Try not to be a dick


Phil Plait gave this talk at The Amazing Meeting 8 in Las Vegas on July 8th, 2010. The talk attracted a lot of criticism from members of the skeptical community. Some ironically called it a dick-​​move on Phil’s part, due mostly to the fact that he did not provide specific examples of dickish behaviour, despite his claim that it’s becoming common amongst the community. Many renowned and highly respected skeptics are known for being overly terse and a little bit dickish when it comes to debating their opponents, and it seems that it is becoming fashionable to follow in their prodigious footsteps.

I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the skeptical community due to the behaviour of some members. In recent few months there have been numerous accusations of bullying, harassment and abuse on the part of skeptics. These accusations have ranged from harassing emails to “death threats*” and hacking of websites. Naturally these accusations have to be taken with a grain of salt and I have no doubt that many of them are being blown out of proportion by the “victims” in order to gain sympathy for their cause. However the accusation itself is enough to damage our reputation and I personally have witnessed examples of rudeness and abuse against certain individuals. Hell, I’ve been guilty of it myself on occasion.

Skeptical podcaster and musician George Hrab said in his podcast a few weeks ago that as skeptics and atheists it’s our duty to be the smartest and most moral people in the room. We’re supposed to be the good guys, and resorting to bullying tactics does nothing to help our cause. All it does is tarnish the reputation of the community as a whole and destroy our image as a rational, intelligent group seeking to disseminate the truth and protect the public from woo-​​merchants and crackpots. Our work is too important to jeopardise by lowering ourselves to the level of those people pushing phony pharmaceuticals and misinformation.

I’m aware that this is a touchy subject and no doubt will hit a nerve with some readers. Some of you may call my posting of this a dickish move and probably tell me to die in a fire. Please note that I am making no direct accusations against any individual, and I harbour no ill-​​will towards the community at large. I simply believe that we need to take the moral high ground if we’re going to win the war against woo.

Stick to your guns, be passionate about your position, be a shining beacon of rationality and skepticism, but don’t be a dick.

(* Yes…“Die in a fire” is a meme and not meant to be taken literally. However not everyone is going to interpret it that way.)