This week I had a dispute with someone who did not like what I wrote. The week before, I overreacted to something someone else wrote on Twitter. The important part in this post is how the misunderstandings arose: assumptions about your audience. So often, it is that.
When I write at the various places I write – paranormal or skeptics sites, or for the general public – I’m very conscious of my audience. What do they already know and what is their viewpoint of the world? I have to tailor my talks too – for background, experience, age, etc. But that’s hard to get completely right because you never know if some expert or some complete newbie is in the audience and your words or actions fall short, sail overhead or explode with unintended casualties.
I got blasted by a speaker who assumed that everyone in the audience was sympathetic to her view. She assumed we all knew her background and, perhaps because we had chosen to be there, were supporters.
There are critics everywhere.
When you put yourself out in the public eye such as being a speaker at a conference, talking on any media, on the internet, or publicly on Facebook or Twitter, you should not be surprised that something won’t sit well with someone. For opinionated people who like to share, this happens every month. Maybe every week or every day.
As many skeptics have pointed out, disagreement with your views does not mean I don’t like you as a person, or that I’m your enemy, or that I’m a bad person, or that I’m deliberately out to get you. It’s not character assassination to express disagreement or to point out an error. I am not out to be nasty, just to express my view. Read the rest of this entry
I like to keep busy.
I did another paranormal-themed podcast this week. It went well – we discussed bridging the divide between the camps. That seems to come up a lot. It won’t be out for a week or two so I’ll keep mum about it. But I do like doing those. We should ALL be up for the challenge, both sides, to refine our own views.
I have a new piece out on Huffington Post. In this one, I take the Bigfoot mystery mongerers to task again. but it’s not just them, it was all media. Including the Huff Po! It was almost too good NOT to hype this story, but they failed in focusing on the interesting real story. I also touched on that in my podcast interview. I’m interested in the ANSWER more than the mystery. Which side are you on?
A new venue that I am pleased to be appearing at is Paranormal Pop Culture. My piece is a little different than what Aaron normally puts up. After a rocky start on Twitter, Aaron and I are now friends. We are going to disagree. A lot. But we are both very reasonable people. Again, challenge your views. It can only make them better. So, he was willing to put up my review of a skeptical convention, NECSS, in contrast to the other types of events he covers. I am very grateful.
In contrast, I have a somewhat controversial post up on Sounds Sciencey – a more detailed review of the paranormal conference I attended. I’ve gotten two thumbs down on the way I portrayed people. Sorry, but this is the way I interpreted it. And, I think I did not mischaracterize things. People really said this stuff. If I didn’t have all in the information or the speaker didn’t have enough time, then, as usually happens, not everyone is going to be approving of the talk. I did have some problems with a few things that were said, but I doubt other “skeptics” at a para-con would 1) even try to listen, and 2.) be as gentle as I was. I did not want to disparage anyone, not all talks can be stellar, but, in general, I pointed out the differences you would see between meetings of this nature from the opposite communities.
As far as I know, I’m not sure this has ever happened before – reviewing a skeptic convention on a paranormal site and a paranormal convention on a skeptic site both out within a day of each other. If anyone has done that before, you need to let me know. Because it’s DAMN hard. Either I made enemies on both sides today or I made some people soften up on either end of the spectrum. The latter outcome was my goal. Maybe I just confused everyone. When you strive to be in the middle, you have to turn and face one side at a time, it may appear you have turned your back on the other.
Don’t forget to visit Doubtful News everyday. Sometimes commenters have better ideas than me.
See everything else at my Flavors page.
This week’s Virtual Skeptics was a buffet of news goodness. Check it out. That’s where the crazy title comes from. I don’t know how these things happen… they just do.
It’s been a downer week. I feel, like many others, that I need to withdraw from the insanity going on in the news. If you notice this week’s Virtual Skeptics (linked below), we are all kind of frustrated and down. There are ups and there are downs. That’s life.
I care what people think of me. Personal criticism by people I admire does sting but I try to improve. But this post is different. This is me, it’s who I am and in this case I don’t particularly care what people think about it. I’m just sharing a piece of me. We’re all people first and people are complicated.
I don’t get people who are right now reveling in Schadenfreude – joy in the misfortune of others (Brian Dunning right now and Mr. Randi a little while back.) That’s sickening to me and I actually think less of you as a person because of it. Why is it that people feel they have to give an opinion and comment on everything and that it should be taken seriously? Why so quick to discard all the good someone has done for something not directly related? It makes me wonder how you get along in the world at all – we all screw up, we all make mistakes. Do you punish everyone on a permanent basis whom you feel has screwed up? How short-sighted and shallow of you.
