Unclear Description: Arbitrary Skepticism

Deadlock Clock: 31st May 2012 11:59:00 PM
Total posts: [7]
The Trope Name is clear. The seems like the description was clear at some point but has since meandered. The examples are now primarily of the of the 'apparent' type as defined below and are cases of YMMV without clarification. The page quote for instance, referencing Firefly is one such case since in Firefly, spaceships are science fact. "I should know, I live on one."

Not sure what to do, I did an analysis of the trope, which will hopefully illustrate the issue. The analysis might also be a workable first draft to clarifying the trope and was written with that intention. Still learning local formatting code however.


Arbitrary Skepticism is a conflict, real or perceived, between belief and skepticism in a character. Contrast to Skepticism Failure, which is a fictional universe designed to humiliate a skeptic by having something supernatural or pseudoscience be true.

Arbitrary Skepticism can be sub-divided into instances perceived by the viewer or in-universe.


Apparent: Arbitrary Suspension of Disbelief; Where A is common in-universe, but B is skeptically received. - Example: A is superheroes with powers in a super-hero-verse, B is a 'ghost'. To the viewer B might be as plausible as A, but in universe the ghost would be a suspected super if not a hoax, the result of telekinesis, intangibility, illusions, etc.

Example: Using Space-ships to make psychics sound plausible in a setting where space-travel is common. This is equivalent to invoking toasters in the real world to make psychics sound plausible. It only works is space-ships or toasters run on psychic powers, in which case it doesn’t belong in this trope.

Reason: In a setting with FTL travel, FTL is science fact, not fiction. In a setting with magic, magic is not supernatural, but a part of that world(e.g. natural). Hence Twilight Sparkle, a talking unicorn pony, giving a speech to a young dragon that supernatural things aren’t real. This Lampshade Hanging on this trope seems to have caused Mindscrew instead.


Apparent: Arbitrary Plausibility; Where A was something not believed to be true, but turned out true. Typically A being true is a given reason to give B a chance. Proof for A doesn't prove B however, only A. - Example: Advanced robots were found to exist, but mentioning a talking gorilla gets odd looks. It might turn out to be a robot after all.

Example: Flash in Justice League mentions he met a talking gorilla and quickly counters skepticism by mentioning he has a martian on speed-dial and deserves the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes invoked unfairly be demanding the new thing be believed immediately.

Reason: Proof of A is not proof of B. Exception/Aversion when A is B (e.g. Cursed Teapot, therefor maybe Ghosts, as opposed to Robots therefor Ghosts). Viewers will report this because of expectations for Fantasy Kitchen Sink/All Myths Are True, “If aliens, why not ghosts and psychic powers?”.


Actual: Sacred Cows; Where A and B are both fictional, but A is believed without question, but the character is skeptical of everything else. Reality is Unrealistic is an Aversion(A is actually true, it just seems ridiculous).

http://sci-ence.org/the-mucosa-of-oz/ Neti Pot and Brain Eating Protist are both true, this from a science comic that often debunks ‘Alternative Medicine’.

Example: A vocal/obvious skeptic casually believes in something supernatural or pseudo-scientific. If House or Monk casually mention belief in ghosts/aliens/bigfoot/faith healing, etc, they would be examples.

Inverted: Skepticism of something real, like pirates in the Bones example. This might more accurately be skepticism of modern portrayals of jolly swashbuckling pirates, but not being clear on the point becomes this.


Actual: Arbitrary Belief; Where A is obviously true but disbelieved while B is believed without proof. Common in any story where some supernatural group hides their existence, and a local normal frequently sees plenty of proof, but they are saved because that normal believes in something else.

Example: A super-hero knows someone in normal life that is an occult fanatic, but thinks super-heroes in spandex outfits are essentially a stupid hoax. Will end up at least once believing a super to be something occult, like mistaking a flying brick for a vampire. Occult may or may not be true in universe, it's the dogged disbelief in the obviously real group that matters. Likely to become a running gag.

