An introduction to online skepticism

skeptical kid

Noted expert Tim Farley outlines five ways to increase skepticism on the Web. 

A typical Internet user may have gone to Snopes or edited Wikipedia. But he or she might not know about the abundance of skeptic tools or about the existence of the wider skeptics community, both online and off.

Noted expert Tim Farley, the creator of the skeptic website What’s the Harm? and community resource guide Skeptools outlined for the Daily Dot five tools to use to make your Internet experience more skeptical, and five places to find a skeptic near you.

5 ways to increase skepticism on the Internet

1) Edit Wikipedia.

:“I believe the Wikipedia rules are pro-skeptic,” he explained. And with the current 99 percent gender skew, more editors of all varieties can only be a good thing.

2) Use sites like the Skeptics board at Stack Exchange.

The forum is community-curated like Wikipedia, and a bevvy of skeptics are on hand to answer your questions.

3) “Spread out, pay attention, participate.”

Farley drove home the point that anyone can be a skeptic if they just keep their eyes open. He cited the example of the debunking of Psychic Wayne, an Irish psychic whose TV network dropped him when a blogger discovered that pictures of the psychics on his hotline were stock Internet photos.

4) Use Web plugins.

Tools like Web of Trust, LazyTruth, TruthGoggles, and FishBarrel make it easy to automate consumer awareness and fact-checking. Use them to make your Web browsing more skeptical.

5) Use Fact checkers.

Sites like Snopes, PolitiFact, and Quackwatch are great places to go for fact-checking. Other sites like hypothes.is, HowTru and dbunkr are in development.

Offline places to find other skeptics

  • Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer: Both magazines are published bi-monthly. Look for them at a bookstore or newsstand near you. Back issues are available online.
  • The Amazing Meeting: This 10-year-old conference hosts everyone from magicians and comedians to poets and astronomers. The program includes everything from educational workshops to activist training.
  • Skepticon: Billed as the world’s largest free skeptics convention, this con formed accidentally after students at Missouri State University invited renowned skeptics to come speak at their notoriously religious town. 2012’s conference is coming up in November.
  • Local skeptic meetups: With over 22,000 curious skeptics listed at Meetup.com, you might have luck finding a community near you. If not, why not start one of your own?
  • Books: Farley recommended three different looks at skepticism: Flim Flam by James Randi, Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan, and Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer. “What’s really interesting is how people wind up believing weird things,” Farley said. “There are lots of interesting psychological quirks.”

What’s next for the Internet Skeptics community? Going mobile, Farley posited. “We need to be more proactive in using the technology that’s out there to get information in front of people who need to see it.”

Sounds like a goal no one can be skeptical about.

Photo via Tom Raftery/Flickr

Aja Romano

Aja Romano

Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.