Random Asides

Skeptics Moaning, Skeptics Doing

Some skeptics talk a lot. Some even moan a lot. Talking is great, it’s vital to start debate, ask questions, provide answers. Moaning isn’t always so productive, but can be fun and sometimes it seems like the only option available when the thing you’re moaning about is so much bigger than you, me, or all the skeptics combined.

Equally, not everyone is a ‘doer’. Just because you don’t have time (or even inclination) to start a blog, lobby the government or write a firm letter, it doesn’t remove your right to moan about an injustice or something you think is bad for society. It can even be true that enough voices moaning can inspire one individual to act, simply because they know they’re not alone in their anger. Skeptics have got your back, so to speak. Action is worth taking if you know you represent a lot of people.

But sometimes, someone comes along who has enough time, resource or just plain old get-up-and-go to do something about the things they think should change. These instigators of change may be academics who already have a platform, celebrities with a cause, or, occasionally, just an average Joe or Joanna who wants to change society for the better, in some small way.

Such a person is Rob Lancaster, who you will already know as the webmaster of www.stopsylvia.com. Rebecca posted an update last month about the unfortunate situation with his old domain name, which has now been replaced with the one above. If you haven’t already, I urge you to visit his site and read the articles for yourself. I might be biased because he’s a friend, but I don’t believe there’s another skeptic who analyses, collates and comments with such dignity and fairness, and what’s really fantastic about his mild-mannered, ‘just the facts without emotion or speculation’ approach is that it works. Robert treats his audience as intelligent adults who are capable of drawing a conclusion for themselves if given the facts. He is right to do that, and even though he holds strong opinions himself the fact that he doesn’t force them on you makes you more inclined to listen to him. 


Robert’s approach isn’t necessarily going to make die-hard skeptics of people who had inclinations that way in the first place. That’s more like the Randi approach. Instead, Robert deals with a specific person (Sylvia Browne) and her specific claims (check out this article on Shaun Horbeck) rather than a generalised ‘psychics are all frauds there are no powers’ rant, and reaches specifically those who might believe her.

Robert is my favourite skeptical ‘doer’ because of his softly-softly approach, and also because of the impact his campaign has actually had, from TV news coverage to emails from ex-fans to the sinister response from Sylvia Browne herself when faced with Robert in person at her (now cancelled) Las Vegas show.

We can’t ever know just what impact www.stopsylvia.com has had on Sylvia Browne and her business empire. We can, however, measure the impact his efforts have had on our communities, from the outstanding efforts to reinstate the Google rankings of the new domain (hopefully this post will help, too), to the future doers who will be inspired by Robert to fight their own good fight. And for those who are content to be the support network, the vocal individuals who give a damn when something is unfair but only enough to rant about it on the internet, I say “keep on moaning”. If enough of you moan, someone, somewhere, will feel inspired enough to do something. And it might just work.

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  1. I like to rant, and I like to read rants if they are humorous and/or justified.

    My most recent rant was about how lousy UK telephony companies are. I felt better just for writing it.

  2. Right now I’m in grad school so I barely even have enough time to rant on my blog. But I’m getting jealous of all the pub night’s and meet-ups that I’m too far away to go to. :) So if there are any skeptical readers who are in the Halifax area, gimme a holler. Maybe if we get a large enough group, we can start having some events.

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