For those of you who call me a “bad skeptic” I don’t care. My work stands for itself. Opinions are like… well, you know. Opinions from several that I used to admire have ceased to be important to me now. I don’t even read that stuff. My goals are not the same as yours. I don’t see the world the same. I won’t be in the audience of the latest performance of outrage theatre that is just designed to gain attention for the performer. It’s been unconstructive and divisive. It’s not necessary or desirable to spout your opinion about everything to everyone. You begin to sound like Rush Limbaugh – a big bag of hot air. Go do something worthwhile that appeals to the public. WHAT A CONCEPT! Try it for a change.
NECSS, the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, was last weekend in NYC. I had gone twice before. I had skipped last year because I was not fond of some speakers. But this year, I was invited to BE a speaker. NECSS is a high-quality event. The speakers are often stellar and many are not whom you would hear at other skeptically-themed events.
Hosted by Jamy Ian Swiss, the first several speakers I found enlightening. I talked about the key note speaker, Leonard Mlodinow, on Virtual Skeptics this week – see embedded video below. I made a connection with what he was saying and what paranormal believers miss – that we humans perceive stuff and perceive it wrongly all the time. This wrongness is just good enough but, I thought, NOT good enough to say “I KNOW what I saw”. Because you know what your brain is telling you it saw. But that has been constructed. Fascinating stuff. I bought his book.
Then Massimo Pigliucci gave me two of my favorite new words: eudaimonia and trolleyology
Eudaimonia: Having a good demon – flourishing, happiness, well-being.
Trolleyology – the study of the trolley ethical thought experiments.
I didn’t get a chance to thank Massimo in person for his help with the Media Guide to Skepticism. But I finally got to chat with Jon Ronson, meet Simon Singh, hug Debbie Berebichez, have lunch with John Allan Paulos, converse skeptically with Jamy Ian Swiss, and just kvetch with Barb Drescher and Bob Blaskiewicz (also on VS below). It was lovely to meet up with some of my NY area friends and I made new friends who follow my writing or who like Doubtful News. Read the rest of this entry
Just yesterday, PA Nonbelievers released a video of my talk from last September at their conference. Now, I was hesitant to speak at an atheist event because promotion of atheism is NOT what I do. I do skepticism. But Brian graciously allowed me to talk about whatever I wanted so I talked about skepticism in the crossover – the skepto-atheism conflation that was happening. It’s still happening. Just this past weekend, Matt Dillahunty gave a talk about skepticism and atheism. He is a great speaker, but the message, I felt, was flawed and weak. While it sounded fantastic, if it was written out, it would not stand up the same.
Skepticism is NOT atheism. He pooh-poohed the Media Guide to Skepticism. He even got the name of the website wrong. But I didn’t expect to see an uptick in downloads regardless because he told people what he thought about it so it was not an encouraging promotion of the document.
But THAT’S the thing. SKEPTICISM IS NOT ATHEISM. Atheists are going to possibly have an issue with it because it’s not written for them. This was a community document, an ideal, for skepticism. Read the rest of this entry
Some of you may know I now blog for Huffington Post as well as the usual outlets. Some of you have been kind enough to read and retweet. I appreciate that. My latest piece is out.
I’ve been circulating in the Skeptisphere for a good long while. But I have not forgotten the value of being challenged and seeing alternative views. This draws me to paranormal conferences and events. I go there to be immersed in highly unskeptical ideas. It is immediately clear, to me at least, that I am out of my comfort zone at these events. I do not feel free to talk to anyone lest they determine I am not of their “ilk” and decide I should be shunned. But I am curious, and no one berates me for wanting to listen and observe. What is it about the paranormal culture that draws people here? Why is this population of people happy to spend a weekend engaged in these particularly paranormal activities, listening to speakers and making new friends?
This is a piece I wrote after I returned from a paranormal conference. I would strongly suggest all capital-S skeptics read it and would love to know what you think. I find myself cringing when I hear people (e.g. “skeptics”) laugh at paranormal believers (not beliefs but BELIEVERS) and soundly state “Bigfoot is a myth. Grow up!” How narrowly you see people. Skeptics lack empathy in many cases. You may decry me for giving paranormalists the time of day but I think they have something to say about being human. I’ve not been treated kindly by some in the skeptic-athesist community and I’ve been stabbed in the back and teased by some of the “skeptical believers” (I don’t accept their soft definition of “skeptic”) and of course you’re doomed if you are the Skeptic on a pro-paranormal forum. But, honestly, I’m so used to that. I write policy for a living. If I make everyone happy or NO one happy, I’m doing something right. It’s when I am only liked by one camp that I know I have a serious bias problem.
On the flip side, a new Sounds Sciencey was published this week as well. Read the rest of this entry
Ed Clint wrote this blog post yesterday about the current trials and tribulations of online secularism.
I do keep abreast of what is happening in that community* but don’t participate in the infighting (as much as I can avoid it) but what he said also applies to the skeptical neighborhoods as well.
