Good Reason to be Sceptical of Skeptics

Many lunar cycles ago, I wrote for the Skeptical Inquirer — see, for example, Gaia without Mysticism —, so, as a lockdown sceptic, I thought I’d take a look at what the official ‘Skeptics’ are saying about the virus and lockdown. I was not impressed.

The Skeptics usually indulge themselves with entertaining debunkings of all things ‘supernatural’, ‘paranormal’ and ‘psychic’, including pseudoscientific malarkey such as mediums, astrology, UFOs, ESP, telekinesis, homeopathy, chiropractic, Intelligent Design, yowies and bunyips. etc. Cults, ‘mass hysteria’ and ‘media-driven panics’ are amongst their more generic concerns.  This remit should have made the unnecessary, hare-brained, ineffective, disproportionate, counterproductive, devastating and pseudoscientific phenomenon of lockdown, fanned by an emotionally manipulative, media-confected terror of COVID as a visitation from the bowels of Hell, a lay-down misère for practitioners of scientific analysis and rational inquiry.

For, after all, it is pro-lockdown politicians, and their ‘public health’ accomplices, who claim to be — all together now, class — ‘following the science’, just as every other branch of pseudoscience likewise claims at least some passing acquaintance with scientific reality.  Sorting the genuine scientific wheat from the pseudoscientific chaff is what Skeptics are supposed to be good at.  Not so, however, when it comes to lockdown.  For a disillusioning look at how the Skeptics have missed a card trick or three on lockdown, let us take a representative sample from the world’s major Skeptics organisations.


America’s Skeptics (Exhibit One): Dr. Harriet Hall, MD, in her ode to the facemask — ‘Wear a face mask but act as if it does not work – combines fear-mongering, empirical falsehood and blind deference to selected government-approved ‘experts’.  “We are in the midst of a global pandemic with a scary, rapidly spreading new virus”, she frets whilst asserting that, regardless of just how innocuous the virus is to anyone other that ailing octogenarians in nursing homes, “everyone is, or ought to be, worried about getting COVID-19”.   Nothing can save us, she wails, save “isolation for all and social distancing when in public” (i.e. lockdown) and masks.

How so?  Because ‘experts’ say so.

Lockdown and masks (“even homemade masks made from cotton T-shirts or dishcloths can prove 90 per cent effective”) are, therefore, the “rational response”.  The danger, Dr Hall informs us, comes from irresponsible “mask deniers” who have “turned mask wearing into a political statement” when “we” all know that “rejecting masks is selfish: it means they don’t care if other people get sick and die”.  And there I was, thinking that it was the politically submissive maskers who are making a political declaration by virtue-signalling their compassionate concern for others.  Dr. Hall’s stale script is straight out of a Ministry of Truth manual.


America’s Skeptics (Exhibit Two): Not a promising start, then.  So, how about University of Auckland lecturer, Robert Bartholomew, who in ‘Psychological risks with Covid-19 vaccines’ is worried about misplaced “vaccine hesitancy” based on “unfounded” fear over adverse reactions and resulting in a “mass psychogenic illness” of vaccine denial.  He is awed that COVID vaccines have been rush-produced in less than a year (it is “nothing short of miraculous”) but does not temper his ecstasy with any concerns that this unique, sprint-paced process may pose plausible questions about this particular vaccine, an inadequately-tested, legal-liability-waived, experimental, DNA-monkeying therapy fast-tracked for political, not public health, reasons.

But, wait, what’s this?  Our ‘Skeptical’ academic does take on, per the mission statement of the Skeptics, potential ‘media-driven panic’, arguing that the media need to be responsible in their virus reporting.  Alas, this a merely a call for the media to “react with caution and avoid sensational headlines and reporting” on what he assures us are perfectly safe vaccines. Just where has our ‘Skeptical’ Kiwi academic been these last twelve months?  Taking the mass media at its every lockdown word?


