Afternoon InquisitionRandom Asides

AI: The New and Improved Ass Kicking Thursday Afternoon Afternoon Inquisition.6

I received another suggestion for the “The New and Improved Ass Kicking Thursday Afternoon Afternoon Inquisition”. As you may recall, these are questions you all send in when you have something important you’d like the readers to discuss, or when you can tell that I’m totally out of good ideas. (Use the comments or contact page to suggest more.)

Today’s topic comes from Skepchick reader, Anthony, who has some of the same concerns many of us have about participating in online discussions. Says Anthony:

I am a long-time lurker here, and I want to say that I’m a big fan of everything you guys do.

I look around here, and I hear about how this one is defending her dissertation, and that one has a masters degree in whateverology, etc, etc. Whenever I try to comment on a topic, I feel a tremendous amount of anxiety over what the readers of that comment might think.

Is it well written? Spelled correctly? Grammatically correct? After the 5th or 6th edit, I usually give up and move on. I don’t voice my opinion, even on a topic that I feel strongly about. I believe that I’m going to be met with constant ridicule, or that my comment will be ignored (which is worse, actually) or that what I might say will be so bad that you’ll ban my IP address, and I won’t be allowed to read this blog anymore.

I’d like to know how common my situation is. How many folks out there are intimidated by the audience?

Okay, all you lurkers out there, please de-lurk for today and answer Anthony’s Inquiry.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET. And the New and Improved Ass Kicking Thursday Afternoon Afternoon Inquisition is something Sam made up. Look for it to appear when Sam is out of ideas, sick, or just too drunk to even blink.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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82 Comments

  1. I think, for me, it’s generally not “is my opinion, grammar, turn of phrase valid” so much as it is “my reaction has already been voiced”. That’s why I’m glad I saw this post so quickly – I get to say something for once.

  2. I’m not intimidated at all. I know I’ve posted or caused to be posted some boneheaded remarks, and have welcomed the criticism. I’ve never been savaged, and I came out of the exchange for the better. It’s always good to challenge one’s assumptions from time to time.

  3. /de-lurks

    Yup, can most certainly relate to that.

    It is very intimidating to step into any well established community, even more so, it seems, when it is a community of people whose thoughts and opinions you have come to respect. Probably even doubly so when it is a skeptical community, at least that’s how I tend to feel.

    I’m not sure which the greater fear is, though, that a comment made would be picked apart, or that it would just be lost and ignored because it didn’t come from a familiar poster.

    This isn’t saying that people here, or in any other community would actively ignore new people, or try to make them feel unwelcome. It is a fear, and fears tend to be irrational things that lurk in the dark corners of our minds even well after we think they’ve been dealt with and reasoned away.

    /re-lurks

  4. Look at it this way; I’ll bet many of us with graduate and postgraduate degrees are at least as tough on ourselves. Personally, I try to strike a balance between obessively overediting my post and just putting my thoughts out there into the flow of the conversation…and quite often after posting I will still see one or two things I wish I could edit. So I don’t see a correlation between education and the quality of informal writing in this kind of setting.

    Now you also implied that your lack of education might also make your posts less valued. I can only speak for myself on this, but I’ve found that the more you specialize, the more you realize you do NOT know in other fields. Unless someone is arrogant in their ignorance and refuses to listen or have a friendly debate, I have no issue with incorrect assumptions.

    Hope this helps.

    -Another lurker

  5. OH MAN. I know exactly how this feels. I just recently signed up for an account here, and I’ve been forcing myself to comment once in a while. On the one hand, I enjoy the discussions here, and I want to participate in them; on the other hand, I’m incredibly shy and self-conscious. I think a decent bit of that (at least online) is because I’m afraid that anything humorous I say will get misconstrued (I tend to be pretty sarcastic in real life). And if I mis-state something, or don’t express myself well, I don’t want other people getting offended or thinking I’m an idiot. (And I *am* pursuing a PhD, so while I understand that you might feel intimidated by the “scary academics,” I don’t think more education necessarily relieves the anxiety…)
    Anyway, I promise not to judge you! Especially for spelling or grammar mistakes. Everyone I know (even the really smart people) makes those mistakes sometimes.

