Sasquatch Coffee

Speaking of Name Calling and Skeptics

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on May 31st, 2007

Skeptics here decry the use of the term scoftic. The claim is cryptozoology would be taken more seriously without the name calling.

As Loren has posted here on Cryptomundo at Skeptic Says You Are Stupid, the skeptics like to throw around the terms “woo” and “woo-woo”.

Go take a look at the James Randi Educational Foundation forums, and you can see the term thrown around all over the place.

What does the term mean though?

According to SkepticWiki, here is the definition of the word:

Definition

Woo-woo (or sometimes, simply woo) is used within parts of the skeptical community in referring to extraordinary beliefs for which it is felt there is insufficient extraordinary evidence, and people who hold those beliefs.

Sometimes used as an adjective (“My brother has a lot of woo-woo beliefs”), other times as a noun (“That message board is full of woo-woos”), it is almost always used as a term of derision.

Origin

The origin of the term is unclear.

One theory is that it comes from the “woo-ooo” sound made by a Theramin, the electronic instrument often used in old horror films to emphasize that something strange or mysterious was happening (such as the appearance of a ghost or alien). Another theory is that the term woo-woo comes from the theme song of Rod Serlings’s The Twilight Zone. Yet another theory is that “woo woo” was early 20th century slang for insanity.

Usage examples

Thank you for publishing a final deconstruction of that bit of woo-woo. Source

Being psychic is not about having some “woo-woo” abilities that one can only be born with. Source

Controversy

Since the term is almost always used derisively, it is not surprising that some people find it unnecessarily offensive, particularly when applied to them or their own beliefs.

Although more neutral terms such as “believer” are less emotionally-charged, the brevity and (to some) humor of the term “woo-woo” has earned it a popularity, particularly within online skeptical communities such as the JREF Forum. This usage may be criticized as an ad hominem argument, or as tending to dismiss a person or topic on strangeness alone, rather than addressing the issue.SkepticWiki

So according to the skeptics themselves, or at least SkepticWiki, the term “woo” is one of derision.

So it looks like the pot (skeptics) is calling the kettle (cryptozoology) black.

What a fine kettle of (mystery) fish we’ve gotten ourselves into.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.


18 Responses to “Speaking of Name Calling and Skeptics”

  1. Carol Maltby responds:

    Never, ever, let them hijack the definitions. Letting them claim the higher ground of “skeptic,” and letting them get away with defining what we know as “beliefs” rather than fact has always been a real bad mistake.

    Everyone has beliefs. Everyone is a skeptic. We all differ on where and how we draw the lines, no matter what fine rhetorical tricks may be used to obscure the fact.

    The SkepticWiki appears to be mostly a production of the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) forums. They helpfully announce at one point that for them “As used on the JREF forums, the term Skepticism generally refers to Scientific Skepticism: a philosophy in which claims are challenged before being accepted or rejected.” They bat around other definitions of skepticism that may also (or not) describe their particular party line.

    Those of you familiar with the workings of Wikipedia understand that a neutral point of view (NPOV) is expected. This gets short shrift from those who believe in Randi and JREFism: “While neutral POVs are legitimate here, non-skeptical POVs are “off-topic” here.”

    Note that the JREF SkepticWiki has no entry for “belief,” only “true believer.” That word is very emotionally charged for “skeptics,” despite their protestation that “believer” is somewhat neutral.

    Know your sources. Never say “the dictionary” — some dictionaries define words as how they are used, others define them by how it is felt they should be used. Never quote definitions from house organs that are shy about saying outright in bold type on their front pages what particular group they speak for.

    I haven’t found anything giving citations for how far back woo-woo has been found. But I do know that we referred (with equal parts irony and affection) to some of the pop-paranormal books we carried at our bookstore as “Woo woo books” as early as about 1980. I don’t remember if we picked the term up somewhere, or just coined it as onomatopoeia for the sound that a reader would make at reading some of the amazing wonders contained within those books.

    I do know that despite the excuses that some “skeptics” may make for the word “woo-woo,” it is derogatory, and unacceptable in conversation with me.

  2. drjon responds:

    Everyone’s a little bit scoftic… ;})>

    I find CSICOP-style Skeptoids a bit too fundamentalist and self-certain in their beliefs to find the experience of having anything to do with them anywhere near pleasant. Their mocking derisivness towards beliefs opposed to their own spills too easily into antagonistic rudeness towards those who hold those beliefs–as demonstrated by by the use of the term “woo”.

