Sunday, August 14, 2016

Cocktail Party Pitch

The latest edition of Skeptical Inquirer commemorates the fortieth anniversary of its founding way back in the bicentennial year of 1976.  The issue includes a number of essays by some well known and respected skeptics looking back over the history of skepticism.  Some such as Richard Wiseman are optimistic about skepticism's past and bright future, and others such as Sharon Hill and Scott O. Lilienfeld are more cautionary. 

I must admit I land in the cautionary camp at least in reference to the United States.  Matters over in Australia and Britain appear to be ground for a more optimistic appraisal of their futures.  I do wonder if part of the problem at least in the states is just getting some of the fundamentals down.

One fundamental is giving a succinct and appealing description of what is skepticism and/or what is a Skeptic.  A few weeks ago, we hosted a party and invited friends from various aspects of our life.  Friends from college mingled with bowling league acquaintances as well as a skeptic friend of ours.  

Emperor Constantine &
Nicene Creed selfie
The topic of our skeptic friend and I meeting via skepticism raised the valid question -what is this skepticism. We did not really have a cohesive answer at hand. I sputtered something about science, and she made more sense about evidence based reasoning and then I said "like Carl Sagan." Oof.  I am trying to come up with something better for the future. It struck me that skeptics really ought to have have something shorter than the excellent Media Guide to Skepticism and longer than an elevator pitch that is both pithy and appealing on what is skepticism and/or being a Skeptic.  I am not saying a Nicene Creed type chant is necessary (Man, wouldn't that be creepy) or Skeptics go into Amazing Alexander mode.  Just a general outline that answers the questioner with information that at best peaked their interest or at worst would view the idea of skepticism in a positive light and not some logic cult.*

I also hope that skeptics with their various styles, concerns, goals, and aspiration could agree on a general and welcoming definition of skepticism despite divergent interests.  There is a lot of infighting among people who actually agree on 90 to 95 percent of the basics.  Something like a pithy definition of Skepticism might make more apparent to all on how much everyone actually agrees. Maybe my cautionary view of the future might at least shift to be more neutral. I do not believe this would at all be a panacea, but it does fall into the 'it would be nice and handy'.  

On another slightly different topic: Skeptics with a K in the last few episodes has taken to answering listener questions.  It has been fascinating because often Mike, Marsh, and Alice do not agree.  In particular was the third rail question regarding raising kids with the myth of Santa Claus.**  Should parents tell their offspring it's all made up from the get go, let them figure it out on their own but not support the belief, or keep the Santa thing going as long as one can.  They have covered other issues too, but what I find useful is that it shows that skeptics can disagree and not have it end in a Twitter flame war with rage blogging battles ensuing.  In the end, I think the panel demonstrates that they still agree 95 percent of the time.  Also, they are very good at giving thoughtful answers even when they disagree among themselves.   

*If the person showed some interest one could point them to the SGU, the Media Guide, Demon Haunted world or the like.  

**I guess Father Christmas is dead?

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