Remember those halcyon days of the O.J. Simpson trial, when instead of worrying about the next terrorist attack, we all crowded around our television sets to hear the latest testimony about the double murder in Brentwood? There was, as innumerable commentators pointed out, a "mountain of evidence" against O.J. Simpson -- yet his legal defense team, styled the "dream team," managed to create at least the illusion of reasonable doubt and obtain an acquittal. How'd they do it?
They did it by taking each piece of evidence individually and casting doubt on it. The doubt in question was often based on nothing but far-fetched speculation, and much of the speculation was contradictory. For instance, bloodstains on Simpson's driveway were said to have been planted by the police, while other blood samples found at the crime scene were said to have been contaminated. In other words, we were asked to believe that in some cases the blood was unquestionably Simpson's but it got there through sleight of hand on the part of some corrupt detective, while in other cases the blood wasn't Simpson's at all but somehow matched his DNA because of an unspecified error in chemical analysis.
As for eyewitness testimony, it was debunked by casting doubt on the competence, credibility, or honesty of every single witness from the hapless Kato Kaelin to the limo driver to the neighbor who found Simpson's vehicle awkwardly slant-parked outside the Rockingham Estate. In order to believe Simpson's innocence, you pretty much had to believe that every other person involved in the case was corrupt or hopelessly prejudiced or impossibly stupid or desperately seeking the media limelight. Police detectives who had handled hundreds of cases without incident were presented as bumbling nincompoops who were simultaneously criminal masterminds bent on framing Simpson for some nefarious reason that was never quite explained. All the evidence was either planted or faked on the one hand, or hopelessly mishandled and misinterpreted on the other. It worked. But you don't have to go back to the 1990s to see this strategy in effect. Because as you might have guessed by now, this is very much the same strategy that is used by many diehard skeptics. . .
Faced with a "mountain of evidence" that is in some respects even more intimidating than the evidence in the Simpson case, the skeptics have chosen the same counterattack. They simply dismiss all of it, claiming that there is no evidence of all, not a single bit, and they back up this sweeping assertion by casting doubt on any and every individual item of evidence. . .
It turns out that just as O.J. Simpson was the only honest man in the courtroom, so the skeptic is the only perceptive person on the face of the earth.
It doesn't much matter if the skeptic can't support most of these speculations, or even if the speculations contradict each other, as they did in the Simpson case. All that matters is that a penumbra of doubt has been cast over the evidence. The testimony has been called into question. The data have been challenged. And most people, lacking the time or the interest or, in some cases, the ability to look into the matter for themselves, will conclude that the doubt is justified. They may not side wholeheartedly with the skeptics in denying all paranormal phenomena, but they will grant that they just don't know and probably nobody knows -- which is really all the skeptics need to accomplish. . .
Now go read the whole post. . .