Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Phil Plait’s TAM8 “Don’t Be A Dick” speech

| »

Last month, the skeptic community went up in a buzz over a particular speech at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 calling skeptics out on the less-than-patient behavior and rhetoric that many are increasingly displaying towards the folks whose minds and beliefs it is our goal to change. Here’s the full video of the Dr. Phil Plait (from Bad Astronomy) speech, eloquently titled “Don’t Be A Dick” [mild NSFW language, 30 minutes]:

I suppose I ought to share my thoughts about his speech now that I’ve finally listened to the whole thing. I do agree with the complaints raised by some that Phil’s depiction of someone being a “dick” was a bit over-the-top and only representative of some of the more openly hostile skeptics out there (particularly commenters), but I think that may have been intentional. Still, though, it would have been nice – or at least, more accurate – if he’d used some less hyperbolic examples that were just as unhelpful. (Lord knows the comments over at, for example, Pharyngula, are more often than not dripping with such unnecessary levels of combative vitriol.)

Overall, though, I can’t really find anything other to critique and am in agreement with pretty much everything Phil says. It’s akin to what I keep saying, myself: The point of any social movement – be it skepticism, or animal rights, environmentalism, what have you – is to convince people that you are right and they are wrong, and to try and get them to change their minds and join your side instead. And the only way to do this, short of conquering them by force and chaining them over into your camp, is through PR. And the only way PR ever reliably works is when you appeal to people’s sense of reason and decency – not by lashing out at them and generally offending them. That merely makes them erect defensive barriers and any further discussion is rendered just about impossible. You don’t get people to agree with you by pushing them away, oddly enough.

Of course, there are always going to be certain kooks, cranks and bigots who are simply too deluded, too vile or just too plain stupid for there to be any real chance at debating them without developing angry tics or something. And these individuals deserve all the verbal beat-downs they receive and more. (I’m looking at you, Deepak Chopra (New-Ager), Jay Gordon (antivaxxer), Rush Limbaugh (general insane asshole), and etc.) These people are not to be reasoned with and ought simply be dismissed with snark, which is all they deserve (if not even more). But for the rest of the populace, the believers who make up most of our world and who could readily be reasoned with of people only tried, diplomacy will work endlessly better than vitriol … ie. being a dick.

Anyway. You can read Phil’s retrospective thoughts about the speech here.

(via Bad Astronomy)