THE BLOG

Seriously Fun Skepticism

07/05/2013 08:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 04, 2013

Next week, I'll be speaking at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas. It's the premier annual event for those of us interested in advancing reason and scientific skepticism, attracting guests from all over the world and from a vast array of fields.

Some people would say, "A convention of skeptics?! How horrible and dull!"

Far from it. The people who present talks, panels and workshops almost always are stellar -- knowing their stuff inside and out far better than those who sell you shams, scams and questionable claims.

I'll be talking about how the media sell you mysterious and strange news and why you should question it. Others will talk about superstition around the world, quack medicine, the proliferation of dangerous practices like psychic scams and exorcisms, the hazards of science denialism, and more. Yes, even Bigfoot. I'm on a panel of Bigfoot skeptics.

Science professionals, doctors, media personalities, magicians, writers, researchers, podcasters and science enthusiasts all come to this conference to talk about how to help people not get fooled.

It truly is amazing.

One of my personal goals is to express the value of applying skepticism. That's how you dig into a subject, not by watching cable pseudo-documentaries or participating in online forums. My research and writing is all about getting to the best answer to some questions -- whether that question is whether this medical treatment or product is safe and effective, if this paranormal claim has any merit or did this person experience something extraordinary. I'm always trying to learn more and communicate these ideas better.

We can't afford to sit and be passive about the proliferation of fake medicine, consumers scams, medieval superstitious thought and misinformation. It is not in the best interest of society to believe things that aren't true. It is in society's best interest to sort out the sense from the nonsense so that we don't waste money, hope and lives.

Gatherings of this sort are an invaluable way for people with common interests to get together face-to-face, make contacts, and learn from each other. We take home new friendships, inspiration and a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm to make a positive change in our communities.

This stuff is important. As my colleagues will say, critical commentators have to be the police to catch the frauds and the garbage men to haul out the trash. It's a tough and dirty job. It's under-appreciated and berated as well. It won't make you fans -- it gets you yelled at or ignored, even blacklisted and sued.

Anyone can repeat and hype mystery stories and the latest incredible product. The public will buy into it without thinking. As a skeptical advocate, here's what I do -- I provide you with an array of options regarding how to think about this claim. It could be true but that's unlikely and here's why. I tell you why you should be cautious so you won't get taken. I want to share some ideas about why this is likely complete bulls**t so you won't be fooled. My goal is to arm you with tools you need to weed through the fakers. It's also the goal of many other writers, researchers, podcasters and media personalities. So, we're going to get together in a big conference center and have a go at advancing reason. We're also going to eat treats from around the world, toast to each other, play poker, be entertained, do some magic tricks and laugh, a lot.

The skeptical crowd is witty, sharp and fun. Don't dare assume we are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons. We are serious when we need to be, and human all the time.