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.

7 Responses to “Skeptical Blogging and Preaching to the Choir”

  1. I find that nearly all my traffic comes from the search engines, but nearly every comment posted is from someone in the Skeptical community that mills around on Twitter. As a result it is normally only my posts that deal with skeptical issues that receive any comments; especially if I bash the AVN.

    Whenever we blog we are adding ideas and opinions to the public record and many people looking for answers will find our content not just the Woo’ers. By putting things online we are enabling people to make rational decisions because they now have our opinions and views to consider. These days computers are so cheap that many blogs and websites will remain online long after their original authors have stopped maintaining them (or are deceased), but that information may still be as valuable and relevant in the future as it is today. Especially if it is an account of current events.

  2. Good post – a lot of my readers belong to the skeptic and atheist community, but I also get quite a lot of hits through google, and some of my more political posts get linked to quite frequently.

    But as Dan said, one of the things we do is to get the information out there, allowing people to see something else than the claims made by the quacks and kooks.

    And I should point out that people like PZ and Orac have a lot of readers who disagreed with them when they first starting reading their blogs, but slowly have been convinced.

  3. I get a lot of hits from people looking for information on the “dangers of aspartame”. It makes me feel good that I can provide an alternate view for them to read if they’re so inclined.

    Of course, I have no way to know how much time they’re spending on the page. They could just be moving on once they realize that I don’t share their view that this is a dangerous substance. But even so, I think it’s good that I’ve let them know that there’s an alternative point of view out there. Even if it causes somebody to look more closely at what I have to say in order to dispute it, I’d enjoy that.

    I also get hits for more ambiguous terms like “Senator Metzenbaum Aspartame” or “Ron Dodge Aspartame”. I don’t know if they’re looking for information for or against the claims made by these people, but either way I’m thrilled that they were directed to me.

    I’m also getting a hell of a lot of hits to my critiques of the Ancient Aliens claims. People looking for information on the Saqqara bird and ancient flying machines, or (and this one seems to be really popular) mercury gyroscopes.

    It’s pretty awesome that I get to be a source for people looking for information about this stuff.

  4. Another reason to put your opinions online is that people will eventually try to launch ad-hominem attacks against you. I had this one directed at me in a blog comment whoever wrote the comment was fairly dishonest as it’s nearly impossible to Google my name and not find my site. From there it is pretty easy to find my stance on Freedom of Speech, but that individual decided to dig-up something to use as a straw-man.

    I have found that when dealing with attackers the only thing you need to worry about is what a third party is going to think when they observe the “debate”. The more you have online the harder it is for someone to build a strawman because they may claim you take stance X and are therefore a hypocrite. While a quick Google search may show that you really support Y and so the strawman crumbles.

  5. I lectured about the impact of blogging, my stats, how people respond when at the Adelaide Skeptics Convention a year back ( and have since featured in a blogging anthology – and currently editing a skeptical blog anthology. I think that a broad approach that takes in a variety of interests as well as having one particular focus (e.g science) generally helps with developing an audience.

  6. As a person who has some vision problem mostly due to old age, I would have liked to read your post/blog but you make it entirely difficult. Do you realize that a black background with gray print is extremely difficult for many to read?
    Also the very very small font that only takes up about 1/3 of the screen with the for whatever space/stars/ etc on the side has zero purpose.

  7. Hi cyril, very sorry to hear the site is so unreadable for you. It’s certainly given me something to think about. I’ll more than likely change the font colour to white within the next few days and perhaps extend the column width.

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