I’m Not An A+ (I’m Usually Quite Happy Being O+ Most Days)

Today was a good day and it’s been of those days that had me sitting down in the ECU library, looking out at the rain and trying to figure out what exactly I want to do with my life.

I had an interview today (yes, I know – here I am blogging about what I do and I wanted to take a break from blogging…) that really gave me some food for thought and I guess I’m at a bit of a loss as to if (and it’s a huge if) something does happen as a result of that interview – do I want to make that leap?

Which makes it difficult to then hop online start telling people – strangers, none-the-less! – what they should be doing with their lives – certainly when it comes to people saying great things like “we want to promote education” and  saying they want to encourage creators of educational resources for promoting critical thinking… as I know people who do that and currently work with many people who do just that. You may  have even seen a few videos by a group who are currently working towards making curriculum changes nationally with their work.

Which I guess then leads me to wonder “must I be labeled something to do what I’m already doing”?

Digital Cuttlefish writes of their perspective on this Atheist+ matter:

You and I appear to agree on the vast majority of points, but I don’t label myself a secular humanist. And you do not label yourself an A+. (in truth, A+ has not existed for long enough for me to label myself that way, either.)

And that is perfectly cool.

In the weeks, months, and years to come, you or I may maintain our positions or change them. But it does look like, as Wowbagger suggests, we may be witnessing the birth of something.

Okay, then I have the right to eschew any A+ label over the weeks, months and possibly years to come; happy birthday to whatever fledgling idea is being born and I’ll get back to work on the numerous things I’ve already committed myself to that (not unlike the NSCE), are part of a wider movement towards a more productive world for everyone.

I am reminded of an interview I did with Desiree Schell in that regard:

Skeptics collectively are very new to operating on the public stage. We’re only just starting to incorporate these kinds of initiatives into our playbook, and it’s inevitable that we’re going to screw some things up as we figure out what we’re doing.

Really, I think that this is actually an argument in favor of careful planning in advance of an action or campaign. If you’ve really thought about what your goals are, what methods are best to achieve them, and how you’re going to measure success, you can sit down after your action and assess how well you did by your own standards. If you didn’t achieve what you wanted to, you’ll be more easily able to determine why and what you could do differently next time.

And it’s not just important for your own group. If we as organisers take the time to realistically assess our actions, we can add to the existing body of knowledge about what methods are best [for] furthering our specific goals and help other groups and activists to be more effective. It’s certainly more work, but the extra effort benefits not only each individual action but skeptical activism as a whole. It has the potential to make our overall message more appealing, more relevant, and more effective. Which, when you’re trying to make a difference in the world, are all very good things.

In closing, if you’d like some links as to why practices like dowsing and homeopathy are still highly relevant for us to investigate:

Bruce M. Hood on bomb-detecting by dowsing;
Dr Steven Novella on Friends of Science in Medicine and CAM being taught in universities in Australia;
An interview with Australia’s Dr Rob Morrison on Friends of Science in Medicine - a blogger called Rob Cullen has transcribed some of my interview (thanks Rob!);
Where Do We Go From Here – Has Classical Skepticism Run Its Course? Skeptic.com (pdf);
* Dr Steven Novella’s course on Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us
* There’s also an interview with Andy Lewis of Quackometer on On Stanislaw Burzynski, the Streisand Effect, and Standing Up for Skeptical Bloggers (audio version here) and finally;
* The damage caused by in healing campaigns for HIV/AIDs in Africa and the damage caused by belief in witchcraft, as reported by George Ongere and Leo Igwe;

If you’d like some more skepticism 101 resources, you might like to check out:

* Talk by Dr Steve Novella for the New York Skeptics – Introduction to Skeptical Activism (podcast);
What Do I Do Next – 105 Ways To Promote Skeptical Activism - Skeptic.com;
Skepticism 101 – The Skeptical Studies Curriculum Resource Center (lessons, resources,university courses, etc);
SkepTrack 2011 – Derek Colanduno With Eugenie Scott And Steven Novella (podcast);
Great Superhero Skeptics – Panel From Dragon*Con 2011 - Moderated by Desiree Schell, featuring Dr Phil Plait, Benjamin Radford, Tim Farley, Dr Eugenie C Scott, and Kylie Sturgess (podcast);
Skeptical Activism 201: The Skeptics Strike Back - Desiree Schell moderating, features Debbie Goddard, Maria Walters, DJ Grothe, Brian Brushwood and Kylie Sturgess (podcast);
On The Separation Between Scientific Truth And Belief – Interview With Dr Pamela Gay (podcast);
* Dr Steve Novella on Scientific Skepticism, CSICOP, and the Local Groups (“Scientific skepticism defines skepticism around the principles of scientific investigation. Specifically, scientific skepticism addresses testable claims; untestable claims are simply outside the realm of science.”);
* Paul Kurtz on Should Skeptical Inquiry Be Applied to Religion?

