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SKEPTOID BLOG:

What About The Comments?

by Eric Hall

April 6, 2013

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Donate I have a few "heavier" posts upcoming, but in an effort to make them thorough, I didn't have a good idea of what I could write as a shorter post for this week. I found some inspiration in the last couple of days in administering the comments on my posts. In reality, this blog post today will boil down to one link, but I do have a little bit to say about the comments and traffic to Skeptoid.

One of the first observations has to do with anecdote. I mention anecdotes in several of my posts, and the Skeptoid podcast covers anecdote within other topics as well. Comments often come from people who are swayed by their own story or a story from someone they know. No matter how I respond, I often fail at my explanation separating anecdote and science. Anecdotes do have a place in helping form hypotheses, but the anecdotes themselves, no matter the quantity, do not constitute evidence. Anecdotes are not controlled studies - meaning there is no way to show if what is being claimed is indeed what led to the outcome claimed. There is no measurement of the inputs or the outcomes. Without this control, there is no way to measure if the claim is true. This means that even multiple anecdotes of some outcome cannot constitute evidence, because there is too much variability in the measurement and a lack of control of the inputs.

When my blog posts go up each week, I try to check in on the various places where people might comment. I do this because I do enjoy feedback as it helps me in improving my science writing and my writing in general. I became a teacher in order to help spread the word on the beauty of science and help more people understand science. If taught properly, the awe and beauty of the universe is truly revealed. I notice my posts on Skeptoid's Facebook feed garner a couple dozen likes, and usually a few positive comments. Yet, with well over 1,000 views per post, I am left to wonder who the audience really is. Is it fellow skeptics who generally understand the science I am communicating? Is it people who don't believe the science and trust their anecdotes and assume I am part of the conspiracy? It would be interesting to see the numbers if there would be a good way to determine the percentage of the various people visiting the blog.

I do still hold out hope that I am helping some people change their mind about science. In a recent episode of "The Skeptics' Guide To The Universe," Steven Novella talked about e-mails the show receives on a regular basis from people who started out highly religious, distrusting of science, or other stances in contrast to science and evidence who said after listening to the show for a time, they changed their stance. I can only hope this is the case here at Skeptoid as well, and that our efforts are converting people to a trust of science and reason faster than those that are being converted to mindsets that are anti-science.

One other comment I often see is the "what's the harm" scenario. If someone has a good story and if someone else is helped by their story, is it really causing harm? This is where the link comes in. The harm often might simply be money wasted on useless products, ideas, etc. Some harm can be more serious. The website - http://whatstheharm.net - gives plenty of examples of serious harm done when one doesn't think critically. From the website:
This site is designed to make a point about the danger of not thinking critically. Namely that you can easily be injured or killed by neglecting this important skill. We have collected the stories of over 670,000 people who have been injured or killed as a result of someone not thinking critically.
While anecdotes do provide some valuable information, it is not information which should be used in making important decisions. Whether it is changing your diet, taking an herbal remedy, changing your plans based on a horoscope, or any other seemingly harmless decision, looking at the evidence before deciding to make the change will generally lead to a better outcome - an outcome based on evidence.

by Eric Hall

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