Mason Powell’s been spearheading the creation of a skeptical movement in Lawrence. Late last week, we launched a new website at skeptikan.com. Here’s my introductory post.
I read Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World” when I was in high school. At the time, I wasn’t aware of any formalized skeptical movement, but the concept of using science and reason to sort out the woo from the reality resonated with me and excited me. The book’s subtitle, “Science as a Candle in the Dark,” summarizes for me what skepticism is about – a reliance on the scientific method to tell us fact from fiction.
I was first introduced to the skeptical movement several years ago when I was searching for new podcasts. I came across the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and was immediately hooked. Here was a podcast that was somehow packed full of educational content and yet also entertaining. Through the SGU, I learned that there is a movement of like-minded people who are organizing and advancing the cause of science beyond simply the science itself.
There are many other science- and skeptic-based podcasts, but the only other podcast I’ll mention at the moment is Skeptoid. A weekly series, Skeptoid’s host Brian Dunning spends about 10 or 15 minutes on a specific topic. They’re pithy, short discussions, perfectly suited to learn about any given subject, or perhaps forward to a friend or loved one who may have fallen to believe in a particular pseudoscience or purchased a scam product. Dunning also created “Here Be Dragons: An Introduction to Critical Thinking.” It’s a free, 40 minute video that’s perfect to introduce classes to the concept and importance of critical thinking.
Woo has a very large surface area, and there are many different subjects that deserve a skeptical look. There topics such as some religions and conspiracies that result mostly in a walletectomy – removal of money – from the believer. The topics that concern me the most, however, are those that can actually cause physical harm. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) such as acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, reflexology – the list goes on – can cause both a walletectomy and real damage to people who need medical treatments or cures and are instead led to believe that these woo-jobs can help. The anti-vaccination movement is also particularly troublesome to me since it directly results in an increase in mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases.
That’s all for now. On a personal note, I can’t express how excited I am to be a part of SkeptiKan. I’ve always been jealous of skeptics living in other parts of the country who have meetups and organizations to which they can belong, and now it seems that Kansas is forming its own skeptical community. I look forward to contributing both by making this website attractive, usable and accessible and by participating in the discussion. We have exciting plans for the site and the project, and I thank Mason for inviting me to be a part of it.