Skeptics, Smeptics

Hello all,

I woke up this morning after a pleasant 9 hours in bed, to check my Twitter feed and find I’m being followed by @sudocremtube. I really don’t know how to react to this piece of information (other than something between curiosity and indifference) so I thought I’d check on a blog post I’ve been quite interested in to see if there were any developments.

There are a few reasons I was particularly interested in it initially: The first is that I was at TAM London as part of their volunteer crew, and the second is that I’ve met both Martin and Gimpy and get on quite well with both, so it is fascinating to read them arguing about things I’m directly involved in.  Also, that a few of my friends have also commented on it, either as people who went there or not, makes it all the more exciting – no matter what opinions we hold, we care enough to put them into writing, and I think that’s really important.

Frank Swain (aka @SciencePunk) gave a really pivotal talk at Westminster Skeptics a few months ago (a rough transcript can be found here) in which he discusses the rise of skepticism in the UK and possible directions for improvement. One of the things he covered was something I briefly mentioned in a blog post back in February after 10:23. I received a fair bit of hate mail from people who accused me of trying to prevent people caring for their children, being paid to take part by some multi-billion pound pharmaceutical company, or bizarrely for being an attention seeker. Moi? Jokes aside, I was pretty upset by these criticisms because they had no evidence to support their accusations (except the attention seeking, which I’m pretty loud about) and seemed to just be out to put me down using emotional blackmail – one woman even threatened to call the police or any authority who’d listen, because I wrote about children who’d been innocent victims of their parents prejudice (?) against medicine.

If it’s smug of me to point out that my opinions have been formed after talking to doctors and nurses and scientists and science writers and lawyers and investigative journalists about the evidence in favour of whatever it is I blog and talk about, then yeah, I’m pretty glad to be called out on it. If the best available minds on the subject tell me “That is pretty much the case, chiropractic won’t do squat for your asthma,” then I’m going to take their word for it, and be proud that I did my best to go to as many useful sources as possible to avoid being  misinformed. My mum happens to be a massage therapist, and a few of her friends are well into CAM, and can generally point me in the direction of someone trained to speak to annoying naysayers like me. I don’t just stick to my little skeptics clique, believe it or not.

After Frank’s talk, I received several emails and phone calls from other Skeptics in the Pub organisers about what to do  about the lack of ethnic minorities and women in regular attendance. I’ve blogged about it a few times and I’m a girl on the swarthy side  so perhaps I should be an expert, but honestly, I don’t know what to tell my white male colleagues. There isn’t a big conspiracy to keep black and asian people out of the pub, really there isn’t.

If  Skeptics in the Pub is divisive, insular, smug (but not “proud of our achievements”?) or unfriendly towards women, ethnic minorities, children, or anyone else who isn’t a white middle class bloke, then please, please stop bitching about it and get off your arse to do something about it. Ladies Who Do Skepticism did that, Reclaim The Pub did that (which is about to be taken over by the fabulous Georgie), The Pod Delusion did that, and there’s no reason why you can’t too.

Nobody is stopping you from setting up a lunchtime group for young mum’s who can get together in your local cafe, town hall conference room, even church or community hall. No one can prevent you from setting up a forum for black atheists. If you want to start up a Skeptics Disco, I’ll recommend a long list of bands and acts who’ll happily play for free (or the cost of a pint). And if these ideas are lame, then come up with something better, something that you’d want to go to, because the chances are that you’re not alone.

Ed 25th October 2010: Since writing this, Alom Shaha has been in touch with me about a project that we will be working on together over the next few months. Watch this space!

If anyone has any ideas for things they’d like to organise but don’t know how to, please get in touch, I will be happy to help :-)

15 thoughts on “Skeptics, Smeptics

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Though not swarthy, I have shirt-potatoes; this makes me a demi-Carmen. I don’t feel discriminated against or unwelcome at Skeptics in the Pub. Quite the contrary.

    In commercial monopolies law, they don’t demand that there *has* to be an extant alternative – just that your practices doesn’t prevent there being one. It’s sensible. How can you be responsible for stuff that other people aren’t doing yet?

    Personally, I look forward to Skeptics in the Creche, Skeptics at the Gym, Skeptics in the Cafe and Mile-High Skeptics. If you want to start any of those, you go for it. We’ll all be behind you.

    Meanwhile, I’ll continue to do what I can at Skeptics in the Pub – coz I like it.

