Jul 13 2009

Skeptical Volunteerism

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Like many others, I am just returning from The Amazing Meeting 7 – TAM has evolved over the last few years into the premiere meeting of the skeptical movement. I know there are many people who wanted to attend but could not, so for you I will point out that this year the JREF experimented with Ustreaming part of the conference. So you can get a dose of TAM skeptical goodness from the comfort of your computer screen.

But, I must say, for me the best part of these meetings is just being in a room with a thousand skeptics, some of whom are friends that I only get to see once or twice a year, including my fellow Skeptologists. There is also an energy to live meetings that, in my opinion, cannot be matched online.

It also struck me this year that many attendees approached me to ask what they can do to contribute to our efforts and the skeptical movement as a whole. They feel the energy of this growing movement and want to be part of it.

Fortunately, Daniel Loxton, editor of Junior Skeptic, has already taken the time to answer this question. He wrote a book called “What Do I Do Next?” which includes 101 ways to contribute to the skeptical movement. He interviewed many activist skeptics and included their answers in his list of what skeptics can do. They include many obvious answers – like organize a local skeptical meet-up group or help an existing one, start a blog or (if you are ambitious) a podcast, investigate some local paranormal claims and report on them, and you can send an e-mail of support to [email protected] saying you want this kind of skeptical content on the air.

There are also some not-so-obvious answers – like organize a group tour of a science museum. Perhaps the most challenging answer Daniel gives is to explore new frontiers for skepticism. Find new ways that no one has thought of yet to spread appreciation for science and critical thinking.

I think it is important to consider what it is you enjoy doing and where your skills and talents lie. If you can do anything, chances are there is someone or some organization in the skeptical movement that can use your skills. We need computer programmers, graphic designers, artists, writers, experts in every scholarly field, journalists, teachers, marketing and PR experts, fundraisers, grant writers – any many more. This blog and The Skeptologists only exist because Ryan Johnson decided to contribute his time and video production expertise to skepticism.

We also need volunteers who do not have to have anything but an interest in skepticism.  There is a ton of online and local activism that anyone can do. The media and our politicians need skeptical feedback, and if you are reading this blog you can send an e-mail (although some argue that a handwritten letter or phone call has more impact).

One TAM attendee came up to me this weekend to tell me that we inspired him to join his local school board. He lives in Alabama, and in his town there are evolution disclaimer stickers in the textbooks and corporal punishment of students is accepted. Because of the skeptical movement, he is now fighting in the trenches for science and reason.

The best thing about TAM and similar meetings is that they remind me of how much energy there is in grassroots skepticism. We may be an intellectual minority, but we are increasingly having an impact. And any individual can contribute.

Four months ago Derek Bartholomaus decided he wanted to contribute to the skeptical movement. He found a niche – an issue that he cared about, and started the Jenny McCarthy Body Count website. He brought no special skills to this project, just his passion. Three days ago he sat on a panel at TAM7  in front of a thousand people to discuss the anti-vaccine movement and received the loudest applause from the audience when introduced.

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