I wrote a reply comment to a Facebook friend today where she was lamenting whether skeptical activism actually makes a difference. (I do not think her mind was made up one way or the other.) I have been pondering the same thing as of late. I have to admit, I am not sure that skeptics do have a large impact on society. There are a plethora of blogs and podcasts, and a number of books in recent years that discuss and celebrate a rationalist world view. There are even a few radio programs available including flagship skeptical podcast “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” on SirusXM Satellite Radio, and Desiree Schell with "Skeptically Speaking." We must be doing gangbusters in the world, right?
Perhaps not. What if skeptics are just creating a world-wide internet-based echo chamber where skeptics can chatter to each other from corners of the globe as diverse as Liverpool, England to Toronto, Ontario and from Hershey, Pennsylvania to Perth, Australia. A percentage of the skeptical community meets in Las Vegas once a year as well as in London, Manchester, New York City and Atlanta to fire each other up for another year of outreach, online discussion, and information exchange.
It’s not that I expect all woo to be swept from the globe in a few short years or realistically ever. I do wonder if the modern ease and speed of communication can give the illusion of a greater impact on society as whole than we really do have. Sure, the Power Balance bracelet has been given a black eye in Australia, but my local upscale supermarket is still chock full of homeopathy and supplements for sale. There are ads for iBands energy balancing bands in the States. The 9/11 Truther movement might have been stymied, but a Presidential candidate who just might win the Iowa Caucus sure has a lot of followers who buy into conspiracies galore.
There is no way to tell what the world would be like without skeptical activism. We can’t replay the last twenty years without James Randi or last five without the Skeptics’ Guide. I am not too sure it would be that different. On the other hand, I cannot imagine a world without the skeptical community as a shoulder to lean against to make sense of the world, and feel a little bit better. Perhaps it is good enough if the impact of the skeptical community is something smaller and more personal to keep each other from going mad.
Hope I am wrong.
I don't wish to end of the year on a complete downer. So I give you Bill Murray: