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Oct 19 2011

Skepticism 101: How May Skepticism Be of Service? Plus Pictures!

Pictures or it didn’t happen, right? At last we have photographic evidence of the awesomeness that was the Skepticism 101 panel at GeekGirlCon, courtesy of the woman who brought Nerf guns to work and, in general, ensures I do not stab myself in the heart with my pen at work. A round of applause for my good friend Caeli Kane, otherwise known as Starspider, ladies and gentlemen. And another for her snazzy new DSLR, if you’d be so kind.

Skepticism 101 panel, from near to far: Valerie Tarico, Meg Winston, a sliver of Jen McCreight's noggin, Amy Davis Roth, moi, and our delightful moderator Case.

That’s some serious Seattle star power right there.

So we’ve had a chat about what is skepticism, and talked about popular pseudoscience. Let us continue ever onwards, and I answer a rather personal question put to each panelist: how has skepticism helped you?

Well, that’s easy. Skepticism has kept me from spending my limited fundage on useless nonsense, for one. I’ve learned how to evaluate claims and sort out what’s plausible from what’s not. There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, that I might have actually plucked a homeopathic (heh, I nearly typed “homeopathetic” just there) remedy from a store shelf, because it promises fast, safe relief from various miserable ailments. Now I know I don’t have to spend money on this stuff. If I want a nice placebo effect to help with a cold, all I have to do is put a bit of onion in water, shake, dilute, shake, dilute, repeat until not a single molecule of onion remains, and voila! I’ve got a homemade homeopathic remedy that will work every bit as well as the real thing, and won’t cost me one thin dime.

My arm might hurt after all that shaking, o’ course. But at least all the lovely exercise will have taken my mind off my symptoms.

Jen McCreight et moi

Skepticism, and becoming familiar with how science works, has given me the ability to sort truth from hype fairly well. It’s given me patience. For instance, a few years ago, I’d have been super-excited about those supposed superluminal neutrinos, and annoyed with science when it turned out there were more mundane explanations instead. I’ve learned this is just how science works: scientists discover something odd, say “That’s possibly interesting,” share their results, media goes utterly insane claiming ZOMG teh laws of fizzicks, dey r rong! while other scientists figure out that, no, there’s some perfectly ordinary explanations for those results and the theory of relativity has got nothing to worry about.

Exhibit B: artistic krakens.

Now, I ignore the hysterics and follow the real science with unalloyed pleasure. Especially when the scientists get snarky.

Skepticism has helped me let go of gods, and adjust happily to a life without them, which turns out to be brilliant, far more fun, and much more interesting than being a believer ever was.

Moi pontificating.

And, most importantly, skepticism has made me a far better fantasy author.

I know, strange thing to say, right? You don’t usually think of fantasy and skepticism in the same sentence, but it’s true. Back in ye olden days when I swallowed anything fantastic that came along, I was rubbish. Skepticism and science have given me the tools to question certain assumptions, and look for better answers, and find inspiration in this universe of ours, which is far more fantastic than anything my poor imagination could dream up. It’s given me much more interesting characters and story worlds worthy of them. It’s given me stories I could never have told before.

Skepticism has given me the people who can help me realize tell those stories.

Those are precious gifts. This is a glorious universe. And, as if those things weren’t enough, skeptics are fun to hang round with. I see nothing but win here.

So, you skeptics, gather round. Tell me what skepticism has done for you.

2 comments

  1. 1
    Stephanie Zvan

    +1 to the notion of skepticism helping with writing fantasy. If I can’t create a magic system that makes sense, I really shouldn’t bother. Anything less will be thin gruel. And, oh, don’t get me started on how much more interesting it is to have characters that are wrong about things.

  2. 2
    Mr Z

    Isn’t the question equivalent to asking what has learning to swim done for you? Well, uhm, it’s kept me from drowning. I enjoy it around sunny beaches and in exotic places, but mostly it has kept me from drowning.

    Skepticism? It’s kept me from drowning in woo, homeopathetic debt, and general Barnumistic crap. Gramps used to say ‘if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is’

    Like any good wisp of wisdom, it can be stated many ways:

    That new OS sounds spiffy, but don’t buy it till SP2 is out.
    That new gizmo is cool, but don’t be a beta tester user.
    If they advertise it on TV you probably don’t need it and it probably costs way too much.

    And so on…

    To my mind skeptical thinking is what you are supposed to be doing to be a successful human in this environment. It’s not enlightened thinking. Rather it is survival thinking for this environment.

    That’s my tuppence

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