He cited three points:
- Excellent secular work has gone on unabated throughout everything.
- The “new atheist” debate which also caused much in-fighting is nearly forgotten and amounted to almost nothing.
- There is no such thing as the “secular community”.
I agree. As this applies to skepticism, I have made a point to just keep doing what I want and like to do because I think it’s important and others have told me they like and appreciate it. Consequently, I have been recognized for that as have others that also persevere amongst the name-calling and shunning.
In my opinion, those that have left the skeptical party after trashing many of the luminaries or agreeing with those who do are better off leaving the podiums and not attending Skeptic events. It’s clear that they can find satisfaction by creating their own area with their own goals to focus on the issues that are important to them. I’m all for that and would support them in that endeavor. (I don’t hold grudges, really.) I’m not as certain that the rifts created in skepticism have been forgotten since many people continue to cite them years later. But as he also notes, most of the people interesting in skeptical topics do not know the lurid details and gossipy backstories to the blowups. That’s good. If you don’t want to come to this conference. Don’t. We’ll manage. Read the rest of this entry
You just CAN’T get this stuff on Skeptics Guide to the Universe, people.
As usual, our Virtual Skeptics episode on Wednesday night was interesting. Brian had more scary robots, not only do they model their locomotion after insects as we saw previously, now, they move like snakes. This is why we have the Robot Apocalypse segment because it’s crazy and creepy. Check it out.
Bob talks about the removal of Edzard Ernst from the editorial board of the journal Homeopathy. Who reads that anyways?
Eve discusses the new proposed TV show about reincarnated children. It’s more than a little exploitative and disturbing.
I describe my trip to the Phenomenology conference last weekend and why EVERYONE should visit one of these events at least once. Black tee shirts notwithstanding, I had an interesting time. Read the rest of this entry
I spent the weekend at a paranormal convention in Gettysburg, PA. Now, to most Skeptics, they may not have been able to hold out three days but, actually, it’s a truly enlightening experience. I’ve been to a few paranormal events like this before. I’m certain I was the only card-carrying Skeptic at this one. I’ll be writing and talking about it in various outlets soon but I wanted to give you the quick takeaways.
These conferences are fun and rewarding for the people who attend. They feel like they are among their “kind”. In their spare time, they do paranormal investigations so their regular jobs do not compare. This is no different than a skeptical or any other hobby con. But the big difference between a skeptic event like Skepticamp or a conference is the worldview of the attendees. At a Skeptics convention, the scholarship is high, mistakes are pointed out, serious critiques are brought up in the questioning and it’s all about thinking, not feelings. For this event it was very much the opposite. It was all about suspending scientific thought, very much more spiritual (in the religious sense) than I anticipated. It did not matter what religion you subscribed to (it all sort of mashed together) but your belief will protect and heal you. References and evidence were weak, emotion was strong. Personal stories are welcomed – when were you most scared and most vulnerable? People are very profoundly altered by experiences they had and are struggling to understand them. Without critical thinking tools or framework, it appears explainable in the spiritual sense. Often, what is lacking from Skeptics is empathy towards others’ struggles to understand their frightening experiences. In fact, empathy is downright rare.
Bigfoot/Sasquatch enthusiasts MUST listen to the latest episode of the Tetrapod Zoology (Tet Zoo) podcast. Episode 3 is the Bigfoot special. This podcast is by Dr. Darren Naish, PhD who writes the blog Tetrapod Zoology on the Scientific American network, and science artist John Conway.
This is a one and a half hour discussion about the best evidence known for the Bigfoot phenomenon. The three “best” pieces prior to this year are the dermal ridges confirmed by print expert Jimmy Chilcutt [Check out this interview on Monster Talk], the Skookum cast from Washington, and the Patterson Gimlin footage. Conway and Naish discuss the pros and cons of each one. The point of the discussion is that these three pieces, compelling when they appeared, have since fallen apart. The Chilcutt dermal ridges can be duplicated unintentionally through artifacts from the plaster casting process. Credit is given to the work of Matt Crowley. The Skookum cast that was interpreted by primate experts to possibly be consistent with a reclining primate, showing body and heel impressions in mud, has a far more mundane explanation as resulting from a native elk (wapiti) wallowing in the mud. Credit is given to the Chris Murphy book Meet the Sasquatch (which I have thanks to the aforementioned Matt Crowley). And finally, the Patterson Gimlin film, while certainly impressive on the surface and has not been completely debunked to my satisfaction, does suffer from some serious problems surroundings it’s documentation and history. Noted contributors for this information are Dan Loxton (of Skeptic magazine) and Dr. Don Prothero, who have a new book on cryptozoology coming out that I CAN NOT WAIT to get. Hope to see it this spring.
All the evidence, if solid, should have held up and led to ADDITIONAL finds to strengthen the case for Sasquatch, but that is not what happened.