What's the value of skepticism? That's an easy question. There may be a lot of valid answers, but skepticism helps us discern truth from fiction. That can be the truth of which health-claims to trust, whether to be afraid of aliens violating us in the night, or whether to play that street card game. But what is the value of Skepticism? The movement, the self-identification, the world-view, the community?
I've met so many people who tell me a similar "origin story." It's a variant on this theme:
I used to believe in [mystery-X] and I read all about it and watched television shows about it. When a conference was near me I would go. But over time I began to realize that the claims of [mystery-X] were vague, and that there wasn't any hard evidence. And I began to doubt [mystery-X] and eventually I concluded that there was nothing there. And then I thought, hey - what about [mystery-Y]? - and again and again they failed to show me the evidence. Then one day I heard about Skepticism through a podcast and realized that these Skeptics were just like me.
That story is my story too. But before I found out about "capital-S" Skepticism, I had spent ten years doing my own investigations and research. Just for me. Just to answer that pressing question, "Is that real?" So when I found out there was a vibrant web community of Skeptics I got quite excited. I never felt welcome on most of the UFO, Ghost, Psychic and Cryptozoology sites I visited - and mostly was a reader, not a joiner.
But we're social animals. And most of us crave the society of others. (Always there are exceptions, of course.) And the JREF's boards have been a place where for many years self-identifying Believers and Skeptics can come and discuss various phenomena and ideas. One of my favorite mystery-topics is cryptozoology - the study of mystery animals. Of course as a "science" it has a huge frikken problem: How can you study an animal that isn't known to exist? That almost immediately morphs the whole field into a study of anecdotes - which is a folklorist's realm, not a biologist's.
Still, the tools of skepticism don't always enable us to disprove something. And cryptozoology fans are always looking for the next piece of evidence: photos, hairs, footprints, slime-trails, exsanguinated corpses, etc... And many cryptozoology fans are as sick of being hoaxed as the self-identifying Skeptics are. And many of them are as rabid about deconstructing evidence as Skeptics are. Not all of them are, but many.
This kind of examination, even from believers, led me to realize that analysis of cryptozoology is an excellent gateway into critical thinking and Skepticism. So, to that end, I got with Ben Radford and Dr. Karen Stollznow and started the podcast "MonsterTalk." On our show we examine particular claims and use monster stories as a gateway to science and skepticism. Most people won't self-identify as a Believer or a Skeptic. Their views are a spectrum and on some things they're credulous, and others they're skeptical. But for me, the value of Skepticism is that it helps diminish fear and vanquish ignorance through the tool that we humans use best: communication.
Communication and community - these words have a lot in common.