A skeptical reading list

By Phil Plait | June 24, 2009 8:09 am

One thing about being a skeptic is staying informed. It’s hard. There is so much nonsense in the world… but I try. I read a lot of blogs, of course. I have about 200 blogs in my feed reader, but only a handful of those have daily posts, and of those I skim a lot. I get email from readers, of course (which I love) when news breaks, and also see things on Twitter. Still, how do you find out what’s going with online skeptical activism?

Here’s an idea: read Skepdad’s Epic Reading List. It really is. Epic, I mean: he’s put a bazillion links in various categories, including blogs, podcasts, thinkers, topic-specific, and so on. I’ve looked it over and it’s a pretty good list if you’re looking to find ways to blow off that big project that’s already overdue. I’m actually a little afraid to delve into more deeply, as I can see my already-neutron-star-dense schedule getting even more tightly squeezed… and that can only have one outcome. A calendrical black hole.

But if you’re looking for a little summer reading (and who isn’t?) then this is a great place to start.

Tip o’ the blogroll to Laurie of Rational Moms, another fine site for skeptical parents.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Skepticism

Comments (30)

  1. Marius vanderLubbe

    Well, there goes any free time I was thinking I might have had.

  2. IVAN3MAN

    200 blogs in your RSS feed reader?!

  3. zaardvark

    “200 blogs in your RSS feed reader?!”

    ‘If you steal from one source, that’s plagiarism. If you steal from many sources, that’s research!’

    (not sure who said that, originally!)

  4. Along the same lines, I’d be interested in a suggested sci-fi reading list from Phil and his readers. I have a friend who just recently got into reading science fiction as an adult – started off with some Jon Scalzi and just read 2001. Any suggestions for someone who’s eager to devour some sci-fi as a complete noob?

    I might even see some good ones that I’ve missed or forgotten.

  5. Tim the Archmage

    Of course, according to relativity, as you get sucked into the calendar black hole, your relative time will slow down and allow you to catch up on all that reading.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Thanks.

    But, ehrm, what about Don’t Fear, hearT Space (or whatever) – not “little” or supposed to be already read? I note a glaring lack in that skepbook list too … :-o

    @ IVAN3MAN: Please don’t shout louder than your name already. My eyelock will take hours to recover from. :-/

  7. Mark

    I picked up Death from the Skies at a local bookshop on Saturday, and I’ve almost read all the way through it! My 7-yo liked the “Alien Attack” chapter.

  8. Carey: H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Read ‘em all. I honestly don’t know any other books because i’m more of a sci-fi movie/TV watcher, but there you go!

    Dune is pretty good too, but it’s not as much science fiction as it is… political fiction. It’s convoluted.

    As for those 200 blogs, wow. I thought I was pushing it with 15. :-

    and, Mr. Bad Astronomer, I am filled with glee at your neutron star & blackhole metaphor. brilliant!

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    your relative time will slow down and allow you to catch up on all that reading.

    Are you sure?

    As I remember it (not being conversant with GR itself), there’s a finite time until an object hit the singularity. It’s the fall time an outside observer sees that will go towards infinity, isn’t it? (Which, I think, is at the same time concealed by a concomitant drop in the number of transmitted photons until the falling object is unobservable.)

    But surely your reading situation will resolve itself anyway, as the pile of reading material will be gobbled up and their information transfered back with a more measured rate into the universe, with the entropy of black hole radiation.

    Otherwise the model with calender singularities explain much. Those new year hick-ups must be expressions of a global symmetry of some form or other, explaining the regular frequency of them. Birthdays may be an oscillating system counting time from some form of singular “birth” of objects into the system. (Wonder which btw? I feel like a baby playing with new toys in front of these possibilities.)

    And so on and so forth. But nothing explains why surely uncorrelated projects tend to cluster into a distribution with a dense set. That’s not a set of deadlines, it’s the calender calling out a “drop dead” line.

  10. mk

    Don’t forget novels (aside from sci-fi!)… From Moliere and Shakespeare to Hemingway and Kerouac to Vidal and Roth; from Heller and Thompson to Hiassen and Michener… Feel free to add onto this!

    All science and no play makes a skeptic a dull boy!

  11. Oh,good, because what I need is MORE books on my “to read” list… Click-add, click-add, click-add…

  12. Chris

    yes Tim, but you’ll never escape it.

  13. IVAN3MAN

    Torbjörn Larsson, OM:

    IVAN3MAN: Please don’t shout louder than your name already. My eyelock will take hours to recover from. :-/

    Just as well that I did not use red font, then! :-)

  14. Jeff

    Just don’t go so far with your skepticism that you become outright debunkers. And don’t worship sacred cows.

    I’m very uncomfortable with this whole idea of skepticism. I believe it is a faux version of what is legitimately called critical thinking and scientific method. Skepticism is a tool, true, but I think it has shades of bias toward particular points of view, where true thinking shouldn’t have a bias but let the chips fall where they do.

    One logical fallacy that can occur is the guilt by association fallacy. Another is “lumping” throwing disparate groups of thought under cute umbrella labels. Another is conscious or unconscious use of euphemisms: you must be very on guard for this in today’s politically charged societies.

