Regular readers will know that, despite the fun we have covering weird topics here on TDG, I do recommend a healthy dose of skepticism before accepting any of it at face value (and not just here…even prominent skeptics can be eager to believe in photoshopped UFO photosJesus pareidolia when it suits). I also take issue with ‘false’ skepticism, when people take on that mantle mainly to defend their own belief system. So this one is worth checking out for multiple reasons: a new ‘handbook’ for skeptics titled What Do I Do Next? (600KB PDF download, a condensed HTML version is also available). Daniel Loxton of Skeptic magazine put together a list of 100 suggestions for engaging in ‘skeptical activism’ and invited prominent skeptics to comment on them. He received numerous replies from people such as Ben Radford, Eugenie Scott, Jeff Wagg and Jay Novella.
I’m traveling at the moment, so can’t go into too much detail with my own thoughts, but there’s some interesting points in there that might be worth discussing if you want to have at it in the comments. For example, I find some things such as the call to donate to the JREF and other organisations almost embarrassing. Not because I disagree with it in principal – I know exactly how it feels to bust your butt with no financial resources at your disposal. But when you have guys like James Randi earning at least $170,000 a year for acting like a belligerent ass, how can anyone seriously ask hard-working folk on an average wage to donate to that? Ditto for CSI and other organisations that already wield considerable influence.
I also found the call to respect religion rather odd, given the usual attack lines of skeptical groups. I’m not sure where one draws the line between making fun of someone that believes that beings from Zeta Reticuli visited them in their bedroom last week, and respecting another person that believes that some Jewish guy resurrected from the dead 2000 years ago and in doing so absolved the entire world population of its sins. I would imagine this edict is not a consensus view in skeptical circles, although there was little debate about it in this booklet. I guess it ties in to the suggestion to make allies – although again, if that was the case then skeptical groups could make great steps by engaging with the ‘real’ researchers of paranormal claims out there, rather than making fun of them and their topics.
I must be knocking down a straw man there though – according to #21, “the goal of skeptical investigation “isn’t to cast rhetorical doubt on paranormal claims, but to discover what’s true.” I’m not sure how that can be reconciled with the wholesale dismissal of those claims elsewhere in the book without investigation, but it certainly sounds great in theory. In fact, there’s a lot to like in the suggestions made regarding working with people and being polite. I have my doubts about whether it will be embraced though, given my past experience with ‘skeptics’, and the attitude of many of the current leaders of the field – but let’s leave my cynicism to the side and hope for the best.
Feel free to praise the good points, and offer criticism of the bad points, in the comments.