by Tkingdoll AKA Teek
Ã‚Â This is an extract from an article IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m working on Ã¢â‚¬â€œ perhaps if IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m very nice to her Rebecca will publish it on the main Skepchick site when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s done. LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s start a lobby group!
Like so many of my fellow skeptics, I had a flirtation with religion for several years. During this period, I became aware of the work of mediums and psychics, but rather than dismiss them or embrace them, I feared them. This was because my branch of Christianity taught that such abilities do exist, but they are the tools of the devil (who else?). There were definite Ã¢â‚¬ËœsidesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, and the church was very quick to condemn anything that contradicted its own teachings as being firmly on the wrong one. This Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe-devil-did-itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ attitude was not just limited to displays of paranormal powers either. When a mirror fell off my bedroom wall, the church elders arrived en masse to exorcise it Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and me. Yes, Satan himself had taken an interest in a teenage girl from Birmingham and was displaying his almighty demonic powers by flinging decorative items across the room like a spoilt child.
Fast-forward a few years into young adulthood. I had left religion behind and was comfortable with my agnostic status (although relatively quiet about it). Instead, I had found the wretched paranoid world of conspiracy theory. I read everything that Graham Hancock et al churned out. I gasped at the wonder of the faces on Mars, rushed to tell my friends about the Pyramids built by aliens, soaked up the mysteries of Roswell. I had discovered pseudoscience and believed it to be the antidote to religious superstition. After all, these guys used long complicated mathematical formulas that I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really understand. If they are smarter than me, then they must be speaking the truth, right?
And along I went, happily absorbing the grand-sounding theories that made so much more sense than God. Then in a second-hand bookshop, whilst looking for more phooey, I stumbled across Carl SaganÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.
If a Ã¢â‚¬ËœEUREKA! momentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ can be said to stretch for the duration of a 500-page paperback, then that is what I had. What Sagan had written made more sense than anything IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d ever read before, and the reason wasÃ¢â‚¬Â¦I knew it already! The idea of critical thinking was already loitering at the very bottom of my mind, but it took someone spelling it out in basic terms to make me see it was there.
Armed with my new way of thinking, my baloney-detection toolkit and concepts like cherry-picking and how to spot it, I set out to challenge and investigate the world. What did I find? Nonsense on every corner! Utter garbage passing as Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe truth!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe REAL truth!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢, or Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe truth the Government doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want you to know!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢. Gosh, there was a lot of Ã¢â‚¬ËœtruthÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ out thereÃ¢â‚¬Â¦but a strange absence of facts.
So if I was too smart for this flummery, why wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t everyone? I clearly understood the emotional and psychological need for comfort, but why couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the general public apply a little basic common sense when it came to spending their hard-earned money? IsnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t that most peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s biggest motivating factor? Why then, are they not prepared to do a little research and a little thinking before they throw their cash away? Then I remembered how I myself had taken the step from superstition to pseudoscience to science, but did not get to this stage alone. I had needed a little push. Smarter people than I will work it out for themselves and write books about it, but your average Joe needs to have it spelled out. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t that I was too smart for the flummery, I was merely better informed.
I bought copies of SaganÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book for everyone I knew (and just in time too, as it is now out of print in the UK). Some people read it, some people didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. I even carried a copy around with me for a while so IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d have a handy reference when debating. One of the arguments I came across time and time again was Ã¢â‚¬Å“well, if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fraud, the government wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t allow itÃ¢â‚¬Â. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true, the government do allow it. State-sponsored nonsense, right under our noses. NHS funds diverted away from dialysis machines and cancer wards into homeopathic hospitals. Television licence funds paying for psychics to mislead the population via TV shows. The government act on the issues that interest the majority, and critical thinkers are most definitely a minority. In fact, at that point, in my world I was a minority of one.
Critical thinkers are sometimes accused of trying to abandon human emotion, to circumvent their hardwiring and be thinking machines, reducing the mysteries of the world to a series of theories and explanations. Whilst this is not really true, it can be a lonely business when everyone around you is so eagerly buying into whatever the media says is true that day, or whatever the latest fad diet is. You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t feel less human, but you do feel less social. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been labelled a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœstick-in-the-mudÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, a Ã¢â‚¬ËœnaysayerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, have been accused of trying to ruin Ã¢â‚¬Ëœharmless funÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ or simply called Ã¢â‚¬ËœboringÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Facts are dull, nonsense is fun and, as Hitchens so eloquently said, we can all sink giggling into a sea of stupidity. Except I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to stand by while everyone sinks, I wanted to do something about it. I needed resources for information, I needed support, but most importantly, I needed to find others like me.
What I found was the world of internet forums.
When I was a kid I had an anthology of a cartoon strip by Jim Davis called OrsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Farm. One of my favourite scenes is when the intelligent pig, Orson, finds a trunk full of books. The pig is pictured hugging the books in a state of rapture with the caption Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not alone anymore!Ã¢â‚¬Â That is exactly how I felt when I started reading skeptic forums. These folks are exactly like me! Except they call themselves Ã¢â‚¬ËœSkepticsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬â€œ how funny!
The more I read, the more I learned. Forums are where I first discovered that homeopathy is not Ã¢â‚¬ËœherbsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, where I learned what chiropractors believe and why itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dangerous, why Scientology isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a new religion to be tolerated, how peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lives can be ruined by nonsense and yes, that people die Ã¢â‚¬â€œall the time- because of the deliberate lies and misinformation sold to them by businesses, churches and individuals. I learned more in my first six months as a forum member than in the entire 30 years preceding them. A forum is a discussion board, sure, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also an encyclopaedia, not just of stored information but of live knowledge! Ask a question and ten minutes later a full discussion will be in flow, information and ideas exchanged in the split second it takes to press Ã¢â‚¬ËœsendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also a Cheers bar, a place where everybody knows my name and (most of the time) are glad I came. My opinions are valued, and I am made to feel welcome by people who I count amongst my very best friends, even though often the only thing we have in common is that we Ã¢â‚¬Å“donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe in a bunch of stuffÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Organised skepticism is one of the most important tools we have to secure the future of critical thinking and to expose fraud, superstition and manipulation. Without forums, there would be no centre of organisation, no common place to swap information, no platform to meet like-minded yet regular Joes from across the globe, and nowhere for hundreds of people to simply feel like we are not alone.