By Keith R. Taylor
Once after my son had taken a facetious remark literally I commented, "Gee Mike, I hope nobody ever tries to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge."
My 8-year-old immediately asked, "What's wrong with it?" It's not easy living with a skeptical kid who wants an explanation rather than just an easy answer. Perhaps Clarence Darrow was thinking of someone like Mike when he said "Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt."
Skepticism is a pretty good thing. That's what we at SDARI are all about, and it isn't always easy, but aren't we better off realizing that not everything has an easy answer. Shouldn't we recognize that wealth generally comes from hard work and astute investments, not from slot machines or from magazine sweepstakes. Health comes from such things as exercise and sensible eating habits, not pills or an expensive machine. Peace comes from empathy and patience, not jingoistic slogans. This "wonderful legacy" we all want to leave behind depends on long range planning, not the immediate exploitation of our resources.
On the other hand why should the movers and shakers of the world avoid the easy answers--the panaceas? After all, panaceas are what we demand of them. Nobody bothers to ask why. After all if they make the trains run on time what more can we ask?
My son taught his father about skepticism. I came to realize (despite what I'd told him) that I'd never know everything. With his help I realized not knowing something didn't mean a fellow had to simply accept whatever easy answer someone came up with.
Thus when CSICOP came out with The Skeptical Inquirer I signed up. When SDARI was formed I jumped on board. I even accepted the job of president. Nobody ever needed the support of outfits which insist on critical thinking more than I do.
Of course we members of SDARI will keep asking "why?". That's because we're skeptics. Even more important than that though, we need to urge the rest of the population to do so as well. But skepticism, just like any other idea, has to be sold. It is wonderful that we meet once a month to reinforce our own beliefs. It would be even more wonderful if we could reach others and ask them to think twice before they buy into the next sophomoric promise made by a politician or huckster.
Surely most members will agree that we can serve our community by enhancing skeptical, critical thinking. Let's put our heads together to see how we can do that. Following are some thoughts I have, but they aren't meant to be exclusive. Please add your own and let us know about them.
First we need to increase membership. That's an easy one isn't it? Every organization wants more members. But, in an area of two million, we ought to have more than eighty members. With so few almost even the simplest tasks will be difficult, the difficult will become impossible. If we, as an organization, raise our voice against a wowser report of ghosts on billboards, or "those lights which surely must be flying saucers" much more effective would it be if our organization represented hundreds, perhaps thousands, of skeptics? The movers and shakers of the world appreciate clout. Let's try to give them some. Tell folks about our organization and urge them to join. Remember the only qualification to being a skeptic is to ask "why?".
Perhaps a part of "first" is my second goal. I'd like to see a big effort made to expand our membership to the general public. An article about us in the Union-Tribune claimed that we were a group of scientists. That, of course, wasn't true. I'm hardly a scientist. Neither is plank owner Ernie Ernessee. Nor are many others. We do have a lot of scientists and I'd love to see all of them involved. But then we'd still be "preaching to the choir." Let's see if we can get more just plain folks interested, even those who might not always share our skepticism. How about if for the next meeting each of us asks a friend or neighbor to come along?
One reason we exist is to share our concern with flim flam. Early on, Dr. Barbara Hemmingsen asked me to be the chairperson to award an "attaboy" of some sort for an article or program in the media which showed good critical thinking. I was also to be on the alert for some sort of "onions" award. I accepted, then did nothing although I saw some great examples of both. I promise to keep my eyes open for more and to try to come up with an award of one or the other (or both) every six months. I ask every member to keep his eyes open for possible recipients.
And how about our kids and grandkids? My son showed skepticism at age eight. I like to think it was something I did. I now have eight grandkids and would be tickled to death to engender a sense of skepticism in them. This is a wonderful universe they will be taking over. Nothing would please me more than for them to look at the stars with the sense of the wonder shown by Carl Sagan, not Joyce Jillison. We really need to get the youngsters involved. It won't be easy. We are open to ideas. Help us out here.
Publicity is a must. Likely the best sort is word of mouth. What else can we do? Notices on bulletin boards? A little name dropping on radio talk shows? An article in the Union-Tribune? A mention of us to other organizations we belong to? Again ideas are welcome. Our strength comes from the members. Let us know what you think.
Perhaps most important would be for us to keep our perspective. We just aren't going to win the war with superstition and flim flam easily. Too many folks simply want the easy answers. But if you convince your neighbor, relative, or business partner she ought to think twice before buying into a half baked scheme, you've doubled your effectiveness. That's a worthy goal.
Let's become part of the movers and shakers in 1998. And
just keep asking "why?'.