Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Doggerel #119: "You're Not Helping!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

A lot of the time, when we're busy shooting down some altie's favorite cancer quackery, or platitudes of some psychic who claims to hunt down missing people, they'll complain that we're "not helping."

First, this is a subject change: The issue is usually whether the woo is helping. It never seems to be. Much of the time, woo is even harmful. Even if the only thing the skeptic does is criticism and physical inaction, he's helping by staying out of the expert's way, and not wasting resources. Chances are, he can prevent the loss of a very important resource by taking useless woo out of consideration: Time. By encouraging people to sit still for a moment and carefully consider the course of action, rather than rushing back and forth between mountains of improbable "cures," the skeptic may very well aid in finding the best course of action.

And all that's before you consider that the skeptic might actually be on the front lines of relevant scientific research. I may be a relative armchair skeptic compared to a number of dedicated scientists out there, but what I do isn't fundamentally different than what they do. It's just a difference of degree. I can at least donate some of my income to the real scientists who are working on real solutions using the scientific method. If someone isn't doing science, and just randomly experimenting on paying customers without detailed records, that money is wasted.

Additionally, skeptics are typically thinking ahead: We need educational reform. We need to get more people to think skeptically and scientifically. Civilization has had a long, nasty history of superstition, fallacies, and propaganda. Skepticism is the best defense we have against those things. If we can get the typical person to think in terms of the scientific method, rather than parroting whatever slogans come from his favorite mass media, we'll produce more scientists who will have the necessary mentality to solve problems.


Laser Potato said...

Superman is a dick.

Laser Potato said...

Some of those covers are just plain baffling.