and I’m sure there’s plenty more that I can add in the future or overlooked – you might also like to check out my top 20 skeptic booklist, also featured on the Token Skeptic: “On Great Books In Skepticism”. Tremendous thanks to Embiggen Books for that show:

Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
Tribal Science: Brains, Beliefs and Bad Ideas by Michael McRae
Why people Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer
Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer
Beyond Belief: Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal by Martin Bridgstock
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine by Simon Singh and Ezart Ernst
Bad Astronomy by Phillip Plait
Flim Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions by JamesRandi
Faith Healers by James Randi
Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things by Richard Wiseman
59 Seconds: How Psychology Can Improve Your Life in Less than a Minute by Richard Wiseman
The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceives Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio and Beyerstein
Making Sense: Philosophy Behind the Headlines by Julian Baggini
Do You Think What You Think You Think by Julian Baggini
The Skeptic’s Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll
The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal by Lynne Kelly
The Science of Superstition (aka Supersense) by Bruce M Hood
Crimes Against Logic by Whyte
Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Specter
Doubt: A History by Hecht
Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde and Sandra Blakeslee
Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools Of Us All by Rose Shapiro
Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History by David Aaronovitch
Panic Virus: Fear, Myth and the Vaccination Debate by Seth Mnookin
Autism’s False Prophets by Paul Offit
Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition by Stuart Vyse
Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be by Daniel Loxton
Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries by Benjamin Radford
Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus by Martin Gardner

…and now? Back to work.

Behind The Scenes And At The Start Of Perth’s #FringeWorld
ATHEIST / SKEPTIC EVENTS – Perth, Melbourne, Bookclubs, Podcasts, Oh My…
Robin Ince Australia Tour Video
Bondi Hipsters – Soul Mates “Cavemen Arguing About Religion”
About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • https://twitter.com/many_miles_2_go One Thousand Needles

    Kylie, when you say:

    In closing, if you’d like some links as to why practices like dowsing and homeopathy are still highly relevant for us to investigate:

    I’m assuming that you are responding to this statement from Jen’s post:

    Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists.

    If so, then I think that you are responding to an attack that wasn’t made.

    Jen wasn’t saying that the debunking of homeopathy or dowsing was irrelevant. Her point was that those issues are well covered. That was also the point she was making about YECs and other counter-apologetics. Those branches of skepticism are well covered; those arguments have been settled.

    The problems of the last year are, in part, due to a branch of skepticism—social justice— that lacks the thorough coverage that mainstream pseudoscience and religion have endured.

    One of the reasons for the A+ identity is that there is a loud minority of skeptics that don’t want the movement to address social justice, frankly because it threatens to curtail their awful behavior.

    That’s all it is: classical skepticism, as applied to homeopathy, plus skepticism applied to the issues that primarily affect women, LGBTQ, minorities, et cetera.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Actually, the ‘skepticism is all about bigfoot and homeopathy and so on and so forth’ is a common argument that has been tossed around for quite some time:
      Did you see the link to
      Where Do We Go From Here – Has Classical Skepticism Run Its Course? Skeptic.com (pdf)?
      I posted in the list straight under what you quoted from me?
      I didn’t read Jen’s post, so I don’t know what else she’s said.

      As for “loud minority of skeptics that don’t want the movement to address social justice,” – then feel free to list them with evidence, but to be brutally frank, I think that you have one hell of a job ahead of you if you’re going to address social justice as well as everything else – and best of luck to you. Because people often ask me if I’m cloned in order to achieve what I’ve achieved – and I don’t blog or podcast everything I’ve done in my life to get thus far. Desiree Schell’s advice is pertinent in that regard.

      You might want to look over the links as to what scientific skepticism entails, as that’s what I consider skepticism.

      Additional Edit – I got enough from reading DC’s post, comments and a few other sites away from FTB and a mailing list from FTB to get a general understanding of what “Atheism Plus” means. Enjoy the links.

      • https://twitter.com/many_miles_2_go One Thousand Needles

        As for “loud minority of skeptics that don’t want the movement to address social justice,” – then feel free to list them with evidence


        I didn’t read Jen’s post, so I don’t know what else she’s said.

