There are many ways to interpret the term “skeptic”. The most common interpretation is that of a cynic or doubter. Let’s face it. Most people have never heard of the skeptic sub-genre – they don’t even know that there’s a community of reality-based scientifically minded activists! They don’t care about whether we call ourselves a “movement”. They could give a crap about whether earthquakes are caused by accommodationists with big boobs. And yet, skeptics are extremely concerned about how we appear to others.
Let me answer that question. We don’t appear to others. The general public usually don’t notice us until they either need us or want to challenge us. The ones who need us are folks who are googling about debunking 9/11 conspiracies or something, and they probably don’t notice or care that we call ourselves skeptics. The ones who challenge us are in their own little niches: ghost hunting aficionados, new age hippies, conspiracy theorists (and people of that nature). They’re the ones who see us as close-minded jerks. It’s to this second group that I would like to focus my attention.
I’d say most everyone, if pushed, has a sacred cow (belief that defies empirical logic). Even rationally-minded skeptics aren’t immune to some form of personal sanctity, even if it’s feeling frightened in a dark basement or feeling special because we met Richard Dawkins. If we combine all the pseudoscience fans, alternative medicine customers, spiritual believers, conspiracy theorists, people fooled by urban legends, political propaganda zombies, and casual paranormal enthusiasts, we are left with a large pool of denialists who oppose science and reason in some form or another.
The ironic truth about science-based skeptics is that our default positions are usually mainstream. The fringe have attacked skeptics for our perceived cynicism when they are actually the one’s who are cynical. Truthers are so cynical that they believe the government would attack it’s own defense headquarters with cruise missiles and then drop plane debris to hide their treasonous act of terror. Climate deniers are so cynical that they believe the majority of climatologists are manufacturing data for political purposes. Vaccine haters are so cynical that they believe pharmaceutical companies are adding poisons to vaccines to create more health problems.
Skeptics aren’t the cynics. The denialists and the fringe activists are the cynics. That’s why the “skeptic movement” should continue to find ways to rebrand ourselves. Obviously, the title of this blog is an homage to Science-Based Medicine, the medical professionals who inspire amateurs like us. There have been other ways that people have rebranded the term “skeptic”: mythbusters, rationalists, science advocates, mystery investigators, freethinkers. All are good ways to promote the movement, and advocate for the principles in which we do believe, and not the ones we don’t.
So, if I’m admitting that skeptics are a very small army of truth-seekers (who can barely organize themselves to have drinks and discussions at bars), and that most people have never heard of our efforts and interests, then why do I keep blogging? What does it matter?
Because I care about objective truth, because I know someone out there is looking for relatively objective answers, and because I enjoy learning new facts and useful information that I can share with others.
The principles I hold dear are not cynicism and arrogance. I cherish critical thinking, science advocacy, and the search for objective truths. Mainstream rationalists and science advocates should leave the word “skepticism” to the true cynics of the world, fringe denialists. We don’t need the baggage.