  6. For me the intimidating part is that most everyone here is formally educated and have one or more degrees. I have none and it can be daunting.

    I often find that what I have to say is listened to more here than it would be elsewhere. Nobody here is going to ask for your credentials before you are aloud to have an opinion. In many places that is not the case as “who do you think you are?” is the first thing that is asked.As an aside; writing on here has forced me to improve my communication skills, especially pertaining to science, so much that I was asked on another form if I was a scientist after making a post!

    I would say don’t worry about typos, they happen it’s the internet, what most people here will chide you for (lightly usually) is the complete misuse of a word, especially one that has a specific meaning. Take it in the spirit it was intended, as a helpful correction rather than an indictment of you personally, and try to not make the same mistake too often.

    Having said all that, this is probably the safest place on the net to express an opinion that does not jibe with the majority, as long as it’s not hostile or offensive. You will be diasagreed with, but you will rarely be attacked. Like I said in a post earlier this week, our motto is basically; “We won’t be dicks until you are, then it’s on.”

  7. After lurking here a bit and reading the comments it became obvious that the Skepchicks bloggers and readers are a really nice group of people with a wonderful sense of humor.

    Don’t be afraid. None of us are experts on everything, but that doesn’t mean we can’t contribute to a discussion. Plus, you’re on the internet! If you’re unsure about something you want to say, look it up. Before you know it, you will be thinking about and learning all kinds of new things you’ll want to add to the conversation. Plus, the more your write, the better you get at it.

    What’s the worst that can happen? If you’re not enjoying yourself, you can take your toys and go home and no one will know. Wrap the anonymous nature of the internet around yourself like a security blanket and jump in.

  8. @g33kinthesouth

    Well said.

    @geekgirl

    I think you’ll find that the snark hangs heavy in the air around here and, while it can be hard to recognize in print form, if you post enough people will tend to “get” you.
    For example; when Elyse posts we expect an extra helping of snark, unless it is about the importance of vaccinations then it is all business. I know this from observation only so don’t let being snarky stop you. It’s a sport here. :)

  9. @mrmisconception:

    For me the intimidating part is that most everyone here is formally educated and have one or more degrees. I have none and it can be daunting.

    Did you know that at least 5 of the Skepchicks have no college degree? And at least one of us has absolutely no marketable job skills (at least until Twitter starts paying us to tweet the word “muthafucker”.)

  10. The other nice thing about Skepchic is when asses (like absolutely nobody I know (cough, cough)) get out of line with a comment one of the Skepchics will generally step in and put it right.

  11. I can certainly relate to this. I’m super intimidated by all the degrees, as well (BA in English Lit, here).

    I’ve been forcing myself to engage more online and off, as I tend to lean more towards the introverted hermit type. With that in mind, I’ve been posting more often around here and other sites. My experience as a new poster on Skepchick is that most people tend to respond to those they know, and ignore those they don’t – with the caveat that trolls with really strong opinions always get attention regardless of their notoriety.

    If you never respond, they’ll never know you, and so when you do muster up the courage to respond, you’re ignored, which stings, so you stop posting… it really is a vicious circle.

  12. @OnlyThis

    Yes, I got that when I first started posting here too. Then I realized that a lot of my posts were the “me too” veriety. There is nothing wrong with agreeing with what is being said but if all you ever bring is “me too” (I’m not saying that’s your problem) you will most likely not get a lot of attention. What I sometime see happen on close-knit forums is that new posters will try to “fit in” with the group. In my experience that is the worse way to get any recognition; much better is to just say what you wish to say in the way you wish to say it without worrying about how it comes across, if different is not tolerated you will know soon enough. That is not a problem from what I have seen at Skepckick.

