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!


  1. It wasn't ridicule of my beliefs that brought me to non-belief, and I believed in some seriously ridiculous stuff. The people that made the biggest impact were the ones who heard what I had to say about why I believed and gently questioned those beliefs.

  2. Ms. Hill is a truly remarkable person. Her critics are grossly misguided. I'd think a goal of any good Secularist-Skeptic organization would be to bring enlightenment to confused, misguided, delusional people. Sharon does that, or at the very least puts forth a great deal of effort to do so, in a well meaning and intelligent way. You just can't make a person come over to your way of thinking by yelling at, insulting, and condescending to them via the the public forum of the internet. The most sensible way to create a more sensible Humanity is to provide a table set with relatively simple facts and then sit back and let them consume. Ms. Hill is exceptionally good at that. Loch Ness ?? Nothing there for a sea-monster to eat. BigFoot ?? Never a tooth, bone, strand of hair or DNA found, although people have been looking hard for a long, long time. Ghosts ?? Nothing resembling proof or even evidence, but a lot of proof of a lot of opportunistic fakes. UFOs ?? Again, not a shred of evidence that anything seen is caused by E.T. intelligence. Psychics??? ..... I could go on and on. There is a tendency for people to believe bizarre things, without any proof, whatsoever. Once upon a time, a long, long, time ago, this ability might even have helped Humanity to survive, prosper, and evolve. Just outside of their hard won ring of fire-light, there might very well actually have been a monster that wanted to eat them. It's just a real shame if we've come to the point where we allow ourselves to tear down any of the good things that our ancestors brought about. So many people have worked so hard to get us to where we are right now. Just like Sharon Hill has. I, for one, wouldn't want to attend any conference or support any branch of Secularism- FreeThought that excluded her. D.W.

  3. Hi: S.T. Thank you for this. I'm no saint but I try my best. Everyone has their thing and that's fine as long as it doesn't stomp on other people. I have my moments but I don't attack people personally as has been done to me.

    While I have not had ANY interactions with PZ, I have made PLENTY of attempts to smooth things over with Skepchick Amy. You are correct. She is not interested. I do not believe many "Skeptic" are interested in doing much in the positive sense when negativity can be so well-exploited.

    The nonsense has grown to a point where I feel rather unsupported by this "skeptic community". There is a somewhat small group of people who actively support each other and look ahead instead of constantly navel gazing or finger-pointing. My audience is the public. I'd like to help them understand how critical thinking can be an ASSET to their lives and help them make better decisions about the world.

    People can choose whatever kind of "skeptical activism" they wish to support depending upon their values. I just spelled out mine. Thanks for your vote of confidence.

  4. The concept of "FollowCrime" is sad and pathetic. Yet, also funny at it's grade-school mentality. It seems that there's only one "side" that declares the commission of FollowCrime, and that it is the A+ crowd. That's significant.

  5. Very well said. I believe you said what hopefully everyone else has been thinking.