Monday, December 24, 2012

Thoughts on Skepticism

Skepticism: end of the year thoughts . . .

Skepticism.  It is a tool.  A system of rules to guide one’s thought process in ascertaining the best evidence to come to a reasonable conclusion.  Skepticism also defines a community.  It may not be a tightly knit, centrally organized community with a definitive command structure, but there is a community.   

This blog focuses on skeptic podcasts.  There are skeptical blogs and micro blogs.  There are skeptical forums.  There are skeptics of various social, cultural, economic, religious, philosophical, and national stripes.    

Many skeptics self identify as atheists.  Some skeptical activities are also atheist activities, while other activist skeptics are non-activist atheists.  There are active skeptics who are religious.  There are skeptics that are progressives/liberals.  There are skeptics that are libertarians.  There are skeptics that are conservative in their politics.  Some skeptics are brash, vocal, and firmly opinionated.  Other skeptics take a more circumspect demeanor.   

Bloggers about to go
over the top
I could go with some skeptics being conservative in attire, while others have non-natural coloring in their hair, etc.  Skeptics come in many forms, and with various opinions, which is generally good and reflects a vast swath that makes up humanity.  However, this year appears to have skeptics starting to form into tribes and clans with at least some of the more active skeptics online.  This tribalism seems to express itself more with blogs than with podcasts at the moment.  For the most part, the “Don’t be a dick” speech, Elevator-gate, whether women at skeptical conferences are safe and welcome-gate,  Evo Psyche-cliff, among other recent dust ups have not been a major discussion topic on podcasts.  I just hope it stays this way. I know in an earlier post I advocated that a podcast relief valve be devised to diffuse such situation when they arise.  I now think I was wrong for the most part with this suggestion.  

In an ideal world such topics ought to be discussed in the open and subject to rigorous, thoughtful discussion and reflection.  However, in practice too often it’s the same people defending the same tribe against the same old people in the other tribe.  Nothing seems to get accomplished and battle lines are drawn.  Lines of entrenchments dot the internet, and I suspect the vast number of enthusiastic skeptics look upon this no man’s land, and wonder what the hubbub is supposed to accomplish.  That these battles appear to have stayed more or less out of podcasts is a good thing.  I would hate to see the SGU or Skepticality get bogged down with skeptical drama, and prefer to see them keep plugging along discussing woo and crank science. 

I cannot say a podcast should never cover such topics, but I suggest it should only do so under the most unusual and pressing circumstances.  Hayley Stevens of the late Righteous Indignation podcast, Hayley is a Ghost blog, and Project Barnum wrote a recent post reflecting upon lessons learned in the last year.  One of them that touched a particular nerve with me was her point number 3: “Never be too certain.”  Her entire post is worth reading, but Stevens points out that it is easy to get caught up in the drama and opine publicly on a topic with certitude that may not be supported by the available evidence. 

idealized idea of people learning
and thinking hard
I know there have been times that I have drafted comments on a blog comment chain, or drafted a blog post on a topic but never published.  There have been times that I have hit send and regretted it.  Skeptics really ought to show more skepticism toward their own opinions and the opinions of those with whom they tend to agree.  The dialogue then tends to be driven more by emotion and instinct than by thoughtfulness.  Skepticism is pushed aside.

I have run across a few online comments of people backing away from skepticism to go onto greener pastures.  I cannot blame them as I have entertained similar thoughts.  Even though I am a hermit, and rarely go forth to mix and mingle with my fellow man, I cannot drop being a skeptic.  Skepticism as a tool still works even if the community has some social misfires.  This community is made of fallible human beings, but it is for our flawed selves that we engage in skepticism in the first place. 

I do not wish to come across as someone who advocates sticking one’s head in the sand to avoid problems.  I plan to continue doing my small bit to assist the greater scientific skeptical goodness even if the strife continues.  However, I cannot help but think and feel on a basic emotional (admittedly not rational) level that while the skeptical community with its diversity shall always have necessary internal disagreements, for "insert alleged deity here" sake, enough is enough!  


  1. Hi All,


    We really enjoy when comfortable bourgeois atheists talk about the apocalypse...

    Unfinished business

    Are these claims "falsifiable? Millions will see this.

    we're not KIDDING


    get to the article on the APOCALYPSE - pg. 22

    no, 99% have failed!

  2. Good article. There seems to be an ongoing search for perfection in some quarters that is both unrealistic and divisive. One can be skeptical in thought without having to jump on any bandwagon of political or social thought. You can be a skeptic without having to demonstrate liberal outrage, engage in witch hunts or be an attention seeker. It is a method.