Well, here we are. Our country in chaos. The COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc across the planet, and the United States, without leadership, fares worse than any other nation. Just as cases were going nicely down, cities, states, beaches, and bars reopened. We ignored all scientific advice and fell right back into full pandemic once again. We are now a pariah among nations. European countries won’t let us in, and who can blame them?
Another white cop kills another black man, this time for an agonizing eight minutes forty-six seconds on video, and the country explodes, first into justifiable anger and unfortunate riots, and then into enormous and inspiring peaceful protests in all fifty states. (See CFI’s online statement about that.)
Minds change. Confederate statues fall. White Americans have suddenly learned lessons that Black Americans have lived with their whole lives. Our nation’s original sin of slavery and the racism and prejudices that persist today continue to haunt us all.
And what have we heard from the top? No healing words. Just more messages stoking fear and division. And about the pandemic? Lies, wishful thinking, magical thinking, childish thinking, conspiratorial thinking, no thinking at all. A country that used to pride itself on its scientific and technological leadership can’t even muster a rational national strategy to fight the pandemic.
What are we scientific skeptics to do? What we have always done. Emphasize facts and evidence. Support reason and rationality. Honor those who do the same (see Dr. Fauci on antiscience denialism, Quoteworthy, p. 9). Fight for good science. Fight against lies, misinformation, ignorance, exaggerations, deceptions, willful ignorance, pseudoscience, antiscience, and conspiracy theories—whether the whacko ideas come from the neighbor down the street or the man in the White House.
We are not a partisan organization. We extol science and reason. We promote education and critical thinking. We seek to understand our own biases, our often flawed thinking. We expose misinformation, wherever it originates. That’s not partisan. But when the source of so much unabashed nonsense exacerbating our real problems and threatening our very democracy comes from the president and his cronies, we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge that fact as well.
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The Skeptical Inquirer has always served as a forum for discussion of issues important to science-minded skeptics. Our two lead articles are in that vein. In the first, our esteemed colleague Scott O. Lilienfeld and three Emory University psychology colleagues consider the perennial debate over how skeptics should best deal with proponents of unsupported assertions: kind and gentle so as to persuade or full-on attack—or a mixture, depending on circumstances. (I have always supported a mixture of approaches.) They seek a codifying principle of skepticism in that regard, and they propose one: intellectual humility. They make a good case, and I’ll be interested in your thoughts about their argument. Likewise, Ben Radford points out the dangers of pseudoexperiments, often carried out by well-meaning television programs or on social media with staged demonstrations that seldom prove anything useful and can be misleading and even pernicious. We’d be better off without them.