The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Everybody Got A Gris-Gris

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2011

I just had a guest post published over at the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift blog, and I thought it worth sharing. Take a look…

If you’re like me, then when you became a more open and active skeptic (what I like to call a “coming out” skeptic) you may have made the mistake of thinking that you were going to make yourself into the best skeptic ever.  That is, you may have decided that you were going to aspire to being a really, really good skeptic and critical thinker on pretty much everything.  I recall my eager embracing of this kind of “hyper-skeptical” attitude, back when I was a newly minted “out of the closet” skeptic.

But, as I have matured, I have adopted a more informed, nuanced, and realistic view of skepticism, both on a personal as well as a broader level.  I have come to the gradual realization that while wishing to be “a good skeptic” in all areas, from the nuances of the alt-med vs. science-based medicine wars to issues related to various religious claims, is a laudable goal, but at the end of the day it is kind of unrealistic.  There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to comb through all the pseudoscientific, conspiracy-mongering, and woo-oriented claims out there and be totally prepared for them all.

This is why having a community of skeptics is so important: we each bring our own areas of expertise and activism to the larger group.  I, for one, tend to focus on issues related to what I call physics-woo and topics related to pseudoscience and education (specifically areas such as the creationism-evolution issue).  That way we can take the time to hunker down and focus upon a specific set of skeptical topics, while relying on the rest of our skeptical colleagues to cover other areas.

However, there is another reason why being plugged into a broader skeptical community is a good thing: because we are all human, and as such, despite our skeptical leanings we all have some aspect to our lives on which we are decidedly non-skeptical.  As the magician Penn Jillette once summed it up: “Everybody got a gris-gris.”  By this he meant that we all have some kind of gris-gris: a belief or superstition or viewpoint that is not supported by any kind of rational or skeptical analysis.  And, many times, these gris-gris are things that are very important to us, yet we may not even think of it as such, and we can behave in decidedly irrational ways when confronted with the possibility that our gris-gris is just another silly belief unsupported by evidence. …

Click here to read the rest of the article

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