Monday, February 4, 2013
Are you now or have you ever been a Bigfoot Skeptic?
When PZ Myers decried Bigfoot Skeptics, who was he talking about? Well, I don't know if he's had any interactions with Sharon Hill, but he may well have been getting in a kick at her in a gutless, passive-aggressive way.
Sharon Hill (pictured above) is a geologist for the state of Pennsylvania, and she is also well known and highly respected as a skeptical researcher and editor of Doubtful News. She actually is a Bigfoot Skeptic, having investigated and debunked a number of Bigfoot claims. The interesting thing, though, is that she is respected by some Bigfoot believers, and has even been invited to guest-post on a pro-Bigfoot blog.
How did Sharon win the respect of people who radically disagree with her? Not by dismissing their claims out of hand and calling them idiots. Instead, she engages with them, and says: "Look, guys, you're making a scientific claim. Here is what you need to do to support your claim, because the onus is on you to substantiate your claim, not on me to believe it." She treats her opponents as human beings, and disagreements as teachable moments, without compromising her scientific integrity.
The result is that some Bigfoot believers have paid tribute to Sharon for being fair and thorough. It's a far cry from the Atheism-plus/FTB/Skepchick slash-and-burn take-no-prisoners approach, and who knows, it may be more effective in getting believers in the paranormal to question their assumptions.
Some time ago, Surly Amy of T-shirt-gate notoriety picked a fight with Sharon for the crime of following someone on Twitter of whom Amy didn't approve. History does not record whether Amy burst into tears on seeing that Followcrime was in progress, but I'm pretty sure Sharon has been on the A÷ shit list since then - some people have said they would boycott any conference where she was a speaker.
The latest talking point among the plussers - along with "freeze peach", "teal deer" and "LOL even my stupid spellchecker knows that misandry isn't a thing" - is the idea that it's trivial and a waste of time to be skeptical about things like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and skeptics should instead devote their time and energy to the really big issues like "Teh Patriarchy", "male privilege", "rape culture" etc. etc.
It's sort of like saying that being invited for coffee in an elevator is trivial compared to female genital mutilation (FGM) - except I seem to recall the plussers being on the other side of the argument that time!
The reality of course is that no subject is off-limits to skepticism, however big or small, if someone has the time and commitment to follow it up. If a Bigfoot enthusiast can be persuaded to take a more skeptical view and realize that the evidence just doesn't stand up, perhaps the same attitude will carry over to UFO's and other paranormal beliefs, and in any case it's a victory worth celebrating!
At the other end of the scale, it's perfectly valid to take a skeptical approach to social issues, and demand evidence for some factual claim before you believe it. This certainly applies to gender roles in society, but it applies equally well to dogmatic statements about some supposedly all-powerful, all-pervasive but invisible conspiracy to oppress and exploit women.
I would applaud the plussers for taking a skeptical, empirical, evidence-based approach to social issues, as long as they realized that (a) no skeptical organization should be forced to change its area of interest to conform to the Atheism-plus agenda, and (b) when it comes to questions of "ought" rather than "is", there are things reasonable people can disagree about.
Unfortunately, A÷ is "skeptical" about as much as "creation science" is a science - the real goal, I suspect, is to hijack skeptical organizations to push an agenda of victim-feminist dogma, skepticism be damned!
Long may Sharon Hill, and anyone else who's interested, continue to be Bigfoot Skeptics. If they win one person over, that's more than Atheism÷ has accomplished in its entire existence!