Sunday, March 1, 2009

Skepticism and Politics

Speaking to a couple of friends yesterday, the question of skepticism and politics came up. Specifically, should the Salt City Skeptics group take a neutral stance on political issues?

Some groups, such as the the New England Skeptical Society (the group who puts out the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe) try to stay politically neutral. They'll undertake politics when it overlaps with issues traditionally in the purvue of skeptical inquiry, such as when cdesign proponentsists attempt to get religious ideas inserted into public school science curricula. But for the most part, politics are off the table.

A short aside: I know there have been a number of people new to skepticism at our events. If you're one of them and haven't listened to the Skeptics' Guide podcast, go there. Now. Listen. Click the link above to hear individual episodes, or subscribe in iTunes. In my opinion, there is no better, or more entertaining, introduction.

Others skeptics are a lot more open about tackling political issues. There are a lot of skeptics who are politically quite liberal. Anyone who has read my personal blog will know that I'm among them. There are many well-known skeptics who would call themselves libertarian (Penn and Teller, for instance). I'm sure there are some politically conservative skeptics, too.

Bias certainly is a concern. I think that we all sometimes are a little quicker to jump on, say, a set of statistics cited by someone with whom we do not agree with politically. I know I am guilty of that. I think Penn & Teller, on their generally excellent TV show, Bullshit (along with Mythbusters, one of the only TV shows openly from a skeptical perspective), are occassionally guilty of letting their libertarian political perspectives flavor their content. On the other hand, they're pretty open about this, and if called on the carpet about an incorrect claim, they, like true skeptics, will gladly offer a correction.

Here's my take on the official stance of Salt City Skeptics and politics:

Whenever politicians or political bodies make a testable claim, that claim is open to skeptical inquiry. While this blog a political fact-checking site, political claims should not remain sacrosanct and outside the purvue of skepticism. We should demand the same standards of evidence from our representatives that we demand from anyone else.

As an example, let's examine gay marriage... See more in my next post.

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