  13. Just to approach from a slightly different angle, I can say as a long time lurker (and only recent infrequent commenter), having the traditional nerd credentials does not innoculate one from being somewhat intimidated when commenting. On the rare occasions I comment I edit obsessively for spelling, grammar, and the cohesiveness of my argument (and still cringe when the inevitable typo goes through).

    No one should be intimidated by anyone else’s educational or career background: there are plenty of Ph.D’s out there who are as dumb as a box of rocks, as well as whipsmart folks who’ve never set foot on a college campus. The things that really matter are curiosity, intellectual honesty, and a commitment to critical thinking, none of which are predicated on collecting a bunch of letters after your name.

  14. @schleprock:

    The things that really matter are curiosity, intellectual honesty, and a commitment to critical thinking, none of which are predicated on collecting a bunch of letters after your name.

    Because otherwise I would have become irrelevant when I changed my last name from Wojnowski to Anders.

  15. Another perspective: Even when I really do want to participate in a conversation here, I am often overcome by the old grad-student mindset that whatever I have to say probably isn’t that important or interesting. Ironically, the process of getting the degree(s) has created this powerful self-editing demon that silences any possible intelligent comment.

    So yeah, I’m with you. It’s hard. Fight the demon(s) of self-doubt and jump in. The rest of us infrequent commenters need you!

  16. @schleprock:

    I have to agree that Ph.D ? intelligence. Maybe lots of hard work, but not smarts. For me, it’s more the community that is intimidating than anything else. I tend to lurk in real life too though. But watch out when I start talking. I’m full of snark…

    Snark, snark, snark, snark, snark…

  17. @OnlyThis:

    I read all the comments in the posts that I submit here, and try to read as many as possible in the Chicks’ threads as well. And I make a conscious effort to address a commenter who has either introduced a new angle to the topic or who has apparently been ignored by the other commenters (if another reader hasn’t beaten me to it).

    I try not to engage with only people I actually know. I don’t want to show favoritism.

    I hate everyone equally.

  18. I often write up lengthy comments … and then delete the while thing and post something short instead. The reason varies; sometimes it’s because I couldn’t fit what I wanted to say into a comment, other times it’s because it’s too far off-topic.

    Unless what you’ve written is outrageously outside social norms I don’t think I would worry about IP banning. At least not on Skepchick.

  19. @euterpechild:
    “I have to agree that Ph.D ? intelligence. Maybe lots of hard work, but not smarts.”

    Agreed. Lots of hard work and a bit of insanity. (Otherwise why would you bother? You need to love what you’re studying beyond reason.) Even my adviser (possibly the smartest man I know) admits that graduate school has everything to do with a student’s work ethic and passion and almost to do with a student’s baseline intelligence.
    Point being, I don’t think anyone should be intimidated by someone just because of a degree or letters after their name. I’m spending several years working on one particular problem; meanwhile, someone else is getting different experiences and learning about the world in different ways.

  20. @euterpechild: Exactly. As a PhD student myself, I’m almost tempted to say that people who choose to go to graduate school might be a bit on the left side of the bell curve when it comes to critical thinking skills.

    I’m a frequent lurker and infrequent commenter here–generally I only comment on topics I feel strongly about. It can be a little intimidating when a community is as tight-knit as this one, but certainly all of the responses I’ve received have been thoughtful and welcoming!

  21. In a room full of people, I would be terrified to speak up. But on Skepchick I feel that I can participate without fear. So, no, I am not intimidated here.

    After I comment, I keep an eye out for any responses. Very rare, but when it happens, it’s a great feeling!

