Sunday, June 26, 2011

Skeptical media breeding like rabbits.

Earlier this year I thought of authoring a post on the saturated state of skeptical internet media.  There were (and are) a whole hell of a lot of podcasts in the rationalist, skeptical, atheist genres to pick and choose and blogs galore.  I was finding it overwhelming to keep up with even a modest portion of the content being generated, and it was rather depressing to me in my self-appointed role of skeptical media watchdog (of a sort.)

Therefore, on my flight home from a holiday with my lovely, modestly sunburnt wife, I was quite interested in the Skepticality episode from June 14, 2011 with interviewee Tim Farley from the popular "What's the Harm" website, and his take on the mass amount of skeptical internet content now available.  The episode contained a brief interview with Farley regarding the current state of skeptical media followed by his recent talk on the topic at Atlanta Skepticamp* entitled "Don't start a blog or a podcast."  As the title reveals, Farley's thesis is that there are too many blogs, too many podcasts, and too many videos being generated by skeptics today.  Therefore, if the bee gets in one skeptical's bonnet to do something other than be a passive consumer of all the skeptical goodness, then do not start yet another blog or podcast but do something else.

Farley lists eight various ways to be an active skeptic without resorting to ranting on a blog or podcast with such alternative activities such as policing wikipedia, keeping a history on various psychic websites to keep them honest, and answering questions on websites such as Yahoo! Answers among other actions.  Derek and Swoopy also proposed joining forces with others in order to not add to the noise in skepidom such as when Farley joined Skepticality with his history segment rather than start his own podcast.

Farley makes some reasonable points about the amount of content that is bouncing around the web these days.  He has done some impressive preliminary research to back up his ideas of a flood of media available today.  All the suggested alternative ways to contribute would all help in the general cause of skepticism.  In fact, a blog post I previously thought about authoring came to a similar conclusion.  There are simply too much out there to digest (too many notes) and hence some folks would simply have to stop or at least not begin contributing blog posts, podcasts, and videos (which I was not even thinking of at the time.)  I was listening to the same people give basically the same interview on various podcasts, and the same news stories were being covered by various podcasts again and again.

Yet, when I went to actually put finger to keyboard, I could not do it.  The problem is who am I or anyone else to opine that someone should not add their voice to the conversation in a blog or podcast? Granted, the vast amount of content almost guarantees that new podcast X will never reach the stature of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and conversely makes nearly certain that such popular productions will maintain their position.  They have their loyal followers who block out time for their show and spread the word to others.  Who has time to give "Young Australian Skeptics" a chance when I have the SGU and The Skeptic Zone in my queue?  Yet, why dissuade the commitment of a person or group to reach an audience.  Maybe, they will be the next P.Z. Myers in five years or the new Skeptoid.  Podcasts and blogs do wax and wane.**  A space or opening for someone persistent enough might come to pass.  Blag Hag is now a well known and popular blog that hit it big with Boob-quake.

There is a hubris in suggesting to others not to engage in one type of outreach, but to do this other type of outreach over here or this thing over there or add to somebody else's effort.  While policing wikipedia is important, it does not give the same sense of voice as a podcast.  It was beyond me to suggest to others not to give it a go.  Dr. Steven Novella of the SGU often suggests to blogging beginners to specialize in one particular field or aspect rather than be a generalist.  While I don't completely agree with Dr. Novella in this regard, I do like this view better than saying it is better that you don't post at all.

What does this all mean?  It means we skeptical cats are a messy bunch.  Most or many of us will not be heard above the din except for perhaps a small audience above the roar of the already mature shows such as the SGU or Skepticality.  There will be duplicated efforts.  There will be battles for who gets to interview Ron Johnson upon the release of his next book.  It is fine.  I am for the marketplace of ideas to work out who succeeds and who fails even if the look or sound of it may not be as cohesive as we lie for skepticism as a whole. Rather, I believe it results in a hopefully friendly competition where the majority of the audience listens to the SGU, but also listen to "Just Skeptics," while another might instead enjoy "Dogma Free America" so be it.  I am a news junkie.  I cannot watch MSNBC, Fox, BBC America and CNN all at the same time, yet I stay informed.

To be clear, Farley did not say nobody should ever do a new blog or podcast.  I do understand and am somewhat sympathetic to the thought process of Derek, Swoopy, and Tim.  There is a messy jumble of media out on the web.  I think it is natural to, in some manner, want to herd the cats together, and targeting the kittens is a good place to start.  However, I say try it out if it is what you want to do.  If it works out for you - great, and if not then try one of Farley's suggestions or think of something else.  I suspect there are a lot of motivated people who have good ideas that should be given a try in blog or podcast form rather than told not to bother/ get in the way.

*Skepticamp is an unconference where each attendee is also to give a lecture or do some part of the organization behind the scenes.  

**The old chestnut "Logically Critical" comes to mind as a quite good, but now defunct podcast.  At times, a fear the steam is starting to leave my beloved "Righteous Indignation," and that "Irreligiosophy" has but moments before flatline.  These are topics of possible future posts.


  1. Thanks for the review. Let me re-emphasise what you said in the final paragraph: I wasn't saying that nobody should ever start a new blog or podcast. But I was strongly recommending that folks carefully consider the many other options for online activism, and most of all to specialize, specialize, specialize.

  2. Did you mean Jon Ronson rather than Ron Johnson?

  3. Ron Johnson would be an interesting interview - it turns out he was the chap who decided to have Apple retail stores. :-D


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