Monday, 14 April 2014

Bullshit Top Trumps. Sharing Science With Believers.

Part of the problem with the paranormal/supernatural believer community is that it is simply too easy to claim expertise in a field. How often on these pages and websites do you hear claims such as "I have psychic abilities...." or "I'm a medium...." or my personal favourite "I am a demonologist!" I absolutely love it when people claim to be "demonologists! Why? Because anyone, and I mean anyone, can claim to be an expert in something that almost categorically does not exist!  The reason these people do this is to gain an air of authority in discussions with other believers. I've seen countless discussions that run like this:

Believer A "Well I think x is a ghost!"
Believer B "You are wrong! It's a demon! I should know... I'm a demonologist!"
Believer A "Well I'm psychic so....I say ghost."

Its like Bullshit Top-Trumps. Demonologist trumps believer. Psychic trumps demologist.

Ed and Lorraine Warren: A demonologist and a psychic. Why? Because they say so! Also not a bad hand in bullshit top trumps!

A common result of this posturing is that the people making these claims have to shelter their "authority" from scrutiny. That means they become quite hostile towards people who have actually STUDIED an academic subject.  This threatens the fragile sense of achievement they have built for themselves, the level of aggression I have personally experienced from experts in their own lunchtimes has been truly shocking, especially if you ask them to display their expertise, or test their abilities. Frankly, they don't like being put on the spot because they fear their hollow boasts will be exposed. Their game of bullshit top trumps is ruined, when any actual academic disciplines are brought to the table.

This is actually quite a shame, when I talk about science, I don't do this to run anyone's nose in the dirt or threaten their self-made status... I do it because I am passionate about science and I want others to be passionate about it too.

Unfortunately, these debates often provoke the same response in casual observers "Well everyone has an opinion, and they all are equally valid!" Well this may be fine when arguing about "...was it a ghost.... or a demon... or a chupacabra?" Things that all in probability don't actually exist, but this limp post-modernism simply doesn't hold when discussing science. There is no democracy in science, not all opinions are equally valid. It isn't fair, and nor should it be! As Richard Feynman said:
"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong!"The consequence of this is the science advocate can often come across as rather strident, unrelenting and uncompromising when discussing science with a paranormal believer. That means that if you chose to discuss science in these circles, you're not likely to win much support, you are likely to anger and offend the less secure participants in the circle, and your stay is likely to be short and not end well. It doesn't matter how civil you are, talk about science on these sites and dare to be confident in your assertions... and you will be gone, probably after you've been accused of bullying and harassment, all while being exposed to the sort of prejudice and discrimination that would never be tolerated if it were directed at someone based on race, gender or sexual orientation.

This is what has happened to me countless times, a recent encounter resulted in a complete idiot commenting on every single post I made despite her having nothing of any value to add, and attacking me for sharing a link to a science site so people could check what I was saying. To a lot of believers, the greatest offence is encouraging others to think for themselves. Ironically, one of this woman's frequent claims was that I, and others, were "juvenile, yet she happily goes by the name "Debbie Doo Doo's". Hardly the apex of maturity. The admins of these groups will almost always be biased towards the believer, they set these pages up to shelter their beliefs from scrutiny in many cases.

So, with all this said, why keep going back? Why submit to more abuse? Well, the answer is, the paranormal community DESPERATELY needs people who aren't afraid to talk about science and the scientific method, the skeptic is a vital voice when discussing these matters. Also, remember, when you talk to these people about science, you may well be banging your head against a brick, but there could well be a lot of fence sitters reading that conversation who you ARE getting through to. Maybe they haven't thought about science since leaving school, maybe  they haven't learnt how to examine paranormal claims scientifically. These people need your voice! That is why I do it. That's why some of them will. maybe. start doing it too.