Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

AI: If You’re Skeptical and You Know It, Clap Your Hands

For a while now, there’s been talk about the frequency of navel-gazing in the skeptic community. This article by Alom Shaha of the Guardian is the latest installment. He has some excellent points, some of which have been used in the past to criticize our “ONE OF US” mentality.

There are several things off the top of my head which I think we can all say are pretty committed to community outreach: SkeptiCamp, the Women Thinking Free Foundation, Skeptrack at conventions like Dragon*Con, and JREF. Forgive my American ignorance, but have any of these sorts of programs been set up in the UK (aside from JREF)? It’s pretty clear in the article that, while fun and educational for the in-group, Skeptics in the Pub is more of a players’ club than a community tool.*

Finding a way for larger, well known names to speak directly to students would be pretty great. I’d be willing to bet that an occasional aside in the direction of critical thinking instead of strict attention to the curriculum would have saved me some years of believing in ghosts and the like.

What would you like to see in regards to student outreach? How do we get out of circle-jerk mode and become an effectively productive learning tool? Can you help me get “Rock You Like a Hurricane” out of my head?

*This is not a criticism from myself personally! Please do not take it as one!

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.


Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

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  1. It’s pretty clear in the article that, while fun and educational for the in-group, Skeptics in the Pub is more of a players’ club than a community tool.

    From my experience with the Boston Skeptics in the Pub, the number and variety of the people who show up depend on the event. When Richard Wiseman gave his book talk at the Brattle Theatre, I saw plenty of people I’d never seen at the pub talks prior to that. My guess is that it was as much an outreach-y event as a skepticism track at DragonCon. The same organization can host multiple types of event, after all, and would probably be stronger for doing so. (It’s easier to make the big shindigs happen when you already have some practical organizing experience and infrastructure in place.)

  2. Regarding “Rock You Like A Hurricane” —

    Hurricane Ike hit our abode here in Houston, and then the remnants of Ike (Zombie Ike?) went spinning up into Ohio and damaged the roof of the house we were trying to sell. Double whammy.

    So I thought a great parody of “Rock You Like A Hurricane” would be “F@ck You, Ike The Hurricane” but I never got around to writing it.

  3. I recently decided to address my daughter’s Brownie troop about how to think critically. I have it set up in the later part of next month and I am scared out of my wits by a group of 7-9 year-ols girls. I plan to teach them about advertising, the paranormal, and how they do some things in movies so that they do not think it is real. I will NOT be addressing religion or belief in any kind of age-sensative creatures (Santa, tooth fairy, Easter Bunny).

    I am a fat guy with a beard and long hair (think Haggred at 3/5 size) and as such can be intimidating to kids (I tend to make them cry) but I am getting out there and doing something. I am not educated formally, I have no degree, but I have the ability to learn quickly and to research. So my advice is just get in there and do what you feel you can do, even if you need to find a group of pre-teens to be able to teach them anything.

    As for the song, ahem.

    “Don’t tell my heart,
    my achy-breaky heart.
    I just don’t think he’d understand.
    But if you tell my heart,
    my achy-breaky heart,
    it might blow up and kill this man.”

    You’re welcome.

  4. Disassociate from “pub culture”. If you want a movement that’s open to everyone not just those white people (mostly male) who like going to the pub. If you want to be a movement, it can’t be a movement soaked in alcohol it’s no good for reasonable debate, or a movement that hangs out in the places the “leaders” like to hang out.

    You aren’t going to get many non-drinkers, or people who don’t feel comfortable in pubs to come to meetings if you only have them in pubs.

    Have public debates and open meetings, not just circle-jerks. Have regular meetings, more than once a month, and devote the last half hour of the meeting to organisation. Find campaigns that our going on locally you agree with and get involved as the local “sceptics”

    As I understand it there are no “sceptic” events in the UK, primarily as religion is not prominent in life here. There’s not as much dominant religion to be “against” here.

  5. Well, this comes to mind.

    Or This

    Or even this.

    Science and critical thinking involve a lot of research, and cross-referencing results, and discussion. But at the same time, simple little demonstrations like these, that can be done by just about anyone with a little bit of setup, or maybe even ramped up a bit for bigger projects, go a long way to intrigue and engage the public, as well as help to get us out of our tribal knowledge trap.

  6. @mrmisconception: Smile, talk to the kiddo’s not at them, and ask them questions that you know will further your discussion. Getting them involved will help them own the process, and fun visual demonstrations that are fail proof and cool always work. And say you’ve been told you look like Haggred right from the start, they’ll love that; and I’d love to hear how the presentation is received by the munchkins!

