As part of my responsibility as a good parent, I try to be informed about the television shows and movies my son is watching. I often sit and watch them with Atom and we discuss the content. I certainly don’t think kids shows should have to demonstrate a skeptical perspective. It is pleasing though, to occasionally find shows that take on a problem with the tools of science and critical thinking.
I have seen excellent examples of this on Arthur, which has an episode debunking an urban legend and another taking on UFO claims. We enjoy several PBS Kids programs such as Curious George, Cyberchase, and Sid the Science Kid, all of which regularly use scientific thinking to solve problems. The Nick Jr. series Backyardigans (pictured) has a great episode about the Yeti that challenges both extreme credulity as well as knee-jerk skepticism as it lets the evidence lead viewers to the answer. Of course there’s also good old Scooby-Doo, the prototypical skeptical cartoon.
We've seen the headlines: "Church Burns, Miracle Baby Survives" followed by quotes like "Jesus was watching little Jessica that day." And then there's no mention of the 200 people inside who suffered a horrific death. The baby's survival is attributed to a higher force, and the victims were just statistics.
Those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook know that I received an inflammatory e-mail this morning. I wasn’t the only one to receive it – it was sent to a number of TV stations and public skeptics. And of course, this isn’t unusual. If you blog and take up a controversial position (yes, skepticism is sadly controversial), you’ll receive this delightful mail as well.
It was quite an offensive piece that threatened the entire population of the United States with slaughter and included a picture of “Goatse,” a well-known photo that I urge you not to Google. (When you do it anyway, just remember that I did warn you.) As the e-mail is offensive and even disturbing, I’ve put a photo of it here. You needn’t look at it to get my point.
What at first glance looks like a threat of violence from a mad man is actually something much more upsetting. It’s a cry for help that none of us are able to answer.
About a month ago now, Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer) gave a talk at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 that stirred quite a reaction among some folks in the skeptical movement, both positive and negative. I had my own strong reaction, and have enjoyed the self-criticism that this talk fostered. I have had many conversations about it since with skeptics holding varied and contrasting views about the best approaches to adopt when working to advance skepticism and critical thinking in our world.
We're making the video available online so that more people may take part in the conversation and because some of the criticism of the talk came from people who hadn't yet seen it.
Lest you think that quack treatments are on the way out, let this collection from Canada's CBC refresh your memory. There is very little commentary on the photos, though a spirited debate rages in the comments below.
"Ancient wisdom" persists even today. Often it does no harm; sometimes it's deadly. What it isn't is progressive – no one is learning how to "perfect" these techniques or make them better, because no one is thinking about mechanisms or trying to explain their efficacy (or lack thereof). Modern medical science, on the other hand, is a never ending quest for the next better thing and we have much better things now.
So while these pictures are interesting, quirky, and in some cases downright silly, other pictures are truly astounding.