may encounter it in terms of 5th generation and asymetric warfare, which happens to be where the idea of ‘guerrilla’ warfare fits in.
We’ve seen the power of these practices in the Anonymous movement, and the supposedly spontaneous emergence of things like Occupy and the Arab Spring. The power of ideology is that you don’t need a centralized group of individuals to organize around, the ideology works whenever someone acts under its influence whether or not they are a card carrying member of the core group.
Coyne’s complete lack of nuance in this instance, his facile insistence on offense and surprise, and the gloating tone of his supposed ‘gotcha’ moment again points to a lack of cultural literacy that draws into serious question anything he might say about anomalistic science and psychical research.
This is not a defense of Rupert Sheldrake, and certainly not a defense of Deepak Chopra, merely an attempt to point out that what Jerry Coyne is promoting as unbiased scientific skepticism, is not only biased, it is deeply flawed and irrelevant to actual inquiry in these areas of human experience. One of the key points in Coyne’s vision of reality is that science and religion are incompatible, yet he espouses a religionist view of science complete with a concept of heresy, which he calls “pseudo-science.”
In closing, take a look at the header image again, and consider what “Everybody is Psychic“ might mean in a broader context rather than the immediate assumptions that rest on preconceived ideas and biases. Go into the Latin roots, give etymology a try, stretch your brain. Don’t get drunk on cheap jargon like ‘woo,’ and don’t settle for priggish skepticism. Life is much too short to close your mind with the immature opinions of others, and the world is too beautiful to let brazenly ignorant pundits like Coyne hold power in the global conversation.