Clarification: It doesn’t matter whether A is common knowledge in-universe or not, only that A is common knowledge to the viewer. Example: Fairies in Fairly Odd Parents. If A isn’t common knowledge in universe, then the character affected needs clear evidence of A which is then ignored or reinterpreted to prove B.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WeirdnessCensor (Contrast) Weirdness Censor affects the general public, Arbitrary Skepticism is one person or a small group doing this.

edited 25th Apr '12 3:18:13 PM by ValorPhoenix

Also, there is another problem with the description.

"Arbitrary Skeptics occasionally invoke an entirely unscientific phrase such as "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" to back up their dismissal and justify their constant shifting of the goalposts. In reality, no claim requires 'extraordinary proof', just sufficient proof."

That statement is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Sagan Standard. The other wiki traces the phrase, I'll quote the relevant part.


Sagan is also widely regarded as a freethinker or skeptic; one of his most famous quotations, in Cosmos, was, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (called the "Sagan Standard" by some). This was based on a nearly identical statement by fellow founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Marcello Truzzi, "An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof." This idea originated with Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827), a French mathematician and astronomer who said, "The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness."

There is also the Christopher Hitchens addendum: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

It is not to be taken to mean that all claims require infinite proof, but rather that the proof required is related to the oddness of the claim.

Here are three examples of claims with increasing levels of required proof:

  1. 1 "Dude, I had the most wonderful omelette for breakfast."
  2. 2 "Dude, Iron Chef Morimoto ninja'd into my kitchen this morning and made me the most awesome omelette!"
  3. 3 "Dude, Jesus and Buddha showed up in my kitchen this morning to hang out. Buddha started cooking omelettes, which surprised me until I found out he was just against eating meat, not eggs. Things got awkward though when Buddha realized Jesus had turned all the plates into bread, but suggested we just eat the omelettes off toast and everything was good then." (Shout Out to Young Saint Men)

1 is an ordinary claim and as such requires an ordinary level of proof. 2 is an extraordinary claim, but pics of Ninja Morimoto might suffice. 3 might actually trigger a weirdness censor, and pics alone wouldn't help.

edited 26th Apr '12 1:55:21 PM by ValorPhoenix

Rhymes with "Protracted."
I read that page and the forum rules before posting this, and checked there were less than 400 topics first.

What I mainly need here is advice on what should be done since this trope seems unclear. It seems like part of it was written by someone that understand skepticism and the rest was written by someone that seems to think mentioning toasters are real is all the proof a skeptic should need to believe in ghosts.

The examples alone show a lot of YMMV, so it should at least have a 'what is skepticism' entry for the analysis page to help clear up the definition of whatever this trope is supposed to be.


Note that Super Hero shows have not traditionally bothered. Instead, civilians largely accept, albeit with firm evidence, that the strangest things definitely exist and go about their lives hoping that the authorities and the superhero community can keep the more dangerous stuff under control. Instead, Arbitrary Skepticism is often used; Muggles may have no problem accepting aliens fighting mutants with the help of people in Powered Armor, but anyone who claims to be a God is clearly a fraud, or simply crazy.

The quote from the Plausible Deniability trope that references Arbitrary Skepticism is one of the reasons I think the Type-4 definition in my analysis, yet the description of the trope doesn't define this at all. I might have to review the changelog to see what the trope originally was about.

As for the formatting, as I understand there is a sandbox to practice in, so I'll practice in that if this trope ends up needing editing.

Currently I think the trope needs 4 sub-headings for examples, or maybe even 4 sub-tropes, matching up to the analysis in the first post. I've already has some agreement on the trope's discussion page, I just need some guidance on what would be best to clear this trope up.

(Edit): Judging by other tropes that reference this one, Arbitrary Skepticism seems to be intended to be my 'Type 1' Arbitrary Suspension of Disbelief. If that's the case, then where should the Type 2's go, and also, what trope would Type 4 fall under? Type 3 is also an issue since Sacred Cow is already a trope referring to the Fandom's sacred cows in regard to a work.

edited 27th Apr '12 12:11:44 AM by ValorPhoenix

Clocking as inactive.
I deleted that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" line - way too opinionated. So, that's a start.
7 ccoa1st Jun 2012 08:13:43 AM from the Sleeping Giant
Ravenous Sophovore
Locking up.
Waiting on a TRS slot? Finishing off one of these cleaning efforts will usually open one up.
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Total posts: 7