William Connolley’s “correction” of the dictionary

William Connolley, at Roy Spencer’s blog, claims that those who disagree with him are not skeptics.

He hyperlinks to his 2004 posting “Septics and skeptics; denialists and contrarians

Consider his definition of the word “skeptic”

the true definition of skeptic in this context is something like: 

skeptic [Gr. skeptiko`s thoughtful, reflective, fr. ske`ptesqai to look carefully or about, to view, consider] 1. One who is yet undecided as to what is true; one who is looking or inquiring for what is true; an inquirer after facts or reasons. 

(I got that from here and edited it lightly (update 2004/12/11: but! they’ve changed the page. Argh. OK, so for the moment you can get the version I saw from googles cache, and if that fails, the original source is Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. I’ve also created an entry atwictionary in frustration; and the same defn is also available from BrainyDictionaryAnyway you know what I mean…)). 

I got that from here and edited it lightly” is a confession that he manipulated the definition to suit his purposes.

The “light editing is from to dictionary.com, whose current definition is.

1. a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.

2. a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.

3. a person who doubts the truth of a religion, especially Christianity, or of important elements of it.

4. (initial capital letter) Philosophy.

a. a member of a philosophical school of ancient Greece, the earliest group of which consisted of Pyrrho and his followers, who maintained that real knowledge of things is impossible.

b. any later thinker who doubts or questions the possibility of real knowledge of any kind.

The first definition is about questioning something “purporting” to be factual. If somebody makes a claim that they earnestly believe to be true, they may not comprehend how anybody can be somewhat sceptical (or even incredulous) about those claims. Those who believe in alien abductions, for instance, may present “overwhelming” evidence to support that belief. If you try to convince them otherwise, you will be called stupid, or even as part of the conspiracy to discredit the truth.

The second definition is about a doubting attitude. There is nothing in those definitions that demarcates between good and bad scepticism. There can be a huge number of reasons for the doubt. For instance, a good marriage depends on trust. If one party has an affair, there will likely be a breakdown in that trust. The betrayed will now questions every statement and every motive. Once lost, that trust, it is very hard to regain – a point that Dale Carnegie makes in “How To Win Friends And Influence People“. Shifting blame, or failing to acknowledge fault, will only make matters worse.

However, given that it is worth having a healthy scepticism to any claims on the internet, a more reliable source is the printed word. My dictionary is a Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 1983 reprint edition. William Connolley, with a Dhil from Oxford, can hardly dispute its authority. This is what I wrote a couple of years ago:-

Definition 1 pertains to a school of philosophy after the Greek Pyrrho, which doubts the possibility of knowledge of any kind.

Definition 2 is someone who doubts the validity of knowledge claims in a particular area of inquiry. This includes, but is not confined to the natural sciences.

Definition 2.1 is “one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to a particular question or statement”. The OED has this as the popular definition.

Definition 3 is one who doubts the truth of Christianity.

Definition 4 is one who is seeking the truth. That is “an inquirer who has not arrived at definite convictions”. This is only occasionally used, at least in the late 20th century.

Like with the dictionary.com definitions, there is no implied demarcation, between scepticism and denial of the truth. William Connolley’s definition is nearest to 4, implying that scepticism is transitional stage on the road to enlightenment or denial. But the oldest definition is denial of knowledge in general, and doubts of the truth of Christianity, can be a static state.

There are a huge number of possible reasons for the doubt that is scepticism. For instance, a good marriage depends on trust. If one party has an affair, there will likely be a breakdown in that trust. The betrayed will now question every statement and every action. Once lost, that trust it is very hard to regain – a point that Dale Carnegie makes in “How To Win Friends And Influence People“, although mostly with business relationships in mind. Shifting blame, or failing to acknowledge fault, will only make matters worse. William Connolley has helped betray the trust that people bestow on the authority of Wikipedia and in the authority of science. Rather than trying to restore that trust, he just makes comments that confirm people’s scepticism.

Kevin Marshall

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. You really have completely missed the point.

    Reply
    • manicbeancounter

       /  23/08/2014

      You are quite free to explain what your views are on the point of your posting. Indeed, I welcome them, so that others may compare and contrast different points of view.
      However, I believe that whatever the point of your manipulation of the definition of “skeptic”, the actual consequences are evident. Others took a much cruder approach.
      Blogger Tamino it the most blatant with his term “Fake Skeptic”. It is basically equivalent to saying to anyone who disagrees with his views “You are a liar, you know it and pretend otherwise“.
      But the most well-known follower of your lead was John Cook. His definition is

      Genuine skeptics consider all the evidence in their search for the truth. Deniers, on the other hand, refuse to accept any evidence that conflicts with their pre-determined views.

      Cook neither adheres to his definition, nor that of a dictionary, at his website skepticalscience.com.

      Reply
      • Its pretty hard to know how you’ve missed the point so badly. I know its not one you want to get, but even so.

        The *exact* defn of the word skeptic isn’t interesting – we all know the traditional meaning. The issue is the label “skeptic” that you, and a variety of others, apply to themselves. You’ve failed to realise that using the label “skeptic” doesn’t actually make you a skeptic. Skeptic – the attitude, from the std defn – applies to all good scientists, and many other people besides. It doesn’t apply to, for example, those who repost junk from Salby under the label “skeptic”.

        http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2010/01/19/theres-no-light-the-foolish-ca/

        Reply
  2. Greg Cavanagh

     /  24/08/2014

    William. There is a couple things happening here.
    1/ This still doesn’t explain your edits.
    2/ You are not in a position to tell us what we are.

    If we view a particular ideology in a sceptical manner, then we have a right to say that we are sceptical.

    You’re not accepting our explanation. You believe that we are liars of our view point, that we are not sceptical. “You’ve failed to realise that using the label “skeptic” doesn’t actually make you a skeptic”. Is there any other way to understand this statement?

    I can only restate; you are not in a position to tell us what we are.

    Reply
    • > You’re not accepting our explanation. You believe that we are liars of our view point, that we are not sceptical.

      Yes. And your acceptance of Salby’s drivel is an example of this. You don’t approach the subject of GW with a skeptical viewpoint; you approach it instead with very fixed views; you’re simply anti-IPCC. You’re not skeptical of the IPCC; you don’t carefully examine its arguments; almost none of you have read any of it.

      Reply
  3. Brian H

     /  25/08/2014

    1 Salby is worth 1,000 Connolleys.

    Reply
  4. ian hilliar

     /  29/08/2014

    William, the way I see it is that you have been waging an information war for over ten years, much in the way Hamas has been waging an information war over what is happening in Gaza. Hamas believe they have right on their side, as do you. Hamas and their supporters have been repeatedly found to use photographs of wounded or dead children in their propaganda releases, but releases from Australian Friends of Palestine have recently been proven to be photographs of Syrian children ,victims of muslim/muslim violence rather than muslim/jewish violence. .Thus people become more sceptical of Hamas announcements. In a similar way, people are becoming more and more sceptical of IPCC announcements, and of your sometimes less than orthodox ways of promoting the ” global warming is going to destroy the planet” meme

    Reply
  1. The Logic and Boundaries of Scepticism | ManicBeancounter
  2. ATTP on Lomberg’s Australian Funding | ManicBeancounter

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