Pseudoskeptic Bigots

A few years ago the great “skeptic” Michael Shermer publicly committed a hasty generalization fallacy[1]. In his tweet he said:

‘Sandy Hook truthers (as bad as 9/11 truthers) vandalize memorial, taunt victim mother claiming it was a “hoax.”‘

What he is saying is that because some specific conspiracy theorists are stupid jerks all conspiracy theorists are stupid jerks. What he is doing is taking a specific incidence involving people belonging to a group of people and applying it generally to the group as a whole.

In a great case of synchronicity he was also tweeting about bigotry for the last week or so before the tweet. This got me thinking. Do pathological skeptics tend to be bigots? It seems likely. Take racism for example. Racism involves:

“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”

So if I am robbed by a purple man and then proclaim that all purple people are immoral thieves, I am a racist which is a form of bigotry. But this is simply a case of taking a specific incident involving a person belonging to a group of people and applying it generally to the group as a whole; a hasty generalization. This is a similar kind of thing that Shermer did. He observed an incidence of a small group of people within a much larger group doing something bad and then implied that the entire group engages in that sort of behavior. Based on most of the replies to his tweet, many of his followers possess the same flawed way of thinking.

In case you think this is an isolated incident for Shermer look at this more recent tweet: [2] “Nothing says anti-capitalism quite like taking a selfie with an iPhone at the Hamburg G20 protests”. The tweet shows protesters in the background with one fellow at the front taking a selfie in front of a debris fire. So first of all, people protesting at a G20 meeting are not necessarily anti-capitalist. You can be pro capitalism and anti-corporate greed. According to the largest association of protesters is the G20 Wave of Protest.[3] They have four main concerns: equitable world trade, renewable energies, social justice and greater democracy. I’m hard pressed to see how this is “anti-capitalism”.

Secondly, just because you are at a protest doesn’t mean you are a protester. The selfie taker could have been a bystander or even a reporter. In fact many have said that the photo has been photoshopped to add him in. Then again, so what if he was a staunch anti-capitalist? Are they supposed to run around naked, eating only what they themselves grow and shun all transportation? In a capitalist country pretty much every product is the result of capitalism. To protest capitalism you don’t need to shun everything produced by capitalists.

So here again we have several faulty generalizations. Because people are protesting a G20 meeting they are anti-capitalist. This is another hasty generalization. Because someone is at a protest this makes them a protester. This is a sweeping generalization because no exceptions are being allowed. Because an anti-capitalist protester owns a product manufactured by a corporation they are a hypocrite. This is a non sequitur as shown previously.

Here is another example. ‘Alt-Righters: mowing down pedestrians with a vehicle is what ISIS does. Is that what you’ve sunk to? Domestic terrorism? Any good ideas? No.'[4] Because one alt-righter does something it now becomes one of their behaviors?

“This is what Neo-Nazis do when confronted by the law—weep like babies. Armed Christopher Cantwell still on the lam.” [5] So again, because one Neo-Nazi does something, they all do it. Hasty generalization.

This sort of behavior is not limited to Shermer. Bigotry like this is endemic to mainstream “skepticism”.

Brian Dunning spouted this gem: ‘You should always assume any “surprising new studies” are exaggerated or spun to sound newsworthy’.[6] I do understand the sentiment here, many studies are misrepresented to make them sound more revolutionary that they really are. But sometimes there actually are studies with surprising new results. Assuming that all reports of surprising new studies are misrepresented is therefore committing a sweeping generalization. A sweeping generalization occurs when using a statement in an all-inclusive way without permitting any exceptions.

David Gorski proclaimed “…alternative medicine = fake medicine”.[7] Alternative medicine is any medical therapy that is not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession. This would include herbalism, homeopathy, and acupuncture. To be fake medicine these therapies would have to have been proven to have no benefit. Herbalism is the practice of using plants as medicine. There have been some clinical tests of plants as medicine and of those plants most were found to have a therapeutic effect.[8] Homeopathy is the treatment of disease by minute doses of natural substances that in a healthy person would produce symptoms of disease. Current research has purportedly shown that no homeopathic preparation has any benefits beyond placebo.[9] Yet this research has been soundly criticised for engaging in scientific misconduct.[10] Acupuncture involves pricking the skin or tissues with needles. Some research shows acupuncture can alleviate pain but most research shows acupuncture’s effect are due to placebo.[11]

So it appears that none of these three groups of alternative medicine, could be said to be fake medicine generally when only specific areas have problems. So again, Gorski is making sweeping conclusions based only on a subset of studies. In other words, he’s also committing a hasty generalization fallacy.

Here’s another hasty generalization where Gorski claims all “Anti-vaxxers” attack pro vaxxers via email.[12] So because one person skeptical of vaccines issues personal insults all of them do. Note that the term anti-vaxxer is used as a personal insult. Besides being a bigot, Gorski is also a hypocrite.

So we’ve logically established that several mainstream skeptics are bigots. Now if you are a bigot you are basically prone to faulty generalizations. You wouldn’t magically be immune from committing these errors in certain areas and not in others. You are not understanding a basic rule of critical thinking, that you can’t generalize from small samples and you have to allow exceptions to general observations. Other areas of bigotry include: racism, sexism and ageism. Note of course that I’m not saying all mainstream skeptics are bigots as that would be a faulty generalization itself. The evidence clearly shows though, that at least some of the “high ranking” ones are.









8. Cravotto G, Boffa L, Genzini L, Garella D (February 2010). “Phytotherapeutics: an evaluation of the potential of 1000 plants”. J Clin Pharm Ther. 35 (1): 11–48. PMID 20175810. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2710.2009.01096.x.

9. Ernst, E. (2010). “Homeopathy: What does the “best” evidence tell us?”. Medical Journal of Australia. 192 (8): 458–460. PMID 20402610.


11. Ernst, E. (2006). “Acupuncture–a critical analysis”. Journal of Internal Medicine. 259 (2): 125–137. ISSN 0954-6820. PMID 16420542. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2796.2005.01584.x.


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