Sunday, December 21, 2014

Skeptics with a K

The topic on how to communicate what is skepticism and how to communicate a possible unpopular view on a topic with lots of general appeal based upon the evidence is a tricky subject.  This is a reoccurring topic within skepdom and it came up once again on the latest Skeptics with a K

Marsh was back from a trip and tour of Australia for the Australian Skeptics National Conference which occurred this past November.  Marsh spoke on a panel for consumer protection which included a panelist from Choice magazine, which I take is the Oz version of
Michael "Marsh" Marshall
Consumer Reports.  The person from Choice was questioned by a chiropractor why Choice is universally so hard on chiropractors.  At least from Marsh’s viewpoint the panelist indicated they were not against all Chiropractic caregivers and if that was how it was viewed it was wrong.  As Marsh puts it, he went into “Be Reasonable” mode and let the Chiropractor explain his case, and indirectly point out where the issues were with Chiropractic. 


This led into a discussion of how should skeptics pitch skepticism to the public.  Should it be in the harsh, blunt no-nonsense tone of the late Christopher Hitchens and still alive Richard Dawkins, or more diplomatic as in Be Reasonable (or I would say Strange Frequencies too.)  Mike defended to an extent the blunt view, while Marsh leaned toward a more congenial approach.  Neither one took a hardline, but it seems to me while having a Hitchens type voice is nice, it only works if you are well . . . Hitchens or have that certain something where you can be brutally candid with an opinion, have the other side still think you are an ass, but still enjoy your company and not shut you down.  I would argue almost nobody else on the scene has this skill not Dawkins, not P.Z. Myers, not even James Randi. 


It’s not that such a voice has no place, but those folks should be kept to a minimum.  The congenial voice should be the majority.  Except, it is really, really hard to be congenial, and so tempting to think oneself a Hitchens with the hammer of evidence, and belly full of black label.   While I do not subscribe to skeptics trying to be so passive that the evidence-based world view does not get shared, I do think Dawkins, Myers, and yes Randi might not be the best first messenger of rationalism.  How the skeptical message gets out is not an all or nothing type of thing, but for getting our point across and winning over friends more nice and less blunt is probably the better take. (If there are studies that prove this wrong then I am willing to change my view.)

I paid too much for this damn wine!
source: author
Also on this episode, Alice had a nice segment describing her experience at a pro-alternative health conference that was for patient choice in cancer treatment, Cancer -there is Hope Seminar hosted by Yes to Life.  Now, on its face I am for patient treatment choice, but only within the bounds of sound medical evidence.  Alice went there point for point on much of the less than evidence-based treatment modalities and thoughts shared at the conference.  Her training as an actual scientist was quite appreciated.  Really, skepticism needs more scientists who can explain things to the public.  Plenty of skeptics are scientists, or scholars in a relevant field that pertains to conspiracy, but also having the ability to talk to people in a clear fashion is rare. 

Marsh also discussed the Premium Wine Card - a credit card looking thingy that after stroking a glass of cheap wine in it will turn it into a finer tasting drink harnessing the power of vibrations or frequencies or something or the other.  The take down of this almost certain nonsense product is hilarious.  

SWaK continues to produce some of the sharpest and entertaining skeptical podcasting around.  I continue to think it one of the best skeptical podcasts in production.  


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