Native Skeptic

Native Skeptic
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reason Rises in the Valley of the Sun with Newly Established Phoenix Area Skeptics Society


The majority of the content in this particular post was inspired in light of the 2007 article by Canadian writer, illustrator, and Editor of Junior Skeptic magazine Daniel Loxton titled, "Where Do We Go From Here" [PDF]. This also helped serve for some background on the purpose of the newly established Phoenix Area Skeptics Society (PASS). It clearly lays out the future of skepticism and some of the reasons why, "skepticism is a movement with a mission: to organize an effort to discover reality, to expose fraud — and to help people."  

“Our underlying interest is not the paranormal per se, but the larger topics and issues such as how our beliefs in such things arise, how our minds work to deceive us, how we think, how our critical thinking capabilities can be improved.” (Loxton 2007)

In the end,
  • We can decrease the total number of scams and help clear up confusions. 
  • We can reduce the total amount of harm suffered by victims and potential victims. 
  • We can make things less profitable or more difficult for specific kinds of scam artists." (Loxton 2007)

Skepticism often gets relayed to the general public as a mindset that resembles cynicism, which gets defined more as an attitude. Denialists or "Debbie Downers" are some of the other commonly associated terms that most people think of when using the word skeptic. However, just like any other perception of the world, when investigated further, it becomes clear that not all assumptions are always accurate.

Take the following quote from one of the founders of modern scientific skepticism, the late, great Carl Sagan from his wonderful skeptics' guide to reality titled, The Demon-Haunted World,

"Keeping an open mind is a virtue- but, as the space engineer James Oberg once said, not so open that your brains fall out. Of course we must be willing to change our minds when warranted with new evidence. But the evidence must be strong. Not all claims to knowledge have equal merit." (Sagan 1997)   
   
The Phoenix Area Skeptics Society, or (PASS), is a newly formed community oriented group that focuses on the discussion and promotion of skepticism, science, and critical thinking. All our events are managed and coordinated by a team of volunteers, to whom we are always grateful. We have two monthly meetups in the Central and East Valley areas of Phoenix, to learn more visit our Skeptics in the Pub Meetup group.

So, let's get down to it. What is a skeptic and what does a skeptic do? Skeptic, as it is defined by Dictionary.com, states: 

“1. a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.”(Dictionary.com 2011)

An even better definition of skeptics and skepticism was written by science writer Brian Dunning and can be found on his site, the award-winning weekly science podcast that he also writes and produces called, Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena,

“The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.” (Dunning 2011)

What PASS actually does promote is not so much a set of conclusions, but a way of “finding things out”. We are here to promote methodological tools of scientific inquiry with two primary areas of interest in mind,

  1. The general promotion of science literacy and critical thinking.
  2. Consumer protection in the areas considered to be "fringe science".
 
We are specialists in paranormal, psuedoscience, and pretty much any popular or "weird" claim being made out there. No one else does what skeptics do, even though; it’s simply the right thing to do.

All “fringe sciences” or pseudoscientific claims, like pretty much anything invoking quantum mechanics is subject to skeptical, scientific scrutiny. Even psuedohistorical claims like the "ancient astronaut theory", which was wonderfully covered by archaeology professor Dr. Ken Feder on the MonsterTalk podcast, makes claims about the real world so it's testable in nature. It doesn't matter how outlandish a claim might seem to be, if it falls within the scope of science, its open game and subject to skeptical interrogation.


When you stop and think about it, the reason most of these claims go on unchallenged is pretty obvious. Scientists simply have better things to do than spend their time investigating elaborate, unsupported, very low probability claims. So, it’s up to us to do the dirty work.


Does this sound like something you would be interested in? Wanna help fight pseudoscience and other crimes going against science and reason? There are many ways that you can volunteer your time with the Phoenix Area Skeptics Society, here are just a few: 

Join one of our Skeptical Response Teams (SRT), 
  • Our Investigation Teams research and report on any paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims. If you are interested in getting involved with the SRT Investigators, please send your e-mail to phoenixskeptics@gmail.com with 'SRT Investigations' in the subject line.
  • Our Media Resource Team is a local group dedicated to responding to members of print and broadcast media in a timely fashion to not just answer questions, but provide the necessary balance to the reporting of scientific, and not-so scientific events. If you are interested in getting involved with the SRT Media Resources, e-mail phoenixskeptics@gmail.com with 'SRT Media' in the subject line.

Discuss skepticism, science and other news anytime, anywhere with the Phoenix Area Skeptics Society on our Community Forum!

Volunteer to be a contributing author by e-mailing phoenixskeptics@gmail.com with 'Author' in the subject line.

People can also sign-up to be Moderator of one of our discussion Forums by e-mailing phoenixskeptics@gmail.com with 'Moderator' in the subject line.




"Skepticism is not rooted in disbelief, but firmly planted in wanting to know"










Other Works Cited
Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. The Dragon in My Garage. Random House Digital, Inc., 1997. (page 187). 

skeptic. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/skeptic (accessed: November 30, 2011).