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Bigfoot Versus the Quest for World Peace?

May. 17, 2016 by | Comments (23)

For the entire history of scientific skepticism, folks in our weird and wonderful little field have heard two criticisms offered with metronomic regularity from people who are “skeptical of the skeptics.”1 One is the obvious: “Skeptics are closed-minded!” The other, no less predictable or routine, is my topic today: “Why do you bother with this trivial stuff about pseudoscience and the paranormal? Aren’t there more important things to worry about?”

Yesterday, science writer John Horgan offered the latest example of this second standard criticism in a Scientific American blog post titled “Dear ‘Skeptics,’ Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More” (presented first as a speech last weekend at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, NECSS, in New York City). Positioning his piece as a critique (“I have to bash skepticism”) from an outsider perspective ( “I don’t belong to skeptical societies. I don’t hang out with people who self-identify as capital-S Skeptics”), Horgan “decided to treat the skeptics skeptically.” He offered a prescription: skeptics should stop patting “each other on the back” and stop wasting our time on the “soft targets” of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims:

I’m asking you skeptics to spend less time bashing soft targets like homeopathy and Bigfoot and more time bashing hard targets like multiverses, cancer tests, psychiatric drugs and war, the hardest target of all.

I won’t bother with a detailed rebuttal—Skeptics Guide to the Universe host Steven Novella already wrote that. Briefly, Horgan’s recommendations suffer from two shortcomings. First, skeptics have long covered much of the ground Horgan would like us to discover. As Novella exasperatedly points out, for example,

Here are almost 40 articles from science-based medicine on overdiagnosis in mainstream medicine, including several articles on mammography. The pattern should now be clear—Horgan gives a simplistic summary of an issue, showing that he himself has a superficial understanding of the relevant points, accusing skeptics of not dealing with such issues sufficiently. Meanwhile, there is already an in-depth discussion of the issue in skeptical circles, which is much deeper that Horgan’s treatment.

My interest today is the second shortcoming of Horgan’s critique: scientific skepticism’s core subject matter may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is more interesting and useful than Horgan supposes.

“Bigfoot Skepticism” And All That

Horgan is not alone in disparaging the effort skeptics expend in the study and criticism of paranormal and fringe science claims. Outsider accusations of triviality have been a cliché for decades—even centuries. In 2016 Horgan chose to call out Bigfoot and homeopathy as his go-to examples. In 1842 physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. anticipated just this reaction to his now classic skeptical treatment “Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions“:

The practitioner and the scholar must not, therefore, smile at the amount of time and labor expended in these Lectures upon this shadowy system; which, in the calm and serious judgment of many of the wisest members of the medical profession, is not entitled by anything it has ever said or done to the notoriety of a public rebuke, still less to the honors of critical martyrdom.

I’ve spent much of my career confronting the common argument that skeptics should not perform the service skeptics do best, but instead tackle other subjects we may not be qualified to address. It’s a head scratcher, honestly. “You have specialized expertise in X, but I think X is trivial. Why don’t you specialize in Y, because I think Y is important?” Nobody ever says this to Shakespeare scholars or doctors or plumbers. (“Dear ‘fire fighters,’ fight fires less and solve more murders”?) Seemingly everyone says it to skeptics.

There’s even a term invented to express this disdainful view: traditional scientific skepticism is sometimes dismissed as “Bigfoot skepticism” in order to highlight the argued triviality of paranormal subject matter. (For more on this meme, see for example these pieces by Harriet Hall and Steve Novella.) Horgan accidentally reinvents this same strategy of dismissal, expressing amused surprise that such a goofy topic would even come up:

The references to “Bigfoot” in the headline above and text below were inspired by a conversation I had with conference Emcee Jamy Ian Swiss before I went on stage. He asked what I planned to say, and I told him, and he furiously defended his opposition to belief in Bigfoot. He wasn’t kidding.

Horgan begins with Bigfoot, and ends by asking “Shouldn’t ending war be a moral imperative, like ending slavery or the subjugation of women? How can we not end war?” Well, when you put it like that….

Look, we get it—Bigfoot is a less pressing problem than war. Every topic skeptics study is less pressing than ending warfare. That’s obvious to the point of silliness. Almost everything almost everybody does is less important than that. Certainly skeptical writing like I do or science writing like Horgan does are both pretty small potatoes compared with the quest for world peace.

So should skeptics therefore “bash homeopathy and bigfoot less”? For the sake of argument, let me grant for a moment that Bigfoot is one of the very least important topics skeptics study. It’s a topic close to my heart—I wrote a book on Bigfoot and other cryptids with INSIGHT blogger Donald Prothero—but belief in Bigfoot is for the most part pretty harmless. My work on Bigfoot isn’t going to cure cancer.

Which prompts me to ask, “So what?”

Sagan Makes the Case

Horgan approvingly cites Carl Sagan as one of the anti-war scientists of yesteryear. That’s true. Sagan was an anti-war activist who was arrested protesting U.S. nuclear testing. He cared about big, important things: our changing climate, our place in the cosmos, our future as a species. Nevertheless, as I explained here and here, Sagan also chose to devote a lot of time and energy to the far out subject matter of scientific skepticism. Although downplayed by his biographers, fringe science claims were a major theme of his intellectual career. He wrote articles, chapters, and books on skeptical topics such as flying saucers. He organized an entire American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium on the astronomical speculations of Immanuel Velikovsky—surely the quintessential example of harmless crackpottery. And, he recommended that other informed critics give more attention to fringe claims, not less:

I believe that scientists should spend more time in discussing these issues…. There are many cases where the belief system is so absurd that scientists dismiss it instantly but never commit their arguments to print. I believe this is a mistake.2

Why would Sagan say this? It wasn’t because he had nothing bigger to occupy his time. And Sagan too anticipated his work on these topics to be viewed as trivial, acknowledging, “The attention given to borderline science may seem curious to some readers.”3 Yet work on these topics he did. He was a founder of the modern organized skeptical movement in the 1970s, and an activist critic of fringe claims long before that. The reason was simple. He told us what it was: scientific skepticism serves an “important social function”4 by examining weird claims and telling the public what we find out. Who else is going to do that “trivial” work? Skeptics like Sagan organized to study stuff no one else could be bothered to study. It was a neglected field for research, an unfilled public need. That’s not nuthin’. In Sagan’s opinion, skeptics play “a sometimes lonely but still…heroic role in trying to counter” pseudoscientific misinformation and anti-science in the public sphere.5

The question is not whether there are any topics more important than the topics of skeptics’ specialized, niche expertise. Of course there are. But it’s just a silly way to frame the issue. The real question is whether fringe topics are important enough to justify the attention of a tiny community of enthusiasts, scholars, and critics? Or, as I’ve put it before, “Who ARE you gonna call?” Skeptics examine hundreds of paranormal and fringe science topics. Just by myself, I’ve written well over 40 ten-page Junior Skeptic features examining dozens of those topics. Often (writing for children!) I’ve made significant contributions to the literature on those topics—something I can do only because so much scholarly work remains undone. I have a back-of-the-envelope list of over a hundred more topics I hope to cover in the future. And that’s just topics I think I might be able to do a decent job on. There are countless others. Some have serious implications for people’s well-being or physical health; some are downright harmful; some are merely fascinating case studies for a very deep part of the human condition.

Here’s the thing: virtually the entire population of the planet holds paranormal or pseudoscientific beliefs. Those beliefs help shape the daily lives of billions of people. That’s interesting.

Take Bigfoot alone. A 2012 Angus Reid survey (PDF) found that “three-in-ten Americans (29%) and one- in-five Canadians (21%) think Bigfoot is ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ real.” That’s a fairly typical finding, for Bigfoot or many other paranormal claims. In that survey, 7% of Americans affirmed that they believed Bigfoot was “definitely” real. That works out to 23 million people! And yet, I’m aware of perhaps a dozen people who’ve done serious skeptical work on the topic of Bigfoot. Is a single skeptical critic per one or two million serious believers really too much scholarly attention?

The traditional skeptical subject matter includes hundreds of weird topics, and at best we can offer a handful of expert voices on each one. Many we can’t cover at all. That’s because the skeptical movement is small. We’re a tiny community. We’re frequently distracted by the exact kind of self-examination Horgan wishes we would do—bogged down in debates about the scope, ethics, and strategies of our practice. Most of us are volunteers. The work is difficult, believe it or not. And there’s simply a lot to do. A lot to do, and very few people to do it. That’s why “skeptical burnout” has been a recognized problem for decades.

