10 Skeptical Resolutions for the New Year

A new year brings us a host of things we resolve to do more of, do less of, start doing or stop doing. Despite our best intentions, various studies show that anywhere from 75% to 92% of New Year’s resolutions go unfulfilled. Most of these goals fail not because the people making them are lazy (though that’s certainly why some of them fail) but because the goals are too large, too complicated or not tangible.

No offense, but you're probably not going to do these.

No offense, but you’re probably not going to do these.

In the spirit of the new year and of making resolutions that are easy and fun to keep, here are ten skeptical resolutions I’m making. Some are things I’m already doing and want to keep doing, and others are behaviors I’d like to change. And I encourage everyone to do these along with me, for the good of skepticism and our mental health.

1. I resolve not to forward, share or re-tweet any article or blog post I haven’t read. It’s tempting not to read things all the way to the end, and most of us do it. But if you haven’t read something all the way through, why would you expect me to read it?

2. I resolve not to pass around any story I HAVE read that doesn’t feel real, or that I learn to be fake after looking into it. That includes obviously satirical pieces posing as actual news, most of which aren’t that funny anyway.

3. I resolve not to compare people who disagree with me to Nazis or Hitler. Lumping people who voted for the other guy, various government agencies or people who work for banks together with the most evil people in history is demeaning to pretty much everyone involved, and ludicrously hyperbolic.

4. I resolve never to use the phrases “wake up” or “open your eyes” or to call anyone a sheeple, psychopath, eugenicist or paid shill. It’s time to move past these hackneyed clichés, or at least find new hackneyed clichés.

5. I resolve not to demand others “do their research” if I haven’t done my own, nor will I do so if I’m not interested in what they discover. A person who demands proof then won’t accept it when offered is a crackpot.

6. I resolve not to engage with trolls on Twitter, Facebook or message boards. I also resolve to be okay with the fact that there’s no way I’m going to be able to keep this.

7. I resolve not to use well-known quotations that weren’t actually said by the people commonly thought to have said them. Remember what Abraham Lincoln said: “73% of all internet quotes are fake.”

8. I resolve to actively debunk sources that practice bad science and those that exist mostly to either make you afraid or sell you useless junk. Often these are the same places, which is convenient.

9. I resolve not to blame things I don’t understand or that can’t be easily explained on easy, publicly-disliked targets like GMO’s, Monsanto, fracking or nuclear power.

10. I resolve to continue disproving conspiracy theories, despite believers only folding proof against the conspiracy into the conspiracy itself. It’s maddening, but it has to be done.

Happy and safe New Year to all, and here’s to more skeptical goodness in 2014.

About Mike Rothschild

Mike Rothschild is a writer and editor based in Pasadena. He writes about scams, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and pop culture fads. He's also a playwright and screenwriter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rothschildmd.
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11 Responses to 10 Skeptical Resolutions for the New Year

  1. Jon Richfield says:

    Thanks Mike and go well during the rest of the festive season.
    All my best also to everyone else participating here, and may your souls get some rest after settling the problems in the mind of humanity.

  2. Reg says:

    I shall cease attending funerals as I age because there are insufficient days in the week. Besides no-one knows those old-Methodist hymns except that ONE guy who bellows their antiquated South-Seas theme. Decision made, no need to revisit.

  3. APBA Eddie says:

    Mike, in resolution 5 and 6, you refer to “crackpots” and “trolls”. See Resoultion number 4. Also, in the introduction you wrote “because the goals are too large, too complicated or not tangible.” Not tangible? Tangible means real or concrete. Did you mean atainable? But I loved the post. You are right, of course, we all make resolutions we don’t keep, and even that we do not intend to keep.

    I have remidied that with four goals I will be able to achieve:

    1. I resolve not to run for public office, even if asked.

    2. I resolve not to win a Noble Prize.

    3. I resolve not to care when Chicago teams fail to even look like they expect to win, let alone actually do win.

    4. Last, and most important, I will welcome a new grandchild this summer.

    • Reg says:

      But it’s such a depressing thing to do. To carve in stone each new year the admission of failure for every previous New Year’s Day and set ourselves up for yet another failure.

      STOP it or you will go mad, if you haven’t already. Make your resolves on another forgettable day that doesn’t matter like Valentine’s Day or Black Friday or Thanksgiving.

      I resolve never to think nasty thoughts about rich old Uncle Bruno who kicked the bucket on Christmas Day and won’t be fighting with everyone at the thanksgiving table ever again.

    • Christian says:

      Some new years goals are not tangible. ‘I will get fit’ is not a tangible goal. What is fit ? But, I bet lots of people resolved to do exactly that.

  4. Mike, What do you make of this video showing very elevated radiation readings on a San Francisco beach?

    • Steve says:

      Yes I know I’m not Mike but I’m sure he won’t mind me answering in his stead?

      First off I would have to say that I’ve never been to San Francisco but as the video maker is using the medium of the internet to post his piece I’m sure you will allow me to use my internet research to answer your question?

      First off I’d like to look at a couple of points made in the text that accompanies the video, the poster says quote “More thorough readings need to be done! Where is the useless government/media?”