    @russellsugden: Hey lots of fine movements started in pubs, Protestantism, numerous revolutions, Nazism…

  7. It seems like a false dichotomy. Individuals can make their own inroads towards skeptical education of some sort AND attend all the social events. (“Preaching to the choir” maybe, but it’s a choir that always has a lot to learn, and has also been known to get fired up to take action at one of these “useless” events.)

    Granted I don’t know a lot about skepticism in the UK but some of these arguments in general are extremely weak.

  8. UK skeptic here. There are plenty of skeptic things happening in the UK, they just aren’t necessarily things exported from the US, and this journalist guy doesn’t seem to know a lot about UK skepticism, particularly if he thinks Stephen Fry is at the centre of it all.

    There are a large number of Atheist/Humanist/Skeptic groups at universities across the UK for a start, all coming under the umbrella of the AHS ( I’m at the University of Edinburgh and we regularly organise debates with various different groups (we have one coming up with the Life Society, for example).

    Skeptics groups are also doing events which look to more than just the in-crowd. What about Ladies Who Do Skepticism, for example? 10:23 wasn’t aimed at the in-crowd, that’s why it was in the street. Edinburgh Skeptics also run a book club for those who don’t like the pub, and during the Edinburgh Festival they ran a skeptics in the pub style event every day, which got all kinds of people wandering in, not just skeptics. They also had a comedy show, and this coming year they’re thinking of doing a kids show. The BHA and the HSS also do have speakers available to go into schools, although it’s not as easy as he makes out. So there’s an awful lot going on, he just doesn’t know about it.

  9. @JamesFox

    I am planning on asking and answering a lot of questions. The eight-year-old helps with lots of practice for this. :) I just hope I can stay focused, I’ve already caught myself wandering into general science tricks while getting ready.

    I tend to scare the younger ones, but I can do a passable Haggred impression so I may just show bits of the Harry Potter movies as both paranormal and movie magic combined.

    I’ll let you all know how it went.

  10. After reading the article and seeing (and participating in) the shit-storm that said article generated on Twitter this morning, I have to agree with @ZenMonkey about the false dichotomy-ness of said article.
    I had a brief conversation with that author on Twitter this morning that went like this (I mark my comments as ‘Me’ in the following):

    (Me:) Re: @alomshaha’s article: Some valid points, but why is it set up as an ‘either/or’? Why dismiss the support function of gatherings?

    @brianggeorge I was just trying to get some ideas out there. Read last paragraph – I am not dismissive of “support function of gatherings”.

    (Me:)@alomshaha Granted. But the article seems a bit bipolar. From the header: ‘Why waste your time at gatherings of like-minded skeptics…’

    @brianggeorge Not my header. The joys of having an editor write your headlines…

    (Me:)@alomshaha Do you feel that the headline does a disservice to your overall point then?

    @brianggeorge Don’t like the “waste of time” bit, but I guess it’s pretty close to my sentiments. But I meant to be provocative. Not nasty.

    (Me:)@alomshaha Were I a SitP organizer, I would most likely have a hard time reading that as anything other than ‘nasty’. IMO the headline alone could color the opinion of folks who otherwise might agree with you.

    @brianggeorge Wasn’t just looking for agreement. Wanted to be provocative, challenging.

    @russellsugden: Also good points. I believe that some groups have started Skeptics in the Park as an alternative to the pubs.
    @mrmisconception: Good for you dude! As a fellow beard, I salute your efforts.

  11. @MrMisconception: As an intimidating female (I was once nicknamed “Big Scary Nicole”) I find that sitting down, even on the floor makes people more comfortable. A small thing, but it seems to make a difference.

  12. You can do both events aimed at skeptics, and outreach. A group just shouldn’t focus on events that are only designed to appeal to other skeptics.

    Skeptics already have the message. We need to spread the message as well. :)

  13. I attended my first SIP event last week, and I stood like a tool in the pub prior to the main event, until grammarking walked up and asked if I was here for the Edinburgh Skeptics. he and his mates quickly made me feel welcome. I utterly refute the notion that SIP is nothing but a circle jerk thusly. It’s all about who is there, and how it is promoted – there is a lot of value in gathering like-minded individuals AS WELL AS outreach and education. The typical either-or nature of the argument really rubs me the wrong way.

  14. @w_nightshade: Besides being a total blast, our SIP in Tallahassee picked up people from the bar every time, and made skeptics of quite a few pedestrians. Miss you guys!

  15. I would love it if there were (or if I knew about) a repository of materials that could be used as resources for doing something like @mrmisconception is doing. I would totally volunteer to speak to kids all over the place (to some of my teacher-friends’ classes, our neighborhood community center) if I had any idea what to do once I got there.

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