Closing Thoughts

Does scientific skepticism have problems? Sure. Of course we do. Every field has problems, and a largely amateur proto-field comprised mostly of volunteer enthusiasts is naturally no exception. Horgan even manages to hit on one of them—tribalism. But like several of his points, the problem of tribalism has been extensively discussed for years in the skeptical literature. Sagan wrote about it.6 INSIGHT blogger Mike McRae has written about it. I’ve written about it. (Perhaps ironically, launching ill-informed outsider critiques at any group of people is exactly the kind of thing that encourages the tribal impulse.)

Skepticism has problems. But the mere fact that we exist isn’t one of them. Nor is it a problem that we emphasize topics that other people find uninteresting. That’s our most useful contribution.

In closing, I’d like to share a few words from my lengthy 2013 reflection “Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?” (PDF):

That work matters. Maybe not as much as other tasks, or other movements—maybe not as much as your task—but it matters enough. There’s still a need for a movement specifically, consistently, unfalteringly dedicated to that endless array of pseudoscientific claims. After all these centuries, the need for that work is still as great as it always has been. And skeptics are willing to do it.

If you’re one of them, if you want to help with that work even some of the time—then welcome, a hundred times welcome. We need all the help we can get. Or, if you feel drawn more to some parallel rationalist movement, social justice cause, academic discipline, or faith group—then please, all the same, encourage scientific skepticism to do its tedious, useful work. The smallness of our cause does nothing to diminish the importance of yours.

  1. This tedious cliché returns 35,200 Google hits, incidentally.
  2. Carl Sagan. “Night Walkers and Mystery Mongers: Sense and Nonsense At the Edge of Science.” Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 10., No. 3. Spring, 1986. pp. 224–225 [Excerpted from Broca’s Brain]
  3. Carl Sagan. Broca’s Brain. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.) p. xii
  4. Carl Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World. (New York: Random House, 1996.) pp. 298–300
  5. Carl Sagan. “Wonder and Skepticism.” Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 19, No. 1. January/February 1995. p. 26
  6. Sagan (1996.) p. 300
Daniel Loxton

Daniel Loxton is the Editor of INSIGHT at and of Junior Skeptic, the 10-page kids’ science section bound within Skeptic magazine. Daniel has been an avid follower of the paranormal literature since childhood, and of the skeptical literature since his youth. He is also an award-winning author. Read Daniel’s full bio or his other posts on this blog.

23 responses to “Bigfoot Versus the Quest for World Peace?”

  1. Max says:

    Horgan wouldn’t go to Dragon Con and browbeat them into worrying more about real war than about fictional war in comic books. Maybe some people like comic books and Bigfoot because it takes their minds off war and mammograms.

  2. Noir LeSable says:

    @raf faction – Dennis Markuze? That you?

    Aren’t you supposed to be on probation?

  3. raf faction says:

    All that needs to be said about our new atheist pseudoskeptic spoon benders:

    Oh, btw, TAM is ended as well the James Randi paranormal challenge:

    Mission accomplished

  4. Max says:

    On the one hand, I personally don’t care about Bigfoot and psychics as much as I care about overmedication and war-related propaganda.
    On the other hand, the more skeptics wade into politics, social activism, and unsettled science outside their expertise, the more they stop being skeptics and become activists yelling at each other.
    Observe all the fuss about feminism and social justice.

  5. George W. Earley says:

    I live in the Pacific NW . . . Oregon to be more precise. I have never seen BIgfoot but i have seen standing black bear at a measured [after the encounter] 100 feet away,

    It in no way [sorry Joe Nickel] resembled claimed observations of Bigfoot. No human type face and ears, snout plainly viewed, no squared off shoulders, ‘arms’ more forward on the body than BF or just plain folks. Also short legged. On being discovered – this was in a National Park in California – by a mob of howling camera waving campers, turned away, dropped to all fours – no walking on hind legs – and easily outpaced his pursuers. Tracks? None, hard ground.

    I have walked barefooted in snow and have watched what the sun did not do to tracks from my size 14 feet . . . they did NOT enlarge to 16-18 inches long, nor did they get much wider. In short, definitely not Bigfoot tracks. Yet hikers, who go well into the back country where few folks go, report tracks well outside those normal human feet would make. And of course, no BF sighter has claimed the creature they claimed to have seen had fangs like those of the hollywoodian beast on the cover of Prothero’s book. Publisher sales hype? Likely, but deliberately deceptive.

    There is, it seems to me, enough unsolved physical evidence to make searching worthwhile. No body? No bones? How many hikers have reported bones or bodies of bears?

    There will be an International Bigfoot Conference in Kennewick WA this September.
    Look it up on the ‘net . . . if you live close enough, you might find it worth attending.

