Thursday, June 26, 2008

What is a Skeptic?

My first post-TAM weekend is approaching, and I'll be getting a chance to hang-out with some of my local friends. I found before leaving for TAM that several had basically no knowledge of what a skeptic is or that there was a skeptics movement. I'm thinking I'll use this blog post to organize some of my thoughts in anticipation of some questions about TAM and skepticism. If any one has suggestions, leave me a comment.

I guess I've already written about TAM, so I'll start on the skepticism. Basically skepticism is about encouraging good science and promoting clear, rational and critical thought. It is about finding the truth based on evidence. Skeptics provide a community service by exposing hoaxes, scams, and purveyors of snake oil. There are plenty of scammers that make money by preying on the uninformed. There are frauds like Uri Geller and Sylvia Brown that exploit loop holes in human brain function to convince people they have supernatural powers.

Then there are things like homeopaths and psychic healers that harm the credulous by telling them they can cure diseases by doing what amounts to absolutely nothing and discouraging the application of science based medicine. The skeptics mission is to resist the dangerous influences of these scammers and fraud. Some skeptics like James Randi expose the liars directly (like outing Peter Popoff on the Johnny Carson show). Others exercise skepticism by educating about science, logic and rational thought.

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