Space City Skeptics

The Official Blog of the Houston Skeptic Society

Levels of skepticism

with 7 comments

I just finished listening to a recent episode of Skepticality where Reed Esau was discussing the “long tail” of skepticism.  They were saying how there appears to be few people in the skeptical movement who are active contributors, while most are simple observers.  This got me to wondering about the different levels of skeptic activism.  No, I am not talking about something akin to a World of Warcraft character levels.  Although a level 37 Skeptic does have a nice ring to it.  What I am really focusing on is the level of skeptical principles, commitment, and contribution.

I firmly believe that skepticism is the best way to look at the world.  Skepticism allows one to “shred off” preconceived notions, magical thinking, and human fallacies leading to a true view of reality.  Living strictly through faith or through willful suspension of disbelief does not lead to the betterment of anyone.  In fact, as the website, What’s The Harm?, nicely points out, being unskeptical can have dire consequences.

Below I have listed four levels of skepticism as I see them.  I don’t want this post to insult anyone, but to hopefully inspire people to try to get to that next level.  Society as a whole will benefit.

Level 1 skepticism

The first level of skeptic is someone who believes they are a skeptic, but may still have some unskeptical aspects of themselves that surface from time to time or that they have allowed a special sanctuary from critical evaluation.  Maybe they are still holding out on one particular pseudoscience or they believe that anecdotal evidence is equal to a well controlled scientific study. These people will benefit from an examination of logical fallacies and on the basic principles of reliable evidence, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Level 2 skepticism

The second level would be someone who is fully skeptical as far as it is humanly possible.  They rarely commit logical fallacies and they consistently strive to fact check everything they hear.  Maybe they even attend skeptical group meetings.  Hopefully they even spread critical thinking skills to their family and friends.

Level 3 skepticism

The third level of skepticism is someone who contributes some particular skill or knowledge base for the betterment of other skeptics and society.  Perhaps they run a blog or a podcast, or organize a local meeting of fellow skeptics.  Maybe they watch over online discussion forums and comment section in order to vanquish any sign of pseudoscience or unskeptical thought.

Level 4 skepticism

The fourth and final level of skepticism is something that very few skeptics will ever achieve.  People at this level are essentially the heroes of the skeptical movement.  These are the people that are heads of national skeptical organizations, appear on television shows, and are known outside the skeptical community.  These are people like Michael Shermer and James Randi.

Up next: levels of pseudoskepticism

Written by bort901

January 13, 2009 at 8:59 pm

7 Responses

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  1. As a huge RPG fan, I love the idea of levels of skepticism. I can’t help now but daydream about hitting publish on a post one day only to be suddenly overtaken by a powerful sense of euphoria as I achieve a higher level. Perhaps one day I might become experienced enough to challenge a Level 4 Woo Wielder like Jenny McCarthy or maybe even a Level 99 Douche Lord like Kevin Trudeau.


    January 15, 2009 at 10:28 pm

  2. Dungeon Master: “Uh, OK . . . you open the door and see a beautiful blonde woman standing in the room.”

    Fighter: “Let’s be extra careful this time, guys. Everyone’s really low on mana and hit points, so no just charging in . . . .”

    Cleric: “You know, it’s pretty unlikely that we’d just find a beautiful woman standing around in a dungeon. Are we dealing with a creature that lacks creativity, or is it just mentally handicapped?”

    Wizard: “You never know, she could just be a non-player character. Maybe our DM is having some mercy and she’ll help us out.”

    Cleric: “Riiiight. Like Mikey doesn’t have a track record of kicking our asses. ‘Your way forward is blocked by 14 pit fiends, and the 3 ancient huge red dragons you were fleeing from are closing fast. Oh, and Ted was just decapitated by a manticore.'”

    Barbarian: “I freakin’ hate manticores. I told you guys we shouldn’t have sold that scroll of resurrection. ‘Whatever, Ted, we need the gold.’ Anyway, the chick is probably a rakasha, so you guys need to disbelieve her illusion.”

    DM: “Shut up, Ted, you’re still dead. You can’t help them.”

    Barbarian: “Wooooooo, I’m a ghooooooooost. I’ve come to tell you to disbelieeeeeeeeve . . . .”

    DM: “One more time, Ted. I dare you. They’re not going to be able to resurrect your body if the rats eat it.”

    Barbarian: “Screw it, I’m goin’ to the fridge to get a soda. Good luck with the rakasha.”

    Wizard: “It still might be a NPC. What’s she wearing?”

    DM: “A tank top and shorts. And heels.”

    Ranger: “You are all such guys. Why is it always a hot woman, huh? Where’s the love?”

    DM: “Fine, I’ll make sure the next monster with illusion will disguise itself as Brad Pitt. Happy?”

    Fighter: “So it is a monster then.”

    DM: “I didn’t say that.”

    Cleric: “Might as well have.”

    DM: “Shut up.”

    Thief/Assassin: “OK, well, this is really fascinating guys. Maybe we should, I don’t know, DO something?”

    Fighter: “Oh, go hide in the shadows you dork.”

    Thief/Assassin: “Hey, that’s a good idea. I’m going to hide in shadows.”

    DM: “I’ve told you a hundred times, you can’t hide in shadows after you’ve been seen.”

    Thief/Assassin: “I’m sneaking around for the backstab.”

    DM: “She’s looking right at you, idiot. You can’t sneak around.”

    Thief/Assassin: “Can I draw my damn sword, at least?”

    DM: “The woman starts to speak to you guys.”

    Fighter: “I cover my ears! She might have hypnotic powers or be a siren or something!”

    Ranger: “Me too!”

    Wizard: “Me too!”

    Cleric: “Me too!”

