Monday, June 25, 2012

Skeptic Kingdom

Recently, Lady and I have taken up listening to unofficial Disney podcasts.  We are going to "the World" at the end of this summer, and podcast listening is what I enjoy doing so it seemed a natural way to learn a few tips before the big vacation. To an extent I did not expect there to exist such a vast  community of Disney fandom podcasts.  Some of them are quite polished and would fit right at home on NPR (think Point of Inquiry), others are much more rough with sketchy audio quality limited editing (think the Conspiracy Skeptic).  A few of them are panel discussion shows and others focus on a single person talking on a focused topic or an area of interests.  Even after only a cursory listen to the few shows I have downloaded the incest within this Disney fandom with podcasters as guests on someone else's show is quickly apparent.  There are blogs galore underpinning this entire community with the occasional book being released by certain plucky fans.  It is a vibrant community with slang terms and inside jokes.  Now, I do enjoy Disney World a great deal.  I like a bunch of the Disney movies.   My Mickey Mouse watch is just swell.  The Haunted Mansion is my favorite attraction anywhere hands down.  Yet, I find this entire internet subculture a bit weird.  Then I thought "oh, oh" when I ran into a blog and then another blog that reviewed Disney podcasts.

Replace skepticism with Disney in the above paragraph and this would be a pretty accurate portrait  of the online subcultural of skepticism.  I wish to make clear that in my opinion the goal of skeptics to promote rationalism and science for a reality based worldview is a higher calling than being transfixed on a corporate entertainment empire.  Yet, I wonder how often someone who questions the likelihood of psi, big foot, alien visitation, or homeopathy explores a few skeptical podcasts or blogs after an iTunes or Google search and thinks "sure I find In Search of . . . type topics interesting, and Mythbusters if great television, but this entire internet subcultural is a bit peculiar and eccentric."

Yes, I know there are other internet subcultures.  I also listen to a fair number of technology podcasts and they are incestuous and highly focused on a selective area of interest.  I would argue the tech area of interest is a bit more import than Disney information for daily useful knowledge.  Again, it is an area of interests of mine, so objectively is not possible.  However, the parallels between what I have glimpsed between Disney folks and skeptical folks is a bit too close for comfort.

Does the skeptical community come off as  a weird inside baseball echo chamber instead of presenting a  welcoming impression to someone with a casual interests in skeptical topics?  I am not really sure if someone (such as myself) or most readers of this blog are in such a position to judge.  While I do not think every podcast, blog, twitter account, or Facebook account should set itself up as an conduit to draw in the general public, I do wonder if we look a bit weird to the outside world.  I have my doubts has to how skepticism appears in toto the majority of people.

Now, I think the best way to guard against such public facade is to . . . I really do not know.  To some extent this type of self contained community is inevitable, but on the other hand while there are clearly those interested in outreach, I cannot help but think the modern skeptical community is more echo chamber than open tent.  (Yes.  Here is a blog focused on commenting upon the skeptical community lamenting an echo chamber. Color me a hypocrite.)

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