        It seems like it’d be difficult to come to an informed conclusion about the A+ label without having read the posts that sparked the whole thing.

        • Kylie Sturgess

          As I said – I’ve now read the FTB mailing list about it all (which is FTB people only); I’ve read DC’s post and a number of others not on FTB. I know what it involves and now after reading Richard Carrier’s post about it, the less I want to have to do with it at all.

  • angelina

    I think that the level of credibility pseudoscience has is unknown by many, even within skeptics (especially skeptics from countries where it is not so prevalent), and your list really brought that home to me.

    I think at some level we are so used to hearing pseudoscience that as skeptics we no longer notice it when we see it in the media, or we assume that everyone else looks at it the way we do.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Maybe it’s my overseas perspective (and I’m assuming you’re from the USA), but having travelled a lot outside of my own country and the recent Berlin conference has made me more determined to focus my energies.

      In the talk I gave, for example, I spoke of being taught that facilitated communication was legitimate in the 1990s. I then heard first-hand from Europeans how it and similar practices were still flourishing, and that the creator Rosemary Crossley was still promoting it in the week I did my talk.

      • angelina

        I think that different European cultures have different levels of pseudoscience.

        I am originally from the UK, but now live in Denmark. I was very aware of people buying into woo in the UK, less so in Denmark, although I do still hear people talking about EMF pyramids to protect them from the background radiation, but overall the level of pseudoscience is lower for me here. That may be due to different social groups that I am part of here, as opposed to the groups I was with in the UK.

        I did not mean that it was something that we do not need to fight anymore, by any means. My meaning was more that skeptics are less aware of it. I know within my peers at university there are shocked faces when people mention certain pseudoscience beliefs, as they assume everyone dismisses these as much as they do. We tend to think others think as we do, and because we recognise astrology as pseudoscience, others do to, and we forget that there are many who buy into dowsing, telepathy, astrology etc, and this post was a good reminder that we still have a way to go.

        As a European, my perception has always been that the USA has much more of this than we do, but your comment made me think that maybe it is as widespread on both sides of the Atlantic, and just a question of how much media time gets devoted to it affecting perception

        • Kylie Sturgess

          Oh, don’t worry, I didn’t think you meant “no need to fight it”. But yes, I think that it’s an ongoing effort to keep up to date and network, and so forth.

  • Poppy

    *scratches head*

    Wouldn’t ending social injustice also promote a more productive world for everyone?

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Yes, and (for example) I donate to Amnesty International to promote social equality. They have a very comprehensive site, lots of details on how they aim to achieve those goals and they do many things that have demonstrable impact on societies world wide. Many religious people donate to them too (in fact, I know of a few religious schools who rally students to take part – I’ve used their letter writing campaigns in ESL classes).

      I also subscribe to publications like the New Statesman; I donate to as many other charities as I can and promote causes by online means that will (in my opinion) help address imbalances in the world around us too. But (as with many things), I never, ever feel like I’m doing enough. I don’t think I do enough even for skepticism – and I have a blog that receives excellent traffic, a podcast that is increasingly more popular than any of my writing, columns on other sites and magazines, a book, international presentations… it’s kind of weird, really.

      I teach Philosophy and English, and in doing so, have selected a number of resources over the years that will promote awareness and consideration of aspects of our world, like LGBT, mental illness, different faiths and different cultures. I can provide a list of some of the resources, although many of them are in filing cabinets!

      You say “wouldn’t ending social injustice also promote a more productive world” – aren’t entire governments and countries devoted to such things too? Should I enter politics as being a quicker solution to such problems?

      Where does Atheist + end and “being a good citizen” begin? Must I be an atheist to be a good citizen? Or is this just a Northern American vision of being a good citizen atheist, as it may be quite different in other countries to achieve so readily.

      Someone has already suggested that Atheist+ would eliminate working with people like Dr Pamela Gay and other friends who are religious – and I can’t hold with that.

      So – I’m happy being O+ and perhaps some of the resources that I create and many others create will be of use to some wider “social justice seeking” that will be of use to EVERYONE (and I’m emphasising the everyone – religious people are a part of our society too) in society.

      • Vi

        I think James Croft said it best

        “But if other people want to organize under a different banner toward similar goals I’m happy to march beside them. I just want to ensure we share resources, don’t compete unnecessarily, and learn from what has already been accomplished. ”


        I agree with you, but I cans ee how with your links that you’re sharing resources and pointing out that many wheels are already invented that saves everyone some time, so that’s okay too.