    • Joe says:

      Careful George, an open and inquisitive mind like yours, especially if coupled to experience, is often met with ridicule and snark on these pages.

  6. AJ says:

    More tribal warfare complete with a mixture of clever insight and ad hominem argument. Let go of the skeptic meme. Being skeptical is not an end in itself an it can become as tribalized as anything else. Why not simply promote critical thinking? There does seem to be haughty bashing rather than the kind of conversation that would get the ear of those who are most likely to fall for nonsense.

  7. Torbjörn Hirsch says:

    To your point that if your sceptic speciality is bashing paranormal or cryptid claims, why or how change lanes to a more fruitful field. You said your work is surprisinbly hard – is it really? I certainly believe you make more effort than that, but even a quick google or wikipedia-check yields pitifully little hard evidence for bigfoots, much less a single preserved corpse, which should seal the case. What in the case of cryptid rebuttal is your competence so to speak, besides having written a book, I mean in terms of education in science or philosophy of science? Would this competence not be useful in the investigation of other disciplines, at least on a journalistic level? I’m not saying you should change your field of interest just because Horgan says so, but wouldn’t it indeed be quite possible? An implicit critique of Sceptics with a big S Horgan alludes to is the easily garnered suspicion that Sceptics simply likes bashing and thus prefers the easier victims. That is an impression in the best interest of Sceptics to adress, I would think.

    • Daniel Loxton says:

      You said your work is surprisinbly hard – is it really? I certainly believe you make more effort than that, but even a quick google or wikipedia-check yields pitifully little hard evidence for bigfoots, much less a single preserved corpse, which should seal the case.

      Bigfoot is just a useful rhetorical example for Horgan and other critics; it’s a topic I’m relatively knowledgable about, but I’ve written about dozens of other paranormal, pseudoscientific, and straight science topics for kids, and still others for adults, many well outside of cryptozoology—everything from creationism to spirit photography to the intellectual history of scientific skepticism. Yes, many fringe topics can be dismissed easily by certain audiences after a quick Google search. That’s usually good enough to satisfy one’s personal curiosity. Nevertheless, understanding any topic (no matter how silly it may appear) in enough detail to responsibly and effectively engage with the public about that topic does indeed require an investment of time and effort developing specialist knowledge. It’s easy enough to hand-wave any kind of domain expertise down to something like a Siri command (“tell me about Shakespeare,” “say what happened in World War II,” “make the pipes work,” “get rid of the cancer-y stuff”) but as always, the devil is in the details.

      I’d make three notes here:

      1) Yes, a lot of useful information on paranormal mysteries is available with a few clicks of the mouse. However, this is generally true because skeptics made the effort to find and disseminate that information;

      2) Unfortunately, a lot of readily available “skeptical” information isn’t true, or isn’t necessarily true, or isn’t the whole story. The internet does what it’s good at—replicate factoids that sound true. However, the state of scholarship on many of these topics is poor, and not all sources reflect the best information that is available. It takes dedicated effort from knowledgable specialists to maintain, improve, and accurately explain the state of knowledge on any topic;

      3) It is just as easy to Google the shortcomings of creationism, climate denial, or many kinds of alternative medicine. However, dismissing or nay-saying is not the same as deeply understanding, let alone convincing anyone that you know what you’re talking about. Creationism, climate denial, and alternative medicine have all notably managed to influence legislation and public opinion, and advocates for each have infamously run rhetorical rings around genuine experts in evolution, climate, and medicine. To engage effectively with pseudoscience proponents, it’s not enough to have knowledge of the mainstream subjects—one must acquire specialized knowledge regarding pseudoscientific nonsense. That’s why naive biologists were so often demolished in debates with creationist spokespeople, and why it was necessary for skeptical organizations like the National Center for Science Education to develop specialized expertise in the history, varieties, strategies, beliefs, and arguments of creationism.

      • Torbjörn Hirsch says:

        You’re making a good case, thanks for your answer! Indeed the tendency of being “skeptical” outside the realms of one’s competence might be the reason for much criticism towards skepticism, for example Dawkins’ attempts to criticize religion from a background of genetics, a background which might befit debating with a die-hard creationist, whereas a discussion of religion in a wider sense might be more relevant for a philosopher of science. As many no doubt has pointed out Dawkins is to a large extent debating the plausibility of unfalsifiable models, which is arguably not very scientific nor is science any help trying to answer such questions.