  3. Daniel Loxton responds:

    Craig Woolheater writes,

    Skeptics here decry the use of the term scoftic.

    Skeptics here also decry the use of the term “woo,” as I have done several times, as recently as last week:

    If third graders can manage politeness, surely we can do that and then far more. No funny names, such as “woo” or “scoftic.” No mean-spirited speculations about the motivations of posters.

    I’m a bit sympathetic to the use of “woo woo” as an adjective (it is pretty funny—who hasn’t heard the Twilight Zone theme in their head when nodding through one paranormal tirade or another, try as they might to be open-minded?), but I don’t use it that way either. It’s just too easy to step over into personal ridicule, and frankly, that always sets everyone back.

    drjon writes, above,

    …scoftic…Skeptoids…

    Civility always starts wherever we’re standing, and always starts with us. (Something about a timber in our own eye, as I recall…) If we don’t like it, we shouldn’t do it.

  4. drjon responds:

    I have no problem with good Zetetic scholarship, which is what I suspect the good M. Woolheater practises.

    However, I find the term “Skeptoid” better describes many self-certified Skeptics, and is certainly far from the personal opprobrium evinced in the use of a term like “woo-woo”.

    Civility always starts wherever we’re standing, and always starts with us. (Something about a timber in our own eye, as I recall…) If we don’t like it, we shouldn’t do it.

    This is of course very true.

  5. Daniel Loxton responds:

    drjon writes,

    However, I find the term “Skeptoid” better describes many self-certified Skeptics, and is certainly far from the personal opprobrium evinced in the use of a term like “woo-woo”.

    My personal feeling is just the opposite: that “woo-woo” is more goodnatured and represents less personal opprobrium than “Skeptoid.” All this tells us is that,

    A) the proper judges of the decency of a label are not the speakers, but the people it’s used to describe, and

    B) we’re better off not labeling people when we can just speak directly to the arguments and evidence.

  6. drjon responds:

    My personal feeling is just the opposite: that “woo-woo” is more goodnatured and represents less personal opprobrium than “Skeptoid.”

    Perhaps that’s because you’re giving less weight to a broad-ranging and dismissive insult and more to a negative professional assessment?

    we’re better off not labeling people when we can just speak directly to the arguments and evidence.

    I agree. And “woo-woo” is wide of the mark when it comes to this.

  7. drjon responds:

    My apologies, I wrote

    I have no problem with good Zetetic scholarship, which is what I suspect the good M. Woolheater practises.

    when I meant to write

    I have no problem with good Zetetic scholarship, which is what I suspect the good M. Loxton practises.

    Apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

  8. Daniel Loxton responds:

    And “woo-woo” is wide of the mark when it comes to this.

    Yes, it is. I don’t use it or condone it.

  9. jayman responds:

    Though I consider myself a skeptic, I too have gotten disenchanted with the hard-core CSICOP type of skeptic. Too cocksure, smug and mocking. And that type of skepticism is invariably ideologically driven, not a method or way of looking at data.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.

  11. Judaculla responds:

    I’ve said this elsewhere… I’m fine with folks who are agnostic about the existence of sasquatch. If you are a strict empiricist (and that’s a good thing in my mind), you might find the existing evidence to be ambiguous or even suggestive. However, you’ll need more before accepting that such a species is real. Although my position has vacillated over time, that’s the camp that I find myself in now.

    I take issue with folks who dismiss things on an a priori basis (unless the idea being considered is logically impossible like married bachelors). “Scoftic” implies cynicism and derision, and is not best for polite conversation.

    I don’t like the word skeptic either. Using skeptic implies that advocates of the possibility of a zoological explanation behind the sasquatch phenomenon are not skeptical. Skeptical advocate is not an oxymoron.

    Would crypto-agnostic be appropriate for those who don’t dismiss the subject but are waiting for better evidence? Agnocryptic?

    For those who deny the possibility of cryptozoological creatures, I’ve used the term “acryptic,” a parallel to atheistic. The term focuses on the notion that is being denied instead of the manner in which a person expresses their doubt. In contrast, “scoftic” focuses on the manner, not the subject.

    I’ve known no atheist who objected to the term, and some who used “atheist” to describe themselves. Again, the focus is on the subject being doubted and not the manner. No judgement or evaluation is implied in the term. I don’t think any atheist would care to be called infidel, blasphemer, or pagan.

