On the Tendency of Skeptics to form Circles; and on the Perpetuation of Circles and Skeptics by Natural Means of Selection

MY DEAR SIR,

The accompanying papers, which we have the honour of communicating to the Internet, and which all related to the same subject, viz. the Laws which affect the Production of Skepticism, Science, and Critical Thinking, contain the results of the investigations of an indefatigable blogging skeptic, Mr. Jack Scanlan. The gentleman having, independently and unknown to himself, conceived the same very ingenious theory as himself to account for the appearance and perpetuation of science and of specific forms of skepticism on our planet, and does fairly claim the merit of being original thinkers in this important line of inquiry; but has not published his views, though Mr. Scanlan has for many weeks past been repeatedly urged by us to do so, and the author having now unreservedly placed his paper in our hands, we think it would best promote the interests of science that a selection from it should be laid before the Internet. Taken in no particular order, as there is only one, and as such there is no order, they consist of one:

The 114th Skeptics’ Circle Blog Carnival, by J. SCANLAN

We have the honour to be yours very obediently,

CHARLES LYELL.

JOS. D. HOOKER.

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I. “The 114th Skeptics’ Circle Blog Carnival”, by J. SCANLAN

It has long been known in the skeptical community that blogging is an effective medium with which to impart certain ideas to a wide audience all across the globe. While no-one surely doubts the veracity of that statement in this modern day and age, it must still be said that every attempt so far at reconsiling the diversity and scope of the skeptical movement with the natural order of the Internet has been met with cruel lashings of unrepentant failure.

It is my hope, that with this publication, one shall be able to explain the inner workings of skepticism within an artificial construction called a Skeptics’ Circle. Such a Circle would contain all the necessary components of a true skeptical environment, but with the added advantage over a raw expedition of one being able to observe the changes and interactions that happen within it at a safe distance, without fear of harm to oneself, or fear of upsetting the natural order.

Naturalists studying skepticism have been using Circles for years to highlight the diversity and sheer amazing varieties of skepticism within the greater and lesser known parts of the Internet, but it has never before been attempted successfully to explain the origins of such diversity using a Circle. This paper serves to highlight how one might attempt such a project.

Looking at the varieties of skepticism, it is clear that there are obvious distinctions to be made between them. One point of difference is in focus. Some focus on psychic predictions, some on common alcoholic beverages, and others on myths involving eggs and orbital mechanics.

Another point of difference is in medium. You would be hard-pressed, in this age of technological advancement, not to expect to find various forms of skepticism out there not restricted to the traditional writing. A well-researched example of an abrupt change in medium is when the writing is almost completely replaced with a cartoon-like image. Such skepticism has been recently observed in relation to Mind, Body and Spirit festivals in Australia. Audio can also replace writing, with some skeptics even going as far to record a podcast about aliens and qi.

The way certain skeptical writings come about can often be surmised from clues from within those writings. For example, if an author begins a piece about the definition of the supernatural by saying that they were answering the question of another skeptic, then we can conclude with some certainty that that post was written for that reason. However, this reasoning cannot, by its own nature, extend to posts that do not leave such seemingly obvious clues in their writing. For them, other methods must be uncovered.

Writings about past events are perhaps some of the most difficult to explain the origins of, as clues that would exist in other more recent-themed pieces are clearly lacking in historical scripts. The history of “modern” alchemy and James Price suffers from this problem, as does anything written about such a figure as the Real Moses.

To explain all of these skeptical writings, it is being put forward in this paper a new explanation for the origin of skeptical diversity. It has been named “natural selection”, as will be obvious to the reader in only a few moments.

It is clear to any naturalist involved in the field of skeptical study that there are more thoughts in a skeptic’s mind at any one point than can ever be written about, with the aid of a blog or not, as evidenced by the apparent ability for a skeptic to write about two completely different topics: perpetual motion and Cap-and-Trade. As such, only a few of the topics that a skeptic wants to write about ever will be. Hence, there is a clear bias in the reproductive nature of writing about science and critical thinking. But what determines which topics are chosen? And how is the medium of the writing affected by this bias?

