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!”
I’ve heard both of these arguments, and their variants, many times over.Â 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,Â 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…