    Barbarian: “What’d I miss?”

    Thief/Assassin: “Fine, I’ll listen. I’ve got more resistance anyway. What does she say?”

    DM: “She says that vaccines cause autism and are full of toxins.”

    Thief/Assassin: “Oh crap, it’s Jenny McCarthy. Thanks, guys.”

    Fighter: “No problem.”

    Thief/Assassin: “Screw you, hippie.”

    DM: “Make a saving throw against idiocy.”

    Thief/Assassin: “OK, fine. Don’t forget I’m wearing my Cloak of the Randi +3, and my Sword of Reason gives me +5 against pseudoscience.”

    DM: “You never drew your sword.”

    Thief/Assassin: “Yes I did! I said I drew it.”

    DM: “Not before she started to talk. Sorry.”

    Thief/Assassin: “God, I hate playing with you. Fine, what do I need to roll.”

    DM: “At least a 9.”

    Thief/Assassin: “I got a 2. Crap.”

    DM: “OK, you pass out from the stupidity.”

    Fighter: “I’m going to use my longsword. It’s +8 against dimwits.”

    Cleric: “I’ll take care of Joe. I’ve still got a Cure Credulity spell left.”

    Wizard: “I’m casting Morgenstern’s Debunking Voice.”

    Ranger: “I’m firing arrows at her face. Her pretty, pretty face . . . .”

    DM: “OK, let’s see . . . the sword attack bounces off.”

    Fighter: “Huh? Bounces off?”

    DM: “Yeah, her outfit is really +12 Armor Against Intelligence.”

    Fighter: “That sucks.”

    DM: “Ranger, you have to make a saving throw against surprise.”

    Ranger: “What?”

    DM: “Jim Carrey just snuck up behind you. He’s a 21st level Assassin and actually _knows_ how to hide in shadows.”

    Thief/Assassin: “Bite me.”

    Ranger: “OK, I rolled an 18. That’s got to be good enough.”

    DM: “Right, it is. You repel him by reminding him how much The Cable Guy sucked.”

    Ranger: “Sweet.”

    DM: “OK, Wizard, your spell fails. She’s immune to debunking.”

    Wizard: “Great.”

    DM: “OK, Cleric and Thief.”

    Thief/Assassin: “Thief/Assassin.”

    DM: “Shut up. The spell works. Thief’s OK, except for being -3 on intelligence for the next 3 rounds.”

    Ranger: “Gee, that takes your intelligence into negative numbers, doesn’t it?”

    Thief/Assassin: “I’m sneaking around for the backstab on the ranger.”

    DM: “Alright, second melee round. Oprah walks into the room, followed by . . . rolling . . . 83 Ignorant Viewers.”

    Barbarian: “Somebody better cast Reverse Fanaticism quick.”

    DM: “Shut up, Ted, you’re still a corpse . . . .”

    [Several hours later]

    DM: “OK, you’ve repelled the last of the Ignorant Viewers with your Summon Novella spell, and Jenny and Dr. Phil are both unconscious. Now Oprah is casting . . . Summon Oz!”

    All Players: “Dammit!!!”


    January 16, 2009 at 10:47 am

  3. You my friend, are a genius. Is that original?


    January 16, 2009 at 2:42 pm

  4. Hello bort,

    I think I listened to the same podcast you did. I know I’m in the long tail of skepticism. I don’t know what level I fit into. Maybe a 1.5?

    I’m a newbie and probably still falling vitcim to logical fallacies. I’m reading and learning new things everyday. I’m always willing to listen to what others have to say because I realize that I haven’t gotten to an “expert” status yet when it comes to critical thinking.

    One thing I wondered while listening to that podcast though was…does everyone *have* to contribute? Is it wrong to be an observer…someone who simply has decided for themselves that they want to be a critical thinker but aren’t “spreading the word” so to speak?

    The reason I ask is because a frustration that I’ve felt for the several months is that I feel like I want to contribute more, but I don’t know that to do. I feel intimidated because I am so knew and I think to myself…

    Does the skeptical world really need an amateur like me educaiting the publice? There are plenty of experts right now who know better than I. They are already out there doing it and are better at it than I would be.

    I guess I sort of feel like I’m an elementary school kid who’s been ask to teach people about calculus. Why pick me for the task when I’d probably do a poor job of educating and there are plenty of other people out there who are experts on the topic?

    Then, I have another problem…no ideas yet. I do have this strong emotional pull toward doing “something”, but I don’t know what that “something” could be. If the skeptical community does need newbies contributing…what do we do?


    January 16, 2009 at 6:12 pm

  5. You support critical thinking just by doing it. You never know when you might have the opportunity at work, the gym, a family get-together, etc, to speak up and potentially nudge someone in the right direction. It is amazing how often I come across people who have just never thought that an issue might have another side to it but just repeat what they have heard on the news or from friends. Just last week I helped two nurses out who were concerned about an email they had received warning them about something. I told them about and we went to the site and found out how it was an unfounded urban legend. You don’t have to write a blog or protest at a school district meeting to help the cause.


    January 16, 2009 at 8:34 pm

  6. skepticpedi: Yes, it’s original. It’s also the product of a misspent youth.

    ladymitris: I wouldn’t be at all concerned about not having been appointed as head of JREF yet. The skepticism levels discussed are far from comprehensive, and personally I think it’s an enormously valuable contribution that comes from fostering and participating in discussion with fellow skeptics, and sharing what we learn with those who are less than skeptical.


    January 17, 2009 at 10:10 am

  7. Mark,

    Well played. You rolled the dice and came up with the strength, charisma, and wisdom to prevail in your quest.


    January 20, 2009 at 8:44 am

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