Posted by: Kash Farooq | February 18, 2011

The skeptic community is diverse and that’s a good thing

I was going to add this as a comment to Hayley’s “The Ghostly Token” blog post, but soon realised that my comment was going to get too long. So, here is a blog post instead.

In summary, Hayley’s post is a counter to a comment made in “A look back at QED: a science and skepticism conference” which stated that 2 out of 12 talks about ghosts at QEDCon was too much.

However, you could also then argue that 2 out of 12 talks about physics was too much.
Or 2/3/4 out of 12 talks about psychology was too much.

Different people have different interests. Yes, some people may not read about or investigate ghosts in their spare time. But we aren’t all clones with identical interests. That would make the skeptical community a pretty boring place to be.

A similar statement is made in Reflections on QEDcon:

“Ghosts don’t exist, move on.”

I’d like to point out that this could quite easily be transformed into “homeopathy doesn’t work, move on”. Or how about “Betelgeuse will not explode and kill us all in 2012, move on“? Or “there are no such things as subluxations, move on”?

You get my point. See how easy it is to dismiss a subject that does indeed need our skeptical attention?

I don’t read about ghosts in my spare time but I went to both “ghost” talks. I found them interesting, entertaining and I learnt a lot. As Hayley has pointed out in her blog post, a huge number of people believe in ghosts. There is definitely a need for rational, skeptical input into this field.

I’ve no interest in doing any paranormal research myself, but I’m glad that there are people in the skeptical community doing it.

Likewise, I assume there are people who do skeptical paranormal research but have no interest in alt-med “debunking” – but they are glad that there are people in the skeptical community doing it.

Everyone in the skeptical community has different interests and skills. People have pet subjects and focus on the different areas in which they are interested. That’s fine. In fact, I’d argue that it is a key strength. It makes us a diverse group able to tackle anything that needs to be tackled.

As I said, I’m glad there are people in the skeptical community like Hayley, Trystan and Chris tackling these subjects.

It just doesn’t need all of us to do it.

H/T to @writerJames who’s tweet got me thinking.

Related post:

@jourdemayne‘s thoughts on this topic in “Too Many Ghosts Spoil the Broth?


  1. I also went to both ghost talks and found them fascinating.

    Ghosts may be harder to get worked up over because they do not affect non-believers to the extent that other woo does. Believers may waste their time and energy, but they aren’t using taxpayers’ money to do it and they don’t (as far I know) want to change government policy or teach ghostism in science classes.

    My attitude was very much one of “leave them to it”, but after the QED talks (and Hayley’s brilliant SitP talk in Liverpool) I found myself quite moved by the stories of stress and trauma suffered by people convinced that they were being haunted. As long as the intention of sceptical inquiry into ghosts is to help people like this and not simply to point and laugh at the gullible fools, I think there’s a place for it.

  2. Where I apologise to Hayley and answer a few points:

  3. There’s two issues here, surely?

    1 Putting on a session is always a challenge, both in terms of time and simple courage. Anyone willing to do so (especially to the very challenging audience that skeptics will be) clearly cares, so unless there’s so many other volunteers, why not run 2 sessions? Or however many.

    2 To consider how big a ‘problem’ something is, we need to know about how many people – perhaps modified by how serious an effect, either in terms of cost or damage to health, it has on them – are affected in the general population. That skeptics are informed/cautious/other suitable adjective enough not to believe doesn’t mean many people don’t believe it. Personally my interests are more along the lines of alt-med and pseudoscience, but that doesn’t mean we can’t recognise that many others disagree. Apart from anything else, challenging belief in ghosts is a really easy way to get people thinking about other explanations – and so in a more skeptical mindset which, with luck, they might apply elsewhere.

  4. Maybe belief in ghosts is just another version of “we’re all made of stardust” etc. Scientists use the periodic table to describe stuff, what equivalent was there before the elements had the names we all sort of know?

  5. Why did James I, by all accounts a respected scholar (unless his admirers were being ironic/obsequious), believe in witchcraft?


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