Britain’s Skeptics: Meanwhile, in Britain, the Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE) has spent a year of extreme lockdown resolutely not challenging the pseudoscience of lockdown, including its zany, science-defying cult of Zero Covid.  Instead, the British Skeptics take up arms against the third-division issue of “conspiracy theorists who believe COVID isn’t real because viruses don’t exist” and the equally minor-league diversion of anti-vaxxers in whose ranks ASKE lumps all those exercising due and specific caution about the COVID vaccine. Focusing solely on Covid Deniers and anti-vaxxers serves to caricature all lockdown sceptics, many of them highly qualified physicians and scientists, as cranks and thus politically marginalise them.  There are far bigger fish to fry than this tiny anti-lockdown fringe but as this would mean taking on the giant pro-lockdown zealots, the Skeptics, lockdowners to a T, pick on convenient, but essentially irrelevant, lockdown opponents who are merely tangential to what should be an informed and considered scepticism.

The British Skeptics also address, with thinly-disguised political vigour, designated right-wing “enemies of science” such as the lockdown-wary President Trump and his ideological soulmate, President Bolsonaro, in Brazil) for “peddling” ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, Vitamin D and other “unproven treatments”.  Our British Skeptics, of course, regard masking as a legitimate “preventive measure” because the ‘proper’ authorities have decreed so.

They are also unstinting in their praise for the “gold standard” PCR test, noting that it is “pretty reliable” because the WHO says so.  The problem for the Skeptics is that they penned this encomium before January 2021, when the WHO changed its guidance to ensure that the unreliable and misleading PCR testing process is now better calibrated to exclude perfectly healthy people who test positive, as clinical COVID ‘cases’.  Oops!  That the old PCR testing regimen, misused for mass population screening whilst producing a hyper-inflated number of ‘cases’, might just have been anureaucratic-endorsed pseudoscience worthy of investigation will probably never occur to the British Skeptics, who swallowed the fantasy whole.


An Australian Detour: Lockdown delusions are also rife in the antipodes.  The Australian Skeptics, when they aren’t single-mindedly pounding the anti-anti-vaxxer beat, have bestowed their Skeptical Journalism Award for 2020 on the Scots-born physician and ABC broadcaster Dr. Norman Swan for his “serious, rational and uncompromising pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic”.  Fair dinkum! 

Swan, who some might see as a a COVID hysteric, lockdown fanatic and mask zealot, is the house medical reporter for the woefully woke and lockdown-loving party-line outlet, the ABC.  Swan is omnipresent (you can’t escape his Scottish burr on the radio or TV); he is omniscient (he knows all that the average citizen needs to know about the virus and ‘social distancing’ to keep them awake at night and politically submissive); he is omnipotent, wielding secular God-like power over the ‘progressive’ ABC audience.  That the smugly self-important lockdown propagandist can pick up a journalism award says all that needs to be said about the Australian arm of the Skeptics.

Worth noting when considering the local strain of Skeptics is that Radio National’s Phillip Adams is among the most prominent. Need anything more be said?


Conclusion: On lockdown, the Skeptics have got it backside-about.  They may not be able to see it, but the seriously harmful pseudoscience is all coming from pro-lockdown quarters, the sole source for a ‘social distancing’ voodoo religion and all its unnecessary, ineffective, superstitious, magical-thinking, placebo-like, must-be-seen-to-be-doing-something ‘new normal’ rituals – the quarantining of the healthy, the school closures, the masks, the smart-phone QR Code sign-in, the contact tracing, the test-test-test exhortation, the Perspex shields, the 1.5 metre rule, the elbow-bumps and fist-pumps, the hand-sanitiser OCD, the North Korean-style ‘public safety announcements’, the Stand-Here/Don’t-Sit-There decals, the ‘support bubbles’, the curfews, the “immunity passports”, the limits on public gatherings, the travel restrictions, the border closures and on and on and on — all of these pointless political and cultural theatrics predicated on a wildly exaggerated fear of a not unusually lethal flu-like virus.

