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Respectful Skepticism

Being respectful isn’t just a nice thing to do. Skeptics are more likely to succeed if they defend science and reason in a consistently respectful manner.

The 2018 Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) CSICon conference is in the books. After checking in at Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport and consuming a mediocre breakfast burrito, I found myself next to Burger King with enough solitude and caffeine-based stimulation to process everything I learned. I have been to three consecutive CSICons; this one placed a stronger emphasis on treating others with respect.

I was part of it. In my talk, I discouraged stereotyping pseudoscience supporters as being unintelligent or mentally unwell. The speakers who preceded me discussed leading with caring and having sympathy toward those who insert Goop into their … lives. Massimo Pigliucci discussed the limits of science (Boudry and Pigliucci 2017). Paul Offit shared a longstanding wish that he could relive a previous event and express more caring. The amazing James Randi himself continued the theme. SI Editor Kendrick Frazier recalled a person who asked Randi about helping loved ones who believe in flim-flam. Randi’s advice was to be kind to them, because they have trouble understanding how they have been misled.

Unfortunately, people simply do not recognize the im-portance of behaving respectfully and then change their modus operandi for interacting with others. The challenges associated with creating more respectful behavior are evident at my institution, the United States Air Force Academy. Some might think it odd that an institution would care about respect when its graduates might be asked to kill people. On the contrary, the U.S. Air Force Academy cares a great deal about respect, recognizing that it can reduce unnecessary harm, facilitate a positive workplace climate, and contribute to more effective leadership. I am pleased to say that my department, the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, has played an influential role in this process, allowing me to learn from discussions surrounding this issue. Treating people with respect is also a thread that perceptibly and imperceptibly weaves through the behavioral science courses we teach.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to describe why the skeptical community might benefit from behaving more respectfully and to offer some principles that might encourage this type of behavior. Psychologist Ray Hyman, an original member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s Executive Council, similarly encouraged skeptics to behave respectfully in his insightful guide about effective forms of criticism, “Proper Criticism” (Hyman 2001). CSI and the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER have been guided by it for decades, since well before they published it. In particular, Hyman argued that more charitable behavior on behalf of skeptics could advance skepticism generally. Building off his work, I will dive more deeply into the concept of interpersonal respect. I use the term respectful skepticism so skeptics can consider it as a distinct concept worthy of consideration.

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MEGAVITAMINS: Puffery vs Fact CSIcon 2018 Conference Report Respectful Skepticism The Dematerialization Crusade AND MUCH MORE...