You Are the Future of Skepticism

By Phil Plait | September 4, 2012 7:00 am

My friend Tim Farley is a tireless promoter and advocate of critical thinking. He writes the What’s The Harm? website, categorizing the appalling harm done by antiscience. He created a This Day in Skeptic History app. His most important work is probably the development of Skeptical Software Tools that make it easier and more efficient to be a skeptic.

He spoke at TAM 2012 about these tools, and what each of us can do to make the world a more reality-based place. That video is now available online:

He makes a lot of excellent points; in fact, I find really nothing there to disagree with. We do waste a lot of effort and time online – in many cases trying to score cheap points when there are far more effective things we could be doing. And there are tools that can help make that happen – Tim talks about quite a few in his TAM talk. I use Web of Trust myself, and I’ve been meaning to look more into rbutr. You should take a look yourself.

When you find something attacking reality, it’s easy complain about it on Twitter or Facebook. It feels good and makes you think you’ve accomplished something. But there’s a reason this is called slacktivism. One of the most important things we can do is follow through. That’s why when I talk about antivaxxers I almost always tell people to talk to their board-certified doctor and see if they need to get their boosters, and put my arm where my mouth is. That’s why I will often tell people to contact their representatives in government about issues – and then do so myself. That’s why I went into Boulder a few weeks ago and helped get people to send letters to Congress in support of NASA’s planetary exploration… and that worked.

What issue burns in your mind? And what exactly have you done about it?

Related Posts:

Pamela Gay: Make the World Better
Followup: Antivaxxers, airlines, and ailments
How to get kids to think critically
It must be true. I heard it on the Internet.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Piece of mind, Skepticism

Comments (21)

  1. Atheist Panda

    Yay!!! Followed on Twitter immediately….
    AP :)

  2. Sorry, I was too busy poll bombing, what did Tim say? ūüėÄ

    Actually, it was sort of funny the twitter response Tim got when he gave that presentation. And it was cool that he gave a shout out to the Skeptics StackExchange site. Even had my little icon on the screen. :)

  3. David

    I remember Rebecca Watson asking at Dragon*Con last year, “What makes you angry?” in response to the question of how to decide what issues one should take on as a skeptical activist. That makes sense, but I don’t want to be angry all the time, either.

    How do you deal with that?

  4. Chris

    So much stupid in the world, so little time.

    Although I am curious, has the weird stuff become less popular? I remember growing up in the 1980s and it seemed like there was much more talk about psychics, UFOs, ESP, ghosts and the like on TV, but now it doesn’t seem as bad. Then again I could just be more selective in my TV watching and I have no idea how cable actually is. And of course now we have the internet, so it is much cheaper to be online rather than TV.

  5. Trebuchet

    My favorite “What’s the Harm” entry is the one on the Moon Hoax, where the only “victim” is Bart Sibrel — for getting punched in the face by Buzz Aldrin! The rest just make me sad and angry.

    @Chris: You clearly haven’t been watching The “History” Channel and all of the Discovery Communications clones. And now even the NatGeo channel. Aside from crappy “reality” shows, that’s pretty much all they’ve got.

  6. noen

    The History channel is bad because no one watches cable any more. The demographic that watches cable TV at all is watching Fox Network shows and you aren’t going to change their minds. The kids do almost everything through their smart phones and other media devices. Even laptops will give way in the future to mobile devices.

    I try to counter misinformation spread by our local conservative talk radio morning show. But it’s very difficult to do because they will cut you off very quickly if you are being effective in countering their arguments. I also try to debunk misinformation person to person but that is also hard. You have to really use your diplomatic skills.

    David said:
    “How do you deal with that?”

    Try not to be angry. It is too easy to be angry online but it doesn’t work very well. I am trying to reform. I’ve certainly behaved poorly in the past. It just doesn’t work. Remind yourself of your goal: to change minds. Remind yourself that even if the person you are debating is immune to reason there are other people observing who are more open to what you have to say and you can reach them. Try to change minds in the *audience* instead of your opponent.

    And be open to the fact that you could be wrong.

  7. Nick Pietrzak

    Today in Skeptic History works on my iphone, but when I try to share to FB it comes up with an endpoint error. Thanks for the heads up on these apps tho!

