Monday, May 23, 2016

Horgan Affair

John Horgan.  I am not going to go into depth on Horgan's lecture at the last NECSS, or the three pieces he authored for the Scientific American blog.  I am not going to dwell into my thoughts on his work in question or into my personal refutation of them.  Dr. Steven Novella, Sharon Hill, Daniel Loxton, or the lengthy tome authored by Orac, or as discussed by Jason and Bobby on the latest strange Frequencies podcast and Virtual Skeptics latest Vlog.**  I am probably skipping others.  They all make good points, and while I do not agree with them all point for point, I more than agree with them in spirit and most detail.  Suffice it to say, I agree that one can both abhor war and promote peace* and be anti-homeopathy.  It is not a choice between guns and water. 

The above being noted a few things still resonate with me.  The first is that Horgan notes he likes to bash, which is fine if you take the time and effort to learn about the target at hand.  The devil's advocate has a rightful place forcing people and groups to think through their ideas, expose weaknesses and hopefully make revised ideas stronger or jettison them if they fall apart.  However, Horgan in this instance was not playing the part of a contrarian but a troll.  In particular, this line in Horgan's second response struck a chord:

I accomplished what I set out to do, to provoke a debate about skepticism. And I really enjoyed my chats with people at NECSS, who taught me a lot about their goals and methods. (emphasis added) 

Prince Charles: homeopathy advocate
+ a Field Marshall = Conundrum
Horgan wanted to provoke a debate to educate himself on skepticism's goals and methods?  One cannot swing a dead chupacabra without hitting a skeptical podcast or blog that has not discussed this very topic quite often.  There are books.  There are YouTube videos, and Facebook pages.  A wonderful primer can still be found on Hill's (now frozen) Doubtful News site.  I do not understand this line of reasoning.  I cannot but reflect that it appears that Horgan merely desires to provoke. Period.  Provoking a group of people without doing research is not nearly as difficult as doing a little gumshoe work in order to challenge a group with insightful and probing questions. At the very least this was a missed opportunity.

The corollary to the above that bothers me is why he was invited, but not that he was allowed to speak.  Once he was invited the organizers were correct in letting him take the stage, and if he was hustled off the stage that would be unfortunate.  Given that I was not there, all I can share is that it just strikes me as odd.  I suspect there is more to this than has been shared publicly.

Finally, after the past five or six years of turmoil within the skeptical movement (at least in the U.S.), it is heartening to see the tribe is able to rally.  Tribalism normally connotes something negative.  Given skepdom's history that we're able to circle the wagons when necessary gives me the feels.  For this I grudgingly give Horgan credit.

*Some wars such as stopping Hitler are near universally held as a necessary unless you are Patrick J. Buchanan.

EDIT: **Add the latest Monster Talk podcast episode to the list of skeptical outlets to tackle Horgan in a brief but effective manner.

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