Saturday, October 20, 2007

Familiar malaise at Skepticality

Posted by goatchurch at 11:46 AM
Listen to this or read this. Op-ed and interview with Daniel Loxton. It all sounds so familiar:
In the summer of 2006, Martin Rundkvist (one of the editors of the Swedish skeptics magazine Folkvett) tackled this question in his blog. The entry’s title, "Stuffy Inquirer," captured his thesis: the Skeptical Inquirer "appears to be written by old men for old men." According to Rundkvist, "there’s something lacking" in both the
tone and the content. (Personally, I disagree — I love the Skeptical Inquirer.) He wrote, "A lot of the articles in S.I. seem to be about hoaxes and 'mysteries' current when I was a kid. Uri Geller is still very much an ongoing concern in S.I. And in the current issue they discuss Central American crystal skulls again!"


All this raises the question: what is the skeptical movement for? What are we trying to accomplish, exactly?


Regarding science literacy, we all know the stakes — yet, can we remind ourselves too often? In Sagan's (still spine-tingling) articulation,

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements ... profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster.

That really says it all. The kids in schools today (and the adults reading magazines) are called upon to navigate unimaginably vast challenges, in which millions (even billions) of lives hang in the balance. Climate change, peak oil production, dwindling water supplies, the human population peak, unprecedented demographic trends, soaring antibiotic resistance in disease organisms, the AIDS-driven crippling of entire nations — my children will see all of it, and they’ll have tough choices to make. Those problems are all science problems, and every citizen desperately needs the factual background and cognitive tools required to help solve them.

Many skeptics, like Sagan, are explicit that this is the real point of what we do. CSICOP Fellow Bill Nye recently suggested that science advocacy "wouldn’t matter if we didn’t have global heating, if the world weren’t going to end for many, many humans unless we take a scientifically literate view, and take scientifically informed steps to save the planet for our own species."

It’s hard to argue with that. The stakes really are that high; science literacy and critical thinking, of the types promoted by skeptics, are that important.

Framing skeptical activism in terms of global challenges and vast human consequences certainly helps communicate the importance of our project. As I’ve often said myself, to family, to friends, or to the press, "If you can save a grieving widow from being taken advantage of by a callous con-man, that’s a good in itself. But really, the stakes are bigger than that. Really, it’s about the global science and technology issues facing our culture..."
Right. So, can anyone out there explain what genre of fiction is going to serve the need for preparing us for the actual future? Or is the only criterion that ever matters is that the book just makes you feel good and doesn't challenge you in any way about the inevitable changes in your life that is going to happen?


Anonymous suelange said...

Well, when you become a publisher I guess science fiction will once again be that genre. Until then, nobody's publishing anything that doesn't sell and that means DISNEY, whether it's futuristic, fantastic, or just plain about cute animals.

Watch out for the honey.

10/24/2007 12:42:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home