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Winners and Losers

Entry 1141, on 2010-01-11 at 21:12:35 (Rating 4, Skepticism)

The first decade of the new millenium has just ended (yes I know it depends on how you count it but let's just accept this) so its time to do a summary of how that time has gone for the skeptical movement. Luckily the well known podcast "Skeptics' Guide to the Universe" has done something similar so I will base my comments partly on their thoughts.

Let's start with my favourite type of silly belief: creationism. I'm mainly talking about the extreme form, young earth creationism here but the same comments apply, to a lesser extent, to the other variations.

I think creationism has peaked and is on a slow but unstoppable decline. Religious skeptics have finally found the courage to speak against religion and religious groups seem to be intent on self destruction by engaging in more crazy activities, such as setting up the laughable creationism museum.

The biggest legal case of the decade related to this subject, the Dover Case, was a huge and humiliating defeat for the religious crazies. Even the (conservative) judge effectively called them liars!

When a belief is under attack, as creationism is now, it often resorts to even more extreme defence mechanisms which just hasten its demise. As I said above, I don't think creationism will disappear any time soon, but I'm confident it is on the way out.

What about UFOs? That subject doesn't seem to have gained a lot of attention in the decade. Nothing new has come along and few interesting sightings have been made. Now that almost everyone has a camera in their cell phone, iPod, or other device, you would think that there would be a lot of new photos of UFOs but they don't seem to have appeared. And where they have appeared the photos have been analysed and rejected. Maybe the widespread use of cameras might mean the end of UFO sightings - unless the real thing happens, and then none of us will be in doubt!

Cryptozoology seems to be going nowhere as well, maybe for similar reasons as UFOs. The recent hoax has destroyed whatever small amount of credibility the bigfoot believers might have previously had, and other bizarre appearances have been explained in conventional terms.

Its not all good though. New age beliefs seem to be on the rise, maybe as a compensation for the decline of religion and other superstition. The same applies to ghosts which are possibly being promoted through all the pathetic TV shows on the subject. Once people get sick of that nonsense ghosts will probably disappear (please excuse the pun).

How about crazy religions? Well scientology found that if you recruit nutty celebrities like Tom Cruise to give you extra credibility then the opposite can happen as well. His famous insane rant video probably did more to push people away from Scientology than all the skeptical discussion ever did.

Unfortunately one of the most dangerous pseudosciences was also one on the big winners. I'm talking about alternative medicine. I have said in the past that I agree a few natural remedies have some effect but the vast majority are useless and actually worse than useless.

When I see homeopathy in pharmacies and acupuncture in doctor's offices I get concerned because it means alternative treatments have reached the mainstream. In many cases it is a financial decision to offer these treatments because patients want them, but I think medical professionals have a duty to reject them even if they might lose some income in the process.

An associated subject, anti-vaccination, has also been successful even though its claims have repeatedly shown to be nonsense. Unfortunately by refusing vaccination parents put their own children in danger plus many others because of the reduction in herd immunity. People have forgotten how serious some diseases which have almost been eliminated by vaccines were but they are starting to find out again. Unfortunately that is a hard way to see that rejecting vaccination is both stupid and dangerous.

So what about the big subject of the last few years? Yes, I mean global warming. This is another area where people only see the facts which suit their beliefs and ignore the rest. The deniers have been quite successful in getting their message out using movies such as the deceitful "Great Global Warming Swindle" and a constant stream of ill-informed nonsense in conservative blogs.

Luckily the people that matter: scientists, many businesses, and most governments have continued the struggle against GW but not very successfully unfortunately. I think global warming will become more accepted as its effects become more obvious but by then it could be too late, so unfortunately I'm pessimistic about this one.

So that's the skeptical decade, a mixture of good and bad. The highlight for me was the rise of the new atheists: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc. Its now OK to criticise even genuine religious beliefs. That's good because everything should be open to criticism, especially religious views which have traditionally been above criticism.

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