  22. What a great question. I like what @ohcarnage has to say. Good summation.
    I was a longtime lurker here before I started to comment. I thought no one would care what I had to say, that I’d come off as an ineloquent know-nothing. It wasn’t so much the community here, everyone seemed great. It was just my own insecurities. I was new to it all.
    But after a while I started to pipe up and have conversations. Sometimes I added to a conversation, sometimes I was wrong and got corrected. Sometimes @Zapski and I will sit on the sidelines of a flamewar and share snacks (remember the Juggalos?) Now I just feel like I’m one of the gang here.
    In fact I became so comfortable, that I now get to write with these crazy people on Mad Art Lab. And thus the circle comes ’round again. (will anyone read my articles, what if I’m no good, what if my article is poorly sourced, whatifwhatifwhatif…)

  23. In five years of reading and infrequently commenting here, I can say two things for sure. It is almost completely devoid of credentialist snootiness and commenters are treated with respect until they choose to insult someone.

  24. I take short Skepchick breaks at work and usually only have time for abbreviated comments and minimal time to spell check or parse down my sometimes overwrought off the top of my head sentence structure. I decided a long time ago I’d rather just participate and not worry too much about potential mistakes. And I tend to consider conversations a bit of a bore unless I’m at least throwing in a comment in support of someone’s efforts to make a thoughtful or amusing response.

    But when you comment never high hat the monkey!

  25. @MaxH: I agree. After learning lots of stuff on one very specific field, I realize that every other field has that much or more information I don’t know. (I’m getting an MS in Electrical Engineering, so stuff dealing with technology is what I feel most prepared to discuss.)

    I tend to stay away from posting responses unless I feel relatively qualified to answer them. Recently, I’ve been trying to venture out and write more in areas I am less comfortable with.

  26. @mrmisconception: Yes, I agree. ;-) I try to never comment unless I have something to contribute that hasn’t already been said, or I want to expand on an idea already expressed.

    Personally, it’s not the degrees around here that are intimidating, but the depth of experience in scientific and skeptic fields. People who run their own organizations or businesses, people who are involved and engaged in the skeptic community. I have very little to bring to that, and not because I’m not a special snowflake, but more because I am a consumer of information, not a provider.

  27. Intimidation is definitely part of it, but for the reasons OnlyThis described. The regulars here tend to be civil when challenging someone, and this site is where I would feel most comfortable joining a discussion. But I’m not good at social stuff, even online, and somebody’s usually already posted a similar opinion or comment. So I just lurk. :)

  28. It’s not so much that I’m intimidated by the intelligence or experience of anyone else here, it’s more that social situations in general intimidate me a bit.
    And I overthink my comments, so it takes too long to post. And I’m a listener more than a talker.

    I lurk on facebook, too, which seems to annoy my grandmother- she’s always asking how I’m doing if I haven’t posted anything in a few weeks. I’ve always been a lurker in the physical world, I’m the same way in here!

  29. @Laika: The avatar and username has gotten surf music stuck in my head now.

    @mrmisconception: I wouldn’t worry about it, a Beaker avatar trumps a PhD in my book.

    I lurked here quite a while before I had the nerve to say anything. I tend to do that in meatspace, so that’s more my hangup than any specific fear.

  30. I’m glad to see this topic! I’ve been into skepticism for years, but I don’t have any formal training or qualifications. I refer to myself with Penn & Teller’s term – I’m a science cheerleader!

    I’m by nature a loudmouth, so it’s nice to see that comments are welcome regardless of background. It does feel intimidating when you see PhDs posting and you’re like, “Yeah, I read about this on the internet.”

  31. I’m not intimidated (hit me! I dare you) but sometimes I wonder if people I feel a kinship with online would have anything in common with me irl (or “meatspace”, as I learn it is now called – love that term). For instance, on the surface I am plenty conventional – former engineer turned domesticated SAHM (bake my own bread, shuttle small people to and from activities, etc.), very girly (only occasionally spotted without lipstick in my natural habitat), attend synagogue fairly regularly, etc. So then I wonder if some of you might be a little judgmental of that.

