Skeptics are a funny lot. I have jokingly in the past suggested that modern organized Skepticism follows on from what Charismatic Christianity was in the mid 80’s, Wicca was in the late 80’s/early 90’s and ufology was in the 90’s and Ghosthunting was in the early 2000’s. It’s a popular movement that attracts intelligent people. They tend to also be White, Middle Class, and liberal-leftist in my experience. Nowt wrong with that.
Now I have many times touched on “effective skeptical activism” – I regard effective skeptics as those who interact with the wider community, and have an informed perspective — lots of examples of this, people like Hayley Stevens, the dudes at RatSkep, and many of the JREF forum posters. However if I ask about effective skeptical activism, people might think of Rhys Morgan, or more likely maybe james Randi, Michael Shermer, and of course the wonderful Ben Goldacre.
But, nah, my eyes have been opened.All these people reach a wide audience – but mainly middle class types I think. Working class types like Trystan and me are still pretty rare in skeptical circles – dunno if Hayley would consider herself one of us, but a lot of sceptical books seemed targeted at Guardian readers – maybe because they are among the few people who still go to Waterstones? 😉
Nope, my eyes were opened because my housemate had a job that required an hour long bus journey each way. So she started to buy Take A Break, Chat, That’s Life, etc, etc, to read on the bus. These magazines are filled with terrible tragic horrible stories and make me realize just how lucky I am to live as I do, a life where people do not end up regularly end up being murdered, in prison, or with 14 kids or as in the harrowing account I read in one stuck on the loo for five days, paralyzed and too big to escape after a stroke 😦 It’s all a bit Jeremy Kyle, but there are some happy stories in there.
Now I suspect the average skeptic does not read these magazines, where a journalist interviews some unfortunate and tells their woeful tale. Some of the people I find really hard to sympathise with: other i genuinely feel for. Yet this is I think where a huge amount of mass appeal scepticism goes down.
Most of the British public have little interest in evidence based medicine, peer review etc, etc. What they can relate to is stories about people who ended up in hospital after trying a tanning treatment, a diet pill, a miracle supplement, etc, etc. And these little magazines are absolutely full of them, with terrifying before and after pictures. The MHRA and ASA do sterling work, but the first hand accounts in these magazines, along with the wonderful Consumer Affairs show Watchdog, that’s where the real Word goes down.
I’d encourage all skeptics to think carefully about the reach of these publications, what we can learn by looking at them and reading them, and consider buying them alongside The Skeptic and other worthy journals. It’s easy to be snobby: but one story in one of these probably reaches a lot more people whoo might be tempted by scams than a hundred SitP meetings will. Sad, but true.