Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In which I indulge my schoolgirl crushes

It surely comes as no surprise to both you regular readers that as a fan of critical thinking, I'm also a fan of critical thinkers.

Critical thinkers have banded together to form the 'skeptic' movement - a rather fun group to belong to as it requires no dogma, rote memorization or effort in general. 'Skeptic' is a useful shorthand within the subculture of those who wish to distance themselves from new-age, wishy-washy nonsense. Seeing as I'm a misanthropic git who generally shies away from anything marred by human interaction, it makes sense that I'd be happy to be a part of the skeptical 'movement' in a delightfully nebulous sense - I chirp away on my blog about irrational nonsense for the few who stop by to read it. It's a good system for all.

That said, every now and again, I find myself reaching out to one of those skeptical luminaries, a character who has inspired me in some way, often by demonstrating how an unwaveringly critical approach to extraordinary claims is much more compelling than blind belief.

The first skeptic to inspire me to prod him via cyberspace was the inimitable Penn Jillette, the more loquacious of the Penn & Teller duo behind 'Bullshit!' a fantastic TV show that challenges cherished, but nevertheless unfounded notions that persist in society, whether it's 9/11 conspiracy theories, organic food misconceptions, or Mother Theresa's reputation.

After a 2 hour binge on Penn & Teller: Bullshit! that stretched well beyond a sensible bedtime, I logged onto Facebook, requested Penn Jillette's friendship, attached a note apologising for pestering him whilst expressing my appreciation of his work, and was generally a great big fanboy.

The next day, (July 18th 2008) I was surprised to see that he had replied:

Even though I've convinced myself that it was a boilerplate message sent to all the adoring fans, I still think it's incredibly classy (particularly considering his boisterous, pottymouth TV persona).

Just last week, I had another exchange between skeptical champion and lackey that's worth noting. Brian Dunning, stalwart host of Skeptoid - the best bite-sized Skeptical podcast there is responded to a silly message I sent him suggesting that in addition to the occasional episodes jeering the begrudgers who write in accusing him of being a shill for pharmaceutical companies, he address some of the equally nutty reviews left for his podcast on iTunes.

Again, I was surprised a short while later to see that he had replied:

Nifty, yes? Of course, it's no private Facebook message, but nothing could beat that, right?

Well... That's where Derek Colanduno comes in - Derek is the host of Skepticality, the grandfather of Skeptical podcasts. He and cohost Swoopy blazed a trail in podcasting, showing to specialist groups how powerful the medium could be by producing a compelling programme that reached thousands with little to no resources.

After I wrote a short post on The Mid-West Humanists Blog, mentioning Skepticality, Derek graced the site with his presence to leave a quick comment. Classy guy, that Derek. It made my day (and in retrospect I feel a little crummy for not replying) to come up on his radar - to be found by someone who inspired me, even if it was just because I was pimping his wares.

The efforts that Derek goes to in fostering the Skeptical community don't end there - after prodding his cohost with a sycophantic Tweet, I got a Tweet from the man himself. And once again, I felt loved.

The point of what I've shared here isn't quite to showcase my gushing appreciation of these guys, nor is it to show off the spoils of some kind of virtual autograph-hunt, it's to marvel at the fact that I am at least six thousand miles away from these guys who act as the mouthpieces for a rather specific sub-culture, but the internet enables this culture to thrive by providing even the physically remote members with the means to engage in two-way conversation. Which is nifty.

I'll stop trying to shoehorn on a poetic ending on now - I'm only blogging because my girlfriend nagged me into doing so. The insolent wench.


Sully said...

Anyone else find it funny that my girlfriend's prompt for me to blog resulted in me unleashing a great big dose of 'mancrush' upon the web?

Yes, I'm embarrassed of my blog. said...

If this were a Facebook post, I would have selected "like." I've been meaning to "contact" the producers of "Strangers with Candy" and this makes me want to try it all the more. I love Penn's response, though.

dashoge said...

What happened to the schoolgirls? You wooed me in with mention of schoolgirls!

Jason said...

In for the schoolgirls.