Nessie Model

Some Notes on ‘Silliness’

April 20, 2020

With the COVID-19 outbreak and its requisite closures, I have had time to do some catching up on the blogs, articles, etc., that always seem to be put off when there are other things to be done. While catching up, I noted that some recent writings have once again raised the issue of “silliness” and question why the various skeptic’s organizations still pursue the believers of things “silly.”

First and foremost, I am not speaking on behalf of the management or administration of the skeptical organizations I work for, in this case the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). However, in case you were not aware, CSI was founded as the Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) in 1976, examining such things as UFOs, astrology, and the like (which some might call pretty silly). As the organization grew, it took on more and more subjects that some folks deem as silly: cryptozoology, alternative medicine, ghosts, divination, parapsychology, etc. The idea was that science and scientists were not examining these phenomena because they were focused on their own science. Someone needed to do it.

Of the luminaries who joined the founding of CSICOP, Carl Sagan, the man who became a renowned “science popularizer,” stands out the most. The organization followed his lead, seemingly determining that we needed science education, critical thinking, and a better public understanding of science; CSICOP turned in that direction.

Based upon my research, it appears that over time it developed into that organization. But there is still a need to examine those “silly” issues. Why? Because the issues keep returning.

Former baseballer Jose Canseco asked: “Can Bigfoot and Aliens Get Covid?” Chiropractors have been told not to tell people that they can cure COVID-19. Psychics still take peoples’ money. Homeopathy. The Illuminati. Ancient astronauts. Guess what? They all return in some form or another.

Besides the fact that these topics keep coming back, one point to consider is the educational aspect. Covering these topics gives an opportunity for PR and also can be thought of as providing an introduction to skepticism. If someone starts investigating Nessie and finds out that there is no evidence for its existence, maybe they will start questioning other “facts” that they believe. Maybe the house they live in is not haunted; what proof is there for this? How about werewolves, vampires, giants? Hmmm, maybe there is evidence about [insert topic here].

Skepticism is not an all-encompassing idea; it is a spectrum. Some folks do not believe in ghosts but think zombies are real. Some folks are religious and have doubt there. But it is not black and white. So, the question is: Do we include all, or only those who believe exactly as I do? Or do we educate people, with the resources at our disposal, and try to teach them critical thinking and reason through the entry point of their interests?

If nothing else, these “attacks” prove that we need to keep doing this kind of work; they also keeping coming back.