Sunday, December 12, 2010

Libertarianism, skepticism shouldn't be mixed

The potentially extended about dangers of mixing libertarianism and skepticism? Look at SkepticBlog and some of its recent posts, especially by Michael Shermer and Brian Dunning.

Shermer has been a libertarian of long standing. Outside this blog, as editor of Skeptic magazine, he's been an "enabler" of racialist Frank Miele for what, more than a decade now. Fellow racialist and co-author of "Race" with Miele, Vincent Sarich, is on the editorial board; Miele is listed as "senior editor."

Brian Dunning is currently engaged in bald-faced denialism of his libertarian sourcing, especially Steve Milloy's JunkScience.

Of course, here's why Dunning's such a denialist — Milloy's blatant denialism on global warming is trumpeted on the front page of JunkScience:
Now that the most absurd but potentially catastrophic junk science in human history is unraveling and we are preparing to declare victory over gorebull warbling we can devote more attention to neglected junk.

Taking Liberty -- How Private Property is being Abolished in America

Click here to jump straight to the global warming (a.k.a. "climate change", "global weirding", "people are icky, nasty, weather-breaking critters"... ) section if you so desire.

It's clear from that that Milloy engages in pseudoscience. Dunning was busted on using this website as a source, so hides his embarrassment at his ideological bias being discovered by raging against critics allegedly engaged in conspiracy theories, distortions, not telling him his errors and more.

Steven Novella originally got snookered by Milloy years ago and refusing to weigh in on Dunning's defense of "accidentally using" Milloy now.

Regarding that:
An irony in all of this is that if you go back and listen to early episodes of SGU, the Novella gang praised junkscience as a reputable website. They even had Milloy on to talk about his website (didn't discuss DDT, as far as I can remember). But you can tell that red flags were raised during the interview with Steve Novella, when Milloy was using language suggesting an ideological bias when discussing certain issues. And after that interview, SGU never mentioned junkscience again, except when criticizing it in an interview (I think, with Christopher Mooney). If only Brian had been privy to those early episodes, he may have steered away from the site all-together.

Well, considering that Dunning refuses to pull in his horns, AND that Novella has yet to put up his own post on Skepticblog about this at all, I doubt Dunning would have "steered away." Shermer hasn't steered away from worse; rather, he's gone swimming in it again.

Add, speaking of that, Skepticblog partner No. 4 (more on "partner" below) Daniel Loxton claimed that Shermer was past that, on a comment to a skeptic friend's Facebook post about a month ago. That makes almost half of the group, four of ten, having some degree of question mark over their heads on conflating libertarianism and skepticism.

Now, that "partner" talk? With 10 different members, I say it's a legitimate analogy to compare SkepticBlog to a law firm, with each blogger a "partner" similar to those at a law firm.

And, based on my experience with a with a particular political blog, Daily Kos, we're going to take that analogy in a particular direction.

Back about four years ago, Armando Llorens-Sar was Kos founder Markos Moulitsas' right-hand man. But, many people including me, asked and kept asking why he was refusing to reveal the name of the law firm where he "worked." He claimed it was because it could hurt his business.

Not quite. It turned out he was a partner at the firm, as opposed to "working" there. It a corporate representational firm which had some clients, such as Clorox and Walmart, taboo to many liberals.

I noted on Kos, before being banned, that Armando could have sold out of his partnership or asked to be bought out and how he ignored this idea. Note that a similar analogy applies here, to getting rid of Shermer and Dunning, or else others starting a new group blog. The six "silent partners," or the six + two, if you count the "abetting" duo of Loxton and Novella, have their chance to stand up for skeptical credibility, principle and practice.

As it stands, though, this conflation is bad for skepticism in a number of ways. Credibility, confusion of what skepticism is and more all result.


Some people may thing that there's a litmus test on political skepticism, i.e., you're not a good enough skeptic unless you're a libertarian. Others may think that the skeptical enterprise has an inherent bias. (Note the explicit libertarianism of Pop Ev Psycher Steve Pinker, for a parallel.) And more.

Now, if like Howard Gardiner apparently did on religious belief to a degree, if Shermer and Dunning want to compartmentalize their skepticism, fine. Just be honest about it!

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