Chances are, you didn’t know Bob Rood, and that’s too bad. A professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia, he was one of the good guys. He taught stellar interiors, a class I still look back at fondly. I learned a lot about astrophysics that semester, though I do recall an oral exam where I did, um, less than well… yet Bob was generous, supportive, and helpful to an extremely nervous grad student who was on the verge of throwing up during the exam.
Bob died yesterday. I dithered on what to write; it’s so hard to say the right thing. But then Nicole Gugliucci wrote a wonderful post about Bob, and there’s not much I can add to it. When I found out last night he had died, I told my wife about one of my favorite memories of Bob — it involves a coffee mug he had, one that I told Nicole specifically to look for when she talked to Bob a few years ago. I was glad to see Nicole wrote about that too; I think it sums him up pretty well.
One of the very few really positive things we can do that has a lasting effect is to shape the minds of those around us, teach them about the Universe, and instill a love for knowledge. Bob did all that. We could use a lot more like him.
My friend Nicole Gugliucci (née Garvenflanargen) is a radio astronomer, and also a newly fledged skeptic. She wrote a post the other day on her One Astronomer’s Noise blog about her journey to becoming a skeptic, and it really struck home for me. Very few people, if any, are born skeptical. We’re hardwired to believe: to believe our parents, to believe our elders in general, to believe our peers. Turning all those thought processes around and starting to ask “Are you sure?” is really hard, and even harder to turn it inward. We’re all skeptical about something, but learning how to examine all your beliefs, all your thoughts, in a skeptical manner is a struggle.
Sometimes this conversion happens slowly, as it did for Nicole, or sometimes it happens in a flash of insight, but I’m guessing every skeptic has a tale to tell of turning from belief to evidence. And I’m just as sure any of us can write thousands of words about it.
So I got an idea. I want to hear these stories, but it would be impossible to read them all in their native narrative form. And skeptics are smart, right?
Yes, you guessed it: I want you to tweet your skeptical conversion story.
I’ll collect the ones I like best and post them in a followup article on Friday. To make it easier for everyone to find them, use the hashtag #SkepticTale. And just to get you started, here’s my own SkepticTale:
UFOs. Telepathy. Clairvoyance. I believed them all… until my life got a little Randi. #SkepticTale
This is in reference to James Randi being a big inspiration to me when I was a teenager, and his work really fostered my own skeptical attitude. I’ve written about this in the past, but there it is in tweet form.
Can you do the same? Make it clever, make it poignant, make it whatever you want. But get it online by 9:00 p.m. Eastern time Thursday (02:00 GMT Friday) December 30 so I have a chance to go through them and post them on Friday, December 31.
What better way to end the year than to hear the stories of others who have made it here as well?
[UPDATE: The SkepticTale tweets are now online.]