  32. @bubblecup: I was just about to respond to your comment, then stopped and thought, “It’s not really my place to do so,” and navigated off the page. Then I laughed at myself and came back. :D

    I can’t speak for everyone, but the prevailing attitude here is that we’re here for the discussion, and the discussion is at its most interesting when people bring different perspectives to it. You probably have meatspace friends you love dearly yet with whom you could not imagine having a conversation like the ones you get here. It’d be really boring if everyone was the same.

    For myself, and at the risk of getting too meta, I’m very much like @juryjone in that I don’t like to repeat a position that’s already been stated. I’m mainly content to read and enjoy and occasionally pipe up when I feel I have something unique to contribute, even if it’s only to elaborate on someone else’s point. And I still remember the first time I submitted something for the Quickie and had it posted – felt like I’d won a trophy. :D

    Bottom line: if you have something to say, don’t be afraid to say it. And if you have nothing to say, there’s no need to feel bad about that. Read and enjoy, secure in the knowledge that there are enough people here who won’t shut up to keep the conversations going forever.

  33. I just joined Skepchick recently, and chose today to actually read and maybe even..horror of horrors!…comment or say something. It was hugely helpful to read all of your posts on this topic. I feel as though I can now read, enjoy, learn and maybe even share a thought or two!

  34. Hi! First time commenter, and I have been lurking on my own for only about a year, but I lurked via my father for quite a while. The thing that really stops me from commenting is age. Seriously, I JUST started college. It’s my second semester (BOOYAH for having no freaking clue what I want to do! So far, thinking about going to go dig stuff up). But I really like SkepChick, because my dad would read articles he thought were interesting to me for however long he has been reading. He kind of pulled me into the community, but my natural lurkitude works against commenting.

    I am really antisocial in meatspace (I shall use this always, from now on) and really don’t interact with other people unless they reach out. Damn you internet anonymity!!

  35. I get very self-conscious about my posts. I am an aspiring doctor and I know a lot less than I should (because I am late in coming out as a skeptic). So I try to be honest about what I think but I also listen REALLY hard to what my fellow skeptics say about things that are new and even more about things I really thought I knew about.

    Testing your ideas by fire is what skepticism is all about and this is a wonderful place to do it because if you put an idea or question forward in a manner that deserves time and attention (ie, if you don’t “troll”), then your question will be answered and your idea addressed in a kind fashion. Proven wrong or no, this is a place to improve your ideas without the horrid, gut-wrenching pain of having your peers curb-stomp your self-esteem. That is always a good thing.

    It’s a great place where a skeptic has a little room to breathe. =]

  36. ok…. so, I figure that if I’m going to embarrass myself, I might as well embarrass myself fully, by triple posting.

    What I had asked in the OP was a truncated version of what i had written originally. (I had to cut it down to 1000 characters.) I told about how I am a fairly smart-ish fella myself, but had done very poorly in high school. I did actually go to college as a mature student when I was in my early 30s, but I flunked out.

    One of my professors told me that giving me a failing grade was one of the hardest things he had to do. He told me that he was always amazed about how well and how quickly I grasped new concepts, particularly in electronics. I was, in his words, a “gifted conceptualist,” meaning, I suppose, he was impressed with how quickly I could reason out how things work within the framework of an electrical circuit.

    This is the reason I flunked out: I didn’t pass in my lab reports. I had this insane belief (fear, really) that they weren’t good enough; that they would be better if I had done just a little bit more research. I just believed that they were never complete. even though I was faced with mountains of evidence to the contrary. (The lab reports that I was “forced” to pass in because they were done in-class, not homework, were invariably marked 9/10 or better) The thing was, no matter how much I did, there was always just one more thing. and that made it imperfect. Not worthy of handing in.

    That’s how I feel in Metaspace, (I like that term, too, thanks @bubblecup ;) ) too. And Cyberspace. And Everyspace.

    Now, I’m 41, close to 80 g’s in debt, with a string of unfinished projects behind me. I work overnight in a hotel so I don’t have to deal with anyone. And very little hope that it will ever be different.

