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Joe Nickell - Humanistic Skepticism
Posted: 26 July 2008 08:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:08 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 18 September 2008 07:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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oops…sorry…first time user….I’ll work it out soon I hope…please forgive me.

[ Edited: 18 September 2008 07:53 PM by Rramjet ]
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Posted: 18 September 2008 07:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Joe Nickell is unfortunately one of those people who pose as skeptical enquirers but has in fact absolutely no critical thinking skills and very little understanding of science. His particular brand of “belligerent pseudoscience” does real harm to the values of true critical thinking and scientifically based skepticism.

First, for someone who goes on the public record espousing the values of science and its methodology, he actually has a very poor understanding of the history. philosophy and methodology of science - in fact “grade school level” and “folklore-ish” might be appropriately applicable terms. One only has to read a book such as A F Chalmers “An Assessment of the Nature and Status of Science and Its Methods” to understand why I state this. Unfortunately, his lack of a basic understanding is not unique - many qualified scientist (and Mr Nickell is certainly not even a qualified scientist) also do not have a good grasp of the topic. It takes a formal education in scientific history, philosophy and methodology to understand and I would suggest any public figure who purports to promulgate the values of science should have at least a basic grasp of the topic about which he speaks.

Second his powers of critical thinking are suspect - to say the least. You only have to look at the gullibility he displays when he buys wholeheartedly into the fraudsters, hoaxers, and disinformation specialists agendas when he talks about such things as “ghosts” being derived from the souls of dead people or that “flying saucers” being craft carrying alien being from other planets. If he was a true skeptic, a true critical thinker, he would realise that these characterisations of anomalous phenomena have agendas behind them. UFOs for example are just that - Unidentified Flying Objects. They are not “flying saucers”. They are not “alien craft” atc. They are merely UFOs. A true skeptic, a true critical thinker would realise there really are phenomena out there that we cannot explain according to our current state of knowledge. Period. That Mr Nickell thinks he can explain away all anomalous phenomena using conventional knowledge (such as delusions or meteorites or the planet Venus or truck lights on the wall or air currents, etc.) is disengenous in the extreme and does a great disservice to the nature of human intellectual curiosity and discovery.

Of course Mr Nickell, being the type of arrogant, prosthelitising, dogmatic personality that he is (as evidenced in his most recent podcast discussion), is not one to let the evidence get in the way of a good story. I would suggest people actually try and ignore Mr Nickell’s misinformed and misguiding pronouncements and search out and critically examine the evidence for themselves. On the topic of UFOs for example I would suggest people begin by exploring and trying to critically explain military reported radar/visual cases. They should also have a closer look at cases such as Lonnie Zamorra or the Rendlesham Forrest Woodbridge/Bentwater cases. Until you have examined such cases of UFO (remember U stands for “Unidentified”) activity, one cannot with any authority pronounce on the veracity of or explicability of UFO cases in general.

Of course I doubt very much whether anyone using this forum will take up my suggestions to actually go and examine the evidence, because it is probably true that most here will have closed their minds to true intellectual curiosity a long time ago. This is truly unfortunate - but understandable - people simply do not feel safe when their belief systems are challenged by rational and critical inquiry and will go out of their way to avoid disconfirming evidence to their own belief systems. Thus, even though I have opted to be notified when anyone posts to this thread, I fully expect no-one to actually read the Chalmers book and then critically comment on Mr Nickell’s understanding of science, and I fully expect no-one to research my suggested UFO cases and then critically comment on what Mr Nickell’s pronouncements on the topic amount to. I may be pleasantly surprised, but I doubt it.

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Posted: 19 September 2008 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Good hit-job, Rramjet, but free of much that goes beyond misconceived assertion and nasty sloganeering. (BTW, I would watch your rhetorical pitch here. Much of your message could be considered abusive if it were directed towards a member of this site. Abusive behavior is explicitly against the rules).

If one takes UFO simply to mean “Unidentified Flying Object” then of course every party to the UFO discussion including Joe Nickell will agree that there are UFOs. To say otherwise is simply to make them into straw men. However obviously the question at issue for UFOs within the UFO-believing community as well as the popular press is that they are emissaries of distant alien civilizations. You know that as well as the rest of us, so there is no use denying it.

As for your UFO cases, I do not have access to all of the archives of Skeptical Inquirer but some of them have been dealt with there. As for the rest, you are welcome to provide the evidence here and we can check up on it.

