Originally posted June 23, 2013
This week on Just Skeptics, the format of the show was changed up a bit. After the panel discussed various skeptic topics, the episode featured an one on one interview. Janis interviewed Susan Gerbic of the Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia Project, which was one of the highlights of my skeptical listening week. Typically on Just Skeptics, the guest joins the panel discussing the various topics with the guest getting their "soapbox" where the guest sounds off some subject. For Just Skeptics, the interview segment was unusual.
Before the interview, the panel discussed the likelihood that the U.S. government has spy drone insects that spy on the American populace. This crossed into a topic how the technology exists to tap someone's cellphone/smartphone to use the mic to listen to the owner even when the phone is not in use. They also discussed the now waning Natural Law party in England, which believed in such things as physically hovering through meditation. Another topic was Bob Monkhouse, a British comedian, who happened to horde thousands of hours of British television shows on VHS tapes. While Monkhouse appears to have had some serious issues, it was a boon for the historical record as it was thought some shows he had recorded were lost. (The editor complains that I never delete any pictures I take. I can now explain I do it for future generations.)
The most interesting part of the episode was the interview of Gerbic. What was interesting was not so much the history of Guerilla Skepticism or some of the current projects...perhaps this is because this has all been shared on Gerbic Guerilla Skepticism segment on Skepticality. But what was interesting was Gerbic discussing the intersection or the interference that some of the skeptical infighting has on skeptical endeavors as a whole.
Gerbic's example of skepticism going off focus was when the news broke that SylviaBrowne had completely blown the Amanda Miller prediction to her mother that she was dead when in fact she was alive and famously escaped her captors in May of this year. Unfortunately, Amanda's mother died believing that her daughter was dead based upon Browne's soothsaying. Browne took a big media hit and shut down her media presence and touring for a bit. Gerbic contends that if Skeptic had pushed the issue, Browne might have been brought down. Instead, another round of internal skeptical feuding took center stage and instead of skeptical bloggers focusing on Browne, too much of it was focused on the drama.
I admit I think it is a bit of a leap to think that Browne could be brought down, and it is speculative that a more focused effort against Browne would have been the straw to break the Browne camel's back. However, I do agree that it was an opportunity that was lost to bring stronger and more intense light of skepticism to bear against Browne. I sensed in Gerbic's delivery more than a bit of frustration on the amount of time and effort spent by skeptics in heated internal discussions.
I noticed a bit of the same during the interview of Daniel Loxton on the latest episode of the Sketpics' Guide to the Universe. Dr. Novella and Loxton had an exchange during the interview the gist of which is that some introspection by skeptics in general is fine, but it can get carried away. Perhaps the internal arguing is finally playing itself out for sometime. Maybe, those who have interests that are not skeptical but are related or in neighboring areas will have their own groups and an era of peace (at least detente) will occur. Then again, ever since Phil Plait's "Don't be a Dick Speech" at TAM in 2010, just when it appears things might be calming down things blow up again over something else.
Janis did a nice job engaging Gerbic in an interesting and thought-provoking interview. I recommend this episode of Just Skeptics more than usual.