Hello! I’d like to welcome you to the Skeptics Society’s new group blog dedicated to science and skepticism, INSIGHT at Skeptic.com. This brand new platform will feature news, commentary, and informed perspective regarding fringe claims, paranormal mysteries, mainstream science, and the ethos and history of skepticism itself.
Joining me in this new venture are some of the most passionate and knowledgable voices to speak within the tradition of scientific skepticism today:
- Ani Aharonian, a cognitive psychologist and PhD student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and an institutional researcher at Santa Monica College;
- Barbara Drescher, a long-time former university instructor of quantitative and cognitive psychology, blogger at ICBS Everywhere, regular contributor to the podcast Skepticality and the weekly streaming video program The Virtual Skeptics;
- Tim Farley, a computer security analyst, creator of the What’s the Harm? website and the Skeptical Software Tools blog, and co-host of The Virtual Skeptics;
- Jim Lippard, a skeptical writer for decades who works in the information security field, blogger, a founder of the Phoenix Skeptics (in 1985), and a founding member of the Phoenix Area Skeptics Society (in 2012);
- Robynn “Swoopy” McCarthy, the founding co-host of the pioneering, original skeptics podcast, Skepticality—The Official Podcast of Skeptic Magazine;
- Mike McRae, an Australian educator, science writer, and author of Tribal Science;
- Dr. Donald Prothero, a paleontologist who has taught college geology and paleontology for decades at schools including Caltech and Columbia, and author of over 35 science books (and over 300 scientific papers);
- Dr. Michael Shermer, a Scientific American columnist, historian, author of numerous books, and Editor and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine;
- Dr. Eve Siebert, a blogger at Skeptical Humanities and co-host of The Virtual Skeptics;
- Blake Smith, the producer and host of MonsterTalk, an official podcast of Skeptic magazine;
- Laurie Tarr, a technical writer and co-founder of the Louisville Area Skeptics;
- and finally, yours truly.
Some of you know me as the Editor of Junior Skeptic, the kids’ section bound inside Skeptic magazine, or know my books, or perhaps have read some of my pieces at the now-retired Skepticblog, where I’ve blogged since 2009. As I return to blogging here at this new venue, I will also have the opportunity to serve in a new role: Blog Editor.
No doubt this is largely a support role given the caliber of the people who have joined the crew, but I find myself with the considerable honor of introducing them here today—and with the even greater honor of helping to set the tone and direction for this new blog.
INSIGHT at Skeptic.com is inspired by the optimism and even beauty of the skeptical tradition. It is founded on the beliefs that knowledge can help people, that mysteries can be solved, that it’s worthwhile to give voice to our least conventional questions—and then to seek answers. INSIGHT is meant to celebrate and further that journey of discovery.
“Evidence” Is Common Ground
Our bloggers and readers all come to this blog with our own personal values, beliefs, styles, and diverging perspectives. But we meet here together on the common playing field of evidence and inquiry. As we explain in our “About the Blog” statement,
While there are are many excellent blogs devoted to the topics of faith, humanism, atheism, political viewpoints, and wider kinds of rationalism and philosophical doubt, those are not our focus here. Our approach is firmly grounded in another tradition: “scientific skepticism,” or critical, evidence-based investigation and analysis of “testable” paranormal and fringe science claims through the lens of science and scholarship.
People Want to Know
We do that work because it is useful. In all walks of life, people have questions we need answered, experiences we cannot explain, fears we need to address. We are bombarded by claims. Our lives are full of mysteries—mysteries we cannot always solve without help. What was that thing I saw in the woods? How could this psychic have known my secrets? Who should I believe about childhood immunization? Some mysteries “merely” excite our curiosity, or stir us to wonder. Others call us to action as parents or citizens. A few cut to the core of our innermost lives.
Yet when we turn to mainstream sources for answers, we do not always find reliable guides. Scientists have better things to do than grapple with fringe claims. Media serve up tales of the paranormal with snickering disregard for their truth. All too often our questions are left unanswered—or worse, are answered poorly.
Skepticism is for everyone
“So who needs science and critical thinking?” asks former National Center for Science Education Executive Director Eugenie Scott in INSIGHT’s first guest editorial. She answers, “Obviously everyone.”
The skeptical literature offers (if I may) insights that are of use to people across all kinds of political and ideological divides in their day to day lives. The process of seeking reliable evidence-based assessments of controversial claims is not and should not be limited to any particular class of people.
It’s true that agnostics and atheists have long been strongly represented within the skeptical community. Together, in fact, these groups comprise a sizable (though not overwhelming) majority among skeptics. We can see that demographic reality reflected here at this blog. Most of the bloggers here are atheists or agnostics, so far as I know.
But curiosity, scholarship, and investigation—these are wider, human values. They belong to everyone. This blog will also reflect (in miniature) an ideal that shines at the heart of secular society, a truth which in wider society gives church-state separation its urgency: majority believers are not the only people in the room. So I would especially like to welcome science-minded people of faith to this blog—not because skepticism belongs to you any more than to anyone else, but because it belongs to you no less.
Everyone motivated by curiosity and committed to evidence is invited here—seekers, proponents, and believers included. I’m not saying it may always be comfortable. In our founding internal guidelines for this blog, we spell this out explicitly.
Rigorous, evidence-based scholarship and science may always be discussed in a serious, scholarly, fair-minded, objective manner, even when that research could be interpreted as having important or even upsetting theological or political implications. Demonstrable, verifiable scientific facts are always in scope.
It’s the nature of discovery to push boundaries, of knowledge to challenge our assumptions. Every new candle allows us to see further, better shows us the shape of things. Today, as we help each other to peer deeper into the shadows, I ask you to give us your fairness. Share in the spirit of curiosity. And together, we’ll see where evidence can take us.