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Thanks To Brian Dunning

by Stephen Propatier

November 13, 2013

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Donate Approximately 1 year ago Brian asked for volunteers to contribute to the blog portion of his website. I volunteered and it has been a very interesting year. As a regular contributor I have learned a great deal, andhopefully I have helped promote critical thinking and scientific skepticism. I would like to use this post for a bit of reflection. First by sharing a personal story, and secondly to thank Brian specifically. It is self indulgent admittedly, butI hope it may inspire others to become more involved in scientific skepticism.

The great thing about scientific skepticism is understanding that you don't know as much as you think you do. I am learning new things constantly. I follow and read several other science blogs as well as writing my own, and (of course) I listen to Skeptoid weekly. I am constantly amazed by what I don't know. Skeptics are often accused of cynicism, and it is a failing that I suffer from. To my surprise, becoming more involved with scientific skepticism has helped curb my cynicism issues. I find that my cynical preconceptions are wrong as often as they are correct. Critical thinking helps you understand your brain, and its inherent failings. Giving you a better grasp of your confirmation bias and cynicism.

Personally I find scientific discovery thrilling. In my opinion, curiosity and the thrill of discovery, plus a desire for the truth is what makes you a good skeptic. Critical thinking can be learned, but if you really don't want to know the truth then you never will.

Brian is frequently accused of negativity. Like most opinions, it is based a persons point of view. Negativity is in the eye of the beholder. Not to sound too Obi-wan but the truths we cling to, despite evidence, are often based on a certain point a view. Questioning someone's point of view will paint the query-er as negative, confirmation of their personal view is perceived as a positive. I believe that the truth no matter how negative is a positive. Although socially and culturally the truth can have negative outcomes. I personally would rather face reality rather than cling to a pleasant fantasy. To quote my Uncle "Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining".

I did not always maintain a such a deliberately scientific mindset. Once upon a time I was a nascent skeptic. Meaning, I had plenty of skepticism but no way to articulate and focus that energy. I was never a creationist or religious devotee. I never thought that aliens abductions were occurring, or that the the FBI was watching me. Still I did have some pretty un-scientific ideas. At one time I believed that; luck, ESP, telekinesis, ghosts, and even demonic possession were all possible. I regularlytook some herbal supplements, and even gave tacit agreement to marginal/useless treatments for my patients (IE: Reiki). I also held a firm belief that there were things that science could not explain. Not exactly a ringing resume for a scientific skeptic.

Despite that admission, I like to say that I was always a skeptic. I just needed a little refining. My evidence for this is meager. When my mother asked me why I was going out in the woods of western Connecticut for four days to shoot a video? I sheepishly told her that I was a shooting a video to promote scientific skepticism for the New England Skeptical Society (she had no idea that I was a member of NESS). My mothers reaction was unexpected. "That sounds perfect for you!". That surprised me, I had never realized how visible my skepticism is. I even questioned her about her reaction. "What makes you say that?" She responded "since you were a little boy you always questioned the answers.". I guess that is the bottom line for me. I still question the answers, and sometimes even the questions. Reaching this point was actually a short road. It never would have happened except for Brian Dunning

That is why I want to take today to thank Brian. Not to thank him for allowing me to use (maybe in this case abuse)his public forum. I want to thank Brian for doing what he does. As I said before he gets a lot of negativity. I thought it would be nice to give him some positive feedback for a change. Because he made me question my point of view.

7 Years ago I had only fringe knowledge of the skeptical movement. I wrongly assumed it to be similar to the 9/11 truthers or the UFOlogists (non-scientific "Skepticism"). I knew all about James Randi as "The Amazing Randi". I saw him torpedo Uri Gellar and Kreskin on the Tonight Show. Otherwise I had little or no understanding about Skeptics or Skepticism.

Then in 2006 I bought an Ipod. I started listening to podcasts, mostly sports. In August of 2007 I found a curious podcast with an odd icon, Skeptoid. That particular episode was about crop circles. Initially I thought it is was advocating an alien origin for crop circles. I was pleasantly surprised to find a critical and thorough analysis of the phenomenon. The next few weeks I kept listening to weekly Skeptoid. By the time I hit bioidentical hormones I was hooked. I listened to all the old podcasts in a binge until I ran out. Then I found Skeptoid wasn't enough and I started to branch out and looked for other similar content. Over time I found several currently well known podcasts; Skepticality, SGU, Point of Inquiry, and Rationally Speaking. (At the time it wasn't easy).Over time I went from being a passive listener to an activist. Since listening to my first Skeptoid I have come a long way.

It all started because I found Skeptoid to be balanced, fun, and interesting. It is a post-hoc conclusion to say that only Skeptoid would have led me here. Still, I believe it. I have found occasionally some of the other podcasts mentioned above can be a little preachy, or come across as arrogant occasionally. Most are more involved and not as entertaining as Skeptoid. As a skeptic I enjoy them. For a start up they would have been a dead end for me. Even the SGU took me a little while to get into because of the length. I think the reason why I liked skeptoid was the delivery, not the information. You could minimize the impact of being entertaining, but I don't. If Brian didn't have the ability to catch my interest and make me laugh I probably would still be grudgingly encouraging patients to give acupuncture a try.

Now I am happily active in scientific skepticism. I post here, speak at high schools, teach a graduate critical thinking class and support many scientific education, organizations and skeptical outreach groups financially. In my practice I advocate for science based medicine both politically, and academically. Plus on a personal basis I doextensive in-office patient education.

I have never met Brian face to face, yet someday I will. When you meet someone who has changed your life for the better, you can't properly thank them in 10 seconds without sounding like a lunatic. So I am borrowing the website today to tell others how Brian Dunning changed my life for the better. I hope this will let him know that his reach goes beyond what is right in front of him. Yes, many people accuse him of being negative. I "accuse" him of being far more positive than he even knows.

Simply put,

Thanks for doing what you do Brian :)

Please feel free to post your positive Brian stories in the comments, in addition to your grammar complaints.


by Stephen Propatier

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