why you should support your skeptics
Ah the lifestyle of the web skeptic. The champagne, the caviar, the private jets, the exclusive parties at a posh nightclub every weekend, and more beautiful women than the eye can see just itching to strike up a lecture on the latest theories in astrophysics. On top of that, people across the world rush to fund those who try their best to spread science and reason with giant briefcases full of cash. Oh. Wait. Sorry. That’s not quite right. Usually, it’s those who peddle pseudoscience for a living who have the cash, fame and media attention. Just note the prevalence of ghost hunters, quack doctors, anti-science televangelists and those spreading the word of woo full time on your television set. And this is not to mention how virulent and persistent they are on the web…
As noted before, woo makes for good business and while the web allows a lot of great information to spread across the world in no time at all, it also allows pseudoscience to spread just as efficiently. The web makes no judgments about the correction or the validity of the information it hosts.
It’s just data floating between vast arrays of servers. But even TV networks and news agencies who do have editorial control over what they’ll put out, choose time and time again to present something as controversial, to give every crank a voice and every maniac a bullhorn to sound off, regardless of the validity of what they say. By contrast, most science bloggers who know how to debunk such claims, set the record straight and promote the kind of science and reason we should all exercise do it in their spare time, and most get lost in the online chaos, and many scientists seeing what’s going on in the media and on the web, don’t want any part in this mess.
And that presents us with a major problem. The contest between good science and woo is highly asymmetric with many part-time skeptics who need to make a living, trying to stem the tide of endless pseudoscience and anti-intellectualism coming from people for whom peddling agendas that run contrary to science and reason is a full time job.
Politicians who attack scientific projects as a waste of public money do it to get themselves a better shot at another term. Ken Ham who built the museum of ignorance in Kentucky runs a group with a very significant cash flow and enjoys a salary on par with an upper level corporate manager. The blowhards who work for the Discovery Institute also get six figure salaries and millions in grants. Deepak Chopra makes a killing by peddling woo and it’s a safe bet that Ray Comfort can make his mortgage payments. The cranks are deeply committed to spreading ever more anti-science because that’s what pays the bills. And when it comes to the anti-vax movement, we’re talking about a quasi-religion with a terrifying grudge against medicine.
So here’s the question, what can you do about it? Should you just send all the cash you can to JREF or blogs you think are doing a great job battling pseudoscience? While that certainly wouldn’t hurt, there are more ways to help skeptics make a difference in the media without spending a dime. All you need is to apply just a little effort. When you see a good skeptical or educational article, send it around, submit it to a social bookmarking site, or link to it on your blog if you have one. Send it out via Twitter or discuss it in a forum you frequent.
If you see pseudoscience being reported by news agencies, contact their editors with links to skeptical analyses on the situation, especially when it comes to local media outlets. Basically, go out and spread science and good skepticism as far and wide as you can. It sounds so basic and simple, but so few people actually do it that the media at large is barely aware of skeptical movements. By constantly reminding them about growing skeptical blogs with links, you would help raise the profile of the skeptics and the readership of their blogs.
I know this seems like a very simplistic and almost obvious method, but the problem is that so few people do it and without taking the time to really spread the word about good skeptical and popular science blogs which offer real insights and solid facts, skeptics will always only reach a limited audience. Of course the skeptics need to play a part in this too. We need to work together and help with linking and word of mouth references while keeping fresh content and good science coming at a steady pace. One good place to start would be to submit your information to Grassroots Skeptics and get involved with local skeptic groups as well as reach out to new audiences.
Try to get your work syndicated and yes, go ahead and treat your blog like a business so you can set traffic goals, create promotional plans and expand your audience. And above all, remember a very important point. You need to engage people, challenge their beliefs and promote discussion. There’s the often made assumption that the facts speak for themselves but in reality, data is mute. You need to animate it and expose the agendas of those who try to spread pseudoscience for cash and personal fame. Then your message will be far more effective when readers choose to disseminate it into the media world.