    @Laika: here’s what your avatar makes me think of:
    When I was three, my mother said to me
    Eat up your greens and say your grace
    While on TV they put a dog in space
    And left her there
    You should have seen her face.

    Moxy Früvous – Laika

    @euterpechild: “Does not equal” == “!=” ;)

    @Sam: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You now have a new biggest fan.

    -Anthony

  37. I’m a very insecure, English is not my first language and I’m not a scientist.
    I’ve commented maybe twice but I start to write comments that never get submitted about once a week. So, yeah, it can be intimidating.
    I often start by writing something I think is funny but then I overthink, rewrite, and finally, delete. I’m glad I’m not alone.

  38. For me it’s the fear of the blank comment box I read the artical and the comments I go to type and my fingers chock on what I want to say. I’m very shy in real life so I guess that does not help.

  39. @Anthony and all,

    In general, I’ve found that folks here are very willing to help you if you struggle with a topic and the science behind it. As I see it, a large part of Skepchick is education, not only about critical and skeptical thinking, but about the sciences in general.

    I do admit to feeling a bit of a ‘generation gap’ here at times, but I think that’s par for me these days. (I’m old enough to be the Dad of many of the Skepchicks members. There are a few others here like me, though.)

    @mrmisconception: I came onto Skepchicks before I got my BS degree in Writing in 2003. So I started out here as an intelligent high school grad. Don’t worry about it. It’s what you know, not what piece(s) of paper you hold.
    Writing ANYWHERE will help you to improve your communication skills. It forces you to improve.

    @Laika: I’m STILL pissed at the Russians for leaving her up there. I understand the science, but I have a soft spot for animals in my heart for animals (and dogs in particular).

  40. @m1yav1:

    This thread has added a couple of new phrases to my lexicon already; not the least of which is this gem:

    Proven wrong or no, this is a place to improve your ideas without the horrid, gut-wrenching pain of having your peers curb-stomp your self-esteem.

    I don’t know how or when or where, but will be using that in some form or fashion at the earliest opportunity.

    BTW, thank you to all the lurkers who have de-lurked to comment here. We certainly try to take the concerns of all the readers to heart.

  41. Not only do I not have a degree, I’m a high school dropout. Instead of school I went to work at 16. I comment very rarely because, frankly, I don’t write well at all and have a difficult time making my points clearly. It doesn’t help that I’m a very unsociable person and generally prefer to be off by myself doing what interests me and consider people in groups to be an annoyance with thinking as clear as a London fog. The older I get the more I’d like a place 10 miles from the nearest neighbor with landmines around the perimiter. Fortunately my wife keeps me from acting on that desire. Now that you know I’m just an old redneck you might understand why I’m a bit intimidated by all the degrees and college grads around here.

  42. I usually stick with lurking because I don’t have anything useful to add to the conversation or I say something that everyone disagrees with and I’m left feeling incredibly unwelcome. I’m far more on the libertarian scale than most of the people here are, I think. Just like some of the other commenters, I get nervous with a large group of people in meatspace and my online habits are very similar to my offline habits. So I shall stick with lurking.

  43. I’ve been lurking at Skepchick for a while, I’d say about a year-and-a-half, and I only recently signed up to comment. I like doing it, because the pros out weigh the cons, for me. The area that I live in has no skeptics-at-the-pub, or any other kind of rational thinking groups. Some people around where I reside and work are very vocal anti-science and anti-rational thought, so visiting here is both an oasis and a classroom. It’s a nice break from the usual BS I have to wade through and helps me learn how to discuss science and rational thinking with my friends, and know were and when to take a stand on things.

    Sometimes I do feel like I don’t really belong at Skepchick. Everyone here seems very and educated, whereas I am a college dropout (English Literature- 16 credit hours away from graduation and I left to take care of a very sick family member), someone who only recently discovered skepticism (the past 3-5 years) and male.

