Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Skeptic Pass

Wednesday I posted the second ever installment of the Skepchick Reader Rants.

The really impressive part of that post was how many times I managed to screw it up… yes, I screwed up posting an article that I didn’t even have to write. 90% cut and paste and I got the author’s name wrong AND I misspelled the name of one of the members of the Insane Clown Posse. Seriously, it was far less painful and embarrassing to admit that, back in the day, I paid Chip Coffey to do a psychic reading so I could talk to my dead sister.

But Skepchick Community, you were kind. You had my back. You forgave me because I’m 8 months pregnant, and obviously, this little pre-formed-Skepchick is eating parts of my brain for nourishment. And despite the fact that research proves that being pregnant doesn’t actually make you more ditsy, you guys went ahead and ran with it. (No, I’m not linking to any studies because those studies can kiss my ditsy ass!) Even Kirsten, whose name I spelled wrong about 50 times in the post that she wrote, came to my defense. It was kind of you. Thank you, all of you. I love you each of you so much more because of your honorable and humanitarian actions.

Update: after writing this post, I misspelled my own name on Twitter. I may have to resign from the internet for a while. I’m clearly not very good at it.

For the sake of kindness, do you ever look the other way on skeptical issues? Is something we should do more often? Do we do it too often? Do you forgive me for using pregnancy as an excuse for being a huge jerk to Kirsten and Violent J?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Not so much as a matter of kindness, but quite often as a matter of peace.

    Really, it’s a “pick your battles” sort of thing.

    I think if anyone can look back on the times they held their tongue on a skeptical issue and not intervening may have led to harm to someone (as in, I didn’t speak up about my sister’s growing obsession with astrology, and that later got her into a relationship based on “astrological matching” and he later turned out to be an abusive pig) then yeah, we’re being quiet too often.

  2. My dance teacher likes to give Good Eye charms to her students before recitals to protect them while they dance. I don’t say anything about it because I really can’t see it hurting anyone and it’s how she expresses her concern for her dancers.

  3. Of course we forgive you, dear. It could have been worse – you could have mispelled a.real.girl’s first name.

    Its easy to spot skeptics who never let it slide, because they are usually sitting by themselves wondering why life is so lonely.

  4. The programmer that works for me, in the next cube, is completely obsessed with Reiki, among other sorts of health-woo. I only challenge gently, and not that often. She does great work, and there’s no need to start an argument.

  5. My girlfriend (and I) are taking care of someone’s dog for a few weeks. She is an acquaintance of my girlfriend through business. She stopped by to drop off the dog and my girlfriend invited her for dinner. So much mystical woo spilled out of that woman’s mouth, I was speechless. However, there was so much dysfunction in that woman’s life and relationships that her talk of her quasi buddhism , and her “Healer” and all the other crap was just icing on the cake. I smiled, poured her another glass of wine, and went outside to tend the grill. There is no way even the most cogent arguments would sway a lifetime’s inertia of crazy beliefs in the course of an evening, and that woman had so many problems I thought that the best I could do under the circumstances was to serve a pleasant meal and send her on her way. She wasn’t proselytizing, just chattering, and she was a guest in my home, so, yeah, I gave her a pass. As to whether I do that too often, well, I pick my battles. If someone I don’t know or care about is prattling on about something I know to be false I might engage them in conversation or argument, or I might decide not to, depending on many factors, but usually it’s a social cost/benefit analysis, or it might just depend on my mood. However, if someone I care about is partaking of crap based medicine or other potentially harmful things, I will engage any number of strategies and approaches to get them to think critically, and provide them with good information, as opposed to merely bludgeoning them over the head with facts.

  6. I forgive you because you are breeding the next generation of skeptics (no pressure).

    RE: overlooking idiocy, I’m not terribly good at turning the other way. That filter between brain & mouth that most people have? Yeah, missed out on that one. I tend to become a sputtering mass of Righteous Indignation. That’s probably why my only friends are smelly cats. Damn you, toxoplasmosis! *shakes fist*

  7. S’okay hon. Babies suck your brain out until they’re well into their 40’s :-)

    As for the question, I prefer to remain a skeptic. By this I mean that if someone starts talking to me about something we define as Woo that actually HELPED them, I’m going to want to know more about it. Maybe there’s some validity to the claim.

    I speak from experience when I say that not every holistic practitioner does things the same way. For instance, that healer that @junco mentioned might also have made some nutritional suggestions that helped his/her client feel better.

    Rather than jumping to conclusions it’s important to maintain an open mind. We know that’s what skeptics are supposed to do. We examine the evidence given.

    A cynic dismisses out of hand.

    So yes, we need to have more patience. Be gentle in our investigations and if we discover that something is harmful, be kind in how we tell the people who might be harmed.

  8. Of course we forgive you Elyse. Being a jerk to Violent J will only lead to hilarity :)

    As for being too nice and letting things slide; I’m too nice in general. I’m really bad at holding a grudge (in most cases).
    I agree with the ‘pick your battles’ policy. I chide my boss for believing in… well, just about everything, but I don’t go super-hardcore because I am not interested in being unemployed.
    Today at NECSS, the the topic of kindness was broached. Kindness in how we speak to people who believe weird things. Because often times, someone may just lack the information necessary to come to correct conclusions, and I believe its up to us to help people to find that information; plant seeds as we often say.
    Okay, I’ve used 2 semi-colons in this post, which means I should now hit the ‘submit’ button. It’s a rule I have.