  8. Bob

    Not a completely inappropriate plug, but you know Tim is also a regular panelist on the new weekly “Virtual Skeptics” web show. It’s a new Google On Air hangout influenced heavily by Fraser Cain’s astronomy news roundup. It’s got Sharon Hill from Doubtful News, Eve Siebert and Bob Blaskiewicz from Skeptical Humanities, and is hosted by Brian Gregory, who is GOING UP IN THE FREAKING VOMIT COMET TO FILM HIS SPACE ROBOTS HAVING SEX IN ZERO G this week. It’s on at 8PM Eastern on Wednesday. Watch for the #virtualskeptics tag and send in questions/comments via twitter!

  9. Chris

    @5 Trebuchet

    I don’t have cable/satellite. I remember staying in a hotel a few years ago and flipping through the stations. Half were reality shows, a quarter was sports and then some other business/news shows. The only channel which held my interest was the SciFi (or is it SyFy) channel, and even their quality has gone down. It simply isn’t worth the money. Plenty happy with Hulu.

  10. Trebuchet

    @Chris: What can I say, I’m an old codger! I only just got a smart phone. It’s smarter than I am, or so it thinks.

  11. Grand Lunar

    “What issue burns in your mind? And what exactly have you done about it?”

    Good question there, Phil. Perhaps it is THE question we need to ask.

    Climate science is definately one issue, which I also relate to the energy policy of the US.
    Along those lines, Romney’s policy burned me like UV rays above the Lyman limit.

    Another issue is Civil Rights, in which I group women’s rights and the rights of the LGBT community. It burns me each time I see either one attacked.

    As to what I’ve done about either….I’m ashamed to say little in either regard.
    The most I’ve done in the latter is simply ranting on the Skepchick site (and here, when appropiate).
    Same for the former, although I might count putting in low wattage bulbs in the house I stay in as a measure as well (if that might count in any regard, which I personally doubt).

    I often feel I lack the resources to really make any sort of difference.
    And I’m always unsure how to bring up either issue with my government representitives.

    So…there I am.

  12. Raymond

    Thanks for the Web of Trust tip!

  13. Alan Page

    Hard now to deny and mock the existance of UFO’s as the Governmets of Britain. France, Russia, Brazil, Chile…and many others countries are releasing great amount of official military documents to the public.
    Also is hard to avoid the association of these new science discoveries such as Dark MAtter and Dark Energy to the “Ether” once mentioned by Newton, then Maxwell.

  14. Mark

    ok to be a skeptic, oh, except for certain things then if you’re a skeptic you get burned at the stake. always have to laugh at some of the ironic topics on this blog. but the volcano pics are cool

  15. SunnyD

    @Alan Those two topics are, in my opinion, two of the most crucially important phenomena being overlooked by society today (the third being certain psychic/spiritual ones, in my opinion). However, there’s nothing that can be done about them today, at least by the common man. So it’s best to let them go and hopefully one day they will get cleared up.

    What Tim Farley is talking about is criticizing the vast swath of disinformation on the Internet, something that is truly a problem as it afflicts many Internet users across the world. There are scientific conspiracy theories, fake cancer treatments that are dangerous, false promises of enlightenment, etc.

    What Tim uses to debunk the harmful theories I mentioned above is skepticism, which I personally believe is good for simple things like the above but truly, deeply flawed. That’s just my belief, not a conclusion.

    So anyway, I just want to sum up that yes, there are phenomena that are getting suffocated and stuffed down by skepticism, but it may be overall for the better because skepticism gets rid of all the bad as well. And one day the truth will prevail; it will never die.

  16. ‚ÄúWhat issue burns in your mind? And what exactly have you done about it?‚ÄĚ

    For me, the big issue is climate change.
    Get that wrong and everything else you ever cared about doesn’t really matter any more.
    What have I done about it?
    Personally keep informed about it and educate people on it that I come across in real life and on the Internet. I also let politicans know that I expect them to do the same and try to raise the profile of the issue.
    I also contribute financially to scientists’ defence funds and new technologies that hasten the obsolesence of fossil fuels.
    Denialism is a huge problem but there are resources out there that tackle it head on and expose how denialists think and the P.R.A.T.Ts they use.
    Their moronic behaviour should always be confronted and not allowed to endanger us all.

  17. I would just argue that WOT strikes me as just another form of poll crashing, only you’re crashing an entire web site instead of a poll.

    Plus, not everyone has WOT, but everyone can see a web poll on a page.

    Now I’m not a fan of poll crashing, but I see why people do it. So I think Tim could have phrased his request more along the lines of, “Crashing a poll? Fine. You can also use Web of Trust to rate the web site. Imagine crashing an entire site, instead of one poll! That’s doing more for skepticism!”


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