What Humpty said or perhaps Inigo Montoya

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Deepak Chopra: redefining “wrong”
[Via Bad Astronomy ]

I am no fan of Deepak Chopra. For years he has gone on TV, in print, and in his books, peddling all manners of nonsense. Here’s a quick reality check: if his claims of “quantum healing” are correct, why is he getting older?

Anyway, he has gone to the very font of new age nonsense, the Huffington Post, to spew more woo: he’s written an article about why skepticism is bad. It’s almost a bullet-pointed list of logical fallacies.

About the “poison darts” of criticism:

Most of my stinging darts come from skeptics. Over the years I’ve found that ill-tempered guardians of scientific truth can’t abide speculative thinking.

<sarcasm>Yes, because scientists have no imaginations and cannot come up with original thoughts.</sarcasm>

But wait, he’s not done! Pandering to religious people:

Since the skeptics who write venomous blogs trust in nothing, I imagine that God will outlive them.

Oops. He’s confused trust and faith. Not surprising, since he’s confused about a lot of stuff:

No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others. Typically they sit by the side of the road with a sign that reads “You’re Wrong” so that every passerby, whether an Einstein, Gandhi, Newton, or Darwin, can gain the benefit of their illuminated skepticism.

That first line trembles on the very edge of being a blatant and gross lie. Given that Einstein was a skeptic, Darwin was a skeptic, Sagan was a skeptic, Feynman, Gould, and thousands of other scientists are skeptics, what he said is simply ridiculous. Edward Jenner, I think, could arguably have advanced the welfare of others, having invented the vaccine, which has saved hundreds of millions of lives over the years. How many has Chopra saved? And, in fact, almost all advances in science are done by skeptics; true believers are the ones who don’t have the motivation to innovate.

[More]

No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others.

His definition of skeptic appears to occupy a position that overlaps more with cynicism and misantrhopy than any regular definition of skeptic. His skeptic is apparently some sort on Monty Pythonesque character found only in the strawman arguments of emotionally wounded philosophers than in any real meaning of the word (Dawkins is Graham Chapman more than John Cleese.)

Looks to me as though Chopra is ticked at something Dawkins did. Dawkins is the only living person Chopra mentions and he starts his rant with a discussion of how a Google Alert for his name brought him something that Dawkins had said. I imagine that my use of Chopra will provide an alert for him, or his assistant who checks out the online hits for Chopra. If so, “Hi!”

Of course, the rest of Chopra’s screed discusses a false word, a description for skeptic that, while possibly true in some obscure philosophical sense, does not match the word as used by many people and particularly by scientists. I am reminded of the constant confusion regarding how theory is used by scientists and the general public.

Or perhaps ‘Inconceivable‘ would be a better example. ““You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

He takes a word and is determined to be its master by making it mean what he wants it to mean. No matter what. For me, he failed.

There is a real problem with people choosing to use the word skeptic for whatever they want. These overlapping meanings get used to tar people with philospohical brushes that just to not really apply. Chopra seems to be using a strawman skeptic who is simply a contrarian, perhaps even a cynic. It is an awfully black label to use for a large group of people simply because Dawkins hurt his feelings.

I have known few scientists that do not have a sense of wonder regarding the world around them. That is why they became a scientist in many cases.

A skeptic, particular a scientific one, withholds judgement of the ‘truth’ of something, such as a theory, until evidence has been garnered. Once evidence is provided to prove the assertion (or at least bolster it to the point where competing theories fall away like a snake’s sloughed skin), they shed their skepticism.

Chopra is discussing something that does not match at all what a scientist usally means when they say they are skeptical:

Skeptics know in advance — or think they know — what right thought is. Right thought is materialistic, statistical, data-driven, and always, always, conformist. Wrong thought is imaginative, provisional, often fantastic, and no respecter of fixed beliefs.

Wow. Just Wow. Making ‘skeptics’ some sort of foul name but never giving a specific example. Perhaps he feels Dawkins is all about materialistic thoughts. And Dawkins calls himself a skeptic. So all skeptics are materialistic. What logical fallacy is this?

Chopra is usually much better at his arguments than strawmen and logical presentations that have been shown to be false for millennia. He must have been ticked. (Of course, I do have a cynical side – not skeptical – that feels he might have written this one sided opinion piece to simply keep himself in the public eye. A little publicity from such a mean-spirited diatribe never hurt book sales. Most op-eds in the MSM are designed to provide this sort of reaction. Lots of hits makes for more money). Cynic, not skeptic.

In my experience, there are scientists who fit his definition and I would call none of them skeptical. Their ‘skepticism’ has little to do with withholding judgement and more with maintaining a position, either a professional one or an emotional one. Perhaps calling themselves a skeptic permits them some solace but they are simply deniers in another vein.

In fact, denialist is a better definition of what he describes rather than skeptic.This also suggests the difference between a scientific skeptic and a denialist. The former will go from withholding judgement to recognizing the facts while the latter simply digs their heels in and continues denying. Here is a very good reference, that could probably be updated, demonstrating the difference.

[Of course, I spent some time on Google to find out what Dawkins might have done to provoke this screed by Chopra. I expect this is it as it fits the “I spoke with Dawkins for over 90 minutes on camera in Oxford. He extracted 30 seconds from the dialogue and dubbed me the enemy of science.” If so, I fail to see where Dawkins labeled him anything:]

[Listening to: Siberian Khatru from the album “Close to the Edge (Remastered)” by Yes]
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