Damned If You Do, Damned If You Doubt PDF Print E-mail
Written by Karen Stollznow   

There’s a time and place to preach to the choir, but for skepticism to be truly effective, we need to take our message beyond our own community.

Of course, once we venture outside of our group, we face people who haven’t heard of pareidolia, cold reading, logical fallacies, or even…gasp…James Randi!

On the other side of the coin, there are people who have heard of James Randi, but think he’s a closed-minded cynic, and that his check for one million dollars isn’t real.

Some argue that we want to attract the skeptical virgins, and that the hardcore believers can’t be ‘saved’ skeptically. I’m in the camp that wants to introduce novices to skepticism, and to work with skeptics, and believers. So, I ventured outside of the community by creating a blog at Psychology Today, and became a target for both skeptics, and believers.

I posted a primer about the tricks of psychic mediums, and received a slew of anonymous complaints that I was “cynical, sarcastic, and low for a person with a Ph.D”, “stereotyping psychics”, “promoting James Randi’s skeptical agenda”, and that I was so hard on mystics that I must have simply seen a “bad psychic” once. Here were some of the (unedited) criticisms:

I saw Jon Holland the medium at the "I Can Do It" conference in Tampa, Florida this past November and he was absolutely amazing! Some people are really good at what they do and are actually psychic.

Just because you don't understand something or had a bad experience doesn't make it not true. Yes, there are people in the world who purposefully lie for their gain (ex. a sociopath and even some psychologists). Open your world a little bit. This isn't a one stop shop-type of world. If you don't have a good experience with someone (including a Psychologist, Medium or Psychic), go to someone else. Would you want someone to not come to you and to bash the entire world of psychology because they had one bad experience with a psychologist? Take a chance and open your mind a little bit. You may be amazed at how wonderful and large your world becomes!

I played on an ouija board years ago constantly for months, and over a period of 10 years, all what it spelt out actually happened to me, weird eh, to this day I can't explain it.

Excellent article on reductionism. Now show me the part of the brain where memories are stored or how placebo works (its an illusion right). What about subatomic particles that change their behavior when being observed? Oh wait, we don't fully understand the mind, thats right, but we can discount peoples personal experiences because we know better right? Just because you have not tapped into your minds hidden abilities, don't discount everyone that has and hop on the debunking bandwagon. Are there frauds? Of course there are, but they exist in every field, including psychology.

What a about a palm reader that can look at a picture of your palm without ever asking you any questions or seeing you. I know a lady who does this. She has customers from all over the world. She has been reading palms for 30 years. Just saying.

I have enough evidence and witnesses to live a spiritual life' YOU SHOULDNT mess with things you cant prove... stick to your stats.

This article was so universally damning of all those who may, indeed, have spiritual gifts of mediumship. I was really shocked at how close minded and cynical it was. If course we all know there are scammers out there. As someone else pointed out, they exist in every profession. I'd love to hear what George Anderson would say to this author.

Anyone else who has locked horns with believers, especially people involved in the UFO or psychic communities, knows that some go beyond belief to become hostile, litigious, and even dangerous.

Then, I returned to the safe bosom of the skeptical community, but there were criticisms there too. What possessed me to write for Psychology Today, the National Enquirer of psychology? This reminded me of Harriet Hall’s ill-fated “The Health Inspector” column for O Magazine. The column didn’t last very long, but it still would have reached many people in the meantime. Last year, paranormal claims investigators Bryan & Baxter (yes, Baxter is my fiancé) gave ghost tours of Denver to over 1,600 people during the Halloween season, and managed to inject skepticism into every story without ‘ruining’ the fun.

There are many novel ways to take skepticism outside of the community. Whatever our skills, we can start a blog or podcast that treats myths and misconceptions about any topic. We can speak at schools or libraries about fun skeptical topics, and we can talk about critical thinking to friends, family and strangers whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I urge everyone to brave the believers, and the skeptics, and go outside of our community. Keep on reading Swift, attending TAM, and posting on the JREF forums, but have a go at doing something unexpected for skepticism.


Karen Stollznow is a research fellow for the James Randi Educational Foundation.