        Also a philosopher could quickly point out that Dawkins and his opponent are using different Wittgensteinian “language games”, where words doesn’t mean exactly the same for different speakers (rendering the discussion – often unbeknownst to the ones debating – largely semantic). Which might be an issue when it comes to some supernatural phenomena as well, and this philosophical (or specifically philosophy of science) perspective is something I find lacking within the skeptical community.

        As the next poster points out the term skepticism might be problematic in this respect, as no one (except perhaps the old greek philosophical skeptics) can be skeptical in anything resembling an absolute sense (e.g. Dawkins not being skeptical of his own line of reasoning), thus for example “critical thinking” might be a less pretentious term.

        Also someone presenting himself as a skeptic would largely be thought of as someone who doesn’t “believe” in paranormal phenomena etc, whereas someone presenting himself as a scientific researcher wouldn’t be thought of in any such terms (“belief” really having nothing to do with science though both “professions” leans on scientific reasoning). This I think doesn’t simply reflect “believers'” views of skeptics, but is to a certain degree a hole skeptics have dug for themselves, don’t you think?

  8. Jason Loxton says:

    Huh. Horgan’s rant is both baffling and frustrating. (His response to critics pretty much misses all the points Novella and others made.) As Dan notes far more eloquently than I, why *shouldn’t* skeptics debunk Bigfoot, even if it served no broader purpose (it clearly does, as a teaching exemplar) if they feel like it?

    As a geology instructor, I spend zero percent of my professional time ending war, but I’d like to think the effort I put into teaching non-majors something interesting about the planet isn’t wasted. Further, I’d also like to think that the extra effort I devote to debunking ubiquitous, but harmless geomyths, such as that the interior of the Earth is made of liquid rock or that plate tectonics is powered by a frictional interaction of the lithosphere and the convecting mantle, is time well spent. I genuinely wonder whether Horgan would disagree, and if not, what then his problem with my brother and other skeptic’s prioritization of their time is?

  9. antipseudoskeptic says:

    For a harder look at these “pseudo-skeptics” please visit:

    Sums up some of the serious problems in their “rationality”.

  10. Adrian Morgan says:

    It’s not a bad exercise for the reader to identify some of the red flags in John Horgan’s article. Here’s my list:

    – You can always tell someone doesn’t have much experience of skepticism when they name Richard Dawkins as an idol of the movement.

    – He admits that skeptics tackle “disbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food”. These are incredibly important issues, and far from being content to argue only against people who ignore us, skeptics spend a lot of time trying to raise awareness in ways that make a real difference.

    – His rants about string theory etc are full of strawmen, and incongruous in an article arguing that skeptics should prioritise matters of more practical significance.

    – Skeptics do in fact tackle claims by high profile institutions, where appropriate. See for example Ben Goldacre on medical issues of all kinds. But one must take into account the specialist knowledge required to tackle certain issues well.

    – Anyone who thinks skeptics are not critical of “gene for X” claims has got to be kidding me.

    – Anyone who thinks that people’s assumptions about the relationship between war and genetics has a measurable influence on the prevalence of war is incredibly naiive.

    • Adrian Morgan says:

      Also, in some cases it seems as if Horgan flipped a coin to decide whether to include a given topic under “things skeptics don’t talk about enough” or under “things skeptics do talk about but no-one listens to”.

      For example, it baffles me why Horgan cannot see that the people who DO make “gene for X” claims are precisely the people he dismisses as “people outside your tribe, who ignore you”.

  11. kevin barker says:

    Actually I don’t think Horgan went far enough. The only sensible criticism to skepticism is a nonsensical, rather than rational, one. And talk about trivial! Who cares if skeptics focus on Bigfoot instead of The Big Issues? The reason they should be herded into camps and kept there for eternity is to stop them muddying everyone’s little fountains with their big feet. If I want to go to a Pentacostal meeting and fall on the floor in a trance speaking in tongues — just for the hell of it — the skeptics of the world won’t let me. Or at least they won’t let me share it without a serious buzz killing lecture. They’re killjoys, party poopers, the skeletons at the feast of whimsy and imagination. I can tell you from experience there is nothing worse than being a theorist in a world of rationalists. They keep telling me I can’t get there from here. Even after they get my postcard!

  12. Mike from NECSS says:

    Everything stated here is true.

    What’s also true is that Jamy Ian Swiss, on his own initiative without any discussion with anybody else, chose to deny Horton the Q&A session he had asked for, using the flimsy excuse that “other speakers had chosen not to use theirs,” and then instead used the extra time to deliver a ranting response claiming to be speaking on our behalf. (Am I the only one who hates it when somebody decides to speak for “us” without asking anybody?)