It is posited that changes in each topic’s viability, or “fitness”, directly affects the likelihood of that topic eventuating from the depths of the skeptic’s mind and being transformed into a written medium. Thus, any posts that do eventuate must be the most viable in that generation of skeptical thoughts, such as ones about “The Bell Curve” or seeing Michael Jackson’s face in the clouds.

But what determines fitness? This researcher is of the opinion that fitness is directly linked in the environment the skeptic finds themselves in whilst thinking about what topic to write about. For example, a skeptic that finds themselves in an irate mood about a woo festival will “select” the topic of Mind, Body and Spirit to write about, as it is the most viable option in that scenario. Likewise, a skeptic faced with creationist arguments will most likely write about questions that creationists cannot answer. It is in this way that topics are selected.

Applying this hypothesis to more examples only strengthens the conclusion. Writing on the topic of celebrity deaths and confirmation bias would have been due to natural forces within the blogger’s mind being influenced by the environment of Michael Jackson’s and Farrah Fawcett’s deaths, and the topic of a skeptic’s view on love would have been selected from the mind due to a real-world interaction with love. While writing about ontological proofs and logic is bound to be due to experiences with logic in the real world, the same selection pressure does not necessarily apply to writing about how Perth needs to get the Skeptic Zone podcast down there to give some talks.

There is grandeur in this view of skepticism, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst the Internet has gone cycling on according to the need for information, from so simple a beginning endless posts most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being written.

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I’d like to thank all the contributors to the 114th edition of the Skeptics’ Circle blog carnival. The Circle is nothing without contributors, obviously. Here they are, in no particular order:

Karen Stollznow from The Skepbitch

The Socratic Gadfly

Stephanie Zvan from Quiche Moraine

TechSkeptic from Effort Sisyphus

Bing from Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes

Jef Clark from The Skeptic’s Field Guide

Romeo Vitelli from Providentia

Richard Hughes from the Young Australian Skeptics

Kylie Sturgess from Podblack Cat

Matt from The Skeptical Teacher

Greta Christina from Greta Christina’s Blog

Rev. Ouabache from ChaoSkeptic

Kylie Sturgess from Skeptic Zoners

One Brow from Life, the Universe and One Brow

I’d also like to thank Charles Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace, Charles Lyell and Joseph Dalton Hooker for being wonderful inspiration for not only this edition of the Skeptics’ Circle, but also for being rather nice blokes. Oh, and they were pretty good thinkers as well. If you didn’t understand what the theme of this edition was about, please read this.

The next Skeptics’ Circle, the 115th edition in fact, will be hosted by Effort Sisyphus, so be sure to keep your eye out for it in two weeks time.

For those still reading and interested, I’m Jack, a high school student from Australia. I run this blog, Homologous Legs, to combat Internet-based creationists and intelligent design proponents through the medium of breakdowns and slightly-arrogant ranting. I’m also addicted to Twitter, and I’ll usually slag off on those with whom I disagree a bit more vocally on there than what I’ll do on this blog.

I hope you enjoyed this Skeptics’ Circle! Make sure you tell others about this carnival and ask them to contribute in the future.

11 thoughts on “On the Tendency of Skeptics to form Circles; and on the Perpetuation of Circles and Skeptics by Natural Means of Selection

  1. So. F-ing. Rock. :) :)

  2. Brilliant work, Jack! :)

  3. Nice work! A little resquest, can you use this link to link future submissions to my site. I dont want to get my circle acceptance post to get lost in new posts.

    http://techskeptic.blogspot.com/2009/07/go-easy-o

  4. [...] have I got the blog carnivals for you! Check out the 110th Carnival of Space, and the 114th Skeptics’ Circle, collections of the past week’s blog posts about, duh, space and skepticism, [...]

  5. [...] Say it ain’t so: The 114th Skeptics Circle [...]

  6. Hey jack awesome blog! I love you!

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