Why do skeptics criticize Jenny McCarthy and Bill Maher?
Because they publicly trash mainstream science despite lacking the expertise to properly analyze methodology and draw different conclusions (how scientists do it).
Science uses peer review (not just “review”) to weed out bad studies, test the robustness of findings, and discuss appropriate conclusions. Peers are people who work in the same field – experts.
Scientists in related fields (or even completely different fields) are sometimes able to criticize the methodology of a given study, but big-picture stuff usually requires specific expertise. Non-scientist experts in a field of science are rare. VERY rare.
Pseudoscience and fraud are not science, so please don’t drag out the straw men and accuse me of claiming that only scientists can be good skeptics. I’m not. Think about the role that magicians have played in exposing so-called psychics, for example – the right tool for the job.
So, what am I trying to say here? Well, I’m trying to say that skeptics should criticize people who talk out of their asses about science on a public stage.
And I’m trying to say that skeptics should criticize it rather than do it themselves.
A skeptic, like anyone else, is entitled to make a mistake or two, even a big one. However, making a habit out of spouting one’s uneducated/under-educated opinion (or regurgitating one’s own interpretation of a cherry-picked opinion of an expert) from a stage is not what good skeptics do; it’s what people like McCarthy and Maher do. It shouldn’t be tolerated, much less encouraged.
But this has been discussed before:
For the record, there is NOTHING morally or ethically wrong with voicing one’s uneducated (or under-educated) opinion during private discussion or even in a public forum of equal footing. That’s called “discussion”.
This applies to both criticism and promotion, by the way.
Sometimes it is obvious where the line between pseudoscience and science is and sometimes it’s not. SkeptiCamps are a great place to get one’s feet wet and learn where those lines are, but I must warn you that even at these casual events, research-by-Google isn’t usually well-accepted. Do your homework if you’re planning to speak about pseudoscience.
And if you’re planning to talk about science, be very, very careful. Remember that reading a book or two, even if written by experts in the field, does not equate to the 10,000 hours of study required to gain expertise.
A note on why I wrote this:
There has been a lot of discussion about speaker lists in recent months.
I do not condone ultimatums or demands–attempts to bully organizations into punishing people you don’t like because you feel entitled to control. However, I have serious concerns about the quality of speakers at skeptic events and strongly believe that public discussion of the problems in general is needed.
These concerns are not new, but they have continued to grow and currently weigh very heavily on my mind.
So, sorry to be all judgmental and everything, but this stuff matters.