    Yes, I am preaching from a soapbox, but I’ve earned it having taught for 30 years

  15. @Jeff – lol, do you realize that what you posted is skeptical about skepticism? ;-) All skepticism means is that you question things and demand evidence for claims. That’s it; no particular bias except towards reality. Of course, you can be a pedant about skepticism and overdo it, but you can do that with any philosophical position. If you tell me you saw a plane fly overhead, I’m not going to demand you show me evidence; I’ll probably just take your word for it. Why wouldn’t I? But if you say you saw a flying saucer fly overhead, well I’m sorry, but I’m going to ask you to prove that.

    That’s skepticism, and everyone should have a healthy dose of it. Your cautions are all well-noted.

  16. Jeff

    @Mike K

    “That’s skepticism, and everyone should have a healthy dose of it. Your cautions are all well-noted.”

    you seem to understand my point. I guess my main point are the cautions. I really fear that people get so much into a “skeptical” frame of mind that they go at every disparate subject with “skepticism”. People have a tendency to “special plead” their case and going into everything with skepticism, in my opinion, just exaggerates that tendency. My preference would be to be neither skeptical nor believing. I would first sort out the fake from the real evidence ; apply the principles of logic and scientific method; and come up with a tentative conclusion; try to draw predictions and then keep circling this around to get closer to the “truth”

  17. Davidlpf

    It is not Phil Plait, it’s Plait of Borg.

  18. Davidlpf

    For sci-fi reading I suggest Foundation by Asimov.

  19. Stone Age Scientist

    A calendrical black hole?

    OMG, Phil, you’re not the TALL MAN, are you? Come from another dimension to terrorise us??!!

    Eeeks!!! Phil’s flying and drilling steel balls will soon be invading us in our sleeps!!!

  20. Brad of Skepdad is a fine person, every parent really should read his blog as it is almost essential in the woo filled arena that kids are being born into these days.

  21. Nebogipfel

    Sci-fi for beginners… Arthur C. Clarke’s original “Rendezvous with Rama”; very readable, very erudite, not too long, and utterly, utterly mind blowing. (It’s a pity that the “sequels” were greatly inferior, but I don’t really blame Clarke for that…) ;-)

  22. shawmutt

    Thanks for the link of epic links Phil!

    @Jeff: you said “…I would first sort out the fake from the real evidence ; apply the principles of logic and scientific method; and come up with a tentative conclusion; try to draw predictions and then keep circling this around to get closer to the “truth”…”

    The current skeptical movement, and most people who call themselves “skeptics” these days, try to do just that. I recommend checking out some of Phil’s blog rolls, and sites like The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, to see what we’re about.

  23. 4. Carey Says:
    Along the same lines, I’d be interested in a suggested sci-fi reading list from Phil and his readers

    Depends on the preferred sub-genre. For instance, HARD SF (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Robert Sawyer), more ‘SOFT” SF(McCaffrey, Bradbury, LeGuin) or TIME TRAVEL/ALTERNATE UNIVERSE (Turtledove, John Barnes “Timeline Wars” series). Of course, some writers cross subgenres in different works.
    Also Philip K. Dick (whose Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep led to the movie Blade Runner), Harry Harrison (movie: Soylent Green from Make Room, Make Room!), and more that I can’t read titles from the other end of the house (one full six-foot bookshelf JUST of the hardcover collections).
    Oh, and Douglas Adams!

    J/P=?

  24. Anderson Fortaleza

    It’s such a pity that your blog is filled with your ideology, it would be much more useful if it would stick to science only, this way people of all ideologies could read it comfortably. You should leave your ideology out of your science.

  25. sophia8

    I can barely read anything on that site – could somebody tell the site author that tiny light-coloured text on white is a VERY bad idea? I can send him links on coding for accessibility if he wants.
    In case it’s just my browser/screen that’s shrinking the text, I’m using FF3/1280 x 1024.

  26. Dustin

    Thanks for the timely link . My wife and I are expecting out first child in March and I’ll definitely be browsing through that entire list. I should have just enough time to read the whole thing before the little one pops out :)

    For another sci-fi author worth checking out I’d recommend Peter F Hamilton. His stuff is a pretty good mix of both hard and soft sci-fi and the trilogies are truly massive tomes. If you can handle warp travel and the occasional ghost in your sci-fi you’ll probably love his work.

    And Anderson: Good luck convincing a blogger they should stick to the topics you want them to. It’s a losing battle, and if he really makes you that uncomfortable you’d be better off to just suck it up or leave.

  27. Gonzo

    Thanks Phil! Posted the link to my Facebook, and finally friended you and became a fan! Huzzah!

  28. Anderson Fortaleza

    Dustin: When one publishes a blog one should be ready to receive positive and negative feedback, I’m not trying to convince the author of anything, I’m just stating my opinion that he should not contaminate science with his ideology.

    If I would just “suck it up or leave” how would the blogger know that he may be right on somethings and wrong on others ? What is the usefulness of an article if there’s no criticism over it ?

  29. shawmutt

    Fostering critical thinking skills is an ideology? What does that make science?

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