... I should probably add (as someone with a background in history and philosophy of science) that none of this has the slightest thing to do with understanding such things. CFI has many very eminent practicing scientists associated with it, so neither is it a question of getting the science wrong, at least as a general point. Of course, in any given instance, investigators are only human and can make errors.

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Posted: 19 September 2008 04:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Rramjet - 18 September 2008 07:56 PM

it is probably true that most here will have closed their minds to true intellectual curiosity a long time ago.

What makes you say that Rramjet?

This is truly unfortunate - but understandable - people simply do not feel safe when their belief systems are challenged by rational and critical inquiry and will go out of their way to avoid disconfirming evidence to their own belief systems.

I’m a little confused. Is there a ‘church of Joe Nickell’ that I don’t know about or something?

Or are you referring to some other specific ‘belief system’ that you assume most people on this board subscribe to?

Though, it’s amusing to think that anyone would have some kind of ‘dogmatic belief’ in Joe Nickell and ‘avoid discomfirming evidence’ against him :)

[ Edited: 19 September 2008 04:55 AM by Axegrrl ]
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Posted: 19 September 2008 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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Sorry Doug - I certainly do not mean to be abusive - I will watch my rhetorical turn of phrase in the future.

Axegrrl – I mean that people in general will hold to certain beliefs despite disconfirming evidence (ref: Leon Festinger – Cognitive Dissonance Theory) – and this includes those who purport to be skeptical enquirers. The very fact that Point of Enquiry should entertain speakers such as Nickell, Mazur and Radford, et al. suggests that critical thinking is perhaps not a strong point of the program. The evidence for this is to be found (in the relevant transcripts of the podcasts) in the way these speakers truly do not understand science and do not apply critical thinking to their own rhetoric. They all come across as pseudoscientific dogmatists. I would love to be proved wrong. Bring them all back and let them explain what they did on real investigations – what were the actual techniques they applied in the real world, as opposed to merely talking about what they think should occur. What were the cases they investigated? What is the story behind the cases? What is the public evidence? What is the folklaw understanding? What conclusions were drawn from their investigations and what was the direct link between their investigations and their conclusions? What have they to say about (for example) military radar/visual UFO cases? Further no serious paranormal investigator believes merely that “ghosts are the souls of dead people” or that UFOs may simply be explained away as “alien craft from other worlds” (although this IS one rational hypothesis that seems to be supported by at least some of the evidence - I personally do not buy it – nevertheless it remains a rational hypothesis with supporting evidence).

Unfortunately all we seem to get from the alleged skeptics such as Randi, Mazur, Nickell, Radford & co is sensationalist debunking of dead people and aliens - and this is exactly what paranormal phenomena are not about. We do not know what they are about, but most assuredly there are paranormal phenomena out there in the real world that deserve critical attention and whilst ever the debunkers deny the existence of such phenomena and link them with religious beliefs and mistaken identities and hallucinatory effects (people know what they saw) then people will continue to seek answers and fall prey to fraud and hoaxes and misinformation and disinformation and this is entirely counterproductive to the purported aims of the whole Point of Enquiry rationale. Indeed the whole enterprise would be better off without such people involved – if only (trivially) as they only allow people like me to get a handle on critiquing of the whole enterprise - but I do believe the enterprise to be of critical importance – so critical that it needs to engage with true scientists (as it does) and leave the pseudoscientific dogmatists far behind.

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Posted: 19 September 2008 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Rramjet - 19 September 2008 09:59 AM

We do not know what they are about, but most assuredly there are paranormal phenomena out there in the real world that deserve critical attention and whilst ever the debunkers deny the existence of such phenomena and link them with religious beliefs and mistaken identities and hallucinatory effects (people know what they saw) then people will continue to seek answers and fall prey to fraud and hoaxes and misinformation and disinformation and this is entirely counterproductive to the purported aims of the whole Point of Enquiry rationale. Indeed the whole enterprise would be better off without such people involved – if only (trivially) as they only allow people like me to get a handle on critiquing of the whole enterprise - but I do believe the enterprise to be of critical importance – so critical that it needs to engage with true scientists (as it does) and leave the pseudoscientific dogmatists far behind.

I certainly agree with you that this stuff needs investigating by people who are objective, impartial, thorough and careful in their techniques. However, it would not be impartial to begin such an investigation by assuming that “there are paranormal phenomena out there in the real world” as you state. What makes you so sure? Have you ruled out other possible explanations of such phenomena? Have you read the history of such investigations in the past? Where is the evidence?

