So THAT’S What Hyperskepticism Means!

Earlier today, I made a comment about hyperskepticism.

Here’s my exact quote:

He then proceeds to briefly mention hyperskepticism. I still don’t know what that is and if you do please let me know in the comments. As far as I can determine, it’s not an actual word.

Well I had someone try to ‘splain that to me. Of course, it was that person’s definition as actually, it isn’t a word.

So my friend David sent me the following video from a few years back.Thanks to Justicar for the making of the video as well.



5 thoughts on “So THAT’S What Hyperskepticism Means!

  1. You omitted in this post that in the post in which I attempted “to ‘splain that to” you I acknowledged that hyper-skepticism was not a word, at least not one that is in the dictionary. Was it your intent to let your readers think that I was unaware that it is not an official recognized word? I did not invent the word. But I have heard it used among some skeptics. I was merely trying to comply with your request that someone explain it to you.

    And yes, the definition I offered was my definition, in a manner of speaking. I never claimed anything else. Actually, since, as you know, I was quoting several other sources, the credit for the definition goes to others, not to me. I simply offered a definition with which I agreed, though later in my post on your blog I did offer some of my own thoughts. But then your readers would not know any of this since you did not actually provide any of this detail in this post. In fact, I suspect that most of your readers will be led by your incomplete discussion above into thinking that I was making claims that I was not or presenting myself as some expert on skepticism or hyper-skepticism, which was not what I was doing. I repeat, however, that I am no less qualified to speak on the subject than are you or Justicar.

    Hyper-skepticism is a word, not at present officially recognized as such, used to describe a concept or idea that some skeptics think worth discussing and describing. As I pointed out, you did ask that someone explain it to you. If you were not serious in the request then you should do a better job of choosing phrasing that makes it clear when you aren’t being serious.

    As for it not being an official word, that is not a significant point. There are plenty of words now in the dictionary that started out as creations by someone to describe something or to facilitate discussion of something. All words have their origins as creations by someone. For example, the word scientist did not exist in the English language until 1834 when it was coined by William Whewell, a well-known 19th century historian and philosopher of science ( Then there is the word genocide. Look in any dictionary prior to 1944. Not there? The word was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin.

    The fact that hyper-skepticism is not yet in a dictionary does not mean it has no utility. I am not saying this invented word will end up in the dictionary. It might. It might not. But in the meantime it is useful in discussing the likes of global climate denialists who claim to be skeptics but in fact are improperly labeling themselves.

    The English language, like many languages, is dynamic and evolving. Words enter the lexicon and exit it. Does this mean that during that time between when a word is first coined and the time its use is ubiquitous enough to warrant inclusion in the dictionary we should dismiss it? I think not.

    I think the following excerpt is relevant to this topic and of interest.

    “The number of words in the English language is: 1,025,109.8.   This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. The English Language passed the Million Word threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m. (GMT).  The Millionth Word was the controversial ‘Web 2.0′. Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day.” (

    Some of these words will make it into dictionaries and others will not. I can’t predict which way it will go for the word hyper-skepticism. But in the meantime, I think it has some utility.

    Another excerpt that has some bearing on this topic, this one from the Oxford Dictionary website:

    “How many words are there in the English language?

    “There is no single sensible answer to this question. It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word…..

    “This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.” ()

    I think one of the key points made in this excerpt is that there are words in use that are not yet in any official dictionary. I see no reason to dismiss these words if they have utility in facilitating communication about some idea, concept or topic. I think the word hyper-skepticism falls into this category.

    I had already watched the video you included in your post. While I found much of it useful, I don’t recall the word hyper-skepticism being dismissed altogether. Rather, if I recall correctly, Justicar was taking issue with the term as it is used in discussing allegations of sexual assault or rape. We can and should debate its use in this context. But this does not mean that the term has no meaningful use at all.

