TAM 8 Saturday – pt 1

We are now continuing on in my TAM 8 series. Enjoy.

Unfortunately we got up late and missed part of Massimo Pigliucci’s discussion. The general gist was that we as skeptics should not debate issues that we do not have scientific training in. Massimo felt that if we do not have a specific scientific background in, say, climatology, then we should not be blogging or debating in a public forum about climate change.

I could not disagree with him more. If we do our due diligence and we learn from scientific sources, then I see no reason that, once properly educated, we cannot discuss and blog about scientific topics.

The key is to really understand the topic and make certain you have gotten your information from multiple verified sources. That may have been his point but the way he communicated his point, he came across (to me anyway) that non-scientists shouldn’t be mucking about in science.

After Massimo, we were treated to a panel that is near and dear to my heart: Grassroots Skepticism.

Since I recently started a science-based educational nonprofit, The Great Experiment Scholarship, (http://thegreatexperimentscholarship.org), I firmly believe that Grassroots skepticism and the home frown organizations involved are every bit as important as the national organizations. The James Randi Educational Foundation (http://randi.org), SCICOP, and the New England Skeptics Sociaty are all highly valuable national resources. They are the ones to call for major issues like dowsing rods being marketed to the US military as bomb sniffers.

When it comes to your local psychic working on local murder or missing persons investigations, that’s where your local skeptical group comes in. Of course I would suggest that you contact the JREF or SCICOP before bursting in on city hall to get advice on how to handle it.

Local groups, according to the panel discussion, are valuable not only for investigations like I mentioned above. But they’re also a great place just to hang out with like-minded people. Your local Skeptics In The Pub can be a refuge from the outside world. When you feel like the entire Universe is full of magnet-wearing, aura-reading Believers, it’s a real relief to just go have a brew with people who don’t think you’re being a curmudgeon and snuffing out all that is good and right with the world.

For those that may not know what a grass roots movement or group is precisely: It’s a small, generally local group that grew from the ground up. Usually it involves a few diehards that decided that the local area needed a skeptics group.

I’ll be talking more about grass roots skepticism and how you can organize your own grass roots group in the coming days. There was a panel after the main part of the convention that went into real depth about grass roots organizations, how to create them and what is involved.

As far as the panel was concerned, the grassroots movement is invaluable. The general consensus was that national organizations did not need to supervise or adopt the GR groups. However, national organizations can be and ARE an invaluable resource for local groups.

I am personally unaware of the resources available from national groups other than the JREF but please don’t let that stop you from contacting them. The JREF will soon be offering skeptical classes in your area. They will also soon have a database of all the local grassroots skeptical groups. That’s what the national groups are there for: To be a resource for your local group to draw on.

Stay tuned for more installments of <cue echo> Adventures In TAM


1 Comment

  1. Emma said,

    August 9, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    First of all, I really enjoy your blog; keep up the good work!

    Second, I would like to pose a contradictory argument to yours about non-scientists discussing/blogging/debating sciences. My caveat is that I was not at the meeting and did not hear Massimo’s talk, but here goes.

    Climatology is an incredibly complicated and non-exact science. It blends physics, chemistry, statistics, and meteorology in exceedingly complex ways. As a chemist with some background in physics as well, I have attempted on several occasions to decipher climatology papers, and I have to admit I can make neither heads nor tails of them.

    My basic philosophy on commenting on science is that in a public forum, discussing or debating something technical should be done only by people who are capable of critiquing the works they cite (and, as skeptics we believe that all claims should be backed by evidence, of course). This is because the public tends to view people who discuss science as experts, even when we are not. In order to critique work on climatology, one must be able to understand the process by which the scientists came to the conclusions they have made, and I personally think that it is very rare (though not entirely impossible) to find someone who is not a trained climatologist who can understand the technical documents well enough to critique them.

    Let me contradict myself here. Now that I have said that, I will make one concession. Provided that people having the debate who are NOT climatologists state that while they are arguing, I see no reason they should not talk about it. But we MUST all be very careful not to make ourselves out to be (or even not to let others believe that we are) experts on subjects in which we have no training, because then we end up accidentally prosthelytizing.

    All the best, and once again, great job on the blog!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: