In a sort of continuation of my “All News is Doubtful” piece about why producing Doubtful News has lost interest for me, I was listening to a podcast interview with Brooke Gladstone of On The Media (one of my favorite shows) and what she said resonated with me. She was talking to Max Linsky of Longform Podcast about how she evolved and how her show evolved. She noted that to go down the same road for several years, covering the same stories over and over again, will wear you down and make you want to tear your face off. That’s how I felt about Bigfoot stories a while back because they were so stupid. And it’s how I feel now about news of strange sounds from the sky, the local paranormal group investigating a so-called haunted location, the “chupacabra” seen in the neighborhood, and the latest UFO flap. These stories are so alike that they are boring and feel like we’ve written them before. I would rather just link to what I said before. Same shit, different day. I admit I may have reached my limit for writing about weird news.
I guarantee there will be others that will come along and write the same stories, with the same information, from the same angle, over and over again. And they will be new to a new audience.
Is there a value in these weird news stories? Lots of people love them!
For many, they are seeing these topics for the first time and find it concerning or mysterious. Anyone with a knack for ripping off tabloids or monitoring conspiracy-themed forums can post a story that will get clicks and call it “weird news”. What’s the value in that for thinking people? I think many of us have seen enough to make up our minds about how to think about natural treatments that will “cure cancer”, alien abduction, haunted houses, psychics, astrology, etc. We considered it with an open mind, made our conclusions based on the evidence, and moved on to thinking about other things. If something that is not the same old crap comes along, call me. But it’s almost never really new news.
Have I become cynical? Well, no. I do realize that there will always be paranormal and strange beliefs in society and one person or even an organized effort will not get rid of those beliefs. Paranormal and supernatural thinking is part of the human condition. But we CAN and we DO reach some people who are curious about how to think about these weird things. So it’s certainly worth doing and I would encourage new and creative ways to reach new audiences.
One important consideration, though: I’m afraid skepticism has become boxed into a narrow definition (as Brooke said is also the potential for a “media news” outlet) with negativity at its core. Thus, even today, discussions and skeptic media too often devolve into ranting anti-religious sentiment, scientism, arrogance, and dismissiveness. If the goal is to be the voice in praise of reason and to promote science-based evidence and thinking, then the subjects discussed must relate to people’s everyday activities and values. We must think about why this matters to the average person in order to get them to listen. That was my thinking about Practical Skepticism.
In my own speciality areas, I see public interest in paranormal topics, UFOs, anomalies and cryptozoology fired by curiosity, concern about nature and human survival, and a need for mystery and excitement in life. I also see an opportunity to use these topics to shed light on science education and public appreciation, importance of folklore and legends to enrich culture but not overwhelm it, and to get kids interested in science careers.
My original goal of my three blogs was to provide some tools for people to use to see the world in a different way: not to be gullible about fantastic stories; not to brush them off as stupid and the storytellers as drunk, liars or idiots; to understand that things are a bit more complicated than they first appear but not in the way you expect.
I’ve obviously bit off more than I can chew. (Podcast? Yes, if someone wants to produce it, I’ll do it.) But, I really hate to be bored so I spin off all these new ideas for projects and stuff, then get mad I can’t do them. There is so much in my head. There is no excuse for lack of creative ideas in skeptical advocacy. But we have to think about the real value to people who are NOT currently paying attention to this way of thinking and try to reach those people to make outreach count.