Stomping Puppies

Skeptics are frequently accused of “sucking all the light from the world” and “destroying everything that is good and right”. We’ve even been accused of being (gasp) skeptical. We’re the ones who get to say, “Sorry, Virginia but there really ISN’T a Santa Clause and here’s the physics that explains why.”. Even in our every day relationships, we deal with people in our lives that constantly bombard us with the latest non-skeptical craze.

Then when we (hopefully) kindly give these people the science behind whatever it is, we are treated to the same arguments and justifications. Not to mention being called a skeptic as though it were some kind of insult.

Yesterday morning I got a text message from my Mom. She asked me to buy her a book called “Love By The Numbers”. It’s a book that will supposedly help your love life through the use of numerology. We know that numerology has no scientific basis. For more information on the topic, please visit here At age 63 after a brutal divorce and her first rebound relationship, she’s grasping at straws because she doesn’t want to be alone. Unfortunately, when I try to talk with her about things like this she offers unscientific reasoning and justification. Being a former Woo Goddess, I understand how difficult it is when you’re looking for hope somewhere.

But I just end up metaphorically stomping on her puppy.

Of course I’m not going to buy her the book. First, how could I even look you all in the eye if I supported that kind of flim flam? It would damage my reputation in the skeptical community because I should be looking out for my Mother and not supporting her in self-delusions. I’m going to sit her down and explain why numerology has no scientific basis. In other words, more puppy-stomping.

On the up side, I gave her my copy of Michael Shermer’s \”Why People Believe Weird Things\”. So he can stomp a few puppies FOR me. So far she’s been pretty receptive but it’s a bunch of information for her to digest all at once. I think I need to buy a couple more copies of Brian Dunning’s \”Skeptoid\” books. They are much more bite-sized. It’s easier for someone new to skepticism and critical thinking to take things in small bits, in my opinion. That way it’s not completely overwhelming.

Even though we’re not the popular kids on the block, we still have a job to do. It’s our job to explain unscientific beliefs and products to people so they don’t hurt themselves. And even though we can’t offer the magic of fairies or dragons or instant fixes for a broken heart, we have REAL magic at our disposal.

I challenge people to NOT be awed by the beauty and majesty of our Universe. Show someone photos taken by the Hubble telescope and watch as their eyes widen in awe. Travel to the Grand Canyon and watch a sunrise. Explain how science has now created dry water.

THAT is where OUR magic lies as skeptics. We can show people the magic of the REAL world. Who needs Woo when we have all this?


1 Comment

  1. Noah Nez said,

    September 17, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I have recently come across a similar situation. I get influence from my cultural background showing up in daily conversations. As Native Americans, we look to identify with our traditional culture to tell us who we are as a people. Much of that culture arises through tradition, including ceremonies and sometimes superstition. For example, up until I was in high school, I had the culturally inherent fear of owls because according to our Apache ways, the owl is the most feared of all creatures. Historically, Apaches have both feared and viewed owls as the embodied spirits of the dead.

    I am finding that I am having the most trouble relating what I am discovering about the reality of the world to the people who are closest to me. People get emotional when you touch a personal belief, so I too struggle with my conscience “stomping puppies”. I can only do the same thing as you do by challenging those to not appreciate the beauty and awe of science. The more our understanding of the how things REALLY are, the more we appreciate them for all their glory.

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