Yet, the Skeptics show an unscientific aversion to testing the hypothesis that lockdown works.  After all, it isn’t that there is a lack of real world data out there for analysis, after twelve months of a global experiment in the radical technique of lockdown, from jurisdictions opting for outright refusal or largely token efforts to full on manic shutdown of society, allowing a rigorous analytical focus on what, if any, difference lockdown makes to the course and outcomes of the virus (answer – diddley squat).  Yet, lockdown doesn’t even make it to the starting gate for the Skeptics.  Neither does the main source of CCOVID hysteria, the mass media, make the cut.

It isn’t the lockdown sceptics who are the science-denying crazies but the lockdown loons.  The lockdown litmus test has seen many people and institutions fail a basic examination on data numeracy, rationality, common sense and compassion.  The trademarked Skeptics are amongst the failures, along with all the world’s Chicken Little governments, the ‘public health’ bureaucratic swamp, the mainstream media, vast swathes of the medical profession and academia, much of the political Right and almost the entirety of the political ‘Left’, and frighteningly large proportions of the terror-stricken public.

It is one thing to show that Yuri Geller’s spoon-bending is load of old cobblers but on something that really matters to every single person in the world, like economy-crushing and soul-destroying lockdown in a futile quest to suppress an endemic virus that leaves most people feeling absolutely fine, is something else entirely, one that the Skeptics squib.  What is the point in advocating critical thinking if it immediately goes out the window when faced with the gravest global political, economic and social crisis – lockdown – for generations?

Diligently taking down ‘alternative health’ charlatans is necessary but the Skeptics are propping up the far more dangerous ‘public health’ charlatans of lockdown.  Uprooting iridology or any of its pseudoscientific health cousins is commendable but it is merely plucking at tiny weeds whilst ignoring, indeed watering and fertilising, the Salvation Jane of lockdown, an invasive monster which is smothering a normal, rational, functioning society.

If you want to bust the pseudoscience of lockdown, call the real sceptics not the fake ones.

Phil Shannon lives in Adelaide. He contributed ‘The Science is Settled: Lefties are Fearful Scolds‘ in January

  • Counsel

    I suspect that none of the Australian Skeptics (and certainly not the political classes) have troubled to check that at the end of November 2020 there were 1398 identified active cases of the Coronavirus in Australia and that between that date and 4 March 2021 there has been 1 death.

    That is a death rate of 0.07 % (putting aside the unidentified cases and those people who have caught the disease since November which figures push the figure even lower).

    Self-evidently there is simply no problem as long as the hospitals are not overwhelmed.. Somebody should tell the various State and Federal medical officers.

    For what it is worth I am willing to wear a mask if it gives the person next to me on the train comfort but it is not protecting them from anything that actually matters

  • HD

    Excellent article.

  • Margaret Graetz

    The Australian Skeptics lost the plot long before Covid 19 came along. They were happily trudging along with water divining and haunted houses, and only the work of one woman (regretfully I’ve forgotten her name) on immunisation gave them relevance. Then along came a topic where skepticism was sorely needed – Global Warming. They not only failed to use any critical analysis, they were happy to call anyone who questioned the orthodoxy a Denier. A letter I sent to the magazine was rejected on those grounds. Margaret Graetz

  • Michael

    The skeptics delight in mocking cranks, but have no stomach for a skeptical attitude to government agendas justified by ‘the health advice’ or ‘the science’.

  • March

    LOL Aus Skeptics…. Promoters of Aboriginal Astronomy.

  • gareththomassport

    To misquote Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to read a magazine from an organisation that has Phillip Adams as a member.

  • Harry Lee

    And the reasons for which Skeptics do not debunk/denounce Islam?
    In public anyway.
    Obvious eh.
    They would encounter push-back, shall we say, of the most violent varieties.
    Skeptics mostly aim at the softest of targets.
    That way, it is easier to feel self-righteous, virtuous and very clever, without pain.

