Image-Building for Skeptics


Skeptic Michael ShermerSkeptics have an image issue, no doubt about it. The scientific skeptic community is loved by, well, the scientific skeptic community. But many believers, the public, and the objective fence-sitters (like myself), are not entirely receptive of Skeptical messages.

Now I know not all skeptics are equal, and I am mainly talking about the scientific skepticism community represented by CSI,, and JREF. These organizations and their supporters put out a brand of skepticism that many, myself included, find objectionable.

I spend a lot of time ragging on Skeptics so I’m going to take my own advice (from below) and offer some constructive comments for Skeptics to improve their image.

Tips for Skeptics:

1. Get engaged with communities outside friendly Skeptical circles. Skeptics like to stick together and the few believers that journey over to the forums at JREF and any other strongholds of scientific skepticism will have reasonable arguments met with posts containing every example of logical fallacies you can find. Reasoned debate and teamwork will make believers and paranormal investigators more willing to listen to the Skeptical message. My own attempts to connect with skeptics through constructive yet polite debate are frequently met with barrages of logical fallacies, ad hominem attacks, accusations of sinister motives, or they just ignore me.

2. Stop being the constant critic. Criticism is fine when it is followed by a suggested alternative. This is constructive criticism: The former is not helpful. And criticism is a two-way street. Skeptics are not master’s of science or paranormal phenomena. Be receptive to comments and constructive criticism from all parties.

3. Improve your messaging. Paranormal or not, witnesses are having very real experiences that are sometimes very traumatic or life-altering. Take these issues seriously and treat victims like people. Don’t stigmatize every person who experiences something they describe as paranormal. Read my article about proper terminology for paranormal phenomena.

4. Up your game!  You cannot be the champions of science if you’re making amateur mistakes. Skeptics sell science as a very easy process anyone can do at home, but this isn’t really true. In fact scientific experimentation and Ockham’s Razor are actually quite involved methods. Unfortunately much of the Skeptical community has held onto these notions and practice pseudo-logic through improper application of scientific methodology. A good skeptic should understand logical fallacies, parsimony, falsifiability, the demarcation problem, methodological naturalism and the proper application of Ockham’s Razor. Lastly take the advice of a wise man from your own camp.

A knowledgeable skeptic with a willingness to get their hands dirty would be a welcome addition to the community of paranormal investigators!