The Dawkins/Plait Dilemma – An Addendum

I have a problem with confirmation bias. Three years into this skeptic thing and I STILL have some confirmation bias. I could tell you, dear reader, that it’s because I’m only human, but that’s an excuse. The reality is that in my post, The Dawkins/Plait Dilemma, I failed to apply critical thinking. I posted with emotion instead of reasoning by not finding sources to back up my statements before I made them. And so, I had a SKEPTIC FAIL.

Thanks to a frequent commenter on this blog, I’m now able to recognize that I need to ALWAYS research first and THEN post instead of using the Argument From Authority as a supposedly credible source.

My views have changed somewhat since posting the original D/P D. I no longer think that a pushy approach harms the skeptical movement as a whole. I agree with the panel that spoke at Skepticon 3 in the “Confrontation vs Accommodation” panel. They all agreed that a balance is called for. I would post the video of the talk, but it is not yet available. When it is available on YouTube, I will post it here.

It was actually painful to question a belief that I have held for a long time. That belief was that being a bit confrontational is harmful. I have anecdotes, but those are not evidence.  Even though confronting my mistakes in reasoning was pretty traumatic, I’m actually glad that someone took the time to pursue this and help me recognize where my mistakes were.

I’m sharing this because I hope that you, dear reader, can learn from my mistakes as well as my information. Yes it is deeply unsettling to examine long-held beliefs only to discover that they are wrong. Yes, there are tears and sadness. But once you have allowed yourself that self-examination process, you can discard the old knowledge and replace it with the facts.



  1. Alex said,

    November 24, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Have you found actual evidence one way or the other? I was at that panel and have listened to other discussions and almost everything I’ve heard is anecdotal.

    I also think we need to define our terms a bit. There are many levels of confrontation and if PZ is one of our most confrontational voices, then our confrontation is still pretty mild. He’s not accomodationist, but he’s not picketing or rallying groups in the public square. He’s just posting on a blog that nobody has to read.

    • November 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm

      Unfortunately it seems I’ve been looking in the wrong places for psych studies. I’m going to start going through psychology journals to find an indication one way or another. I am fully aware that one study is not a body of evidence and some studies are either poorly done or have study populations too small to draw a real conclusion from. So I’m not going to be cherry-picking out of ignorance.

      What terms are we defining specifically?

  2. Bret Hall said,

    November 24, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Being wrong is one thing, Maria, and I think it is great that you are learning from your mistakes. However, please don’t see what happened in the previous article’s comments as the correct way to confront people about their beliefs. Being uncivil, regardless of your motives, is not the correct way to go about any argument.

    While Latsot might have had valid points about the content of your article, the way he/she went about expressing those points was, for lack of a better word, dickish. Whether something works is not the only consideration that we must make for deciding a course of action as a skeptic. We also have to consider the humanistic side of the argument.

    People with views other than ours are not some lowly sub-species for whom we must attack at every circumstance to change their mindset, but are people just like we are. Questioning motives, flinging ad-hominems and generally acting an ass of yourself may be a way to force a person to question their views, but it is not treating that person with respect, and that I find abhorrent.

    • November 24, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      The thing that really troubles me was not his approach. What truly bothered me was MY reaction to it. I was firmly convinced I was right. Latsot’s pushiness pushed me to the point that I had no other choice to examine what I was saying.
      I was avoidant and in denial up until just before the end.

      It isn’t so much Latsot’s approach that led me to a different conclusion to my OWN approach when talking to believers. I had a very long talk with someone at our room party at Skepticon 3. I also listened very closely to the panel debate. No one was actually advocating being an asshole. They were ALL just advocating a more balanced approach. I now tend to agree after my own experience of being forced to look at my own errors in logic.

  3. latsot said,

    December 2, 2010 at 9:45 am


    I revise my opinions often too, especially when people challenge my logic or – more importantly – the evidence. Who doesn’t?

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