Skeptical Blogging: What’s the Point?

What's the point?

There are many different kinds of online skeptical activism: blogging, writing comments on blogs, tweeting, taking part in forum discussions, networking with other skeptics on facebook, bickering in Youtube comments and so on.

I tend to prefer blogging over the others because it allows you to create a space where the main content is only produced by you and gives you a lot of control over presentation. I also enjoy debating on forums, with what you say is easily drowned out by the opinions of thousands of others and if you are posting on a hostile forum your content may become edited or deleted. Even if your posts do not get edited or removed, they can become pruned after a while and the content you have written does not stay. Blogs also provide enough space to make detailed arguments (compared with twitter that only allows 140 characters) and is not completely dreadful and life-draining (bickering in Youtube comments).

But what is the point of skeptical blogging? People who are entrenched in pseudoscience will never change their beliefs and so, the argument goes, there is not much point in skeptical blogging since you won’t convince anyone. However, this completely misses the point: skeptical blogging is not about convincing true believers. Far from it. When I write a blog post criticizing Sylvia Browne or Ken Ham, I am not expecting to convince those people or their closest supporters. Instead, I have a number of other goals in mind.

Convincing bystanders and fence-sitters: a powerful method is to attempt to reach out and convince those individuals who have heard of the issues but not yet decided where they stand. This is accomplished by being polite, effective and convincing. Thus, skeptical bloggers do not attempt to convince Ken Ham about anything, but rather the middle-aged soccer mom who has heard from her female friends that radiometric dating makes unsupported assumptions and wants to find out for herself or the 16 year old guy who suspects that a video-maker on Youtube is trying to bullshit people by making wild claims about how mutations cannot “add information” and that evolution therefore is impossible.

Educating allies: preaching to the choir is not just an unproductive circle-jerk. It provides skeptics with additional resources, highlights facts and objections to pseudoscience that they may never have heard before and so on. This allows other skeptics to be more effective in their own skeptical activism. Think back to the places were you have learned stuff about skepticism and pseudoscience: JREF, The Skeptic’s Dictionary, Talk.Origins, AIDS Truth, CSI, Popular Mechanics, NCSE, Screw Loose Change and how much they impacted and influenced your own skepticism and skeptical activism. To cite two overused clichés: you are standing on the shoulders of giants and now it is time to pay it forward.

Individual learning: reading skeptical criticisms of pseudoscience is interesting, but doing the research, writing original refutations and responding to objections is both rewarding and fun. You presumably learn more if you take active participation by explaining to others rather than just reading.

Sense of accomplishment and psychological satisfaction: compared with twitter, forum posts or comments on video sites, writing more and more substantive blog posts feels like a steady accumulation of accomplishments. Moreover, it is often very satisfying to write a detailed refutation of pseudoscience.

There are probably other beneficial things with skeptical blogging that I have not discussed as well but this short overview is enough to respond to the “what’s the point?” question.

If you are an online skeptical activist or run a skeptical blog, what are some of your reasons for doing it?

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Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

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