A Few Things I’ve Learned from 3 Years of Skeptical Blogging:
It’s been a few days past three years since I began posting on this site, and in terms of blogging principles, writing style, the tone of my ‘voice’ and my skepticism, there are some valuable lessons I’ve learned, and I expect, with more to follow from both prior experience and in future experiences in posting on this site.
Here are a few:
- Avoid perfectionism. Rather than attempting to seek perfection, which is conceptually questionable in the first place, as well as a road to inevitable failure, seek instead to asymptotically strive for perfectibility, always strive for improvement, as there is plenty of room for it in any enterprise.
- Rational justification permitting, allow for the questioning of every source of information, even other skeptics and especially scientists, who are, after all, only human and have finite reliability even in their own field of expertise.
- Do not dehumanize believers. Avoid gratuitous cruelty in critiquing individuals and unfair blanket generalizations of believers. There’s a surprising amount of variation in any demographic, including members of paradigmatic and ideological subgroups.
- Restrict the most pointed attacks to ideas, actions, and claims, and strive to keep personal critiques fair and honest, though perhaps a bit blunt. I don’t need to give those critiqued a valid reason to accuse me of libel or slander, however often that sentiment is not shared by some of the more irate, easily enraged and unstable proponents and believers.
- Avoid unnecessary snark when addressing individuals in personal comment responses, especially trolls, since being attention-whores, that’s what they want in the first place. Offer it only if the situation truly warrants it. If I’m going to be a d*ck, I should be the best possible at the time.
- Avoid undue reverence for and unrealistic enthusiasm about skeptics and skepticism in general. It makes no sense to think of and de facto treat others as saints when one does not believe in saints. Other skeptics are simply both teachers and learners, sometimes both at once, not impossibly epic intellectual Brobdingnagians to be held in rapturous awe.
- Strive for the most realistic, fair, accurate, and clear conceptions of science, atheism, and skepticism one may harbor. Avoid naivete in what they are and how they work, the better to avert cognitive dissonance in the here and now. The truth is more important than wishes or personal feelings of how these things ought to be, and recognizing this fact greatly reduces if not eliminates disappointment and possible disillusionment. The truth is also much more interesting.
- As a skeptic, I do not have all the answers, I cannot have all the answers, and I know that I don’t have to. It is permissible for me to say, “I don’t know. I have no independent access to the events you’ve described in your anecdote, and so can’t explain it without enough data to go by. I remain skeptical of your claim until that changes.”
- Saying the previous does not strengthen the case for anything paranormal or otherwise out-of-this-world. Such things are often unexplained because of a mere lack of sufficient data, not because they’re magic.
I’m fairly certain that this is not an exhaustive list, and likely I’ll be following it up with other posts in a similar vein in future.
To me, allegedly necessary rather than contingent statements about reality tend to be problematic anyway, so I try to avoid them:
No principle should be held dogmatically when keeping open one’s provisional understanding of matters of fact, for it causes one’s grasp on reality and intellectual honesty to fail disastrously, giving rise to the fallacy of thinking that what is true must be dependent on faith, or on a misconstrual of personal experience, the one being a core principle in many organized religions, and the other the seed of nascent pseudoscience.