QUESTION: How can you deal with skeptics?

ANSWER: One of the things psychics and (to a lesser extent) parapsychologists have to deal with is harassment by skeptics. This is no laughing matter, and, in the case of psychics, may even affect your ability to perform. Unfortunately, it's a problem that won't be going away any time soon. The page looks at paradigms--which is why rational arguments and scientific proof often get you nowhere with these folks--and offers some thoughts and suggestions for how you might want to respond to them. We'll look first at the issue of paradigms, what they are and why you need to be aware of them.

The best approach for dealing with these individuals is to start by determining whether or not you are dealing with a true skeptic--in other words, someone who doubts the existence of psi yet remains open to the possibility of it--or if they are instead a complete disbeliever of psychic phenomena. I would say that 95% of the time you'll find they are simply a disbeliever. In these cases, be polite, but don't waste your time on them! You'll NEVER convince or convert them, and no amount of evidence will ever be sufficient. The problem is one of paradigms and competing world-views.

Various approaches for dealing with psi disbelievers include: 1) ignore them; 2) change the subject to something other than psi (a good way is to ask them if they are familiar with paradigms and explain the term); 3) politely agree to disagree; or 4) walk away. I usually opt for one of the latter three.

If you are dealing with an open-minded skeptic (and believe it or not, this isn't an oxymoron, they do exist), then it is something completely different. In this case, it may be worth your time to sit and talk with these folks. Not only might you be able to correct their misconceptions or lack of knowledge about what experimental parapsychology and quantum physics suggest about psi, but if you are a researcher, you may get valuable tips and ideas for how to design better experiments. It is this form of skeptic that helps, not hinders, the advancement of science (including parapsychology).

What People Say About Skeptics: Some Quotes

"Originally formed to critically and scientifically investigate claims of the paranormal, critics argue that CSICOP is in actuality a pseudo-scientific, fundamentalist, elitist, irresponsible, specialist interest advocacy group whose sole intent is vehemently condemning--not scientifically investigating --any and all claims of the paranormal." (From Psychic Criminology by Hibbard, Worring, and Brennan)

"Considering the evidence for psychic phenomena cited ... it is obviously far more unreasonable to deny its existence than what many consider the 'unreasonable' belief in psychic phenomena .... Most objections to psychic phenomena are based on ignorance; scientists and laymen alike rarely bother to inform themselves about things they do not want to believe and that run counter to their preconceptions. When pressured to account for psychic phenomena, critics will .... attempt to discredit the investigator, ignore reports by credible laboratories, declare positive experiments hoaxes, credit positive results to chance, pay undue attention to negative results, attack the experimental procedure and statistical analysis, and twist and reinterpret the experience or experimental results, so that it correlates with what is known and accepted .... In a critique ... the Rockwells accuse the critics of using false categorization, personal defamation, group derogation, unsubstantiated allegations, contradictions, nonsequiturs, rumor and innuendo, appeals to authority, censorship, and apocalyptic rhetoric in their denouncement. The Rockwells conclude that "The 'debunkers' have thus become the very thing they claim to despise: evangelical 'true believers,' standing on unexamined faith rather than objective analysis." (From Psychic Criminology by Hibbard, Worring, and Brennan, pages 43-44.)

"Regardless of your track record, there's always someone who wants you to prove it to THEM. There are five billion people in the world. Are you going to do this for EVERY one of them? Don't waste your time!" (Lyn Buchanan, controlled remote viewer)

"Well I have to say this, that I know when the psychic connection works best, is because the person has a genuine need, and is not just curious, or skeptical and wanting to be convinced, that sort of thing, you know? But they want something to be able explain away.... So, I find myself not caring one way or the other, don’t bother me, go do it yourself, if you want to convince yourself." (Alan Vaughan, parapsychologist & psychic)

"It is not easy to change a lifelong, strongly held belief, even when there is strong evidence that the belief is wrong, so the publicly proclaimed skeptics are not likely ever to admit that psi per se is genuine ... The core assertion is the tired claim that after one hundred years of research, parapsychology has failed to provide convincing evidence for psi phenomena. This argument follows a certain logic. Skeptics refuse to belief that psi experiments, which they admit are successfully demonstrating something, are in fact demonstrating psi itself. By acknowledging that the results are real and unexplainable on the one hand, but by stubbornly insisting that those results could not possibly be due to psi on the other, then of course they can claim that parapsychology is a failure." (Dean Radin from The Conscious Universe, pages 210-211)

"What the debunkers state doesn’t matter. What someone can do or cannot do is absolutely not proportional in any way to anyone else’s belief or disbelief … Just go back through your history books and you’ll discover that just about everything you take for granted today in your daily lives was absolutely impossible not so many years ago." (Martin Caidin, MMI performer and author)
"If someone comes to me and truly wants to understand psi, then I'm happy to answer their questions. But if they're really a disbeliever and all they want to do is argue, then my feeling is don't waste my time. Because I have no interest in that. I'd far rather spend my time aiding people who already know this stuff exists and need help dealing with it." (Pamela Heath)

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