Jan 22 2007

Skepticism and the Media

The theme of The Amazing Meeting this year was Skepticism and the Media. I had the opportunity to both listen to, talk with, and interview many luminaries from various types of media, including political columnist Christopher Hitchens, NPR radio host Peter Sagal, Scott Dickers the editor and chief of The Onion, Adam Savage from Mythbusters, South Park creator Matt Stone, and others. Here are a few observations.

First, Wow! What a great meeting. Thanks to Randi and his crew for putting together such an incredible lineup of intellectual talent and giving me access to them. My lobes (cortical, that is) are still tingling.

One common theme is that news media has largely merged with entertainment media with a subsequent degradation of skeptical faculties on the part of those who report the news. At the same time there was a recognition that there are many new and exciting types of media (blogs and podcasts, for example) that are largely fixing this problem, while simultaneously creating new ones. But whatever the future brings, it seems the need for skepticism on the part of the average media consumer will likely increase.

An almost universal theme (admittedly biased by this particular lineup of guests) was the need to package science and skepticism (and most any such message) with humor. Humor is an extremely effective tool for grasping and holding the attention of an audience. It also can be an effective mode of communication in and of itself. Sarcasm and parody can often cut right to the bone of a point with the sharpness of steel.

I was also surprised at the number of people who are basically skeptical in their habits of thought, but did not realize they were skeptics, or that something called the skeptical movement exists. I’m not sure what this means. On its surface it is both good and bad. It can mean that there is more skepticism out there than any numbers might suggest. But it also means that we need to do a better job raising the profile and image of skeptics and skepticism. I think TAM5 went a long way in exploring how to do this.

BTW – Thanks to all of those who expressed their condolences after the tragic loss of the New England Patriots to the Indianapolis Colts. I was on a jet returning home from Las Vegas during the entire game, so I was spared the spectacle, but I was given the gruesome details upon my arrival. Congratulations to all you Colts fans out there.

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