Introducing ‘A Battle Plan For The Skeptic Movement’: The Word ‘Skeptic’
Welcome to my blog. I’d like to start by introducing myself. My name is Will and although I’ve been deeply concerned with all manner of woo-woo for some time now, it is only recently that I have stumbled across the notion of ‘Skepticism’. Thanks for having me.
I deliberated over what should be the umbrella topic for this blog for some time; familiarising myself with many of the fantastic existing Skeptic blogs in the process; I concluded that the main gap in the regular discussion is an area that I think should be a primary focus of Skeptics everywhere: methods for advancing the Skeptic Movement.
This blog will not attempt to map out a definitive blueprint for this advance, but rather, I will be addressing what I consider to be the obstacles that we face, as well as offering my own ideas for overcoming them and inviting you to share yours with the Skeptic community.
As this is the blog’s first post, where better to start than the fundamentals? Since having become aware of the term ‘Skeptic’ as it is used on this website and others like it, I have been slightly concerned with the word itself. Although technically fit for purpose, I worry that in common parlance it has negative connotations. In everyday conversation it seems that the word ‘sceptic’ is strongly tied to or even synonymous with the word ‘cynic’.
This has been demonstrated recently in light of the Climate Gate ‘scandal’, where media outlets uniformly refer to those who doubt that Climate Change is significantly influenced by mankind as ‘Climate Change sceptics’. In actual fact, it is those who form the vast majority of scientists that makes up the general consensus regarding Climate Change who are most likely to be the sceptics. Surely the term ‘Climate Change deniers’ would be more fitting to the fringe group. I do not believe, as many I have spoken to do, that this is an unimportant case of mere semantics.
Richard Dawkins has expressed similar concerns with regards to the term ‘Atheist’; worrying that preconceived, negative notions may be partially responsible for some people’s unwillingness to identify themselves as such, even where technically the term is perfectly fitting to the individual. In Dawkins’ own words, “You can do two things: one is to try to rehabilitate the word ‘Atheist’… [The other is] to do some pneumatic engineering”. Dawkins empathises with some people’s concern that to attempt the former is to fight a losing battle, which influenced him to back the unveiling of a new noun: ‘bright’, to replace ‘Atheist’. Although this has been likened to the engineering of ‘gay’ as a noun to replace ‘homosexual’, it is clear that ‘bright’, first coined in 2006, has not caught on and is unlikely to. To coin a term that will be accepted by all is, in my mind, a far more difficult task than to rehabilitate a term that is at least already accepted by those within the community in question.
‘How best to achieve this?’ is a difficult question. One thing is for certain: We cannot be lazy and simply leave the goal at “we must strive to rehabilitate the term ‘Skeptic’ so that it becomes more favourably perceived”. This is a good umbrella goal, but it is important that specific sub-goals are devised to address the ‘how?’ part of the umbrella goal.
One central theme that I will advocate repeatedly is the use of creative solutions. I believe that it will often be useful to take a leaf out of the advertising industry’s book and think outside the box, not for its own sake, but so that we can explore avenues that would otherwise be left un-trodden. I will give one such suggestion here, and I invite you to leave your own in the comments section below, no matter how mundane or off-the-wall they might at first seem.
We create a Facebook application titled ‘How naive are you?’ in which the user answers questions regarding their beliefs in a range of supernatural phenomenon. An example question might be ‘Does the Loch Ness monster exist?’ At the end of the quiz the user is given a score that is shown along a sliding scale that reads ‘Dangerously naive’ at one end, and ‘Well-informed Skeptic’ at the other.
This application could reach and influence the perceptions of many. A link to ‘further information’ regarding the questions answered incorrectly will help to introduce newcomers (particularly those who scored worst) to our websites. I must admit that I do not know about the feasibility of this suggestion logistically.
This could clearly only ever be one weapon in an arsenal of steps that must be taken to address the issue, but I strongly believe that it is solutions like this, particularly those that utilise the virtual spaces capable of reaching a wide audience, that can help us to take progressive steps forward.
I am hoping, I’m sure naively optimistically, that this blog can become a hotbed of useful discussion. I therefore encourage you to share your thoughts. Maybe you disagree that this is even a problem, or maybe you disagree with my suggestions for tackling it. Maybe you have suggestions of your own, or maybe you have expertise in a potentially useful area and would like to offer your assistance. Whatever your contribution to the discussion, I will do my best to reply as quickly as possible. Thank you.