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Posted: 19 September 2008 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Unfortunately all we seem to get from the alleged skeptics such as Randi, Mazur, Nickell, Radford & co is sensationalist debunking of dead people and aliens - and this is exactly what paranormal phenomena are not about.

When it comes to the beliefs of proponents and “witnesses” of such topics, then aliens and ghosts are in fact exactly what paranormal “phenomena” are about. I agree with Doug in that you need to answer, what makes you so sure there are paranormal phenomena out there in the real world? You say “we do not know what they are about” and I would suggest this is because there is no real evidence and that there is no evidence because they are imaginary no different in kind than the “witnesses” to demons, succubi and werewolves common in the previous era of history. Perhaps we should start looking for the “real” werewolf phenomena as well?

I disagree with you on one point Doug, this stuff does not need to be investigated by scientists(Yes you dont say scientists but these would be the only people RRam would accept as credible investigators). I would hope scientists have better things to do with their time than fantasy goose-chasing. That brings me back to Nickel- he’s not a scientist just a guy who respects evidence and reason and without bias to believe. That’s exactly who should be investigating the fruit of human psychological frailties in my book. Sheesh I hope real scientists are out there curing cancer and building nanotubes not chasing the latest incarnation of the boogeyman.

[ Edited: 19 September 2008 11:44 AM by sate ]
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Posted: 20 September 2008 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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First I think we need to get some definitions clear here lest we begin to talk at cross purposes. “Paranormal” does NOT mean ghosts, aliens, werewolves, etc, (I do not buy into any of these “explanations”) it simply means some manifest phenomenon who’s explanation currently lies outside our normal range of knowledge – no more, no less. This is the same for UFOs. They are unidentified flying objects. The key concept here is of course UNIDENTIFIED. UFO does not mean extraterrestrial spacecraft, little green men, aliens, meteorites, the planet Venus, satellites, delusions, or anything of the kind. This is where most sceptical thinking seems to break down there is no critical thinking going on at all. The people purporting to be involved in such an enterprise seem to think that we must have an explanation for everything we see in the natural universe that lies within the purview of our current state of knowledge. They seem to deny that there may exist things we cannot currently explain (and of course so denying the whole history of human inquiry at the same time). We are not Gods. We do not have some exclusive a priori reason to suppose we know everything about the universe there is to know – human history teaches us the exact opposite. Every time we think we know it all, something new about the way things work is discovered. There is much that we do not know.

Second, I do not assume paranormal phenomena exist at all. I merely examine the evidence. Paranormal phenomena exist simply because witnesses observe things that upon investigation have proved beyond explanation according to our current state of knowledge. Now, I do not deny prosaic explanations may be found for some of these manifestations, but in other cases, the phenomena seems to deny such explanations.

We create hypotheses about such phenomena. One could be that they are all imaginary. If that IS your hypothesis, then it behooves you to set about examining it in the fashion of a true scientific investigation. First you must describe the phenomenon and examine the current theories that purport to describe it. Then you must pose your own hypothesis (or explanation) and attempt to describe why you think it a better explanation than all that have gone before it. Then you must describe a methodology whereby you aim to test your hypothesis. Then you must carry out that methodology and register the data you have found that arises from that investigative technique. You must then analyse the data to see if it fits your explanation, previous explanations, or indeed even suggests a novel explanation. You must then set about describing the data and explore the theoretical ways in which it fits or does not fit your hypothesis. You must also draw attention to the limitations of your methodology. You may then draw your conclusions about the whole exercise and if possible, publish the whole thing as a peer reviewed paper. This constitutes (part of) an established scientific methodology. I DO NOT see a whole lot of this coming from people such as Randi, Nickell, Mazur, Radford, et al. All I see is conclusions based on dogmatic systems of belief. I see no critical thinking applied to the topic at all.

I would ask people to examine the evidence for themselves in a case such as the Rendlesham Forest Woodbridge/Bentwater occurrence for example and then come and talk to me about what we might or might not know about paranormal phenomena. Of course I KNOW this will not happen – none of you will critically examine the evidence because you have ALREADY made up your minds about this stuff WITHOUT examining the evidence - closed minds are the province of too many skeptics.

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Posted: 05 July 2012 01:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Joe Nickell, atheist skeptic refuted on his own complaint article about the sacrilegiousness of the movie “Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” http://bit.ly/joenicked

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