Three Kinds of Internet Skeptic

“Ideas on earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Vonnegut's global skepticism in the above quote is not shared by many skeptics on the internet. Their skepticism is not the historical, philosophical skepticism of Descartes or of the ancient Skeptus Empiricus. Instead, there are at least three types of skeptics commonly blogging these days: political, religious, and scientific skeptics. Furthermore, skepticism in one area is often kept in conjunction with acceptance and even naivete in another. I'll discuss these types of skepticism below, specifically in how they are seen in bloggers' writings on the Internet.

Political skepticism

The political skeptic on the internet is not someone who is skeptical about government in general, as seen in anarchism or radical forms of libertarianism. Instead, the blogging political skeptic is usually a commentator on recent political events, such as elections and laws, where the prevailing theme is about ulterior, often evil motives for the decisions of the government. The paradigm of this type of blogger is the conspiracy theorist, who typically suspects the party in power or the party to which he is opposed of secretively executing warlike behavior against the people, such as the Bush administration planning the 911 fall of the World Trade Center, or the Obama administration planning the Connecticut school shootings. Political commentators of this type are usually not scientists, but they often try to marshal scientific evidence as proof of their political views. Such willingness to use scientific theory to change public policy suggests they are not generally scientific skeptics. Many political skeptics hold religious views which put them in opposition to certain government policies, and this opposition might be one reason they became suspicious of their government's actions. Thus, many but not all political skeptics on the internet are theists.

Scientific skepticism

Scientific skepticism, as I would define it, is a form of methodological skepticism. Methodological skepticism is a method of discerning truth from falsehood (a method of verification) which is seen in mathematics in the proof by contradiction and in logic in the reductio ad absurdum. In science, methodological skepticism is part of the scientific method, which may test theories by looking for data that contradicts predictions of a theory. This type of skepticism is accompanied by a tendency to reserve judgement which often finds itself opposed to the hype and gullibility of modern media regarding reports of new discoveries.

Scientists take a position of skepticism about findings or theories, including their own, in order to better test those theories. Theories which are better tested are more likely to be correct, and so methodological skepticism may become a pathway to more certainty, if a theory stands up to testing. Scientific skepticism does not necessarily include global, philosophical, political, or religious skepticism or even skepticism in scientific fields outside the scientist's own.

Some internet skeptics look beyond their areas of expertise in their skepticism because they have technical or statistical qualms about scientific studies in general, or, more often, because they have a general interest in science as a field of knowledge. This is usually still methodological skepticism, but in such cases it is more prone to be influenced by the philosophical or political biases of the skeptic, who may be more prone to attack results in a particular field of study for aesthetic or personal reasons, rather than to improve that field's quality, than someone who is directly involved in the field.

I practice scientific skepticism in fields that I find of concern in daily practice.

Religious skepticism

Religious skepticism is doubt of religious claims in general. This should be distinguished from philosophical or doctrinal disputes between believers in different varieties of religion. Skeptics of religion tend not to be merely methodological skeptics, since they do not have as a goal some kind of true religious belief, but instead advocate agnosticism or atheism about all religious belief.

There are a surprising number of atheistic bloggers who are naive realists about science, and who think that atheism and skepticism are the same thing. This causes clashes between scientific skeptics, who want to improve the quality of scientific beliefs, and skeptics of religion, who are concerned with non-scientific (specifically religious, not ethical or political) beliefs.

See the controversy, for example, here.

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