A Look at the New Skepticism: A New Breed of Skeptics Is Boldly Challenging Pseudoscience, Blind Faith, and All ‘Woo-Woo’
It’s been a hot day even for Las Vegas, and outside the South Point Hotel and Casino the morning traffic crawls in sluggish resignation. Few people linger in the gathering heat, preferring the shade of covered walkways to the merciless sun.
Inside the casino, however, is a different scene. A convention is filing out, and the crowd moves with quick, eager strides. Most are young—in the twenty-to-forty range. A stroll through the lobby reveals a mix of race, gender, and accents. This is a crowd that has assembled itself from across the world, and while faces are friendly and conversations playful, there is a steely sense of unity. Of purpose.
The Las Vegas convention is the latest installment of The Amaz!ng Meeting. First held in 2003 and colloquially referred to as TAM, it’s the annual mecca for skeptics around the world. In a culture-at-large that reveres faith above facts, skeptics are the vanguard of rationalism. Think James “the Amazing” Randi exposing psychics as charlatans. Think Mythbusters hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman using the scientific method with explosive aplomb. Think merry pranksters Penn & Teller debunking all manner of pseudoscience or conspiracy theory on their former show,Bullshit! These are the people who dare to demand evidence of those making extraordinary claims.They are people who make believers uncomfortable and often make enemies because of it.
In an earlier age, skepticism was not so much a movement as a pastime for older, male, upper-crust academics. It was spirited discussion over cigars and brandy. Today, the new skepticism is a grassroots revolution. Its adherents are media-savvy, and they use memes, humor, Photoshop, YouTube, and social networking to wage a bold offensive against the prevailing belief culture. They are ardently pro-science, descending like a phalanx of logic on creationists, homeopathic practitioners, faith healers, psychics, truthers, birthers, anti-vaccination crowds, and generally anyone else whose position isn’t supported by logic. Skeptics champion reasoned methodology, not blind belief. They respect critical thinking, not emotional reactionism. They are factual heavyweights, and now, after decades of polite disagreements with true believers, young skeptics are ready to take off the gloves.