    I need to insert at this juncture that I don’t consider Justicar any more qualified to expatiate on skepticism than you or I. He makes too much of the fact that as a former police officer “tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent rate me to be really good at not believing every old thing I’m told and asking questions….” The training he received as a police officer did not, as he implies in this video, constitute training as a professional or above average amateur skeptic. I’m not even sure that there is such a formalized brand of training, although you can take workshops such as the Skeptics Toolbox from the likes of Ray Hyman. (I did in fact sit in on one of his skeptic’s workshops at a TAM conference several years ago.) I know many skeptics. I am a member of a local Skeptics group. All of them are as qualified as Justicar to speak on this topic. I will add however, that if Justicar’s training as a police officer are his bona fides to the claim of some greater than normal expertise on skepticism, then I think my training as a science teacher, with an actual degree in one of the sciences (geology) and 22 years of classroom experience teaching science, skepticism, and critical thinking trump his law enforcement training.

    Overall, I think Justicar did a pretty good job of discussing and describing skepticism. I have no quarrel with most of what he said about skepticism itself. But if he was attempting to present an argument opposing the use of the term hyper-skepticism in all contexts or the idea of hyper-skepticism in general, I was not persuaded.

    • Hi Randy,

      Please try to limit the length of your comments. The last two, WordPress has automatically placed them into moderation. There are times when I may not be able to check the moderation queue for a bit and I really wouldn’t want you to think that I was doing this on purpose. It’s something inside WordPress. If there’s a setting I can find to change, I will. Until then though…

      Also wanted to say I really appreciate your comments and feedback. They are thoughtful and instructive.

      BTW my background is advanced degrees in geophysics, engineering and computer science. For what it’s worth (not much).

  2. Thanks for the advice. In the future if needed I will simply break my remarks up into several smaller ones.

    Thanks for the comment about my posts. I do try to respond with thorough and well-thought out comments. I am guilty sometimes of lengthy replies. But I much prefer thoroughness over the sound-bite, twitter-style conversation that seems to have come to dominate our conversations.

    Don’t be quick to dismiss your educational background. I was not attempting to say that my thoughts on skepticism should be given more weight than Justicar’s or anyone else’s because of my background. If I came across this way then please know it was not my intent. My point was that Justicar laying out his bona fides lays him open to criticism, since there is almost certain to be someone with better bona fides. By this metric, your background would trump both Justicar and myself. But I don’t think we should judge each other’s thoughts on skepticism based on our educational backgrounds. What each of us knows about the subject will be illuminated by the quality of our comments and the content they contain.

  3. The A-plussers have simply shifted the benchmarks. They infiltrated the atheist/skeptic community, but themselves adhere to radfem & SJ dogma, and practice cult-like group think. So they label what they do “skepticism”, while good old, for real skepticism — especially any questioning of their dogma, or evidence-free or unfalsifiable claims — is now “hyper-skepticism.”

    With PZ Myers now divorcing himself entirely from skepticism, it’s time these freaks buy some land out in the woods and set themselves up a proper cult compound.

  4. I simply don’t agree with your assessment Matt (may I call you Matt?). But I suspect it will do little good to argue the point since I suspect you are one-hunred percent certain of the accuracy of your position.

    P.Z. did not divorce himself from skepticism. Read the post in question in which you think he did this more carefully. He divorced himself from the organized (or disorganized if you prefer) skeptic’s community. As a scientist, P.Z. is almost certainly incapable of divorcing himself from skepticism, by this I mean the use of skepticism as a tool for evaluating claims.

    While we can and should debate the meaning of hyper-skepticism and what does and does not qualify as hyper-skepticism, I am convinced that the term has utility. I think it aptly applies to climate denialists, for example.

    As for your post concerning the letter that P.Z. posted from the teenage girl, this could fit one possible definition of hyper-skepticism. You did seem to be accusing him of fabricating the letter. Now while it is possible that he did, possible does not equal probable. I was not persuaded by the evidence you offered up for your insinuation that P.Z. may have or likely fabricated the letter. Seems to me that calling into question this particular claim was really reaching for straws. Seemed to me that this was not an issue worth exhibiting such a high level of skepticism about. Was it an example of hyper-skepticism? I can’t say with absolute certitude that it is, but it sure had the look of it.

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