Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Here's a thought....

Jon Treadway has made a really good point in his latest blog that skepticism seems to have come of age in the UK. He says:

2009 feels like the year when skepticism came of age in the UK. Perhaps this is just a personal impression, but people like Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh and Tim Minchin are popping up far more frequently, and on higher profile programmes like Any Questions and Jonathan Ross. 2009 saw the 10 year anniversary of London Skeptics in the Pub, the launch of both TAM London and CFI London, and the emergence of significant new players like Sense About Science and (ahem) The Pod Delusion.

Jon then goes onto to say how it does have a drawback and that is those people who could have been part of a great movement who weren't, and he lists numerous people who have made great contributions to critical thinking. Read more here.

Jon's post made me think of my own journey into skepticism, I personally feel the same - 2009 into 2010 has been a great year for skepticism. It was the year in which I became involved with Righteous Indignation and really learnt a lot about some of the problems that rational thinkers everywhere are facing. The anti-vax movement for one, or the sheer amount of quackery being promoted to unsuspecting members of the public who trust people that make these amazing claims (that can't actually then be backed up.)

This was something I had been aware of for a while, some who know me will know of the part I played in the exposure of local spirit healer Nina Knowland who made the claim on her website that she could cure cancer amongst many other illnesses.

I however didn't know just how widescale this problem was, perhaps I was being naive in hoping that it was just a local problem, but it isn't.

I've really had a year of learning lots and lots and I have Trystan & Marsh to thank for most of that. 2009 was a real eye opener for me in terms of just how critical and rational thinking must be promoted to help make a difference in what would seem to be a very confused world.

On Righteous Indignation we recently handed out awards for 2009 in a review show and one of the awards was 'Skeptic of 2009.'
For me this was an incredibly difficult award to pick a nominee for because the one thing that has blown me away since the launch of Righteous Indignation is the sheer amount of people that I have come to know online that are involved with skepticism.
Whether it be the Merseyside skeptics and the things that they do to promote rational thinking, the guests on our shows such as Karl Mamer who hosts the fabulous Conspiracy skeptic or people such as Jack of Kent whose blog I hadn't visited prior to starting the podcast. All of these people are making such a valuable contribution.

Yet the thing that I really noticed was how many other people there were who take an interest in the podcast and the skeptical sites who are just normal, everyday people who dare to doubt things.
It really blew me away to see the feedback, comments and communication that was sent to RI from it's listeners who come from all sorts of lives. This is the contribution that I think makes the most difference.

I nominated David & Toni McCaffery for Skeptic of 2009 and they won our award which I was really pleased about, however I also think that all of our listeners, followers and supporters (including Jeff Illuminati) are the people who deserve a pat on the back because it can be difficult to question things.

I personally recall the backlash I recieved from my 'friends' when I turned my back on the woo methods of ghosthunting and became a lot more rational - sometimes having the guts to say 'actually, you know what, I don't buy that' is a big step and I think that anybody, anywhere that has ever been able to question things despite per pressure or the thoughts and judgement of others should be proud of themselves. Sometimes standing out against a crowd is a dangerous and difficult move to make, it costs some people their freedom and even their lives but taking such a step should never be underestimated.

I've seen people who listen to the show say I don't feel I make any contribution to skepticism at all.' However you don't have to write aritcles, record podcasts, speak publically or hold any sort of influencial role in society to be making a difference. You just have to be a rational thinker to know that you are helping to promote skepticism. Even if it is just a chat with your neighbour about how, actually, their homeopath is wrong then that's a difference made, even if it's just complaining to the ASA because of a healer in your town claiming to cure cancer - that's a difference made.

Amazing things come from rational thinking. I've been asked if turning my back on the woo methods of ghosthunting have made the experience lose it's magic and I can safely say that the answer is no because when you learn about the proper ways in which the world around us works it is more fascinating than any made up theory or claim ever could be.

So, to summarise I think you should go and real Jon's blog, and if you are a rational thinker or class yourself as a skeptic then you rock. Though, I'm sure you already knew that.

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