    I know that skepticism and gender equality is not an exclusive club, and the members of this site have been nothing but welcoming and insightful on both topics. But sometimes I feel a little insecure here because of my gender. It’s nothing that anyone has done, it’s my own insecurities playing out online.

    It’s odd… I’m more outgoing in person, face to face (it could be the fact that I work in the hospitality industry) than I am online. But I do like it here, and I do plan on continuing to comment.

  44. I’ve tried to comment more, despite my fear about doing so. I’m so relieved that other people share my fear. Mostly I’m afraid of being ignored, which is what usually happens, so it’s this awful self-fulfilling prophecy. So what usually ends up happening is because I don’t want to see how much I’m ignored, I’ll post something, and never check the thread again. I try to stop doing this, but it’s really hard.

    I’m not afraid of the degrees or anything, even though I don’t have one, just because I think I’m quite well educated and tend to know the basics about a lot of things.

    I definitely feel like this is a safer place to post, as opposed to another skeptic forum that I have stopped posting at, just because of the sexism. (I won’t name the place unless specifically asked, I’m sure many are familiar with it.)

  45. @BlackCat

    Yeah, sometimes when your posts don’t get the response you want it can really make you wonder what you did wrong, but I’ve finally gotten to the point where I am happy if I get a response but don’t fret it if I don’t.

    Usually it’s not that you were ignored it’s more likely that you said something that those who read it agreed with but not enough to post a response.

    If you really want a response all you need to do is troll (post something that you know will be controversial just to get a rise) but even that won’t get the response that you would get at Pharyngula. (I’m assuming that’s the “other blog” you were talking about)

  46. @QuestionAuthority:
    I know, right? I keep thinking of her up there.

    I adopted a Puerto Rican street dog 5 years ago that looks a lot like Laika, so that’s what I named her in honor of that little gal. I got her at a local shelter. She was so sick no one would adopt her but I am a vet so I took a chance that she could be saved.

    I am crazy in love with my Laika.

  47. I don’t comment much here or anywhere else mainly due to time constraints. I write my own blog, http://freethinkingfordummies.com, I work full time, and I’m a single parent. Most of my effort in the skeptical community goes into blogging and reading many other skeptical blogs including Skepchick. However, I do occasionally, as I am now, comment here and at other blogs. I honestly don’t worry about what the reaction to my comments may be, probably because I’m used to a wide variety of comments on my own blog and I’ve learned which ones I should care about and respond to and which ones to ignore.

    My advice is to just speak your mind. Proof read the comment out loud and run it through a spell checker before you submit it, of course. If people want to nit-pick about the grammar, screw them! They obviously aren’t interested in the issue at hand and just want to feel self-important.

  48. @Elyse: PhDs don’t make you smart. One of my thesis advisors gets acupuncture… for his dogs.

    Having a PhD just makes you a specialist in something. In my case, rocks. Or marine rocks. Or marine rocks in Oman. Or one type of alteration in one type of marine rock in Oman. I know lots about that- but doesn’t make me smart, just a specialist.

    Technically, I have yet to obtain my PhD. My dad likes to say to me, snarkily, “I have just as many PhDs as you do, Evelyn.”

    By the end of the year, hopefully, and I will make you all call me Dr. Evelyn… for like a day until I become sick of it.

  49. This has been a GREAT AI. My thanks to Sam and Anthony for providing a means for so many of the lurkers around here to introduce themselves.

    “Howdy, Friends!”

    I’ll fess up to being one of the people with a PhD who occasionally comment here. Like @Evelyn, I’ve never felt that the PhD made me any smarter about anything important than the specific area I got my degree in. And I can’t recall atomic diffusion of semiconductors ever coming up here! On the contrary, I know several cases where I posted something either ill-considered or ill-informed and was rightly taken to task for it, yet never felt unwelcome. As I’m sure my wife would confirm, I can be an utter moron at times! I love the fact that I can learn things here without feeling under attack. I stopped reading the Pharyngula site because there was WAY too much overt hostility to folks that didn’t follow the party line. Also the comment threads over there can get so long it would become a full time job just to participate in a conversation!