  2. One of the things we’ve done is a take on “Ladies who do skepticism”, aiming it at women, young mums etc but opening it up to anyone who wants to come along- though having an emphasis on the female invovlement which we have, interestingly after reading your post, called it “Skeptics in the Cafe”

    I’m also in the process of contacting libraries to use their space to offer free “Introduction to Skepticism” workshops and try and encourage more involvement and interest, especially in more deprived areas.

    Edinburgh is startlingly white so outreach to ethnic minorities wouldn’t do much here, however there is a large gay community that might be worth approaching as many gay rights issues have a cross over with skepticism.

    Ultimately, my position is that education and outreach is the way forward, I enjoy the lectures and monthly talks but at times it is a little like preaching to the choir- but that is fine and all good. But I want to do more outreach and I am doing it.

    Totally agree with your points raised and that we should be doing, not just whining because it isn’t being done.

    Ash

    • THANK YOU!! Both for commenting and for getting out and doing stuff. I’m doing my best to organise more skeptic things, invite as many people as possible to meetings, introduce myself to new faces and get them chatting to others, and have been approached by a few people to start a South London SITP for people that can’t get into central London. I get frustrated when people say that SITP is smug and divisive, because I’ve never been at the receiving end of it.

      I’d love it if someone could tell me how rubbish they think it is and specifically why, so that I can address it at the next SITP and make it more inclusive and friendly from now on. It’s no fun being told that something you pour your heart and soul into makes people feel like they’re not welcome. Cx

  3. I run Perth Skeptics (another group here that is actually affiliated in this town with the Australian Skeptics has nothing to do with us, as they’re mostly climate change denialists and there’s been reports of young people being really disillusioned with them).

    The activities we do are pretty varied – at the moment the most popular activity is a female-started bookclub. I mostly find events happening in this town that are pro-science and alert people to them, in the hope of supporting local initiatives and maintain their presence in a population of about 1 million people.

    Overall, I’ve found gender ‘not that much of an issue’ – it’s kind of ‘if you want to start something, I’ll give you the space to advertise it and a place to get in touch with people easily who’d be keen to attend’. It’d be brilliant to have more of a cultural mix, but at the moment it’s more of a ‘anyone want to step up and suggest something, we can be there for you’.

    At the moment, I’m thinking of ways to make 10:23 a little more measurable in terms of impact and how to make a difference in this town, so, it’s a mix of effective science communication as well (I’m attending another Aust Science Communciators workshop on Monday, for example, on that very topic of how to ensure efficacy and outreach).

  4. Good article. Sorry I didn’t get to meet you last week at TAM. After every US TAM, there is also a storm in the blog-o-sphere about lack of women and minorities, as if it were a conspiracy to keep us out. My personal response is to try and tell *everyone* about skepticsm and not to count the number of skirts at the conferences or pubs.

    @Jourdemayne: Hmm, there *is* a Mile-High Skeptics group, but I don’t know if you’re talking about the same thing :D

    http://www.meetup.com/DenverSkeptics/ (Denver being one mile above sea level….)

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  6. I think you’re spot on, Carmen. I have to say that I really struggle to see the point of much of the criticism that’s been levelled at SITP, 10:23 and TAM over the last few months. I guess it’s inevitable that sniping will start to creep in when a movement grows beyond a certain size, but it does seem like a real shame.

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  11. Maybe people don’t attend because they expect it to be dismissive if they disagree, which I witnessed. If someone is skeptical why do they need a forum to discuss it other than to pat each other on the backs for being so free thinking and intelligent and laugh at all the idiots that do believe. I found it self congratulatory and patronising, never been back!

  12. Hi Bea,

    Thank you for your comment, I no longer use that as my blog as I’ve got a new domain now (carmenego.com) but I still get notifications occasionally.

    I’m really sorry that you found the people at SITP to be dismissive of those who hold certain beliefs. Was this at the London/Camden event? If so, I sincerely apologise. It is not our intention to belittle those who hold beliefs or disagree with anything said. The whole point of Skeptics in the Pub is to question things and ultimately have an interesting and fun evening.

    Certainly at the London event we are very keen for the audience to question the speakers and put forward their own views – that is the point of scepticism – but I also understand that there is a tendency for ‘preaching to the converted’ at many of the SITP events around the country.

    Are you able to give me the details of the event and speaker? I will happily mention it to the organisers in order to limit this kind of thing from happening again. The ‘skeptics movement’ (if there is such a thing) is something that I’m really passionate about, as I believe in the importance of critical thinking, which on this occasion, it appears we did not apply as vigorously to ourselves as we could have done.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon, and hope that this negative experience won’t affect your decision to come along again in future.

    Best wishes,

    Carmen

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