Skeptember

Hi all

A couple of months ago the idea was raised to rebrand September as Skeptember, in much the same vain as this month is Movember, and organise a series of events of a skepical nature.

I am happy to spearhead the effort and am looking for volunteers to form some sort of 'committee' of organisers.

My initial thoughts are to have a series of [insert topic!]awareness weeks with people organising local activities around the country. Topics could include:

1. (S)CAM awareness week with another mass homeopathic overdose amongst other things....
2. Vaccine awareness week perhaps targeting midwives/Plunket
3. Atheism/pastafarianism awareness week
4. Science awareness week

Or perhaps a mini film festival?

Ideally I'd like to approach people in the media to see if we can get some coverage.

So, any thoughts most welcome and volunteers even more so! I've created a google group so please let me know if you would like to join and I'll send an invitation.

Siouxsie

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So I was considering

So I was considering overlooking this post but when asking Sequoia "whether or not to go on a rant about the subject of raising awareness." she answered "the answer is almost always yes" so here goes.

I think awareness <time period>s are a waste of time. In particular because it's hard to pick a random day of the year and not be part of awareness for something. Additionally, well, 'raising awareness'. It's this nice feel good term that is nigh on impossible to measure and easy to kid oneself that mission was accomplished. On top of that my original question was going to ask of any evidence that awareness weeks accomplished their aim.

So I'm going to go through what I think was probably your thought processes (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) and suggest what I think to be a better approach. So I'm guessing someone went along the lines of 'hey September sounds a bit like Skeptember, we should do an awareness thing at that time' and thus sort of heading in the wrong direction. The first thing that should be asked is 'what do you want to accomplish?' and the second is 'do awareness months actually work'. In particular for your proposed lists there's already awareness time periods for similar things.

  • 7-13 February is Naturopath Awareness week
  • 20 March is Atheist Awareness Day
  • 10-16 April is Homeopathy Awareness week
  • 23-30 May is Herbal Medicine Awareness week
  • 1-6 November is Vaccine Awareness week

and well you get the idea. To find even more take a look at National Awareness Days and Special Days in the UK 2009 and keep in mind this is a subset of all possible days/weeks. And sure, I know I'm misrepresenting the days a little in that these weeks are actually come up with by the woo camp and not the skeptical one but I still don't see the point in adding further awareness weeks. Invariably someone always makes an argument along the lines of 'better to do something than nothing' but frankly if time and effort is spent in something where the goal is nebulous that could be spent in doing something where you can actually measure success and have a hope of being successful then I would say that what is being done is worse than nothing. And just yeah: what exactly do you want to accomplish? Cos I would say 'let's do this thing and try and work out something to accomplish there' is setting oneself up for failure.

The point at which I go off on a tangent: In a way awareness weeks remind me of a problem in game theory in the sense that maybe initially possibly when not everything was an awareness week for something they may have received attention but when everybody is vying for a day less likely. So you could model this as a game theory problem where an eccentric billionaire tells 20 people he'll give 1 person a billion dollars if he receives only 1 letter from that single person. If he receives no, or more than one letter nobody gets anything and if there is any communication between the players nobody gets anything. A rational player will always send a letter because if you don't send a letter your expected gain is nothing whereas if you do it's greater than zero. This creates a problem if every player is rational though since they'll all do the same thing and all end up with nothing. Douglas Hofstadter has introduced the concept of a superrational player which is one that takes into account every other player is also expected to be superrational/rational and what their choices will be. In this case if every player is superrational the player, and thus every other one, would send a letter with probability 20% since this will maximise the expected return.

How about support what's there already?

Trusting these dates to be accurate, it looks like we already have some great "awareness campaigns" that we could boost ...

* 7-13 February is Naturopath Awareness week
* 10-16 April is Homeopathy Awareness week
* 23-30 May is Herbal Medicine Awareness week
* 1-6 November is Vaccine Awareness week

That is, if you think that you want to campaign against something, why not just take the wind out of their sails? Perhaps a media push just before the others, to 'vaccinate' against the upcoming non-critical-woo?

Agreed. We should put a

Agreed. We should put a calendar of these sorts of things together so we can see them coming up. Plan events/blog posts around them. Get other bloggers in on it; sciblogs comes to mind.

Media exposure would be good. Open letters to the various organisations (already considering one for Reiki NZ) asking to see their best research into their claims etc.

Have just added all these as

Have just added all these as events on this site. Will work up a calendar later.

In that light it might be

In that light it might be worth my admitting that I picked the first four woo ideas I could think of, added 'awareness week' to the end and googled them. I only had four because I felt it was enough to prove my point, not because those were the only ones I found (well... they were naturally the only ones I found because they were the only ones I searched for but you know what I mean :P).

Did I miss it...

...or did you not suggest what you think to be a better approach?