    I also don’t like the term “believer” due to the connotations of faith, religion, and potentially zealotry. Daegling uses “advocate” in Bigfoot Exposed. If a label has to be used for semantic shorthand, I’m fine with that.

  12. Lyndon responds:

    I have found JREF to be a haven for double standards and strange ‘don’t do unto us as we do unto you’ type behaviour.

    That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

  13. Lyndon responds:

    “I also don’t like the term “believer” due to the connotations of faith, religion, and potentially zealotry. Daegling uses “advocate” in Bigfoot Exposed. If a label has to be used for semantic shorthand, I’m fine with that.”

    Proponent is another good one. As to the usage of ‘believer’ that doesn’t bother me. After all, ‘believer’ simply means “to accept as true”.

  14. mystery_man responds:

    I have no problem with using the word “scoftic” where it fits and I’d have to say that this guy ranting about cryptozoologists being stupid is a prime example of what I consider to be a scoftic. Just one way denialism without any rational justification or alternative hypothesis put forth. Anyone remember that scoftic thread that was running awhile back? That term is useful in cases where you want to describe a guy like the one ranting about cryptozoology in the previous thread and I feel a word is needed so that people know what others are talking about when they want to convey this type of person in their conversations. People here who know my posts know that I always try to maintain civility, and I don’t necesarily mean scoftic as anything other than a word to label this type of person. I see what people mean about civility starting with us, but at the same time, it’s a two way street. I do feel there needs to be a word for those who irrationally attack others theories and ideas, so if scoftic is so offensive to them, let them come up with a term that they feel would be better. For now, they are scoftics to me.

  15. DWA responds:

    Judaculla says:

    “I don’t like the word skeptic either. Using skeptic implies that advocates of the possibility of a zoological explanation behind the sasquatch phenomenon are not skeptical. Skeptical advocate is not an oxymoron.”

    Actually, I like the word, and for precisely the above reason. OK, sort of.

    What I see is “skeptic” being given a meaning IT DOES NOT HAVE. The chief advocates for the sasquatch are skeptics. They evaluate evidence with a jaundiced eye. While they may occasionally overstep, and pronounce unwarranted conclusions, they are, primarily, skeptics when it comes to this question. They seek evidence; when they find it, they evaluate it for quality and decide what, if anything, can be done with it. I think that the above comment that everyone’s a skeptic, on something or other, is worth thinking about here. We’re pigeonholing that word, and giving it a nastiness and opprobrium it doesn’t possess.

    The JREF folks (just go there if you don’t believe me) do not warrant the term skeptic. What they are, at least what they are on crypto questions – whether it’s given a one-word description or not matters nil to me – is something not really worth the time it takes to wade through it.

    Their position is “if you take this position – which we are demonstrably in no position to criticize, one way or the other – you are a fool.”

    That’s not skepticism. That’s belief, dogma. The Spanish Inquisition was similar, if yeah, a lot nastier. JREF can simply be dismissed. I’m not sure it does crypto any good to even give these guys any time at all. Let ‘em play in their own pen. Who needs it here?

  16. DWA responds:

    And one must remember (just saw his post) mystery_man’s own description of his own history on crypto questions.

    He was once as denialist as they come. But he started adopting other angles.

    I don’t so much go for labels. But I don’t like “skeptic” being used the way cryptos use it. You can have skeptics on all sides of a question. (Never – never – only two sides to a question.) They can all have reasons true to skepticism in its finest form for what they think.

    I don’t like debating how many skeptical-advocates, denialists, scofftics, acryptics and agnostocryptoids can dance on the pointed head of a sasquatch. It stops us talking about search parameters for undocumented critters.

    Which is, um, what this is about…?

  17. Carol Maltby responds:

    I have to say that the SkepticWiki claim that there is a particular definition of skepticism that is used in their forums, and the way they barely accept the use of NPOV with a begrudging statement that it is “legitimate,” gave me the chills. I haven’t seen that level of overt dogmatism in the scuffles so far between the so-called skeptic and believer camps.

  18. Regan Lee responds:

    Somewhat related to the discussion; a while back I wrote this piece about the more strident “chronic” skeptics: The Usual Purple Tinged Hyperbole About UFOs

    The use of varied, creative and colorful terms to describe “skeptics” is to help distinguish the types of skeptics. It’s one thing to be skeptical, it’s another to be pathological about it.

    My two cents on it anyway.



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