Skeptical Blogging and Preaching to the Choir
The first time I seriously considered starting a blog was at a local Perth Skeptics event. The guest speaker was Kristjan Wager who runs the ProScience blog. He was talking to us about skeptical blogging in general, what got him started, what it involves and how he has found it. One of the guests there asked a rather pointed question about whether skeptical blogging serves any practical purpose, and whether we are merely “preaching to the choir” as they say. I’ve heard this sort of sentiment repeated elsewhere; the view that the blogosphere is merely an “echo chamber” of like minded individuals patting each other on the back. These people argue that our efforts would be best served elsewhere, maybe handing out leaflets on a street corner or engaging in direct confrontation of forums. In my short time as a blogger I have found that the reality is actually very different.
Thanks to the in-depth traffic statistics that wordpress keeps for all it’s blogs, I have been able to observe where the majority of my traffic comes from. Contrary to the echo chamber hypothesis, my statistics indicate that a good deal of traffic comes from search terms not typically associated with the skeptically mindset. Right up front the big exception to this conclusion is from very top search term “richard dawkins” or “dawkins” which has accounted for a full 9.54% of my total views. Who’s to say however that all those people searching for dawkins are doing so from a skeptical mindset? After dawkins the most popular search terms of all time are “omega point theory criticism” which I will concede seems like a directly skeptical search. Then you get into “global temperatures” & “earth’s atmosphere” which while still scientific indicate that non-skeptics may be stumbling upon my skeptical rundown of climate change denial.
After this come the real surprises with “christian clip art” & “paradise clipart” taking up 7th and 8th spots in the top 10 of all time. Seems to me that those search terms are likely from believers, which goes a long way to disprove the echo chamber argument. Other popular search terms have included “what will heaven look like”, “heaven”, “real heaven”, “christian pictures of heaven”, “heaven clipart”, “clip art christian”, “how heaven looks like”, “pictures of heaven” and “religious clipart”. Noticing a trend? Not only are a huge number of hits coming from the obviously religious but they seem to be coming from people struggling with the concept of the afterlife. I wouldn’t dare make assumptions about the somebodies state of mind based off a single search term, but I sometimes wonder what all those people searching “what will heaven look like” are actually expecting to find. Do they truly believe that all mighty google will show them real pictures of heaven? Or maybe, just maybe, they are feeling dissatisfied with the lack of reality found in religion and are reaching for some tangible evidence. I admit that’s an unreasonable assumption to make, but regardless, these people are obviously being confronted with information in contradiction to their belief. It doesn’t stop there as well. I’ve even been referenced in the furious battle over the Omega Point Theory Wikipedia page.
It’s important to keep in mind that this information comes from a sample size of one, me, and so should not be extrapolated to the skeptical blogging community at large. I also think that sharing a namesake with a world religion has gone some way to pushing my google juice for the term “Christian” up a notch, an unforeseen benefit I suppose. I find echo chamber argument to be cynical, counter-productive and unsubstantiated. As part of the “new media” blogging has given voice to thousands of people whose passionate and occasionally frustrated arguments would have never been heard previously.
In the information age we are no longer confined to local radio and media corporations for our news and text-books and encyclopedias for our answers. Information has been decentralized and a wider arrange of viewpoints made accessible. This has had unfortunate the side-effect of giving a louder voice to efforts like the sickening anti-vaccination movement and alternative medicine practitioners, but that’s just another reason why it’s important that skeptics and rationalists keep up the blogs and online articles. The war may never be won but it seems to me like we are certainly taking ground, and blogging is our new weapon.
So am I just preaching to the converted? Results say NO. Am I reaching the screens of people who may be misinformed and in need of an unbiased skeptical viewpoint? Results say it’s very likely. Anecdotal evidence suggest that my experience is typical of other bloggers. Every time a skeptic reads an article of mine I’m pleased, every time a believer does I’m even more pleased, and every time somebody on the fence does, I’m ecstatic.