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Why I Stayed Away from Skeptics for A Year

This reads like a big long rant about how I’m mad that famous skeptics don’t feel exactly the same way I do and, oh pity me and screw them! But it still has me stuck and apparently I’m not the only one.

My disillusion came a little over a year ago. I was interested in going to The Amaz!ng Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada (TAM). A yearly gathering of “celebrity” skeptics *who I now call Skeptic All-Stars, lecturing to like-minded folks. The price of the event was over $400, which averages out to about $100 a day. I have attended conventions for my profession (behavior therapist, analyst in training) that cost just as much. I know room rentals and hotel space is expensive. At least all the cheap buffets in Vegas meant attendees could eat on the cheap. After a round-trip flight, room, and food, it would have easily cost me two grand. I couldn’t afford that.

The skeptic community does not do a very good job at reaching out to the other side. TAM is a perfect example of this. It’s expensive.  Most believers are not going to spend the money or the time to listen to people who disagree with them on a basic level. Now, to their credit, TAM has provided scholarships for those to attend (see a link below). Of course these scholarships depend on donations, and more are requested than are available every year. Additionally, the website states that the scholarships are for people who are “passionate about the mission of JREF”. This is the topic for another article, but the idea that JREF seems to be hypocritical in asking believers to listen to them while simultaneously planning a skeptic circle-jerk for themselves, alienated me.

Of course JREF can invite whoever they want to, more power to them. But that choice is not exempt from discussion.

This disillusionment with the Skeptic All-Stars was solidified with the fiasco surrounding“Elevator Gate”. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, I will sum it up. I am also including a link at the end of this article to the original post so that you can view the video and its comments on your own. Not stating any opinions about what was said on any side, just wanted to give you a run down of the event in case you aren’t familiar.

Watson released a video in which she relates an event that happened after she spoke at a panel in summer of 2011. At which time, according to Watson, a man got onto the elevator at a hotel with her and said, and I quote from the video, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” This allegedly occurred at 4am. Watson reported she felt uncomfortable and had felt so after talking about how she gets uncomfortable when men sexualize her in that manner.

The original video, and the response from commenters and even other skeptics, made me want to throw my hands in the air, find my old EMF meter and digital recorder and start praying to Jesus just to spite the Skeptic All-Stars. Whether or not you agreed with either side, the point was that it didn’t have to go that far. Everyone was at fault in some way or another. Sorry, not trying to be insulting to anyone in particular, but it’s true. The whole thing got out of hand. Watson, Dawkins, the random commenters, it was just too much. I feel bad that it blew up the way it did. This is the kind of thing that makes puppies cry.

There is a great trio of videos on YouTube that made me laugh, cry, angry and sad at the same time. Shit Skeptics Say (I’ll provide links, worry not!). Realizing that skeptics sound like this made me wince. No wonder believers just call us cynical jerks (I am a cynical jerk, of course, but not all Average Skeptics are. And it’s the Skeptic All-Stars that made me a cynical jerk in the first place). Watch all three videos. There’s a parody of Elevator-Gate at the end of the third one. If you don’t have the same epiphany that I did, at least you will find it hilarious.

The video shows how the Average Skeptics throw around terms like “double blinded” and rudely bring up the fact that homeopathy doesn’t “actually do anything”.  What had me laughing is that the videos mention how “simply saying quantum physics” is not an argument. Many Average Skeptics throw around terms they don’t fully understand either, like double-blinded. Not all studies need to be double-blind in order to be considered a controlled experiment or to demonstrate an effect. It depends on what is being studied. There are a multitude of experimental designs that can be utilized to best answer the question posed while demonstrating experimental control. I may have more scientific training than other Average Skeptics, and less than others. But this leads me to my other point.

The Trendy Skeptics and Trendy Nerds have contributed to my alienation. People who repost memes with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or quotes by Carl Sagan, without having studied the work of either one. People who join groups called “I F*cking Love Science” and just Like pictures of stars. The Trendy Skeptics who spout things like in the videos I mentioned above without a true understanding of what they are saying.

Another well-known Skeptic All-Star, Penn Jilette (of magic duo Penn and Teller), has denied climate change in both talks and in his book “God, No!”. In a video I link below, dated June 20, 2008 during TAM 6, Penn is responding to his 2006 comments on climate change. “Every bit of my bullshit detector goes off like crazy over global warming, and every fucking thing Al Gore says. He seems to me like a lying sack of shit whose wrong about everything.” So of course I think to myself, okay, so you don’t like him. How about using some facts to back your statement up instead of just name calling? I know that since Randi’s and Penn’s comments on climate change a few years ago, skeptics really did call them out. They got schooled, so to speak. But it was still an event that blasted me into skeptical disillusionment. No matter how many apologies are made, I’m still going to feel like the Skeptic Community isn’t for me.

So of course people are going to be alienated, and they have the right to be. Penn has the right to his opinions, Watson has the right to feel uncomfortable, and teens have the right to Like pictures of stars on Facebook.  I have the right to be alienated and want to throw up. I felt the need to write this because others have expressed a similar view. Quite frankly, because I have the right too. I’m sure I alienated someone writing this. People have the right in this country to say whatever they want. But free speech is not immune from consequence or discussion. If the Skeptic All-Stars want to start walking the walk, they better change their talk. Or they’ll just have more of us filling our bookshelves with Bibles (cuz if I’m going to read fairy tales, I at least want some blood, gore and child killing).


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