Saturday, March 29, 2014

MONEY FOR SOMETHING, AND YOUR SKEPTICISM FOR FREE.


Originally posted September 22, 2013

I recently read a tweet by prominent skeptic, Sharon Hill, asking out loud into the the social media ether '. . . why people think a skeptical project have {sic} to be non-profit.  It's a JOB.  It's a SERVICE. Why can't it be a business too?" (emphasis original)  
This idea of doing skepticism for a living and not just as an advocation has been something that I have thought over from time to time.  First, there are a few who do make a living from skepticism such as Daniel Loxton, Michael Shermer, Rebecca Watson, D.J. Grothe, and Brian Dunning of Skeptoid.com.  I take the above comment not to mean make a profit for the sake of a profit, but to make a living or at least get reasonably paid for one's efforts.  That may not be the actual gist of the the above tweet, but I'll take it that way.  However, the question is a fair one.  Let's face it: from chiropractors, the many dubious life coaches, animal psychics, people psychics, spas with salt caves, people are able to make a living on what skeptics generally understand to be crap.  
I think there are a few hurdles to cross until one could make a living at all as a skeptic.  The first one is perception.  The moment one either generates money from ads or from subscriptions people will begin to question motivations.  I do not think it is a totally unreasonable stance for the skeptical listening public to take.  Although I think it is an easy excuse to blow off the author's opinion when they write on a controversial topic.  People will perceive that Terry T. Skeptic either posted something as link bait to generate hits for advertising revenue, or post on a series of topics to pander to the paying subscribers and avoiding some topics not to drive away subscribers.  
A more fundamental issue is the economics of being a skeptic in the internet era.  From the 1970s era, one could try and raise the capital to start off a magazine or write a book which people would naturally be willing to shell out some dollars, pounds, or Deutschmark to consume.  If you gained a following, you could do a lecture circuit and give paid lectures where one could also sell some books to pay the bills.  It was not a big market, but at least when one produced some work the readership did not expect it to be free.   
Most skeptics produce their work and then share it on the internet.  Like it or not, the consumer has gained a sense of entitlement that the internet is free.  Heck, the Huffington Post which is a for profit entity famously pays few of the bloggers on the site, and the exposure is expected to be the compensation.  The amount of money generated by ads is typically small unless one earns a large following and can get advertising independently from one of the big internet ad groups with Google or Yahoo!  It can be done, the Apple tech site Daring Fireball's sole proprietor John Gruber sells his weekly ad space for $5,000 per week, and his Talk Show podcast spots for $2,500 per spot.  However, this is a rarity.   At least in the tech world, there are entities willing to spend money on a high traffic website to advertise as there are software and hardware goodies that tech geeks would like to buy.  I am not sure if there is a similar market within skepticism.  Skeptics don't buy supplements, crystals, or ghost hunting electronic flashing light doohickies.  We tend to buy books and t-shirts and some folks sell jewelry that appeals to a limited amount of people.  I am not sure what company would want to sponsor a skeptical website.  
I, for one, think it would be handy if a larger number of skeptics made a living from just doing skepticism and not limiting themselves to the time they have between work and other commitments.  There could be a lot more being done, being done better, and being more thorough if someone spent 50 hours or so a week pursuing their skeptical activities than weaving it into their lives.  Heck, if I could make my current modest government salary listening to podcasts, I would triple my podcast intake and blog a heck of a lot more.  It would be swell.  My 'beat' is nothing compared to the beat of others fighting alt med woo woo, bad press reporting, and fighting poor pseudoscience on a daily basis.   
I would like to be wrong.  I think it can be done.  I do not expect a blooming of professional skeptics to occur anytime soon.  However, I'd love, love, love to be proven wrong.   
Or skeptics could finally breakdown and accept those meaty checks from big pharma, big agriculture, N.A.S.A., the illuminati, the Masons, big evolutionary biology, big oil, etc.  and be done with it.* 

*jesting.   

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