Missed it. Better approach

Missed it. Better approach being deciding what you want to accomplish and proceeding from there, if that still happens to result in 'awareness week', well, so be it. But as I said given the difficulty with determining success with something like 'raising awareness' I think it shouldn't be the first port of call unless you do actually just have some money/time you wish to burn without accomplishing anything. Being a fond drinker of beer I can't exactly begruge anyone that POV. :P

Correction

happyevilslosh - "'hey September sounds a bit like Skeptember, we should do an awareness thing at that time' and thus sort of heading in the right direction."

There. Fixed it for you.

Right... cos clearly when

Right... cos clearly when someone brings up a concern with the evidential basis of a particular action the correct thing to do is simply make light of it.

@happyevilslosh - I think

@happyevilslosh - I think you are putting your critical thinking hat on waaaaay too early. You are assuming that there first need to be a very few clearly defined goals. And that it is not worth bothering with a "Skeptember" unless those goals clearly point to the need.

Well that's never going to happen.

By setting your goals as the starting point, what is the chance of getting a group of skeptics to even agree what those goals might be? And how to achieve them? It's like a concern troll's excuse for a starting point to ensure that nothing ever gets off the ground!

Fuck that. Let's just do it for the fun of it, and see what happens! Let's just mix it up, stir the pot, finding out what other groups want to join in!

We all know that skeptics and atheists will not be herded! But they WILL join in a common effort if they can have some unconstrained input into that. Your idea of first "setting goals" would just kill all that creative energy and enthusiasm! Far better to let each group of participants decide for themselves what their own goals will be.

"Raising awareness" is not really a inspiring goal that floats my boat. Having a good focused attack at faulty thinking, religion and pseudoscience in a way that is fun for us, educational for observers, and publicly puts our opponents on the back foot - now that gets me going!

In any case, it's not going to cost much - mostly a bit of volunteer time and effort to organise. We can tap into the resources of existing like-minded organisations who will likely have activities that can be easily re-purposed for the month of Skeptember.

It's going to be fun, and interesting on multiple levels to see what happens.

I think you are putting your

I think you are putting your critical thinking hat on waaaaay too early.

Actually I do my best to never take it off.

You are assuming that there first need to be a very few clearly defined goals.

No... I'm saying that if there aren't goals probably nothing will be accomplished.

By setting your goals as the starting point, what is the chance of getting a group of skeptics to even agree what those goals might be? And how to achieve them?

I'm not sure that this is relevant. Not everything needs to be run as a democracy. All you need is one person to be a spear head. If you want to include more people that's fine. And naturally you can say 'like the OP' however it returns to the question of 'what are the goals?'. Which later in your post even you seem to acknowledge need to be a part of it.

Fuck that. Let's just do it for the fun of it, and see what happens! Let's just mix it up, stir the pot, finding out what other groups want to join in!

As I said, great for the people who are involved. Doesn't generally accomplish anything. Sure if you want to just have fun go for it, but then it's hard to call what you are doing as 'raising awareness' or some other equally vacuous word rather than just 'having fun'.

Your idea of first "setting goals" would just kill all that creative energy and enthusiasm! Far better to let each group of participants to decide for themselves what their own goals will be.

So not just raising awareness then? I ask cos it seems to be the overriding theme of the OP occuring 5 times in the post and, I felt pretty clearly, specifically what I was objecting to.

happyevilslosh "....but when

happyevilslosh "....but when asking Sequoia "whether or not to go on a rant...."

Better question to ask is why you require validation from others prior to posting. Another is why you need to tell everyone that you've done it.

As for the rest, for me, I like the idea of having a time period like "Skeptember" where sceptics and other like minded people work to get the message out about scepticism. If the annual conference is in the first weekend, that would be a good kicking off point as there are press releases put out and media coverage of the event and the theme could be extended over that month. Not so sure about awareness weeks, I'd have a preference for a single general theme - say highlighting critical thinking which then would lead into specific topics such as misinformation on vaccines and what people should be aware of there. With Awareness weeks there are some official ones, which are planned in and meant to help with fund raising activities but this idea often gets co-opted for unofficial awareness weeks. It's probably preferable to try and avoid separating it into four different awareness weeks as this can conflict with official weeks that charities and other organisations use for fund raising and to raise awareness for their cause.

I think you'd have to assess the situation carefully when it comes to considering targeting organisations/groups like Plunket or midwives, could you clarify in what sense that is? Is it joining with those groups to promote/educate about vaccines (as they are required to as part of their job to do health teaching and encourage health) or is it something else? I'm just a bit wary that there might be assumptions about what they do or don't do in this area.

I'd be happy to participate in a group to do some planning on how to develop something like this.

"....but when asking Sequoia

"....but when asking Sequoia "whether or not to go on a rant...."

Better question to ask is why you require validation from others prior to posting. Another is why you need to tell everyone that you've done it.

