Guest Post by Kylie Sturgess
Inspired by the Open Laboratory, the Skeptical Blog Anthology is a collection of blog-entries turned book chapters, taking online investigations and essays and preserving them beyond the life-span of a RSS feed. Plus, it was a great way for a group of young scientists and designers to put their stamp on the burgeoning skeptical-scene.
Online outreach is greatly valued amongst the skeptical community; blogs teach the basics of scientific skepticism: the promotion of science literacy and critical thinking (often using the paranormal as a pedagogical tool) and consumer protection in fringe science areas — in particular, as regards to paranormal claims [Loxton, 2007]. In addition, they provide timely and often reliable information in reaction to issues, rapid networking and much-needed critical review of claims. The Anthology aimed to further encourage emerging voices and promote a more discriminating culture amongst skeptics, by crowdsourcing and reflecting what topics and ideas are considered vital for exploration.
The Young Australian Skeptics (YAS) are an affiliation of skeptically-minded people, primarily college students, scientists and artists living in the city of Melbourne. They have a website, a podcast (the Pseudo-Scientists) and accept blog-posts from contributors. The idea for them to be the “brand behind a book” came to me when I was first included in the Open Laboratory compilation in 2008, for a blog-entry on the intersection of erotica, plagiarism and science writing. I was thrilled to be included amongst other science writers. But why stop there? The nascent online skeptical community was outgrowing monthly “blog-circles” and the “YAS” felt it was time for a new project that set them apart from other skeptical groups online. Thus, the Skeptical Blog Anthology project began, in 2009.
By simply following in the footsteps of the Open Laboratory, the site dedicated several months to crowd-sourcing and requesting blog-posts from the general public. Occasionally suggestions would be from outside the time-range or be too lengthy or short for inclusion, but overall there were a fair number of submissions. Not every entry that made the final cut had authors to give their approval, which ended up reducing the number that were finally included. However, the final cut still featured a good range of topics, from the vaccination debate, paranormal claims, the ongoing creep of creationism into politics and education, conspiracy theories, homeopathy, outreach, all kinds of alternative medicine and even attempts to tackle the question “What is skepticism?”
The Skeptical Blog Anthology features essays by: Dr Phillip Plait of “Bad Astronomy”, Dr Karen Stollznow of the Point of Inquiry Podcast, Sharon Hill, Dr Petra Boynton, Brian Thompson of The Amateur Scientist podcast, Skeptic Blog’s Daniel Loxton and Yau-Man Chan, New York City Skeptics’ Lisa Bauer, UK Skeptic Dr Chris French, Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe’s Evan Bernstein and many others. While questions about improving inclusivity and diversity has captured the attention of many in skeptical circles, the Anthology similarly reflects different ages, gender and points of view, featuring writers from around the world.
The book was released a week before Christmas in 2011 and promoted an immediate call for a e-Book version, which was promptly completed thanks to the designer Catherine Donaldson of Catherine Donaldson and her studio at Faster Pussycat Productions. Without the Young Australian Skeptics team of Elliot Birch, Richard Hughes, Joel Birch, Jack Scanlan, Jason Ball, Alastair Tait and Belinda Nicholson – and the much-appreciated keen eye of co-editor and contributor Barbara Drescher – this book would never have reached its goal by 2011. While it was created with significantly fewer people than the Open Laboratory and thus required a longer time-frame to complete, the appreciation of the contributors who were included has been most encouraging.
Hopefully this is just the start of more intersections between online skeptical writers and print publications, raising the profile of and encouraging a discriminating culture when it comes to producing high quality skeptical content.
The Young Australian Skeptics site is at http://www.youngausskeptics.com
The Skeptical Blog anthology can be found at Lulu.com at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/skeptical-blog-anthology/18755670
Kylie Sturgess is the host of the Token Skeptic podcast and regularly writes editorial for numerous publications and CSICOP’s Curiouser and Curiouser online column. She is the co-host for the Global Atheist Convention in 2010 and 2012. Kylie is a member of the James Randi Educational Foundation Education Advisory Panel and blogs at Token Skeptic on the Freethought Blogs network.
Previously in this series: