One-Way Skepticism -- The Skeptic's Society Shows That it Is Not

When you form a "Skeptic's Society" and publish a magazine called "Skeptic," you better be sure your skepticism has an equal opportunity viewing lens. Lead by Michael Shermer, the Skeptic's Society purports to engage "in scientific investigation and journalistic research to investigate claims made by scientists, historians, and controversial figures on a wide range of subjects." But apparently the investigation and research does not apply about claims that reinforce the Society's prejudices.

The Skeptic Society asserted, based on nothing more than a press release issued by a leftist anti-Bush activist group, that "Bush administration appointees will not allow rangers at Grand Canyon National Park to mention that the earth is more than a few thousand years old." The Skeptic Society admits that it did not call the liberal activist group to ask about its sources. It received no confirmation or supporting information. It did not even call the National Park Service or the Grand Canyon National Park to ask about their policy. It was only after they pushed the article through and received calls telling them how wrong they were that they actually looked into the factual basis of their assertion. See, some readers apparently got around to calling the Park Service and asking them about the age of the Grand Canyon. The answers? Millions of years old.

How can an organization supposedly devoted to serious investigation and verification of questionable claims engage in extraordinarily sloppy "journalism"? The answer can be found in Shermer's own correction. He blames the Society's "eagerness to find additional examples of the inappropriate intrusion of religion in American public life (as if we actually needed more)." Note that despite the "correction" Shermer cannot resist making the snide parenthetical. They know this to be so obviously true that such claims need not be verified or supported by the evidence. So in practice it appears that skepticism is the rule when the Society targets religion or other pet peeves of its membership, whereas fanciful claims made by an organization with a known axe to grind about easily verifiable government policy are taken at face value. Shermer could not be bothered to lift a phone, or ask the author or an intern to lift a phone, and make one call about the story despite its questionable source and content.

Although Shermer says "shame on me" for not checking the story, he shovels most of the blame at an "activist group" that was "in search of demons to exorcise and dragons to slay." I am no aficionado of Skeptic Magazine, but that description sure sounds like Shermer's own group. To regain their credibility, the Skeptic Society might want to look at its own biases more and point the finger less. And Shermer should have avoided the snide parenthetical which suggests he and his Society are prone to repeating this mistake and are not an unbiased or trustworthy reporter of such news.

Comments

Jay KTX said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jay KTX said…
Do you suppose anyone became disillusioned with the Society and cancelled their subscription to Skeptic Magazine over this lapse in journalistic integrity?

And what about the state's inappropriate intrusion into private life, especially in CA?
Jason said…
That comes as little surprise. Skeptics are not as open-minded, unbiased and objective as they constantly make themselves out to be - particularly when it comes to President Bush. Many of them still believe that he actually said God told him to attack Afghanistan and Iraq.
Jason said…
That comes as little surprise. Skeptics are not as open-minded, unbiased and objective as they constantly make themselves out to be - particularly when it comes to President Bush. Many of them still believe that he actually said God told him to attack Afghanistan and Iraq.
Layman said…
Jay,

I doubt anyone cancelled their subscription because most of SM's readers likely share the mag's bias.

As for state intrusion, it seems many of the skeptical bent feel threatened by Christian "intrusions" and have blinders on to everything else.

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