‘Some skeptics could do well to look, listen and learn from someone like me, after all I achieve things which others can only dream of’ says Jon Donnis, the owner of BadPsychics, a website that ran with the help of numerous contributors until he took it down. On the blog that now replaces the old website Donnis has recently failed to realise that not everyone has the same dream.
He criticised the Merseyside Skeptics Society because he believes they seek publicity in everything they do. He writes
In recent years the Merseyside Skeptics “Society” have become known more for their stunts than their skepticism, whether it is homeopathic overdoses, or challenges to psychics, but is this really what skepticism needs, wants or even should be about? Former UK Skeptics kingpin John Jackson recently commented on such societies as…
“A few of these ‘societies’ cropped up a few years ago. ‘Society’ being a euphemism for ‘a couple of blokes with a blog’.”
It seems that since the early days of BadPsychics when I was heavily involved with skepticism, that these days its all about the latest stunt to self promote which ever group you are in.
The first question that came to mind was ‘so?’
So what if people gain publicity while bringing peoples attention to problems like homeopathic medicine and psychic trickery? The Ten23 campaign and events took an important message and made it global, and that isn’t something that is voided simply because it made the group well known too. This “stunt” by the MSS was educational outreach, to suggest otherwise is shortsighted and dismissive. Also, the Merseryside Skeptics are far from a couple of blokes with a blog. Then again, so what if they were two blokes with a blog? What does that matter?
Ten23 made a lot of people suddenly realise they weren’t the only ones fed up with the nonsense they encountered on a daily basis. People who had bitten their tongues because they thought they were a tiny minority of doubters suddenly realised that this wasn’t the case. Skeptics in the Pub groups started springing up all over the country and people started doing things to counter the evidence-less nonsense in their communities.
As someone commented on Facebook, ‘look at the crappy old MSS with their silly stunts and their appearances in national media, and their international conference and their popular podcasts. What have they ever done of note?‘ What indeed. It isn’t just the MSS either. People from all walks of life are doing what they can to make that difference, whether it be blogging about the claims of Alt Med Practitioners, or going undercover at Psychic Fairs with people from the local SitP group…
Going back to the BadPsychics blog post though, it’s evident that the real problem Jon Donnis has is the Halloween Psychic Challenge that the Merseyside Skeptics have organised for a second year in a row. It challenges psychics where it hurts. It shows that if their claims were true they’d agree to do the MSS challenge. The only two options they have are to a) comply and shoot themselves in the foot because it’s unlikely they’ll pass (though, I’m willing to be convinced otherwise), or b) not comply and show they are unwilling to put their money where their mouths are and stand by their claims.
Last year I wasn’t convinced that the challenge was well timed, and I wasn’t convinced that the protocol was the best. However after a chat with Simon Singh (who, along with Chris French, has been involved in the challenge since the start regardless of what Donnis thinks) made me change my mind. I realised that the challenge might not be new and groundbreaking, but that it doesn’t have to be. It’s the dialogue that’s important. It’s the message being spread that’s important, and that’s exactly what the challenge does.
If running the challenge makes the MSS the bad guys because it gets them some attention then so? Doesn’t that also make so many other well known skeptics the bad guys too? Jon Donnis included?
The answer is that no, it does not. The world has changed since the early days of skeptical activism, and skeptical outreach and activism has had to keep up. Misinformation can make it around the world three times before anyone has a chance to point out what’s wrong with it. With that in mind, the way misinformation is countered has had to adapt too, and adapt it has. There are good ways of conducting skeptical outreach, and there are bad ways of doing the same but to deal in absolutes – good or bad – is illogical. Barbara Drescher of the ICBS Everywhere blog has a whole list of posts about ‘taking back skepticism’ that cover definitions, tone, intentions, skeptical outreach, and grassroots skepticism. I encourage you to take an hour out and read them.
Suggesting that a grassroots skeptical organisation getting attention because of their campaigns and events is a problem is shortsighted. Even if the people at the Merseyside Skeptics Society are doing their campaigns so that they can speak at conferences and be popular among skeptics (which I don’t think is their sole intention) then, again, the question is ‘so?’ That’s a bonus for them on top of the other things they’ve achieved.
I’m going to end this blog post with an unapologetic and shameless defence for the Merseyside Skeptics Society. They have done too much to be accused of being mere publicity seekers. I have met too many skeptics who got involved in skeptical activism because of Ten23, and I have met too many people who have, at last, found solace among the like-minded at QEDcon. They are not deserving of the criticism levelled at them by Donnis.