If by 'better' you mean 'not addressing the issue'.

I asked Sequoia because I have expressed concern about raising awareness campaigns in the past, explicitly about earth hour, and based on that was expecting pretty much exactly the reaction I've received.

Had this not been a skeptics group and being I wasn't involved prior to my own self involvement as I stated I wouldn't have bothered posting anything but I thought given that the group is purportedly centered around the idea of doing things with evidential basis I gave it more consideration and Sequoia's input tipped the balance.

Other than that the reason I included the exchange was because at the time I felt it might help lighten what otherwise could have come across as an even more unnecessarily critical spiel.

That was merely a tangent.

That was merely a tangent. It's not just about saying that now, it's about saying that same thing at some point in most threads. It's irrelevant, much the same as bringing in Earth hour. What does need to be said is what you think of the ideas presented here in this thread, critical or not it really doesn't matter.

No I think it was a little

No I think it was a little more than just a tangent. It was a cheap shot intended to undermine me and sometimes when you're a bitch I'll take the time to pull you up on it. Particularly if you haven't actually responded to the rest of my post instead preferring, like every other woo peddler, to fall back upon solely ad hominems when the efficacy of a particular beloved idea is questioned.

I have been clear about my ideas. I have said that I'm not aware of awareness weeks generally accomplishing anything (having said that I perhaps wasn't clear that I know of no evidence to the contrary either, merely that if we go for the simplest explanation it would be that it doesn't achieve anything). I don't mind a 'fun week', fun is good, but then there's no need to justify it with meaningless statements like 'oh we aren't _just_ having fun, we're *raising awareness*'. Just call it what it is.

Since thus far I've been denied, called a troll, been accused of not being fun and had my motives questioned without any refutation of my OP I'm guessing no-one does have any evidence one way or the other to bring to the table which I consider a shame given the seeming resistence to what I've said.

Finally I'm not sure how you don't think earth hour is relevant. It too is about the *raising awareness* (at least that's what the people who help organise it tell me as soon as confronted with the fact the amount of annual power saved is a fraction of a percent) and is a well known event of a similar type which is particularly easy for me to point my finger to and comment on it's lack of efficacy or measurable results, and in addition is _far_ bigger than I suspect Skeptember will be. And in fact, fortunately unlike anything I can come up with happening in a skeptics' 'awareness week', I suspect due to the halo effect could actually be worse than nothing. This last statement being where the similarities between the two break down.

@happyevilslosh: You don't

@happyevilslosh:

You don't need to have evidence for everything in life. What about the idea of "build it and they will come"? Sometimes an optimistic gamble will inspire others to follow. And it can be simply interesting to find out what will happen if you try.

Otherwise you run the risk of "paralysis by analysis".

"I asked Sequoia because I have expressed concern...". You have mentioned a couple of times now that you are concerned.

Your concern is noted.

What about the idea of "build

What about the idea of "build it and they will come"?

Because as I have said it's the wrong way around. If you really want to go for cliche's I'd prefer 'see a need, fill a need'. I'm tempted also to go a google for stadiums and other structures that I'm fairly certain were built for a particular game then immediately (or possibly even before that) fell into disrepair but I can't really be bothered taking your metaphor that far.

Sometimes an optimistic gamble will inspire others to follow. And it can be simply interesting to find out what will happen if you try.<

Otherwise you run the risk of "paralysis by analysis".

Except other people HAVE made this gamble. Many times, yearly, for a number of years, with as far as I'm aware little effect. And I'm willing to bet a pint the few times it has been effective it was because the group started with a goal and ended up with an awareness week. But hey, you want to ignore that be my guest.

Your concern is noted.

Pfah, noted and dismissed. I dunno why I thought it would be any different.

Children, please. None of

Children, please. None of this is actually getting anyone anywhere and the thread is way off topic from the original post now.

I'd like to ask that if you're reading this that you don't bother responding to any previous comment unless it is in relation to something constructive with regards to the original post.

Seriously... sometimes it's like primary school in here.

Thanks admin, however, you

Thanks admin, however, you might want to do a bit of cleaning up in this thread given the content of some of the posts.

Anyway, back to the original topic. I'm hoping the topic poster will be back to discuss more about what is intended.

...As for the rest, for me, I like the idea of having a time period like "Skeptember" where sceptics and other like minded people work to get the message out about scepticism. If the annual conference is in the first weekend, that would be a good kicking off point as there are press releases put out and media coverage of the event and the theme could be extended over that month. Not so sure about awareness weeks, I'd have a preference for a single general theme - say highlighting critical thinking which then would lead into specific topics such as misinformation on vaccines and what people should be aware of there. With Awareness weeks there are some official ones, which are planned in and meant to help with fund raising activities but this idea often gets co-opted for unofficial awareness weeks. It's probably preferable to try and avoid separating it into four different awareness weeks as this can conflict with official weeks that charities and other organisations use for fund raising and to raise awareness for their cause.

