Episode Ninety-Seven – Skeptical Activism 201: The Skeptics Strike Back over at the Token Skeptic podcast:
From challenging anti-vax groups and homeopathy, to consumer awareness raising. What can skeptics do and how to get it right, by doing some research. Moderated by Desiree Schell, panelists DJ Grothe of the JREF, Debbie Goddard, Maria Walters, Brian Brushwood and Kylie Sturgess.
By the way – Massimo Pigliucci has just produced a blog-entry called “The goals of atheist activism” that I think is highly relevant and well worth reading, particularly his points after:
Let’s now go back to a broader discussion of our goals as a movement and a community. I actually think we have four of them, logically separable from each other, and which can of course be pursued in parallel and/or be prioritized according to each individual’s or organization’s leanings.
About this podcast episode: this was possibly the most challenging panel I’ve ever done, simply because I’d experienced skeptical activism that started to go awry due to individuals not acting in the best interest of the group (including proposing or engaging in actions that could potentially lead them to be arrested)… which has since led me to be less enthusiastic and more wary of activist efforts ever since.
Not that I’m AGAINST activism, not in the least – but making sure that everyone is on the same page, as it were, and agreeing to not getting themselves or others into trouble was uppermost in my mind during the recording of this panel at Dragon*Con this year.
Which is pretty much why in this episode, I come across as being less enthusiastic as fellow panelist Brian Brushwood. Yes, being creative, being innovative and acting with passion and conviction is important… but I’m not keen on gaining a criminal record or being the next “Australian Simon Singh”. Setting fire to the Winter Palace with a lot of turned backs and “Sorry, do we know you?” when it comes to cleaning up the mess afterwards doesn’t appeal. I’ve had that happen to me before in other circumstances, and it’s very discouraging.
DJ Grothe approached Brian straight after the show and said that he in fact agreed with Brian and thought that he had excellent points, but I still maintain that it greatly depends on the group that you have; how confident and organised you really are when it comes to outreach. At any rate, I hope I don’t sound too much like a wet-blanket in this particular show. It was a lot of fun overall and here’s some useful links:
What Do I Do Next? 105 ways to promote skeptical activism: edited by Daniel Loxton.
Skeptical Activism Campaign Manual – Grassroots Skeptics
#18 – On The Placebo Protest (Science Communication Part Three) - An earlier episode of the podcast, dealing with a similar topic.
Another point that was raised was that many people new to skepticism are concerned primarily with issues of religion. I fail to see the relevance of this point. All of the major organizations defend science and science education (e.g., evolution). All of the major organizations debunk testable claims with religious content (e.g., faith healing). Most importantly, however, there are many atheist organizations for those who would like to attack religion or make religion a focus. The idea that defending the focus and scope of skepticism somehow ties the hands of individuals is a bit silly. All of the major skeptic organizations limit their missions to testable claims for reasons which have nothing to do with the threat level or pervasiveness of the claim. The focus on evidence, not conclusions, is a matter of scientific integrity.
Enjoy the episode, hope it makes you think and the next one will be about Shakespeare!