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Drinking skeptically recap

Had a great time in Boulder the other night drinking skeptically. I forgot to bring a camera, so I borrowed someone’s phone to take a few pictures. Unfortunately, they haven’t sent the pictures to me yet. There were about 25 or 30 people there, so it was pretty much impossible to get to talk to everyone because the space was so packed. It was also so loud I could hardly hear the people next to me talking. I guess we are just a bunch of loud mouths, because I think the volume was entirely the result of our voices, not music or anything else.

A couple of people from Rocky Mountain Paranormal were drinking skeptically with the rest of us. I’ll be interviewing them for Skepchick, although I’m not sure exactly when since I’m in the midst of trying to catch up on all of my existing work before I leave for Lithuania in a couple of weeks and I haven’t decided if I’ll be blogging while I’m away. Check out their website and podcast in the meantime. Don’t miss the essay on skepticism (excerpt below the fold).

Research into the paranormal should be treated like any scientific endeavor. Skepticism is the most important ingredient. All assertions should be questioned. Clear, rational and repeatable procedures should be followed. Experimentation and documentation showing how one reaches a conclusion should be open for all to scrutinize. Without this process the assertions become dogmatic, not scientific.

It seems to me that a lot of skeptics have already made up their minds about things that we could be more open minded about. I remember comments on my review of Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science and my interview (parts one and two) with the author, saying that he was just an apologist for bigfoot, even though it seemed to me that he was doing his best to evaluate the evidence and come to his own conclusions. I know that I have already decided that the supernatural and paranormal do not exist. I think if something supernatural or paranormal is discovered, that means it is not super- or para-. But just because someone believes in something I don’t believe, or comes to a different conclusion than I do after examining the same evidence, does that automatically mean they are gullible?

I guess what I’m saying is that as skeptics, we should not come to any exploration or discussion with a pre-conceived conclusion. We should not start out an investigation by trying to prove or disprove what we already believe, but to evaluate the evidence first and then see where it leads.

On a semi-related issue, I have been wanting to write about how science has gone beyond the realm of common sense and has gotten so complicated and esoteric that most people can’t understand it. I can’t get my thoughts collected enough to post about this yet, but it is important to consider. I think that may be one reason why we have stuff like What the Bleep Do We Know?, as people try to come to terms with science that they really can’t wrap their brains around and yet they don’t want to be unscientific, or why people embrace intelligent design and creationism and reject evolution. I don’t know. I need more time to think about this.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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5 Comments

  1. I guess what I’m saying is that as skeptics, we should not come to any exploration or discussion with a pre-conceived conclusion. We should not start out an investigation by trying to prove or disprove what we already believe, but to evaluate the evidence first and then see where it leads.

    With reference to a phenomenon or claim that’s new, that hasn’t had any work done on it, that’s a reasonable thing to say. However, with respect to most paranormal claims there’s a whole lot of history of testing the various claims under well controlled conditions with uniformly negative results. Randi’s $1 million is still in the bank. So in that case, one doesn’t have to be so open-minded that one’s brains fall out. We do learn about stuff from research, some of which is that certain claims are just plain bogus, and “pre-conceived conclusions” are entirely justified.

  2. …I have been wanting to write about how science has gone beyond the realm of common sense and has gotten so complicated and esoteric that most people can’t understand it.

    I will be interested to see what you come up with on this topic, since you and I have a similar religious background and you know exactly what we had to swallow “on faith” in that tradition. My problem is that since I don’t have the time or the energy (or sometimes the inclination, since my natural bent is more toward language than the sciences) to research the finer points of scientific articles, I end up taking them just as much on faith as anything I ever heard in church.

    Chaos theory? Sure! This really smart guy I know believes it, so I believe it too.

    Wait, hang on a second …

  3. Well, understanding the scientific method makes it less “on faith” than just taking someone’s word for it. But I agree, it’s hard to find the time even to check the sources on an article in popular science magazines (rather than journals, which I don’t usually read), so it’s having faith in the author and editor to do their job properly.

  4. I think having faith in people doing their job, and essentially relying on the scientific method, and peer review, to do what they’re supposed to do, and that’s weed out the shysters, is not in any way comparable to religious faith (i.e. faith in something that nobody can describe, nobody’s ever seen, and nobody can agree upon).

    We pretty much all agree what science and the scientific method is all about, how it works, etc…

    If something is published in a reputable scientific journal, it’s highly unlikely to be woo crap. The reason for that being that the scientific journal’s reputation was built by decades of hard work, doing things the proper way. And that reputation is important enough for the publishers to keep doing things properly rather than chuck decades of hard work away in one fell swoop for the sake of one single stupid woo article.

    As such, that’s not faith in something intangible, undefinable, and yes, most likely non-existant. That’s faith in human nature and relying on man’s tendency to cherish valuable things.

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