  9. all the time. Have I mentioned that my best friend is Mormon? Despite the fact that we have nearly identical backgrounds, right down to education, she continues to subscribe to what I consider to be one of the wackier religions on the planet. However, for the entire time that I’ve known her, she has never challenged my disbelief, and I don’t challenge her belief. Because when it all comes down to it, she cooks me dinner when I’m super busy, listens to my rants, tells me funny jokes, provides helpful advice and lets me be best friends with her 2 year old (and she never makes me read the weird religious stories to her at bed time). I don’t know how an intelligent person can have the beliefs that she does, but for what I need her for, I don’t really care.

  10. I know a few people into woo, but they tend to rely on Big Pharma evidence based medicine when push comes to shove, at least when it’s their own health. My wife’s step-mom was pushing liver cleansing when my wife was having gall bladder problems, so my wife had to firmly but tactfully explain why she wasn’t going to go that route.

  11. I have a dear friend who is into all sorts of woo, from Chinese herbs to some strange woman who comes to town and has a convention every so often, to believing her “doctor” [read: Not even barely acceptable quasi-physical therapist chiroprator] when he tells her she’s allergic to everything from dairy products to gluten [soon there won’t be anything she can eat] to Reiki. Why don’t I challenge her on this? Because she’s had a hellish life since birth, when she was born with dislocated hips and had to spend her first year of life in successive full body casts, to two severe road accidents that were in no way her fault, to a stalker who threatened to kill her parents, to a live-in boyfriend who has already had a quadruple by-pass even tho’ he’s a decade her junior, to tripping when she got out of the plane on her first vacation [in Hawaii!] in a decade and breaking her foot… the poor woman, as it is said, would have no luck were it not for bad luck. [I won’t even mention the migraines, the 3 months in Cedars-Sinai’s pain ward, losing her mother to a reaction to a defective medication…]

    I could no more try to take her only solace from her than I could drown a kitten. Do I make gentle suggestions? Sure – but no challenging, no taking down, no disowning the friendship because I think her coping mechanism is irrational. One loves one’s friends despite their faults.

  12. I think the world in general is always better served by kindness. That said, I am trying to learn how to engage my more credulous friends and acquaintances in a respectful way. I’d rather understand their need for woo than let it go.

  13. I went to see Margaret Atwood give a talk last week, since I love her novels. Most of the talk was very very good, but she mentioned that she uses astrology to help establish personalities for the characters in her novels. I’m not going to stop reading her books, but really, I wish I hadn’t heard that.

  14. @Bacfarc:

    That’s interesting!

    Do you mean she consults and astrologer to decide what kinds of characters to create? Or she uses the personality descriptions of various signs?

    Using fictional science to create fictional characters isn’t bad, and I don’t see anything wrong with that at all… in fact, it’s nice that it might actually be used for something… useful.

  15. Based on her comments, she uses the personality descriptions–it doesn’t sound like she actually consults with an astrologer about it. She also said she doesn’t draw up full horoscopes like some writers do, but her characters are all “astrologically correct” for the birthdays she picks for them. Whatever that means.

    I can see your point about this being a “useful” application of astrology. I shall have to ponder it.

  16. I don’t know what’s right to do and what’s wrong.
    My friend goes to a chiropractor on a daily basis and gets her neck manipulated. I asked her if she knew the dangers of getting her neck manipulated and she said “I don’t care, I love it.”

    So I didn’t say anything.

    But mostly because I don’t think she’d listen.

    I feel bad though.

  17. All the time because I prefer not to come across as an arrogant prick. Maybe this is because I am skeptic but not an atheist. But I do tend to hold my tongue more in regards to religion. I could talk until The End of Days (joking) and I don’t think that there is anything I could ever say to a fundamentalist (of any young earth religion) that would convince him/her that the universe is billions of years old, or that there are historical inconsistencies in their religious text. And for those who see religion in a less literal manner, pointing out inconsistencies in something that they aren’t really putting stock in anyway is, pointless.

    That said, if I think someone, especially someone I care about, is doing something dangerous, to the himself/herself or to others because they aren’t thinking critically, I speak up.

  18. Dude, there are far better things to get irate over rather than spelling and grammar.

    As for the letting it slide thing – the guy (literally)next to me is an evangelical christian, we work cheek by jowl for 10 hours a day. The guy I go on smoke breaks with lives for Ghost Hunters and Destination Truth. My ex-best-friend is a serious Wiccan.

    I know no one else who identifies as a Skeptic in 3D. If I didn’t let stuff slide 90% of the time I’d have no human contact at all. Occasionally, I can’t help myself and call bullshit, but mostly I just smile and nod.

  19. Sometimes lately, I do pass. My MIL is an alternative medicine shipper, and is easily offended when I put Skepchick articles on my Facebook page. Today she is mad at us for this. But I do not want to abandon my principles just to keep people happy with their hearts-and-flowers illusions.

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