      Well the useless government have been monitoring gamma radiation since the very first tests at Los Alamos in 1945 (after all why wouldn’t they, it’s valuable information if you want to wipe out the enemy?), the EPA and it’s predecessors setup a countrywide net of monitoring stations and the information is readily available to the public, for free, on their website.

      Here’s the page for San Francisco for you to check out: http://www.epa.gov/radnet/radnet-data/radnet-sanfrancisco-bg.html I’d specifically like you to read the sixth note down about electrical interference causing spikes in the readings.

      The next point in the text is the map reference. It says the video was shot at Pacifica beach but it wasn’t. If you follow the google map northwards the beach curves round to the right (into San Francisco bay, I believe). Whereas the glimpses of the coast in the video quite clearly show a point on the right jutting out to sea. So why then does the map at the beginning of the video show Pacifica right at the top. Surely you’d centre Pacifica on that map wouldn’t you? Or perhaps the little red ‘X’ at the bottom is significant. Well it is, THAT is the place the video was shot from in Half Moon Bay with Pillar point jutting out to sea.

      Now we come to the video itself,you can just about work out where you are from the glimpses of coastline you can see around the edges of the counter display but what you can’t see is what else is going on around the counter. If you watch the video carefully at approx 1 minute and 52 seconds you will find yourself pointing at the end of Pillar point, why is that significant well this is the reverse view:

      http://www.militarymuseum.org/PointPillarAFS.html as you can see there is an active radar station on the point, (the guy would be standing on the beach at the extreme right hand edge of that photo) remember the note about electrical interference well I’m no radar expert but I’m pretty sure that a radar dish in an active radar station (it is I checked) will be pumping out quite a lot of interference right at the meter.

      He also says the sand is reading normal background but what he is concerned about is the ‘spray’ well where is the spray going, is it on the damp sand at his feet? If so why isn’t the sand reading higher? In fact the only place he get’s a high reading is either pointing directly at the radar station or at a cliff that is reflecting the radar waves back at him.

      Finally I’d just like to throw this into the mix: http://www.geigercounters.com/WipeTest.htm now I’m not saying that this guy is guilty of anything more than not concentrating on the environment he chooses to test in but this particular meter does lend itself to the underhand getting any reading they want from it doesn’t it?

      • Mike says:

        Thanks for the thorough research. I hope you posted this at the actual video as well. It takes effort to produce responses like yours, but these quell doubts raised in thousands of viewers.

  5. Pete Attkins says:

    You may find in practice that the form “I resolve not to do X” sounds initially very like “I resolve not, to do X” rather than “I resolve to avoid X”.

    I’m not criticizing the grammar for the sake of it, I’ve found it much easier to remember resolutions and other tasks by breaking them into meaningful small chunks: (I resolve to) (avoid X).

    Chunking the original form renders it nonsensical: (I resolve) (not to do) (X).

    I suggest using the form “avoid X” instead “not do X” because a statement containing even one negation has to be double-parsed each time it’s recalled in order to establish its meaning. E.g. “not do X” has to be resolved into an understandable wanted action, which is: avoid X; stop oneself from doing X.

    Obviously, the first parse of “not do” just means: inaction; not doing anything. Literally, it means performing no action, which is a contradiction that cannot be resolved without double-parsing the whole statement. In contrast, “avoid X” primes the wanted action during the first parse and prior to X being parsed.

    It’s best to word a resolution or a task statement such that its meaning is perfectly clear upon recall i.e. it requires the minimum number of parses. This makes it more likely to be recalled in the situation for which it was intended, and when one is tired and/or irritated, much easier and quicker to put into effect.

    My final suggestion is to avoid wording along the lines: “don’t think of elephants”. There is only one possible outcome of such wording: after the first parse, the action that was intended to be avoided gets primed instead of circumvented. The corresponding brain activity sequence is: parse 1; thoughts of elephants grab our attention; parse 2; spend ages trying to stop thinking about the elephants. That’s a huge cognitive load. In the heat of the moment we may decide to act on the priming and forget to quench it.

    Often, the best wording will be syntactically incorrect because of the need to break the statement into chunks and, ideally, it needs be perfectly clear during the first parse. Furthermore, a suitable “tag” is required to forge a strong link to the intended situation thereby enabling the statement to be recalled quickly (perhaps subconsciously after some practice).

    Examples of resolutions that are meaningless because, despite being easy to remember, they contain no action to perform in their corresponding situations:
    I will drink less. I will quit smoking. I will lose weight.

    The last resolution doesn’t even contain a tag to associate it with a situation: it has no chance of being achieved.

    Wishing everyone a Happy New Year.

  6. DragonLady says:

    I resolve to achieve the following in 2014:

    1] I will not nitpick.

    2] I will not be annoyed with my boss when he nitpicks: I will respond to each nit picked with a factual answer and stop there.

    3] I will clip my cats’ claws on a more timely basis (that is, not wait until one of them has accidently slashed up my hand in the time-honored game of hand rasselling.)

    I believe these goals are attainable. They are not as elegant as Mike’s, but I think I can remember them all.

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