In search of . . . the future.
This week’s episode of Point of Inquiry was an interview by D.J. Grothe of Ben Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and accomplished paranormal investigator and author in his own right. Radford was on to discuss the overarching theme of this month’s issue of S.I. -- Skepticism 2.0. The cover of which has pictures of three icons of skepticism, Joe Nickel, James Randi, and Carl Sagan. Joining this trio is attractive youthful blonde woman on her laptop –who represents skepticism 2.0.
Radford and Grothe discussed the need for the new generation of skeptics not to disregard the work of the previous generations of Martin Gardner, Sagan, or Randi, but to build upon what they began. I agree. There is no reason to start from scratch, and to be honest I do not see much in the way of rebelling against the work of others with the upcoming generation of skeptics. I have yet to hear, for example, on an episode of the Amateur Scientist that Brian Thompson is disregarding the work of Joe Nickel as crap and here’s how it ought to be done. Thompson may have a completely different style from Nickel, but the content is all the same.
There is going to be some disagreement within the skeptical community, but most of what I notice is not generational, but on goals and targets. The skeptical community does appear to have a science promoting wing and a secular humanist wing. While they share much in common, the “science first” group tends to avoid religion where possible, while the secular humanist group supports science but are striving for a world without religion. Conflicts are bound to arise. Even these conflicts are not new, nor is the skepticism that different, but the delivery method for the content is/has changed.
My big take away from this interview and from the underlying S.I. issue was something that was not directly discussed in the interview, and that is the relevance of old media delivery of skeptical content such as magazines. What is true for print and evening news journalism is true for the print skepticism. How do print on paper media with brick and mortar offices survive in a world where for free a skeptic can get all manner of high quality content in blogs, podcasts, videos, and grass roots skeptics in the various pubs across the globe. Yes, some of the material out in the new media will be crap, but there is a lot of high quality content already available online from Drs. Novella, Dunlop, and Crislip, Richard Saunders, Brian Thomspon, Karl Mamer, and Brian Dunning to name a few. The woman on the cover of this issue of S.I. already exists i.e. Rebecca Watson and all the other Skepchicks. There is so much excellent content available in just podcasts that I find it difficult to keep up. All of this is free, and while the fee for an issue of S.I. of $5.00 every other month seems reasonable, at the same time I get numerous updates daily on my Google reader account from a number of skeptical blogs. This must be a sobering thought for anyone in the old print media, let alone the skeptical print media.
This interview would have been more relevant and enlightening if the date had been in 2006 or 2007. I enjoy Skeptical Inquirer a great deal. I get the magazine myself every other month from my local newsstand. I was looking forward to hearing Radford discuss how the magazine will continue when the print version is retired, and will they go to subscription based e-books, and tablets, or just be an online publication? Instead, Radford affirmed that he sees a place for his publication in five years. I hope he is correct, and that he and the magazine are farther ahead of the curve in planning the magazine's future.
I am generally optimistic as to the health of skepticism over the next five to ten years. There are, as noted above, numerous up and coming names to carry the rational science minded banner to new heights. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about the long term survival of some of the most storied names in print media whether it is Time, The Philadelphia Inquirer, TVGuide, or Skeptical Inquirer. I believe all of these venerable names can, and I hope do, survive. I fear the old model ship is sinking, and the sailors better figure a way off of it before they slip beneath the waves.
-edited for clarification.
-edited for clarification.