I think you'd have to assess the situation carefully when it comes to considering targeting organisations/groups like Plunket or midwives, could you clarify in what sense that is? Is it joining with those groups to promote/educate about vaccines (as they are required to as part of their job to do health teaching and encourage health) or is it something else? I'm just a bit wary that there might be assumptions about what they do or don't do in this area.

I'd be happy to participate in a group to do some planning on how to develop something like this.

Skeptember

Wow, I hadn't realised the topic was going to be see controversial!

Objections have been noted. Thanks for listing the weeks when we should be doing stuff. I'll add them to my diary. Regardless of how effective you think 'raising awareness' actually is, I still like the idea of a month of skeptical activities.

Michelle, join the googlegroups here: http://groups.google.com/group/skeptember

Siouxsie

As I've said elsewhere I like

As I've said elsewhere I like fun, fun is good. but if it is just fun maybe go with something like 'faire', IMO 'raising awareness' is too marketing hype. Feel free to call me a pedant if you like, I'll cope. ;)

Thanks admin, D'oh! Sorry,

Thanks admin,

D'oh! Sorry, that was me.

however, you might want to do a bit of cleaning up in this thread given the content of some of the posts.

Clean up? You mean delete the comments? No way. If people are going to get into slinging matches over insignificant things I'm leaving it out there for the world to see. They should just resist biting in the first place. ;)

Hah, thought it was you. I

Hah, thought it was you. I meant clean up as in redact some words in a few of the comments such as "bitch". That's not necessary to keep even if I did open my big mouth.

FWIW I'm still content with

FWIW I'm still content with the term. It has precisely the meaning I needed and I otherwise see no particular need to adhere to other's linguistic taboos.

I don't care what you think

I don't care what you think on this happyevilslosh and suggest you read and take on board what Gold (as Admin) said earlier as I've done. However, I'll point out the series of comments you made are ad hominem attacks and nothing to do with linguistic taboos. Take a look at what you said instead of trying to pretend that it's just a matter of wording. /end discussion.

It's not all about you

The comment was in fact directed at Gold (and at anyone else who later passes by and is curious as to why the word still (hopefully) remains), I used reply to give it context, not because I felt you would be interested in my reply. As to my comments I was responding to your questioning my reasons for doing something, as a retort to what I had written yours was indeed an ad hominem fallacy. However ad hominem need to always be fallacious, in particular I was saying that your underhanded comment was uncalled for and didn't respond to what I had written, I was making no claims as to your accuracy other than that. To sum up I'm still completely happy with the things I've said and see no need to change them. The sole reason I spoke up is because what you are basically encouraging is censorship of something you aren't comfortable with (hence the linguistic taboo comment), I however think freedom of speech is important. I certainly don't think you have a right to not be offended.

Oops. *need not always be

Oops.

*need not always be fallacious.

Embarrasing typo there.

At the risk of commenting on

At the risk of commenting on something I'm not suuposed to, I think there was some valid questions raised by HES, and I'm more than a little surprised by the reactions to his comment.

I think it's perfectly valid to say that 'awareness weeks' may not be very effective, and to ask for evidence either way.

However the question I wanted to focus on was that of "what's the point?"

I think (IMHO as one of the organisers) the point of Skeptember is to give people an excuse / focus point for skeptical activism.

I think that there's a lot of people who would like to organise events (and / or join in) and all they need is a push to get started. So we set up a website and rename a month and see what happens.

In that case I would further

In that case I would further suggest that you get people, at least initially, to run everything in the first week of the month. A month is a fairly long time to run anything over and it would be unfortunate if it petered out prior to achieving what potential might be there due to a lack of critical mass because events were too spread out. So like I have no idea how much organisation you are planning/want to do but maybe the categorisation of things into different weeks could come sometime after you actually have sufficient things going on to fill at least a week.

Hmmm and in terms of events

Hmmm and in terms of events like a mini film festival might be fine if you're happy for people to sit in front of a screen but it might also be fun to pick out a video from someone like say Kent Hovind watch it and at the end (or even pause during) talk about the errors that were made. Something a little more interactive. I picked particularly Hovind cos his videos are supposedly released under a license which would enable you to show it to a group of people without worrying about lawyers coming after you. But depending on how riskily you wish to live I guess you could equally do Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Idiocracy or some third thing.

I would personally shy away from, as the OP aptly put 'another mass homeopathic overdose' due to diminishing returns. If you use, say, amount of money spent on homeopathy as a metric to gauge effectiveness then there will potentially come a time when the amount of money not spent by people you convince will be covered by the amount spent to do the demonstration and it would be a little tragic to end up with people who don't think homeopathy works continually demonstrating to other people who don't think homeopathy works that homeopathy doesn't work.