    It was too bad because the Q&A with Horton in the lobby after the talk was interesting (he was polite enough to stay and hold it informally after being denied the opportunity to have a formal Q&A), even if it changed no minds. Was kind of fun watching Jamy and his girlfriend slink out the door quickly when it was all over. Just like he did at the end of TAM last year when he cut off discussion after his botched “million dollar challenge” got an appropriate critique from the assembled skeptics.

    No surprise though. Anybody who was listening heard him tell us what he thinks last year when he asked “who speaks for skepticism?” and answered it clearly: “Jamy Ian Swiss does and anybody who thinks otherwise deserves to be trashed in public and treated like garbage.” Why this jerk continues to be invited to speak at these events — let alone to be MC — is beyond me. He’s the worst of us and exactly the face we shouldn’t be showing the world.

    There were two assholes on stage Sunday. Horton was the lesser of the two.

  13. BillG says:

    Teaching or learning critical thinking skills or “skepticism” if you prefer, could be a source of the prevention of war.

    Perhaps if the merchants of war approached more introspection into such matters, there would be far less of it.

    Bigfoot, Roswell aliens or angels may sound, well, unsound to scientific minds, but the percentage of the masses who believe in such tripe is still too large.
    Hence, the “soft targets” can still be a obstacle to a reasoned mind.

  14. Luis Bernhardt says:

    “They assume their own shortcomings are ours.” It has been my experience that criticism says far more about the critic than about what is being criticized. The lead quote here says this so much more succinctly!

  15. Miranda Jones says:

    The people in my life who believe in Bigfoot and weird fringe healthcare/religious ideas, they also think war is wrong. They also have concerns about overdiagnoses in some medical fields. I don’t need to try to further those causes with my friends and family. I need to try to chip away at the pseudoscience and belief in monsters. What Horgan illustrated to me is why science journalism is gotten so wrong by so many journalists. They assume their own shortcomings are ours.

  16. Phil Stilwell says:

    Ranking targets for skeptical analysis

    There has been significant criticism of the focus of skepticism recently. As skepticism gains respectability and clout, there are those who would like to co-opt the connotative virtue of the term “skeptic” and the inertia of the movement to bolster their personal skeptical (or often non-skeptical) agendas.

    We all have a personal ranking of focus for dubious claims and ideologies based largely on our own experiences, interests and skills. I, for example, spend much of my skeptical energy on religion due to my painful background in Evangelicalism, and my deep knowledge of the Bible. Others rank religion a lower priority, and might instead focus their skeptical resources on pseudomedicine.

    So for someone to claim others have an “improper” skeptical focus is not just a little arrogant. This is especially true for those who have no real interest in adopting a rational/skeptical perspective themselves. Yet that is frequently what we are seeing. (

    While there is no “right” ranking of the value of specimens for skeptical scrutiny, there are some general heuristics that can optimize our skeptical energy in a way that best accomplishes our personal skeptical goals.

    For any particular target of skepticism, the following questions can be asked.

    1: How much damage, suffering or lost opportunities has/will this target cost humanity?

    2: How currently widespread is the target false belief?

    3: What is the prevalence of the target false belief? Is it spreading?

    4: How entrenched is the target? How much effort will its eradication require?

    5: How much knowledge do I have of the target false belief and the evidence against it?

    6: What particular skills do I have to effectively battle this target false belief?

    7: How much sustainable passion do I have to eradicate this target false belief?

    8: Does the target false belief, in spite of causing little damage, serve as a salient example to effectively equip beginning skeptics with whom I interact with proper tools of rationality such as proper standards of evidence and/or an awareness of logical fallacies and cognitive biases?

    These questions allow us to roughly calculate the value of one skeptical target against other possible skeptical targets within the context of our own passions and skills. We have no obligation to adopt someone else’s skeptical (or unskeptical) agenda.

    Just as an ant colony would fail were every ant to have the same goals and abilities, the skeptical movement will have the greatest impact when each skeptic is happily engaged in skeptical activities mapping to their individual passions and skills.

  17. Alan Henness says:

    Well said.

    Perhaps Horgan should ask himself why he’s wasting time talking to skeptics when he could be bashing hard targets like multiverses, cancer tests, psychiatric drugs and war… If he did, he might just find the answer he was so vainly seeking.

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