Skeptics messing with your meridians

It’s been sort of a rough week health wise. I’ve been attacked by the dreaded carpal tunnel monster so typing is a bit difficult right now but… I think, therefore I type. And, stupid daylight savings time switch… dumb.

Regardless, it was a productive week.

One big project completed is the Media Guide to Skepticism. Once upon a time, I came a cross a Media Guide to Volcanoes written by a scientist to help reporters with the basic concepts in a few pages. I felt this was needed for skepticism for several reasons. Lately, there has been much talk about the scope of skepticism, what we should or shouldn’t be doing and how to do it. An easy to read guide for those just discovering this brand of critical thinking might find it very helpful and not get sidetracked by those who have agendas that are something besides Skepticism but are still calling themselves “skeptics”. As part of a skeptical process, I know what I don’t know. So, I built the draft from references I trusted – Dunning, Novella, Shermer, Kurtz – and opened it up for public comment. One of my friends remarked on this process of collaboration. It seemed a bit odd when everyone is often out blogging for themselves and pushing their own take on things. But that was not the point of this document. This has nothing to do with my opinion as an individual. In the environmental and regulatory field, we have to work with many different interest groups and take their opinions into account. In the end, we almost NEVER make everyone completely happy but the compromise is fair and has some solid foundation. We can’t just make stuff up. I thought this was a good plan for agreeing on a foundation for today’s skepticism. 

Second, there is a whole lot of misunderstanding by the public on what a skeptic is or does. We have acupuncturists mad at skeptics, we have cancer treatment centers mad at skeptics, there are many paranormalists who seem to hate everything about skeptics. I don’t think that one document can change their minds but it does provide a place to touch back when they make these accusations about skeptics being useless or annoying.

After placing the draft out there on the Doubtful News site and soliciting comments from certain people in particular (I know they are busy but this was important) and everyone in general, I received a nice array of contributions from short encouraging words to detailed rewrites in terms of language and concepts. Even a professional proofreader took the time to send edits. Pointed out to me were at least two major concepts I’d gotten wrong that certainly needed fixing – separating the practice of “science” from the practice of skepticism. Thanks to my lovely skeptical friends in the humanities fields, they were clear that I was missing this important distinction; and, clarifying philosophical skepticism. Then, there were many comments advising me how to narrow or expand the focus and removing poor wording. Some even suggested alternative wording which is MUCH appreciated to clarify your statement. It’s worthless if you tell me you don’t like “this section” but aren’t clear why. No one did that. I was very pleased with the commentary and, in the end, the document turned out very well.

Skepticism is KEY to keeping the trash in check – the alt med purveyors, the conspiracy theorists, the ghost hunters. These people are very good at pushing their warped image of science, reality and “common sense” to the public. Someone has to be a voice of reason.

So, please print and keep a copy of the Media Guide, use it for local skeptic events, pass it on to reporters you know, reprint it (the Creative Commons license allows you to republish with attribution).

Last night’s Virtual Skeptics included two stories that are pertinent to this post and the concepts in the media guide. Bob talks about the Burzynski movie, part 2, that apparently portrays skeptics as devils. And, I talk about the response from an author of a study on acupuncture who has felt the needling from skeptical bloggers. He discovered that it’s not just needles that are sharp, but so are well-qualified science-based medical practitioners who have a knack for finding errors. Skeptics are irritations, alright. As I point out to Bob in the show, they hate us because we are correct and as Tim notes, “Cognitive dissonance is a bitch”.

Don’t you LOVE that the screen cap got Bob with the devil horns. BeelzeBob.