Caving Into The Skeptical Stereotype.

You know there are times when I’ve caved into a stereotype just because it was easier to work within those boundaries than trying to define my own. I remember some years ago being told that I took quite a keen interest in my appearance and had myself labelled as a metrosexual. Initially I fought back against this since I hadn’t really defined myself in such a way, still trying to grasp onto the last bit of teenage rebellion that I had in me. After a while though I realised that the label brought with it ideals that I found easy to align with, so I just went with it.

More recently though I’ve been fighting with the idea of caving into becoming a full blown ravenous skeptic. I’ve blogged numerous times in the past about the sceptical movement and how I support their ideas whilst criticizing their technique but it’s becoming more and more apparent that it might just be easier to join the cause and cave into the stereotype. Whilst the benefits of doing so are great (indeed joining their ranks would generate more blog traffic, possibly open up the opportunity to speak at their conventions and give me daily blog fodder) there’s still that little teenage voice of angst whispering at the back of my mind telling me not to conform to their standards. So where has all this cognitive dissonance come from?

Winding the clock back 3 weeks finds myself living the life of luxury on Turtle Island, lapping it up with my wife. I’d be lying if I said the people I was there with were exactly my kind of people, it was far from that. Indeed the majority of them were in their late 30s to 40s and many of them were highly successful people (in fact one of them was the CIO for Westfield Corporation) so the conversations often drifted far from areas I could talk about. One warm night having dinner on the beach the topic drifted to stories of how we all met, and one of them happened to involve a tale about homeopathic medicine. Fortunately the story teller was a cardiovascular surgeon and didn’t believe the stuff would work (and in truth was only trying it because he was at wits end and had resigned to just living with the mild shoulder pain it was trying to fix) but another couple perked up saying that they regularly saw a homeopathic doctor. Instantly two voices cried out in my head: the first telling me to shoot down homeopathy in a blaze of skeptical glory and the other warning me that that kind of conversation wasn’t going to win me any friends, something which on a private island designed for relaxation wouldn’t be looked on kindly from the other guests.

In the end I kept my mouth shut, but that didn’t make the skeptical voice inside my head go away. I quickly came to realise that whilst there’s a giant community of skeptics and endless support from the scientific community in the end being a skeptic isn’t going to win you any friends, save for those who are skeptics themselves. The fact that dulled the sceptical voice in my head was that whilst the couple said they visited such a doctor not once did they actually recommend anyone else go and see one over a regular GP and as such the only harm they were doing was to themselves. If they had started spruiking such nonsense to everyone else I don’t think the skeptical voice would’ve kept quiet and I’d probably be telling a completely different story.

There’s also the fact that the Global Atheist Convention is coming to Melbourne next year. Since I have many friends who would identify themselves as either Atheist or Skeptical I’ve already had a couple invitations to come down for the weekend and spend a day or two touring the event. I am tempted to, since many of the people lined up to speak are interesting in their own right and the Atheist convention may be my only chance to see them speak in Australia for a long time to come. Plus I’ve always wanted to try my hand as a blogging mogul running around a convention trying to break stories to the world like a real journalist 🙂

I think this internal debate will rage on for quite some time and I don’t see any side of it winning out. I’ll stick with my idea of the casual skeptic who makes it their job to point out bullshit when it has the chance to do harm to others whilst quietly letting people do their own thing. Of course you regular readers here will always be told that you should think for yourselves, but you’ve come to expect that of me over the past months that I’ve spent rambling at you 😉


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  1. Living in the city in question, I’m also semi keen on attending, at least for the Sunday Dawkins speech.
    As for homeopathy, it is utter rubbish. Most preperations you will find have been diluted so far that the physical laws of chemistry allow for none of the original substance to exist. I was recently ripped off, having purchased two seperate 6x preperations of SAMe and Melatonin for nootropic purposes. Little did I know that 6X meant that the substances involved were now basically non existent in the sugar pills I had just purchased, at around 1 part active ingredient to 1 million parts filler.
    The worst part is that they fudge their labeling so that its hard to tell exactly what you are buying. For example the SAMe I bought stated 200mg active ingredient, then in small print stated that this was a 6x preperation of that original amount, not explaining what that meant.
    Another amusing example is Oscillococcinum. This stuff is meant to be a remedy for cold and flu, however it is the end result of 200 distinct 1/100 dilutions, or leaving 1 part active ingredient in 10^400 parts of water.
    The manufacturer, Bioron, creates a years supply of the stuff from a single duck (the active’s are duck liver and heart). For this, it takes in 20 million dollars per annum in profit. That is insane.

  2. Yeah the whole dilution improves potency is something I can’t really fathom, and your post aptly describes what a rip off it is. None of it is based on science and its been repeatedly debunked several times over. Yet it still gets peddled with sometimes devastating results.

    I guess the liberal/libretarian in me screams for personal freedom whilst the scientist decrees that some things are too dangerous and should therefore be removed from society. I have no problem with someone trying to turn a profit in a free market but exploiting people’s lack of knowledge isn’t the kind of ethical game I’m willing to play. Such behaviour destroys free market principals, something which I don’t stand by.

    GARGH! Can you see why this is tearing me apart? 😉

  3. Re: Labeling I don’t think there is any principle sacrificed in demanding accurate product labeling. Its not about personal freedom, and the commercial interest is outweighed by the competition and consumer benefits from it. Indeed the efficient market theory is based upon consumers with comprehensive knowledge. Only those who favor business over markets are afraid of such labeling laws.
    Re: Skepticism – What i never got is why there needs to be a label like “skeptic”. It’s too much like the term “brights” for my liking. What is wrong with just presuming (or demonstrating for others) that you have a reasoning, informed mind, and leave it at that?  It strikes me as just a way of claiming you are smarter than those around you to apply such a label to yourself. Which far too many internet nerds love to do. They may be some of the smartest people in the world, but you prove that through producing works and your action, not by the labels you adopt for yourself.

    As you well know I love to debate theology and philosophy, but the atheist convention sounds far too much like a circle jerk for me. What is the interest in going to something where everyone agrees with you, and proves their credentials by being even more dead certain than the person before them. The very inverse of a real skeptics position despite the label that so many will apply to themselves.

    P.s  Have you both seen Hitchen’s speech at the festival of dangerous ideas. Simply awesome stuff on religion and atheism. You can see it in full here:

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