Posted by: Kash Farooq | August 9, 2010

Science Punk at Westskep (the aftermath)

I’m writing this in response to the comment that Frank kindly added to my previous post about Science Punk’s visit to WestSkep Skeptics In  The Pub.

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone for their supportive words, tweets, retweets and mentions. I’m overwhelmed by the response to my original post after Frank Swain’s talk at Westminster Skeptics. It was my first  “proper” blog post and I’ve really enjoyed reading the great comments and conversations that have been developing since.

Secondly, I’d like to apologise to Frank for the things that I misunderstood. For example, I had not gathered that the reference to the types of groups that do not attend Skeptics in the Pub events was as the result of feedback that Frank had received. Carmen has also blogged about ethnic minorities and SitP. Yes, the format of an event may (will?) put some people off. Perhaps we do need a “Skeptics in the coffee shop” event. My views were based on what I have seen at the London SitP events – perhaps Frank should have at least acknowledged that the gender and ethnic imbalance he was talking about is not evident at the WestSkep.

Now, however, following on from Frank’s reply, I’d like to make a few more points.

I hope Frank can see, and is amused by, the irony. It is ironic that whilst discussing how skeptics are communicating badly with non-skeptics, well…… Frank communicated badly with fellow skeptics.

Don’t get me wrong, Frank is a great public speaker. I could not do what he does. We need people like him to take science to the masses.

10:23 (again)

By stating “this is not engagement” whilst displaying a slide showing the 10:23 website, Frank instantly upset the people who “joined” the skeptic movement due to this campaign. 10:23 has become a pet project for many, like me, who are new to skepticism. It allowed people to easily become interested and involved. Frank’s discussion about 10:23 was confrontational – correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the sort of communication style that Frank is trying to drag skeptics away from? Whilst planning this blog post, I was directed by @sitpcambridge (sorry, I don’t know what your real name is!) to his/her (!) excellent post – “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. This is a good read and I completely agree.

The woo/n-word comparison (again)

After reading the comments by Hayley Stevens and Mike Bennett, I understand what Frank is trying to say. Read these comments. They are very good. However, note that it took these comments for me to understand the significance of the woo word, not Frank’s initial discussion. A sentence from one of the comments:

“It’ll make me think twice about using the term.” – Jay

I strongly suggest that Frank finds another way to communicate these thoughts. In my opinion, comparing woo to the n-word is definitely the wrong way to go about it. Frank’s message got lost in the shock factor of stating that “woo is the closest word that the skeptic community has to the n-word”.

Billy Graham (again)

Finally, I stand by my views on using Billy Graham as an example to the skeptic community. Obviously I cannot speak for everyone else, but I’m sure Billy Graham isn’t the direction in which skeptics want to go. The comment by @Endless_psyche is well worth a read. However, for a perfect comment in less than 140 characters:

“And I tell you, if any skeptic tries a Billy Graham on me, or my mum, I’ll be very ticked off ;)” – @jonmbutterworth

And I think that’s a perfect point to end this discussion.



  1. End the discussion?! Seriously? 😛

    As a member of one of the ‘minorities’ (and that’s one of the few times I’ll ever be able to say that) I don’t think you’re quite right in saying the imbalance is ‘not evident’ at WestSkep.

    It’s not as bad as it is in some places, I’m sure. But lacking a Y chromosome, I’m very aware that not many others are.

    I do find that when thinking of people I could take with me, I can only really come up with man-friends. I do think skeptics needs a bit of a boost from the other half of the population, but I’m not sure how to achieve this; without knowing the actual percentage of the population that is female and considers themselves a skeptic, I couldn’t say what would be the ‘optimum’ percentage (as I doubt it’s bang on 50).

    Perhaps the same for non-white individuals, but I’d rather get their opinion on that!

    I was going to compare ‘woo’ to ‘chav’ but I don’t think I’ll bother (and I say chav all the time, coming from a council estate, so it’d make me look bad 😉 )

  2. I disagree with the comparison to the N-word, I think there are very different things going on there, but I do think that ‘woo’ is a word skeptics need to stop using.

    It’s counter to everything we stand for to dismiss someone’s ideas or beliefs with a three letter word. Sure, it may be easier and more shorthand than actually having to talk about the ideas in detail every time, but that’s not what we’re in it for.

    Saying ‘this idea is woo’ or ‘this person is a woo’ closes the door on further discussion or at least implies that it should be closed. It does not invite exactly the sort of debate, exploration and questioning that we are supposed to stand for.

    I don’t think that means that we shouldn’t ridicule demonstrably ridiculous ideas, but we should do so without resorting to lazy name-calling and pidgeonholing.

    Not only that, but it’s just like a self-congratulatory sort of verbal masturbation. What does a non-skeptic care if you say someone is a woo or has woo ideas? Who is ever going to be inspired to think more carefully after hearing that?

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