  • Stephen Due

    The Skeptics are just another fringe group, like the government of Victoria and the ABC Science Show audience, that tries to get along by pretending it understands science.
    Intelligent Design, by the way, is much better science than Darwin’s feeble Theory of Evolution, which has to confront the fact that the process of change required by Natural Selection is impossibly improbable, and in any case is conclusively refuted by the notorious ‘gaps’ in the fossil record.

  • March

    ID is a load of BS and a complete fantasy but it seems you have made up your mind on it, as have I.
    Scepticism is a pre-requisite for good science. It a pity the Aus Skeptics group and many others have been taken over by the identity politics crowd and post modernist groupies.

  • lbloveday

    True, “it is not protecting them from anything that actually matters”, but it may be harming you.
    The World Health Organisation ( https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters) emphatically informs the world (their capitals):
    FACT: People should NOT wear masks while exercising
    People should NOT wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably.
    Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms. The important preventive measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance of at least one meter from others.
    The WHO link illustrates exercise with a woman wearing normal clothing casually riding a commuter, not racing, bicycle while sitting erect. The WHO is not talking about intense exercise, just everyday physical activity.
    For elderly, a walk around the block is exercise, recommended by almost every medical “expert”, but they are the very ones most targeted and advised, and often forced, to wear masks. According to the WHO, they SHOULD NOT be wearing masks.
    Dr. Judy Mikovits summarizes: “The more effective a mask is at blocking normal air flow, the greater the problem with decreased oxygen and increased carbon dioxide a person is likely to have. The less effective a mask is at blocking normal airflow, the less of a case can be made for using it”.
    About the first thing health workers do to people with COVID is put a mask on them; no elderly person has lungs as functional as they were when young, and many have poorly functioning respiratory systems; no wonder so many elderly are dying.
    I attached an Oximeter and registered a healthy SpO2 of 98, put a mask on and watched it drop to 92, indicating hypoxemia, a natural, dangerous, consequence of oxygen deprivation caused by the mask.

  • Wyndham Dix

    ID is a load of BS and a complete fantasy

    O to know with such certitude.

    I still struggle with the notion that by blind unguided process 59 inorganic elements coalesce in the right proportions into the organism we know as the human body, complete with DNA software to ensure a fully-functioning being during the years in which it flourishes and later guides its inevitable decline. Upon death and subsequent dissolution, those elements return whence they came. Similarly with other animals and vegetation.

    If I place those 59 elements on a table or in a large Petri dish or some such, how do they coalesce by blind unguided process? Perhaps I hear you say they need a primaeval soup. The question still remains: what forces are there within the soup that animate the 59 elements in exactly the right proportions? And a further question: whence the origin of those forces? If you tell me water and the Sun for heat and light, please also explain their origin.

    Please avoid the obvious by telling me the mechanics – agency – of how babies are made and born.

  • ianl

    >”Swan is omnipresent (you can’t escape his Scottish burr on the radio or TV)”

    Oh yes you can. I do it, and have done it, literally to the point where I have *never* seen or heard him – at all, ever.

    As for the “Intelligent” Design people. Often asked them where is the “Intelligence” in the design of spina bifida, or motor neurone disease, or a zillion different forms of early cancer, or … and so on.

    Never get any rational reply. Yet they are unperturbed by the *fact* of blind viral mutations occurring in real time in front of them, with the luckiest (from the viral viewpoint) of these strains surviving in the largest number of hosts. Mostly, I find that those who oppose the Theory of Evolution are in fact just straw-manning it. Ho hum.

  • March

    Re ID vs Darwin: just ask yourself: is Louise Milligan a product of intelligent design or a freak of nature?

    Case closed.

  • ChrisPer

    Australian Skeptics appear to have become an organisation to appropriate some institutional credibility for aging leftist nongs. Their utter failure to challenge ‘the science is settled’ on Global Warming shows what they are.

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