        • Kylie Sturgess

          Cool, thanks for understanding. I agree with James Croft as well, but just speaking for myself, I’m still not very comfortable with labels – and of course people label themselves whatever they bloomin’ like (Brights, Humanist Plus, whatever).

  • Wowbagger, Antipodean Dervish

    Is it wrong of me to be really happy about being name-checked by Cuttlefish?

    Anyway, I look at it at least in part as a reaction to a perceived lack of support. People are coming out now and saying ‘but we’re atheists and we’re already for social justice; why do you need to make us feel like we’re not doing enough?’, but over last year or so – and the last couple of months in particular – there’ve been no shortage of atheists coming out and saying explicitly that (and acting in ways that implicitly demonstrate that) they don’t want atheism to be concerned with social justice, and that anyone who does want to pursue that is going to be punished.

    Yes, they may be overreacting to what will turn out to be a very small, disproportionately vocal group of genuine anti-social justice types, but I can’t say I blame them for wanting to disassociate themselves from those who seek to do them harm.

    And if their actions prompt atheists who haven’t spoken up about their interest in social justice to do so, thereby making the A+ concept redundant, then I don’t think that counts as a failure.

  • http://scepticismescientifique.blogspot.be JM Abrassart

    Hello everyone,

    I must say I also thought (like in the Desiree Schell interview) that before trying to launch a new branding, you should do some careful planing. That was my first reaction to it, based on what happened with the Bright brand. Some people did embrace it, but a lot of people didn’t (including me) – mostly because it gives the impression that you feel superior to other people. That happened because the brand wasn’t really though carefully beforehand.

    Same here. I also have the feeling that it’s just saying the same thing as secular humanist. And that the goal is just tribalism: to separate the skeptchick/feminist atheists from the rest of us. And to say “we are the good atheists, and those who reject our way are the bad ones”. Richard Carrier even wrote on his book that the A+ would be the Bright Side of the Force in the atheist movement, and the others would be the Dark Side. I think that’s clear enough.

    I don’t think the skeptchick/feminist atheists should try to draw a line between them and the ‘standart’ atheist and/or skeptic (like me). They should try to convince us.

    Lots of the heated debate going us (and I fully agree they have been some nasty thing being said and done; I would just say on all side according to me) are – still according to me – because of bad communications going on. I know I got angry at Rebecca Watson (after she called for DJ Grothe being fired and said she would boycott TAM12) not because of what she’s saying, but because of the way she’s communicating it. If skeptchick/feminist atheists want there message to be heard, they have to work on their way of communicating it. And I don’t think this A+ is the way to go.

    Of course, the debate degenerated so badly now that I don’t know if it’s possible to go back and restore some kind of trust in the atheist/skeptical community. I just notice that some skeptchick/feminist atheist do communicate in a way that make me want to listen to what they have to say.

    At this point, I will still fight for ‘classic skepticism’, and I’m in board with Jamy Ian Swiss ‘”Overlapping Magisteria – TAM 2012′ speach.

    Skeptically yours,

  • Dantheman

    I’m feeling less and less like I want anything to do with “the movement” when I see this kind if thing. glad to see you’re not leaping on the bandwagon!

    Do you see this kind of thing as particularly American….because I do.

  • Paul

    Whatever my misgivings where in the first place Kylie, Richard Carriers venomous and Storm-trooper like post shut the gates firmly on wanting to have anything to do with Atheist+ once and for all. Which of course, makes me a douchbag, but it that is Carriers opinion of me, I’ll wear it proudly as a badge of honor.

  • http://sciencenotes.wordpress.com/ Markita Lynda—damn climate change!

    I feel that Richard Carrier was beating a straw atheist. His description does not do justice to the fledgling movement. Try “Let Splinter Groups Splinter.”

    Here’s a quick description:
    Atheists plus we care about social justice.
    Atheists plus we support women’s rights.
    Atheists plus we protest racism.
    Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia.
    Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

    A place where people can discuss atheism, social justice, and other topics without the risk of threats or harassment. Take part in the conversation!

    Please read Greta Christina’s “Atheism Plus and some thoughts on divisiveness.” Even if you don’t want to get involved, it will clarify the issues for you. It’s nothing about Richard Carrier’s “our right to be assholes.”

    Why is Atheism Plus being seen a terrible threat to the cohesion of the movement… and yet a solid year of feminist women being subjected to actions and words that demean us, objectify us, inappropriately sexualize us, and literally threaten us and make us unsafe is not getting called “divisive”?