Novelty UFO in Moonbeam, Ontario, Canada by P199 released into the public domain.
Continuing my effort to give a boost to the long tail of skepticism, it is time once again for Wishlist Wednesday. The idea with these posts is to kick around an idea for a skeptical project that someone could launch, that fills a niche in skepticism. I still believe there are many opportunities for online skeptic projects like this that have not yet been built. I hope to encourage skeptics to build them. Last week I proposed a podcast, this week it’s a website.
This week the idea is something I’ve personally wanted for a while. My previous job was teaching computer security training classes, and so I was travelling around the country regularly. Whenever I travel to a new place on business, I try to figure out if there are interesting sights to see or other things to visit while in the area. It can be a fun way to kill some down-time while on a business trip, and can often be quite educational.
Every once in a while I was able to visit a place that was related to skepticism while doing this. But some of these places are fairly obscure, and not easily found. And some you wouldn’t know to look for unless you were already from the area.
But what if skeptics made an effort to collect these locations and document them? Not only would casual travelers benefit, but skeptics wanting to learn or investigate something could use it to find convenient places to do so. Let’s think a bit of how we would build this.
One of the interesting side-effects of the anti-misinformation tools I wrote about on Sunday may be better availability of metrics about what misinformation is actually making the rounds. That could be very useful for skeptics.
I often wonder whether skeptics are staying focused on the right topics. Skeptics are reactive. We often find ourselves responding to news articles, social media trends and other ephemera needing critical analysis. While this is necessary, there is always the danger that we might be distracted from other topics needing us. Those neglected topics could affect equally as many people but are not getting media attention. This is why I often talk about the long tail and focusing on a niche, because the more skeptics who do that, the better overall topic coverage we can get.
I was reminded of this while listening to this week’s Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, in which host Steven Novella pointed out that although the pseudoscience of neuromuscular dentistry has existed for half a century, there is “very little written about it, skeptically.” I’ve also seen evidence of this when responding to earnest requests for information on the James Randi Educational Foundation’s forum. Requests occasionally arrive there for a skeptical analysis on some product that has been around for quite some time, and yet nothing appropriately critical about it can be found online.
Let me give you a quick example of how information generated by one of those new tools might help us see whether the focus problem exists and solve it at the same time.
One of the early posts on this blog was about the long tail of skepticism. In that post I talked about how skeptics should be looking for an interesting niche within skepticism, and create projects like blogs and podcasts that cater to that niche. There are several good reasons for this strategy you can read at that post.
I still believe there are many opportunities for online skeptic projects that have not yet been built. In the past on this blog I have successfully exhorted skeptics to get involved online in one way or another. Most notably Susan Gerbic has created an entire blog and Wikipedia project based around the ideas I originally championed here. There are others too.
With that in mind, I’m going to start a series of shorter posts in which I toss out an idea, partially flesh out why it might be useful to skeptics, and encourage skeptics to build it. I’m going to do one per week. It’s called Wishlist Wednesday, and my first idea is the “Skeptic Podcast Sampler”.
Two new skeptical websites have drawn a great deal of attention recently. One is skepticblog and the other is Stop Jenny McCarthy.
Skepticblog is a new group blog by the cast and crew of the upcoming skeptical television program The Skeptologists. It sure seems to have a lot going for it. It has a snazzy graphic design. It has several nationally known skeptics like Michael Shermer, Phil Plait and Steven Novella. The first crop of articles covers such varied skeptical topics as UFO’s, Sylvia Browne, Kevin Trudeau and one of my favorites, internet misinformation.
Stop Jenny McCarthy is a new informational site from the mold of Stop Kaz and Stop Sylvia Browne. The idea is to focus tightly on the specific claims being made by one person, and show how and why they are incorrect. This site is much smaller and is done in a much simpler visual style. As of now it only has a handful of pages.
I found it interesting that these two sites were launched in the same month.