Things always seem to ramp up in the fall, after school starts again and vacation time is over. This September, I started posting again on Doubtful News. I realized that DN had 30x more reach than this personal blog so there was little excuse for posting about news stories here and not there. However, due to the time off and that DN does not get courtesy posts on Facebook or Twitter from any big orgs, we don’t have the hit counts we used to. It’s clear to me, and I hate to keep saying it, effective skeptical outreach requires a support network. Not money so much as basic human support, a foundation of people who believe in the goals and promote the information to their friends and family. If advocacy was less about fundraising and more about getting things done at a grass-roots level, I think we’d be much better off and have made more progress.
In light of those goals – doing what you can to reach people who haven’t been exposed to practical skepticism and applying critical thinking – I’ve been doing things…
I am now a member of the board for the National Capital Area Skeptics in DC (NCAS.org). This group has been around since 1987 offering talks and activities for the Maryland-Virginia-DC area. Obviously, I’m in PA but it’s only a 2-hr drive. I can’t make too many of the regular events but we just completed a skeptical ghost tour this past week. I’ll write about that soon – we uncovered some far more interesting information than the for-profit local ghost tour delivered. Look for more Skeptours in the future by watching this web site. I’m also going to help with the NCAS website and social media promotion. If you are anywhere near DC, please join NCAS. We need to build those networks!
I’ve also been doing a few more interviews with journalists. It’s that time of year where spooky stuff is featured. But, again with the networking, once a journalist knows your speciality, they do come back to you. Several journalists seek out the skeptical point of view in order to balance the unskeptical, mysterious or questionable claims. BE THAT PERSON that provides it. If you are not in a position to speak directly to the media and prompt them to include a skeptical view, write to the journalists or editors and tell them you want to hear the science or reason-based view instead of someone’s unsupported anecdotes. Encourage them to seek out actual expert opinions instead of self-styled “experts” in nonsense. If you take the time to do this just once a week, even in a small way, it can make a difference. I really do wish this was part of a national platform for skeptical advocacy. But it’s not really so individuals have to make the effort. Please pick some subjects or stories that bug you and craft a short, pointed letter or comment.
I’ll probably be talking more about things you can and should do to make for a more thoughtful society in my new… PODCAST! Yes, the DN crew jumped into the podcast stream. We only have one episode up as of today but watch for more on at least a two-week schedule. You can find info about it at 15 Credibility Street.
For a while, I shut down my Facebook public page – it tends to get a lot of messages and post attempts that are spam, not for me, or are pointless, offensive or absurd. But it still is a good way to promote events I’m participating in or endorsing. And, it serves as a way for people who are curious about what I say (like or disliking it) to engage in some conversation. Or, to connect with others outside my FB friends circle who visit after hearing me talk or give interviews. It’s not a bad thing to keep those connections open, they can lead to new, unexpected opportunities. Come by and “like” the page. You don’t have to have a Facebook account to see it.
The first event to promote is PARACON AUSTRALIA! I was thrilled to be invited as an international speaker and the only prominent “Skeptic” of the paranormal at the event. I have no illusions that it will be an easy time – from the trip to the talks to the socialization – but it’s important to do. Incidentally, I got the invitation thanks to The Skeptic Zone podcast. The organizer heard me on the Zone and said that I was “the kind of skeptic we’d like to hear from”. That is something. It will be my first trip there and I am planning to talk about how anyone can benefit from critical thinking. I will NOT be insulting paranormalists and calling them stupid. Those who are intent on using constant ad hominem attacks on paranormal believers (and beliefs) fail to understand the depth and power of belief. You do no good, only harm, by mocking those beliefs with limited understanding of how they are integrated into normal people’s lives, identities and worldviews. In order to fairly and effectively criticize in a way that might make a difference, you must know the subject first. From my several years of work with amateur paranormal investigators, I recognize how complex and nuanced the broad subject of paranormal belief is. Speaking of that, I’m still working on a book about amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs). I’m still editing heavily but it’s a great chore and will take a long while yet.