Sunday, October 21, 2012

Is Skepticism less inviting?, The Skeptics' Guide, Just Skeptics

I remember when things were better back'n the day . . .

Perhaps I am becoming a crotchety old man sitting on my proverbial porch with a shotgun and PBR pounder yelling at the kids to stay off my yard while waxing poetic about the good ole days, but I am starting to have those notions about the good old days of skeptical community.  I am not talking about when CSICOP was started in the 1970’s or the Skeptics’ Society in the early 1990’s.  No, I am talking about when internet skepticism began its hockey stick style growth starting around 2005.  

Get off my yard kids!
The underlying philosophical outlook of skepticism is unaltered, and in these short seven years from my 20,000 foot view the skeptical community has clearly diversified.  There are more women involved, and it does appear that age of skeptics has lowered.  This is good to have more folks under the big skeptical tent.  I must admit despite this positive growth and change I cannot keep shaking the notion that instead of stumbling upon skepticism in 2005, if I had stumbled upon it today I might not have become as interested in it, and in my own very tiny way become involved in it.  

I cannot put my finger on the thing that gives me this thought.  The closest I can come to in this regard is the amorphous notion of tone.  The tone of the skeptical community just feels less inviting today.  Part of it is the amount of time, energy, and words spent on the Free Thought Blogs rule/suck, Skepchick rules/sucks, Rebecca Watson is a saint/antichrist, religious skeptics are welcome/mocked.  If a person outside of the skeptical sphere were to immerse themselves in the various blogs to get a feel for this community and read a lot of the blogs over the last 18 months, I would not fault a person for thinking ‘no thanks’ and move on.  This is sad as I suspect that the majority of skeptics ignore all this divisiveness from day to day, and probably even fewer actually jump into the fray.  Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that to the interested newbie it looks like a public high school social squabble.  

Yet, I think the internal strife is only part of it.  I think skeptics are getting lazy or at least unmindful.  Skeptics seem increasingly more inattentive to maintaining an inviting presentation to those who might find the rationalist world view intriguing, but are not sold on it.  Reading blogs or listening to podcasts there seems to be an implicit assumption that the consumer is already on board, and ‘gets it.’  When skeptical blogs and podcasts were getting started the producers were generally more aware that they were trying to sell or at least not drive off potential skeptics.  Nobody lied or was untrue in their content, but it was not taken as a given the audience agreed or at least was completely onboard.   

I could be all wet, and just romanticizing the past.  Perhaps it would not hurt to keep more in the forefront when producing a podcast or authoring a post that not everyone taking in the content is automatically sympathetic.  I have no guidelines on how to accomplish this task.  It is a case by case, and perhaps even word by word decision.  Yet this process might pay big dividends to keep the skeptical community growing, and drawing in new people.

Perry is still missed . . .

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe's latest episode featured a discussion of scientists creating computer simulations of the universe just a few femtometers across.  This lead into a discussion of whether or not technology will reach a point where computer simulation of an entire universe could be created.  This lead to a discussion on what are the chances we are actually living inside a simulation, and would there be any way to figure it out from within the simulation.  On the one hand, it was mind bogglingly interesting, and on the other hand, I wish the late Perry DeAngelis were still alive so he could have put the breaks on the discussion with his blunt "what are you guys talking about."  The conversation really went into a rat hole.

The episode also featured an interview with Jamy Ian Swiss at TAM right after his rally crying speech at TAM to keep skepticism from spreading into other areas and visa versa.  Swiss, as always, is an entertaining and thoughtful guest.  However, waiting three months after the speech and interview to air it seemed a bit odd.  It's not that the content is stale, but it would have been nice to hear Swiss's thoughts nearer in time to when he gave it.

Welcome back . . . Skeptics

Will they get this joke in Britain?
Finally, after a six month hiatus Just Skeptics is back.  To be honest, I nearly wrote them off.  The show is the same as before with four folks discussing recent news topics in an informal manner.  This episode featured Janis Callister taking on the moderator role this episode, and she kept things nicely on track.  Janis, Gavin, and Rick promise to try to adhere to a bi-weekly schedule.  (Or as they call it a fortnightly schedule.)  I am glad they are back in production.  They were missed.  


  1. ...don't get me started on podcasts featuring the same ten or so people on rota, again and again... Today Tonight and other Current Affairs programs do the same thing, just have five key audience-pullers and keep returning to them.

  2. That is another balancing act to work out. It's nice to have a 'big name' on from time to time. There are a lot of people do a lot of good work that I only ever hear about when they manage to get noticed by a podcast. The Token Skeptic is a good place to go for fresh faces (or voices.)

    I have not thought this out completely, but it's not necessarily the big name that bothers me. It's that typically it's that the person is hocking their latest project, so they are a guest on a lot of podcasts at the same time. Same as when an actor is on all the late night talk shows pitching their latest project. I guess its bound to happen, but unfortunate. Also, some of the larger podcasts such as the SGU seem to be shying away from interviewing unknowns and either skip the interview segment or have a big name.

    I guess this could be the topic of an entire post at some point.


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