Saturday, June 22, 2013

Debunking the debunkers

If there’s one journal that rankles my ass it’s the Skeptical Inquirer (SI) which posits itself as hard-boiled scientists debunking paranormal, pseudoscience, & occult claims. When you realize that along with reputable thinkers like Carl Sagan they also included people like B.F. Skinner, magicians, & jugglers then their elitist claims take on a different cast. Mostly they seem to be pretentious graduate students suffering intellectual hair-balls. Think of it as the intellectual’s version of the National Inquirer.

Their targets for “investigation” include astrology, UFOs, faith healing, reincarnation, voodoo, magical thinking, therapeutic touch, all alternative medicine modalities including homeopathy & Chinese medicine. It’s not certain why they think massage & magical thinking are more important to take on than the rancid behavioral theories of B.F. Skinner. His social theories are much easier & far more important to expose as baloney.

I was just a secretary at NYU & a political rookie when Skinner defended his Platonic & elitist nonsense there. It was the early 1970s when social movements were erupting around the globe & when Vietnamese resistance to US military might was making human history. Skinner, in his invincibly smug professorial manner, laid out how plebeian humans need an elite to govern us. When I asked him if he didn’t think the Vietnamese & civil rights, feminist, antiwar, environmental, & gay rights movements were making a fool of that idea the poor old guy actually stammered. So much for skeptical inquiry!

Now the paranormal hunters at SI are turning their fire on 3,000 garment workers in Gazipur, Bangladesh who stopped work & protested this week after a worker claimed she was attacked by a ghost in the women’s bathroom. Our ghost buster reports this isn’t the first time workers in Southeast Asian garment factories have become ill with “mysterious & unexplainable” illnesses. Many workers report fatigue, dizziness, nausea when no toxins or environmental contaminants are found to explain the symptoms. Don’t you wish our inquirers at SI were as skeptical of safety inspectors as they are of workers!? After all, hundreds of Bangladeshi workers have died in fires & building collapses unmonitored by anybody.

Our intrepid SI reporter does nod his head to the building collapse in April & points out that hundreds of factory workers in the region have since been complaining of unexplained maladies but his main concern is with mass hysteria & the belief in ghosts & evil spirits among Bangladeshi Muslims. Might our man have a touch of the mass hysteria more prevalent in the US called Islamophobia!?

What passes for intellectual curiosity at SI looks banal to others. He thinks it curious that Middle East & Asian ghosts often manifest in bathrooms since US ghosts don’t spend much time there. He doesn’t tell us where our ghosts hang out but there are certainly a lot of spooks loitering around SI. Cough up your hair-ball, buster! There is a specter haunting Bangladesh & elsewhere. It’s called sweatshops.

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