Plugging skepticism, badly

I’m studying video this term, and the module project is to produce a 3-5 minute film by early January. Today was proposals day, and I pitched a documentary-ish thing based around skepticism. I started out by introducing the concept of skepticism as an organised movement, followed by skeptics and the kinds of things we’re interested in, and I’m not sure I did a very good job.

For starters, one of the teachers was pretty hostile. She immediately asked if I’d heard the modern view that science just ‘proves’ whatever it wants to prove1, and later called skeptics ‘annoying’. Another was clearly unconvinced but didn’t argue, while the third listens to Little Atoms but sometimes finds it a bit ‘fundamentalist’. I think my maybe-a-little-contemptuous response of ‘fundamentalist?!’ stopped him arguing further, but I’m not sure he was any more won over than the others.

I’m not really bothered what the teachers think of me, though – I’m more concerned that I came across a bit too strident to my classmates. I’m unused to speaking about skepticism to non-skeptics, and I worry I didn’t pay enough attention to we-attack-ideas-not-people. I spent ages trying to define modern skepticism2, when I should perhaps have concentrated more on the general impression. I used the example of a recent lecturer who claimed racism is caused by stress over parental genitalia3. I called it a highly dubious realm-of-science claim, about an issue that actually matters, and said she needed to offer some evidence to back it up. This might have seemed a bit know-it-all. Plus, arguing with the teachers in front of everyone is probably self-indulgent. Given that organised skepticism genuinely isn’t unfriendly, I’m annoyed that I may have promoted it badly. Sigh.

That said, I’m somewhat sleep-deprived after the past week and it’s possible my judgement is off, but I’ve felt slightly abashed all evening. Grmph. Still – they approved my idea!

  1. I replied that I didn’t think any scientist would recognise this, when I should have just said ‘how would that work?’ []
  2. eventually coming up with ‘skepticism is the study of things that are interestingly or harmfully wrong’, which I was quite happy with []
  3. standard psychoanalytic stuff []