Mainstream skepticism is for the most part what could be called cargo cult skepticism. The term comes from the practice of ritualistic acts by indigenous peoples. These acts involved the mimicking of the behaviors of colonizers in the hope that goods (cargo) would be bestowed upon them. Richard Feynman popularized the metaphorical use of the term when he coined his own term “cargo cult science” to describe works that have some superficial appearance of science but lacked the rigor of serious experimentation. Cargo cult skepticism then would involve behaviors that have some appearance of skepticism but lacks significant aspects of critical thinking.
Take mainstream skeptics’ defense of science. They will defend evolution, which is good because it happens to be one of the best supported theories ever developed. However, when it comes to science which is susceptible to corruption via conflict of interest, they ignore this and defend this science just as fervently if not more. Those of us that understand the extreme dangers of conflict of interest are quite disturbed at the free reign companies get in the testing and verification of their own products. This would include pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies and large agricultural companies.
So why do mainstream skeptics behave this way? One possibility is that they are actually shills for these companies. They are paid to support corporate pseudoscience in order to look the other way. This may be true of some of the leaders who seem to have a lot more money than they should have. But this does not explain the same behavior in their followers. The followers might be best described as “useful idiots”.
The term “useful idiot” AKA “useful fool” originated in communist Russia. It refers to a person propagandists hoodwink into furthering their goals. So if skeptic followers were blind conformists, they would simply go along with whatever their leaders convinced them to believe. The leaders could very well be useful idiots themselves following what consensus of corporate corrupted scientists tell them to believe backed by fraudulent science.
Now the shill/useful idiot explanation works for some areas of pathological skepticism but not all. Take human caused climate change for example. The whole concept of human caused climate change is catastrophic for some of the largest most powerful companies on Earth, Big Oil. The thing is though that, generally speaking, all of mainstream skepticism, or at least its leadership, is wholly on board with the notion of human caused climate change.
All areas of mainstream skepticism do have one thing in common though, “consensus” view. In every area that mainstream skeptics champion, that area is supported by a consensus of authorities. Now not all consensus opinions involve an actual consensus. Take 9/11 for example, there is not a single physicist or structural engineer on Earth that would ever believe that a building could be in free fall while also breaking up it’s lower structure as this would constitute a glaring violation of several laws of physics. Yet according to the official story, this is precisely what happened to WTC 7. These physicists and engineers will not challenge this story though for fear of ridicule and worse because of an almost overwhelming consensus of politicians and business leaders.
So cargo cult skeptics (mainstream skeptics) appear to use appeal to authority and appeal to consensus fallacies to maintain their blind faith in corporate pseudoscience. They will believe anything, no matter how unscientific, no matter how absurd as long as a consensus of authorities proclaims that it is true. They will reject the scientific method and promote logical fallacies to prop up their cultish adherence to establishment views. They are the embodiment of cargo cult skepticism.
1. Burridge, Kenelm (1969). New Heaven, New Earth: A study of Millenarian Activities. London: Basil Blackwell. p. 48.
2. Feynman, Richard P. (June 1974). “Cargo Cult Science” (PDF). California Institute of Technology.
3. 1959 Congressional Record, Vol. 105, Page A5653
4. NIST NCSTAR1-A: Final Report on the Collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 (PDF). NIST. November 2008.
Michael Fullerton is a software designer based in Vernon BC Canada. His writing explores and exposes pathological skepticism and the corporate pseudo-science it tends to serve. He also has an intense interest in organizational psychopathy, or how psychopaths rise up in organizational structures of all kinds. As a pantheist he strives to be part of the movement to unify spirituality and science.