Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Skeptic AMA

Skeptics are questioners, yes? I mean, I have a regular feature here that is dedicated to just asking questions of skeptics. And every week I get to ask you whatever I want.

But what if it was your turn? What if you could ask the questions? And what if you could ask any skeptic, anywhere, anything? You could find out their thoughts on matters personal or professional. Uncover the secrets of their universe or The Universe, according to them. Or maybe you just want to know what they named their first cat.  You could ask anything you’ve ever wondered about your favorite (or maybe not your favorite) skeptic.

Well here’s your chance! I can’t guarantee they’ll answer you, but I can at least give you the opportunity to ask.

The floor is open: Who do you want to question and what do you want to know? 

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays 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. Damn, so many questions, so little server capacity.

    Profluvio unum would be:
    * – How do I become a better skeptic? – *
    …and then take in all the wisdom that would flow forth from skeptic crevasses from all around the inter-wires. I would like to become a skeptic medium, channeling all the positive skeptic energy (1), amplifying it through me and my new-found wisdom. How do I reach this (most reasonable) goal, skeptics?

    * – What traps are there to avoid? – *
    I mean as a skeptic. What are the musts, must nots and the “well-you-can-do-that-but-you-will-seem-like-a-wise-ass-and-no-one-will-like-you-anymore-and-you-will-die-cold-and-alone-if-you-do-thats” of skepticism?

    Simply put: What is the collective skeptic knowledge on what not to do? After all, science is the knowledge on what do to and how things aren’t. All we know is basically how things do NOT work, since we can rule those ways out. “Don’t eat that”, “don’t build the rocket that way”, or “well this seems fine… for now…” and so on. Just ask Marie Curie… from a safe distance.

    (1): if they steal our terminology, their’s is fair game.

  2. I was actually thinking just today that I would like to ask Steve Novella about how his skepticism goes over at Yale. Is the School of Medicine there generally more skeptical than at some other institutions, or is there a small pockey of skeptics (or non-skeptics) that face off against the rest, or is it fairly evenly split? How does he get along with alt-med types there, if there are any, given how big a name he is in the movement? Does he ever feel any pressure to “loosen up” from any of his colleagues, or does the sheer force of his personality and gray of his hair safeguard his position?

    Maybe Rebecca could pass this on, if she sees it? Hmmmmm???

  3. I’d ask many skeptics:

    Do you think you over-analyze too many things?

    As an entrepreneur I’ve come to realize there’s a time for skepticism, and then there’s a time to “trust your gut”.

    Decisions often need to be made quickly on limited information, and most self-described skeptics I know have a hard time dealing with these situations because they tend to overanalyze to the point that nothing can get done.

    I believe more in using skepticism functionally than dogmatically.

  4. What would you like your funeral to be like? This was very important to me when I was a Christian, but now, not so much. My parents still think I am a Christian, and I wonder if I died if I should somehow have a legal mechanism to let them know that I wasn’t a Christian only in case of my death. But on the other hand, I feel (now especially) that funerals are for the living, and would rather not add another trauma to an already traumatic death.
    But there is so much ritual and superstition surrounding death, that I am curious to know how other people approach the ceremony of it.

    1. That’s a really good question.

      I face a similar situation, as everyone in my family thinks I’m Catholic. Never had the courage to give them the memo….

    2. If you’re going to come out as not christian – do it *before* you die. :) That said, you could still let people know what your wishes are/put them in your will, without having to tell them you’re no longer a christian. Just say you’d prefer a low-key funeral, or no funeral at all.

      A childhood friend died recently and while she’s religious, she still requested that there be no service, as she didn’t like funerals. Her family respected her wishes. It wasn’t a big deal.

      I don’t particularly want a funeral, but I think it would probably be good for my parents to have one, so I’d let them do whatever they wanted. I’ll be dead, so why does it matter to me?

  5. To me, “skepticism” is good in a sense because it keeps down plagues of fraud and gullability. It encourages people to learn more about logic and science.
    Yet, suppose “skepticism” could be over-used in a neurotic way, or if it could prevent people from having the boldness to do things, because “skepticism” might be construed in a negative, fearing-to-do-anything way. Or, does “skeptic” mean just rejecting religion and superstition because it is unscientific?
    The question that I’m attemptng to voice is: “What if someone gets positive inspirations from doing what looks to be ‘religion’?”

    1. Well I daresay there COULD be religious skeptics, I used to work with a few.

      I think skepticism is best when it’s used as a life tool. Basing your identity around skepticism seems to be overkill.

  6. I can’t really think of a specific skeptic I’d want to ask questions, since I’d love to talk to most of them!

    Given a recent experience of mine, I’d ask a rather silly question: Was there ever a celebrity that you admired, only later to discover something about that person that made you no longer admire him/her? If so, so and what were the circumstances?

    1. Sounds like the story of my life (Matti Nykänen – Violent drunkard, Billy Corgan – antivaxer and overall “spiritual” loon, James Randi – global warming “skeptic”, Sam Harris – expressing some less than skeptical views on psychic phenomena and reincarnation as well as some highly dubious political views, Richard Dawkins – petty misogynist asshole etc. etc.). That’s why I don’t have heroes.

      1. I thought Randi later said he accepted human-induced climate change?

        For me, it’s Pauley Perrette.
        Appearently, she’s Chip Coffey’s “precious friend”.
        Couldn’t continue to be a fan of hers knowing she’s pals with someone like that.

  7. I’m curious about the cadre of libertarian skeptics and how their politics follow from their skepticism. Particularly, the Randian school of thought seems to depend on an absolutely objective, deterministic universe. I’ve seen an essay by Leonard Peikoff rejecting quantum mechanics for its random nature. Is this a commonly held position? Hidden variable theories either don’t work or become so complicated that Occam’s razor handily slices them away, so our current scientific understanding is that on very small scales the universe has a random nature. That’s the objective science.

    1. I count myself as kind of a half libertarian who is skeptical. I think skeptics who believe in complete objectivism sometimes forget to scrutinize their own positions.

      I’d say, to look at libertarian skeptically, you’d have to analyze “if we implement policies X, Y, and Z, what consequences do we expect” simple as that.

      I personally believe that lowering taxes to say 5% on everyone would certainly grow business by leaps and bounds, but what would that mean for the operation of the country? It would certainly have consequences. The objective thinking would come in in asking “how much would this grow business/create jobs?” and “how would decreased government revenue affect the country”. The part where you have to divorce yourself from objectivity is when you ask “is this set of consequences for the people of our country?”, that is not a question that can be answered by Ayn Rand’s brand of logic.

        1. Because it RAISES their tax rate yes, which just makes me baffled as to why republican fiscal policy is the way it is. Because raising the taxes on the poor wouldn’t bring in anymore income :/.

          Republican fiscal seems to be built more on emotionally validating the “socially conservative” (tax the welfare cheats, reward people who tout small government) worldview than on getting business kickstarted.

          The way it is now, very large business effectively has a 15% flat tax via capital gains. Small, medium, and even a lot of large business however, pays a higher rate on a complex tax code. I’m definitely of the mindset that reducing business taxes would be a great idea, and could be paid for by say, slashing the military budgets in half.

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