Will be Skeptical for Food

Have you heard the following lamentation before?

“John Edward makes millions out of being an <insert litigious epithet here>. Why can’t skeptics make money out of skepticism?” Or the counter-complaint…

“Skeptics complain that Sylvia Browne charges for work that should be charitable, but James Randi and Michael Shermer make money out of skepticism!”

will be skeptical for foodI’ve heard both of these arguments, and their variants, many times over.  But those who make money out of skepticism or the paranormal/pseudoscientific are the very few. What about the many diligent activists who devote their time to skepticism without financial reward or reimbursement?

Then there are the tea-leaf-reading Grandmothers, and the prostitutes of psychics,  those who perform phone, email and chatroom readings, some of whom genuinely believe they have psychic abilities, and work long, inconvenient hours for little pay (I’m not querying abilities or whether pay is warranted here, I’m merely discussing output and stereotypes).

There’s a broad continuum of penniless podcaster to professional blogger; or fortune teller in a tent to Allison DuBois.

I’m concerned at the number of skeptical friends who live and breathe their more-than-mere-hobby, working in the trenches for skepticism, unpaid and unappreciated, who become frustrated, burnt out and disillusioned.

But can we really expect to be paid for our skepticism?

Richard Lead, an old mate of mine, used to say, “No one should profit from skepticism, but no one should be out-of-pocket for skepticism”. However, this was within the context of a committee with financial coffers, but it’s extremely common that many of us are out-of-pocket for our activism. Not only do we spent our own money, but we spend much of our time on skepticism.

This is because the jobs in skepticism are few. They’re usually for the magazine editors, and those with a skeptical product of some kind.

Other ‘tangential’ skeptics have had great success in their indirectly skeptical ventures, including Stephen Fry, Warren Ellis, Jon Ronson, and Tim Minchin. Some good examples are the amazing speakers at James Randi Educational Foundation’s The Amaz!ng Meetings. The pattern amongst these people is that they are authors, comedians, magicians and journalists who also happen to be skeptics.

The delightful Dr Richard Wiseman once said to me, “academia is my bread and butter”. I feel the same way, and I’ve been the full-time skeptic before… Skepticism in and of itself isn’t a job.

Skeptics need to keep doing their valuable work, even if it isn’t always valued or netting financial value. But please, don’t be a skeptic beyond your means, or to the detriment of your job. Skepticism needs to be practiced within our budgets.

Many of us would like to make skepticism viable as a job. The best way is to have your own skeptical product, or to incorporate skepticism into your career. Skepticism can be injected into any industry.

Skepticism is a job (in part) for few skeptics, but it is the duty of all skeptics. We know we’d do it all for free anyway, because we mostly do…

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  1. There are loads of ways to make a living out of skepticism!

    Of course that’s not the same as making a living from the skeptical community.

    Every serious academic, every scientist, a lot of journalists, police investigators, forensic accountants…….

    The list goes on and on. Hell, any job where you have to make a decision!

  2. @heidiho I’m referring to the shit-kickers of psychics, the under-paid, over-worked ones, as opposed to the ‘celebrity’ ones.

    I’m sure there could be literal prostitutes of skepticism too. Next time I ain’t givin’ it out for free…

    @russellsugden I did treat that view in my post; that skepticism can (and should) be a part of one’s career, and within any industry.

  3. Would it be considered unethical to sell woo merchandise to the unsuspecting public if one of the side effects of it is that they learn a valuable lesson in critical thinking?

  4. @Karen Stollznow: I got the impression you were talking about not everyone being professional “Celebrity” skeptics or by providing goods or services for skeptics.

    Being a “professional” skeptic is relatively easy to achieve and I’m not talking about making it part of your job, but an actual job.

    There are litterally millions of science and engineering graduates on the face of the earth (and only a small fractions of them ended up as accountants!). I’ma professional skeptic!

    Not all skeptics are scientists, but all scientists are skeptics.

  5. One can do quite well with all the payments from Big Pharma et al. Heck, I’m pro-vaccine, pro-GMO, pro-nuclear power, etc. I do alright. Of course, you still need a reasonably well paying day job and a creative accountant to keep the taxman off your tail.

    I am a Hedge

  6. Now, skeptics in general are cautious consumers but it seems like a lot of them do like a drink now and then. To that end, I’d suggest selling custom glassware with a picture of an Apollo astronaut on one side and the recipe for a Buzzed Aldrin on the other.

  7. I can be hired to be a personal skeptic. I will be there for you to make sure you don’t purchase or believe in any woo. I will do the research into anything you may be considering. I will be there at the ready to point out any logical fallacies that you might make in your day-to-day life.

    Oh, and I do windows. And OSX.

  8. Skepticism is like anything else. It contains the potential for profit insomuch as it can 1. Add value in the form of goods or services and 2. Control access to same.

    Consumer reports is a good model for this. They add value through unbiased (and thus trustable) product information and control access through the means of distribution.

  9. @Sarah:

    I offered to pay my mortgage company in “sensations of being able to think for yourself” and they offered me the option of combining that with the “sensation of a total lack of confinement and becoming one with nature”… they suggested I invest in a van and find a nice river.

  10. Given that most faith based woo and a lot of CAM alt-med woo has legions of unpaid gullible devotees pounding the pavement and spreading the word in all their conversations, it’s hard to imagine an alternative to the volunteer efforts already going on in the skeptical community. Burnout is often a product of the inability to set personal limits and to see when you’re over invested or over committed. My professional field has a high degree of burn out and jaded practitioners. There are always problems to solve and ignorance to combat and that is not going to change any time soon. And having a realistic perspective as to what you can accomplish and to what degree your efforts will be appreciated always helps.

    @Sarah: Your new blog title: “The Warm Gooey Skeptic”

  11. @russellsugden:

    I wish it were that simple….I’m an engineer and I work with and went to University with incredibly clever engineers who believe in all sorts of woo from life force energies to psychics. In fact just this morning one of my team told me they had a ‘very insightful’ evening with a phsyic. I told her about the JRef million dollar challange (in as sweet a voice as I could), everyone at the table sided with her. (all engineers)…

    My husband is an engineer and came home last week seriously telling me someone had told him that all the planets were going to be in a straight line to the sun for the first time on the 12-Dec-2012 etc etc ….eeerrrggggg.

    @James Fox: Don’t feel warm and gooey today, mainly feeling disgruntled and ostracized… ;)

  12. I’ve been busting my brain and ass open working on a fairly major skeptic project (check my blog in a few days for details), and just today I spent 12 hours working on it.

    It’s a labour of love, truly. I get excited when I tell my non-skeptic friends (who are fully supportive and awesome) about how much time I spend researching, writing, or lately, people-wrangling. But still, I get asked the following question about twice a week :

    “That’s all well-and-good, but do you get paid for it?”

    I’m getting really, REALLY sick of hearing that question. Yes, I’m investing a LOT of my time on this project, and I’m loosing a lot of sleep over it too. But FFS someone had to put this project together, and if we all sat around waiting for it to be monetized before we got going, nothing would start.

    And much more importantly, I fu**ing do this for a fu**ing reason. Shoot me for having a fu**ing cause!

    The next person who asks me that question, as earnest and well-meaning as they may be, is going to get an earful.

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