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©2011 by Richard Nolle

WOW!MAR 28, 2011 - Skeptical Investigations probably isn't what you think, at firt blush. It's not about skeptics debunking whatever assails their prejudices. (Well, that is what they do.) Instead, it's an examination of the debunkers themselves, their methods and motivation. The recent SuperMoon flap stirred up the rabid anti-astrology debunkers all over again. Masquerading as skeptics - a term which presupposes an unbiased rationality of which they show no evidence - the debunkers didn't take time to actually understand the SuperMoon concept (any more than most of its promoters in the blogosphere). Instead they did the customary knee-jerk denunciations and condemnations. It all reminded me of astronomer Carl Sagan's refusal to sign the infamous "Objections to Astrology" manifesto back in 1974, which author Guy Lyon Playfair cites in his most excellent article at Skeptical Investigations, Has CSICOP Lost the Thirty Years' War? Sagan demurred on the grounds that "statements contradicting borderline, folk or pseudoscience that appear to have an authoritarian tone can do more harm than good." Had Sagan gone soft in the head? Maybe he knew a witch-hunt when he saw one. Playfair cites a chilling passage from Paul Feyerabend that's very much on-point:

Science writer Paul Feyerabend noted in Science and a Free Society (1978) that the wording of the manifesto ("Scientists in a variety of fields have become concerned about the increased acceptance of astrology in many parts of the world") sounded chillingly familiar. As the 15th century Pope Innocent VIII put it in the Papal Bull that kicked off the crusade against witches, real or imaginary, and led to countless deaths of innocent people, "It has indeed come to our ears ... that in many parts of the world, persons ... have strayed from the Catholic faith and abandoned themselves to devils."

Can't happen here, can't happen now? Don't be so sure. If you don't recognize that science is the religion of the Modern Age - having disposed of the Biblical religions by the early 20th Century - and you're not aware that power corrupts, and ideological supremacy corrupts horribly, then there will be no one left to speak out when they come for you. Deborah Houlding, of SkyScript renown, reports that "In the UK the 'science community' is also pushing for legislation to enable them to be free of libel laws for anything that relates to 'pseudoscience'. This would mean that they don't even have to pretend to be truthful about astrology - they could ridicule it, insult it, misrespresent it all they want, since they refer to astrology as the classic example of a pseudoscience."

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