Skeptical activism and our personal role in that activism is a topic that has been floating around quite a bit on this blog as well as other message boards and I think it is an important issue that we as skeptics need to consider.
It is very important that we actively engage the public. There are many much louder voices of opposition speaking out in favor of a multitude of pseudoscientific beliefs and we absolutely need to counter those voices, with rationality. We want to help people understand how the physical world works. We want new people to join the skeptical movement. We want to protect people from scams and bad medicine. We want to encourage a new enlightenment era that is backed by legitimate science-based information. We want to make the world a better place. We should invoke style, panache, humor and intelligence. What we we don’t want to use is ad hom attacks or childish behavior. We want to rise above, after all.
More after the fold.
People who believe in pseudoscience are people just like us. In fact the majority of people who are now skeptics at one time or another held on to strong and passionate beliefs about all kinds of crazy things. I, as a young girl was convinced I had some sort of psychic ability and that I had been reincarnated. Psychic ability “ran in my family” and I had even typed out an entire story of my reincarnation (that came to me in a dream). If someone were to walk up to me at that time of my life and tell me that I was “stupid” for believing those things my reaction would have been to instantly dislike that person and to disregard whatever they had to say. In one ear and out the other. I wasn’t stupid. I just didn’t have all the information needed to make a rational decision at that time in my life. I don’t think my story is unique.
It is up to us as skeptics to share and explain the information needed to make rational decisions.
A few months back, Joe Nickell walked up to me and my husband, did a coin trick (seriously) and then he began to talk to us us about paranormal investigations and his experiences. Now, I’m paraphrasing here but what he said that had a profound effect on me was this: It is important to remember to treat people with respect. When someone tells you they have had a paranormal experience they are not lying to you. The experience is very real to them and we should show these people the respect they deserve.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t disprove what caused the experience or that we don’t shed light on the truth. This doesn’t even mean that we can’t joke around about things a little. I am a strong believer that humor is important in the learning process. What it really means is that we need to remember that we are dealing with real people that are just like us. They are not idiots nor are we better than them. They believe in pseudoscience simply because they do not have all the tools to understand what it is that they experienced or perhaps they were raised to believe otherwise. They are searching for answers just like we are.
I realize that some people are unreachable and there are even quite a few that are deliberately lying in order to make money of the uniformed and I understand that we have a sharp upward battle. However, I am positive that we will reach more people by being friendly and honest than we will with disrespect, parlor tricks and games.