    I figure that if I can feel comfortable commenting here, then anybody could. Especially since I’m not only a scientist, but also a regular church-goer and ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church. You might be surprised to know how often things and discussions I’ve seen here come up in my conversations with others at church. There have been some great arguments put up here against various elements of the Christian faith, and I don’t hesitate to bring them up in the right situations.

    Sorry for the long post, but I just wanted to re-iterate the idea that No ONE should feel unqualified to comment here.

  50. I’m kinda like you, @saraith. I’ve always been told how brilliant I am and yet I had middling grades (well ok, above middling, but not as stellar as they should’ve been) in elementary and high school, and I never managed to finish my BSc in biology. The difference is that I wasn’t crippled by perfectionism or poor self-confidence — I’m simply a lazy git. So these days I am one of those people with no marketable working skills Evelyn referred to, and constantly having to battle the voices in my head going “YOU SHOULD HAVE A PHD BY NOW, NOT WORK AS AN ADMINISTRATOR!”. As many people here have commented, degrees are mainly about hard work, not smarts. And I completely, utterly fail at hard work…

    Anyway, enough moaning about me. Please do not feel shy to comment here on Skepchick! Personally I have rarely encountered a nicer, more forgiving online community (and I have practically lived online for the last 13 years).

  51. @Evelyn, @ SteveT:

    I’m in violent agreement that PhDs don’t necessarily make you smart (cf. comment #20). I’m a case in point: despite all my RTFMing & Googling I still haven’t figured out how to link to other comments without hand-coding the HTML every time :P

    But of course PhDs don’t necessarily make you dumb either. Grad school was a very humbling experience for me: I got to know so many jaw-droppingly intelligent people (not only faculty but post-docs & my fellow grad students too, even undergrads!), that I really came to believe they made some mistake admitting me in the first place. To this day I’m convinced I’m the dumbest person ever to complete a PhD at that particular institution, and that someday someone’s going to show up at my door and ask for my diploma back!

    However (and this links back to the GeoChristian discussion), being extremely intelligent (however you define it) doesn’t necessarily imply good critical thinking skills. Newton was a singular genius, but he believed all sorts of ridiculous things (as the Creationists are all too fond of pointing out). We all have our blind spots, and we all are susceptible for clinging to certain beliefs without good evidence to support them, or even in the face of compelling contradictory evidence. I am grateful to the skeptical movement for giving me some useful tools not only to argue with people on “the other side” (Creationists, homeopaths, anti-vaxxers, & various & sundry other woo-meisters) but also to (on occasion) critically examine some of my own core beliefs. After all, cognitive dissonance is not something that only happens to other people, it is a human trait that we skeptics are liable to exhibit as well from time to time.

  52. @SteveT:

    I figure that if I can feel comfortable commenting here, then anybody could. Especially since I’m not only a scientist, but also a regular church-goer and ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church. You might be surprised to know how often things and discussions I’ve seen here come up in my conversations with others at church. There have been some great arguments put up here against various elements of the Christian faith, and I don’t hesitate to bring them up in the right situations.

    Thanks for the comment, SteveT. And don’t worry about the length. You didn’t use up the Internet.

    But you are going to have to share more of your experiences with us. I have not been in a formal church setting in a very long time, and I’m always curious about the manner in which the attendant philosophical ideas are being discussed among the members.

  53. @Sam Ogden: Be happy to chat more about my experiences! At the moment, however, I am vacationing with the family in San Diego with pretty limited time for online activity. I am presently trying to regain feeling in my feet after spending the day at the Wild Animal Park.

    I’ll send you a note after I get back from my trip and you can decide what, if anything, you want to do with the information. Maybe I can be the subject of one of your Inquisitions! That would be unexpected! ;)

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