Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Six Years of the Skeptical Review

France.  America salutes you.
Trigger Warning: Rambling 

Happy Bastille Day and more importantly (but not for the French) Skeptical Review Day as it has been six years since I launched this vanity project.  My original conception of this blog was to follow upwards of a dozen or so skeptical podcasts and churn out ten to twelve posts a month sharing my observations and thoughts on them.  That did not last.  In the beginning, I was full of optimism about skepticism and dubious about how long this blog would last.  Well, now I am a bit world weary about skepticism, and stunned I have kept publishing this blog even with its shifted focus and more constrained output.

Truth is, I do not listen to nearly as many skeptical podcasts as I once did.  Some of them
have ceased production such as my beloved Righteous Indignation or the entertaining Just Skeptics.  Others, frankly, grew stale such as The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe and the Skeptic Zone.  I do listen to the SGU and the Zone from time to time, or skip to a particularly intriguing section of an episode I find in the show notes.  My days of waiting like a skeptic junkie for the latest SGU to drop on Saturday (c’mon man where is the episode Novella . . . c’mon) are gone.  Point of Inquiry is a reflection of what it once was when D.J. Grothe was at the helm all those many years ago.  Rationally Speaking with the recent departure of Prof. Massimo Pigliucci remains an open question.  Julia Galef was a good counterpart to Pigliucci, but can she carry the show without Pigliucci's quick insight and Italian accent? We'll see. 

Hill on  Virtual Skeptics

While Skeptoid’s founder, Brian Dunning, has endured what appears to be an appropriate run in with the Justice and correctional systems of the county, his podcast overall has remained a weekly must hear despite his absence.  Dunning is a criminal, but a gifted podcaster.  As a podcast producer, he runs a tight ship.  I still listen to Skepticality quite regularly probably in part that the format has shifted which has kept the show interesting.  Skeptics with a K continually seems to get it right as does Dr. Stuart Robbins' excellent Exposing PseudoAstronomy.  I would listen to more of the Conspiracy Skeptic if more episodes were produced.  (Yes, the pot is calling the kettle black on this one.) The Virtual Skeptics Vodcast can be unevenly paced but usually has quite good material, but the video format makes it inconvenient.  The VS crew’s chemistry since the departure of Sharon Hill has never regained its stride.  Still, I typically enjoy it. Monster Talk’s release schedule is pretty hit or miss.  I typically spend Sunday evenings listening to Strange Frequencies Radio.  The show has drifted from mainly paranormal/woo woo topics to more observations of pop culture and religion.  I like it.  I don't know if I consider it a skeptic podcast.  More a show with skeptical overtones.  This list is not exhaustive.  There are other podcasts out that I have tried and did not stick.


Instead, I find myself listening to a lot of audio lectures.  Currently, I am listening to a series on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and before that I listened to a series on the rise of the British Empire.  

I still consider myself firmly in the skeptical camp.  Skepticism, as a group, has gone from being a generally upbeat lot in 2007ish to a pretty hair triggered gaggle around 2012ish to an exhausted 1917 Western front state of a belligerent stalemate tuckered out by past conflicts.  Skeptics are supposed to be a group of rationalists that provide a form of consumer protection benefit to society.  Skeptics are neither the angel on the right shoulder nor the devil on the left shoulder.  Skeptics are the sober one wearing a polo shirt with sensible shoes and pants methodically parsing things out perched on top of the head.  This is difficult when one is always looking over one's shoulder waiting for the other shoe to drop from within one's own lines, or not getting much backup when requested. 

It gets depressing.  Using skepticism on a daily basis can make one a bit of a party pooper regardless of efforts of trying not to be a dick.  Many people generally like the idea of ghosts looking after them or having control over increasingly complex, confusing, and expensive medical care by utilizing footpads on the soles of their feet at night to stay healthy.  It’s crap.  Nearly all alt med, food pseudo-science, and vaccine hype is crap.  Unfortunately, crap can be comforting.  Reality, the better place to be overall can dash hopes and be an immediate bummer.  I figured this out fairly early on my skeptical journey.  Reality is reality.  The idea is not to love or leave it but accept it.  For me, this was an easier row to hoe when the skeptical community itself felt positive.  Now that the support within the skeptical community is wanting, I find myself a bit down.  I medicate myself by trying to figure out how to get to the Mouse in Central Florida and ride Spaceship Earth to hear Dame Judi Dench soothingly tell me to thank the Phoenicians for teaching me my A-B-C’s.

Yet, I still think the Skeptical project is worth it.  Shane Brady recently wrote ". . . we’ve passed a peak of online skepticism . . ." This clicked with me immediately.  Skepticism is no longer shiny and new.  The honeymoon is over, and now it's time to see what a mature online skepticism will be.  

least we forget . . .
While there is far too much political bullshit going on within the skeptical community, there is even more bullshit flung about in the vastly greater and ultimately more important world at large.  I like being correct. I appreciate the art of basing one's world view upon rationalism and being cognizant of one's own limits and foibles to gain a better grasp on reality; it is challenging and rewarding.  I enjoy the online camaraderie and friendships I have gained over the years.  Yet, I would rather see the world be even 20% less full of crap facts and terrible opinions based upon those crap facts than for me to feel that I or Skepticism is correct or important.  It is why I stick with Skepticism.  It's not about Skepdom. It's not about saving the world.  It's about getting the world to be a bit more grounded and factual for what it is and not what people wish it to be.  It sounds easy.  Would more be done in this regard if skepticism sorted itself out, and gained a bit more focus online?  Yep. But, I am not holding my breath for that to realistically occur. 


  1. I've been an occasional reader of this blog throughout, and have appreciated your thoughts. Your current assessment of the state of the skeptical movement is quite interesting, if a bit dismal. This part made me chuckle somewhat:

    "Skepticism is no longer shiny and new. The honeymoon is over, and now it's time to see what a mature online skepticism will be."

    It's always sort of funny to see c.2005–2007 positioned as the "shiny and new" dawn of an ongoing research and activism tradition that goes back to either the 1970s, the birth of science, or the ancient world, depending how you define it it. But this is still an insightful point that's been discussed often: post-2005 "online skepticism" was a whole new thing in many ways (really, several new things artificially packaged together in a combustible mixture). It's been something of an social experiment since that time, and one which has unfolded awfully fast. We'll have to see where it goes. For myself—well, I've been following the skeptical literature since c.1991 as a fan of the decades of work that had come before. I'm very interested to see how this field looks in another 20 or 30 years.

  2. I probably ought to have written: 'online' skepticism is no longer shiny and new. Skepticism, I am well aware and mostly from your good work, dates back to at least forty years and well earlier. This was a darker post.

  3. hang in there it does feel incredibly overwhelming and frustrating when you consider what we are up against-the Enlightenment is still an experiment and skeptics are doing important work


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