Skeptics tend to be do-it-yourselfers. It’s kind of a core tenet of skepticism — asking your own questions and not relying on others. That serves us well when parsing fiction from (something likelier to be) fact. Sadly, that DIY attitude can also make it difficult to find help when we need it.
What if there were a website or database that could connect skeptical content-creators with the skilled or knowledgeable people eager and able to help bring projects to life?
There are people out there who want to communicate about skeptical topics but think they don’t have the technical know-how to make their work presentable, or don’t know how to market it once it’s done. Everyone is an expert in something, and every something has some kind of woo that infiltrates it, just waiting to be exposed — think of the pseudoscience in high-end audio or automobile equipment for example. Those stories need to be told, and more importantly, they need to be heard.
On the other hand, there are plenty of people out there with highly technical skills that WANT to get involved in the skeptical movement, but maybe don’t know how they can best contribute their abilities. Folks who would love to be utilized if given the chance. Here’s the almighty anecdotal evidence to prove it!
At a SkeptiCamp promoted by the New York City Skeptics in December, at the end of a presentation on individual activism, I tentatively brought up an idea that I had just started formulating, that I gave the descriptive but clunky title of “the Facilitator.” I had talked about exposing the pseudoscience in your hobbies or career, and had mentioned that certain skill types will always be sought after by conscientious content-creators. I then left a spreadsheet open during a break in the session, saying if anyone would like to be part of something that could connect all these people and help them work together to make things happen, they could express interest by adding their contact information.
I expected only a couple people would jump in, but by the end of the day, nearly half of the 40 people in attendance had offered themselves up. And the first people to get involved? They were the ones I had warned would be in the highest demand. A video editor. A graphic designer. A software developer. A professional animator. All eager to help make the world a better, more rational place.
Some others expressed interest, but thought their skills weren’t a good fit. A social worker told me he didn’t want his phone ringing off the hook, which is understandable. But what else is he into? A niche form of structural art, he told me. Man, dangle that worm out there and I promise some creative person will find a way to utilize it. A professional psychologist with a book deal thought her opinion wouldn’t be of use. Really? As a credible, visible and published expert source? They both agreed to take part after conversations that teased out how they wanted to contribute, and how they’d best be able to do so.
Journalists have beaten us to the punch on ways to get expert opinions, and even Hollywood has their own network of over 2,000 scientists that they tap to consult on projects. We have the Skeptics Stack Exchange, where people can crowdsource opinions, but that isn’t quite as good as going straight to an expert. Maybe Facilitator volunteers could list their credentials and what they’re available to consult on. Of course that’s only one function of a service that could be used to hook people up with anyone willing and able to help with anything. Point being, the precedent for this type of organized cooperation exists.
So something like this could work — upgrading to “Do it with some expert help” from “Do it yourself” — if enough people were involved. There would certainly be logistical issues to figure out (security, volunteer vs. small fee, whether people would contact each other directly or go through an intermediary, etc.), but all that is moot if there isn’t enough interest to begin with. My one-room experiment is too small a sample size, so I’d like to bring this to the attention of as many people as possible.
If you think there’s possibility in this idea and you’ve got a podcast, let’s talk and see what your audience thinks. Or contact me directly if you’re an individual interested in taking part, once something gets off the ground. Alternatively, if you’ve been in the movement for a long time, and want to tell me exactly why this wouldn’t work, please feel free to save me the time and effort.
And hey, if you want to utilize my knowledge of geophysics (bachelor’s degree), journalism (certificate) or geek culture (over 150 pieces on AiPT! and elsewhere), that’s how I can volunteer myself. Let’s make something happen.