“Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth.” — Denis Diderot
A leading figure of the European Enlightenment, the great philosophe and skeptic Denis Diderot was a tireless foe of the superstitions of his age. He believed that science was the best way to fight such unfounded belief. In order to popularize this new science, and over a number of laborious decades (from 1745 until 1772), he worked on his Encyclopédie, which eventually totaled 28 volumes, later growing to 35 volumes on a wide variety of topics.
Diderot believed if such a compilation of both general and specific knowledge about many different fields was widely available, that it could “change men's common way of thinking,” and free them from the shackles of superstition that caused so much human misery. Despite the controversial nature of the project — the Encyclopédie had hundreds of contributors and some of them wrote entries harshly critical of superstition, religion and what we would now call paranormal belief — the project continued, and is considered the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment. (There were great skeptical entries on witchcraft, werewolves, divination, sexually motivated demon possession, astrology, superstition, and the like — all in the mid-1700s!)
Fast-forward almost 250 years, and today, the fifth most popular website on the Internet — Wikipedia — would probably make Diderot really happy. Wikipedia is a collection of pages on the World Wide Web on the widest range of topics imaginable — 26 million articles in 286 languages! — and they are all crowd-sourced into an online encyclopedia produced by volunteers from all over the world.
One such Wikipedia volunteer is skeptic activist Susan Gerbic, who has created a Wikipedia Skepticism Project. She recently presented a workshop for The James Randi Educational Foundation in Los Angeles, CA, about ways people can promote critical thinking and the scientific outlook by contributing edits and content to Wikipedia, especially on topics related to scientific skepticism, the paranormal, and pseudoscience.
In JREF’s video of the workshop she details recent collaborative efforts to update the entries on paranormalists like Chip Coffey, James Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne, and Teresa Caputo, along with the entries on leading scientific skeptics like James Randi, Leo Igwe, and so many others.
If you want to get involved with this important work, please be sure to contact her as explained in the video.
The Amazing Meeting Sunday paper presentations led directly to my involvement in skepticism. They could get you involved too - but only if you submit a proposal.
When I am interviewed about my work as a skeptic, the question sometimes comes up: how did you get started? My personal story revolves around The Amazing Meeting and it's a story that any skeptic could emulate.
Like many Americans growing up in the sixties and seventies, I was exposed to a great deal of pseudoscience, such as stories of UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle. But at the same time I was very interested in real science, particularly astronomy. I started to be skeptical, but never took it further.
Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.
A very special issue of Medical Acupuncture(David Gorski) http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/a-very-special-issue-of-medical-acupuncture/ A special issue of an acupuncture journal was devoted to the science behind the therapy. The basic science “evidence” they offer is flawed in many ways: studies are unblinded, are about electroacupuncture instead of plain acupuncture, etc. None of the articles validate acupuncture or provide any compelling evidence for a physiologically plausible mechanism.
Too Much Information! (Harriet Hall) http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/too-much-information/ A new service offers seventeen and will eventually offer hundreds or thousands of blood tests by mail from a single drop of blood on a card. Doing all those tests without specific indications is a very bad idea, likely to do more harm than good. Even worse: this lab has not validated the accuracy of its results and does not plan to seek certification.
In a substantial victory for free speech, freedom of the press, scientific discourse, and skepticism, last Wednesday the British Parliament agreed on a sweeping new defamation bill that significantly reforms that country’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws.
Following a three-and-a-half year effort, the law now only awaits formal assent by the Queen, which is expected shortly. The campaign to bring the law in line with libel legalities in the United States and most of Western Europe began with the case launched by the British Chiropractic Association against the noted science journalist and author, Simon Singh, in a typical example of bringing suit in order to chill free speech.
In 2008, following the release of his book, “Trick or Treat: Alternative Medicine on Trial” (written with Edzard Ernst), a scathing and thoroughly researched critique of alternative medicine, Singh wrote an opinion piece for “The Guardian” on the occasion of Chiropractic Awareness Week. Therein, Singh called out The British Chiropractic Association for its “claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.”