Sunday, 2 January 2011

Cynical? This kind of reporting could be for you!

I don't know whether to be grateful or bloody mortified by the YourCardiff article that went out on 18th November and which I've only just seen - whoopsie! - having been alerted by the extremely interesting skeptic Peter Harrison (who would have been our December speaker had that miserable ice not got the better of him on a flight of stairs).

The author seems, as the comments thankfully point out, to be blissfully unaware of the difference between skepticism, cynicism and pessimism - they obviously weren't there for my nice little rabble-rousing, intended to be uplifting speech about Science is Vital, which included quite a bit of the philosophy from this post (which I know meant a huge amount to at least one reader - I don't know if they'd want me to say more). To say that "pessimism is alive in the capital" makes for a great opening sentence and spectacularly misses the entire point. I hope this is so obvious that I won't waste further words explaining. I'll just do what I often do and tell a story. One girl in the audience revealed during Q&A that she was an atheist from a very religious family, who were horrified at her nonbelief and constantly wanted to change her. She was here not only to learn but to make friends who liked her the way she was - and believe me, she was vibrant, passionate and lovely! Ray promptly invited her along to AHS. I hope the rest of our audience are getting similar enjoyment and ability to express themselves, even if less dramatically! To me, skepticism is quite the opposite of being weighed down by doom and gloom: it's setting yourself free.

I'm intrigued by the first sentence: "They never said it would happen . . ." Who never said it would happen? Well, I suppose "nobody said it would happen" - until Dean and I did - would be true. (Though on the other hand I've heard many comments of "Wales was just crying out for something like this.") And at least we're described as "selling out" our events. There's actually no particular limit; the room can hold 80, but there are far fewer chairs than that. (In fact we're thinking about seeing if we can borrow lots of plastic lightweight ones.) What really mortifies me is my apparently saying "I recruited Dean". I hope I didn't really say that. (To be fair, when interviewed I often get nervous and say things that I not only never meant to, but had never even occurred to me to think. But I don't think I said that in this instance.) I set up the Facebook group, and Dean was there before I knew what was happening. I hadn't a clue who he was, but he was bloody perfect, and apart from the website and networking bit, he does everything really. We're co-founders, but if anyone's essential, it's him. By the way, he's a neuroscientist as well as a comedian.

But then perhaps it's always a shock to read any description of yourself or your activities in print, until you get used to it. I am very pleased with one thing: they not only spelled our names right, but they linked to our webpage, Facebook group and Twitter account. I am sure it was a well-meant article; perhaps the editors rather than the writer wanted the "unpleasant personality traits" twist! I'm determined not to make the "cynical" or "pessimistic" bit self-fulfilling - critical thinking is the basis of the scientific method, and that's how humanity develops its technology, its healthcare, its education, and its civilisation. Yes, that includes pickiness, hence most of this post . . . but should anyone follow the links, they'll hopefully get a clearer picture for themselves.

It's not as if it's a unique mistake to make about skepticism anyway. It's sad how "belief" - whether of a deity, a dictum, a conspiracy theory or an advertised product - is often assumed to mean "happy" and "agreeable", while "disbelief" or even "questioning", "wanting to know more", is assumed to mean the opposite. The why of that will no doubt come into many posts - probably already has. I'll just say that I suspect the love of obedience has a lot to do with it.

Even if our entire purpose has been thoroughly misrepresented, it's nice that Cardiff has noticed we're here. And if anybody comes along and likes what we do, that's always a massive plus.

2 comments:

Dean Burnett, Neuroscientist said...

I was most pissed off about them attributing my contribution to 'Mr Burnett'. Who is this 'Mr Burnett' arsehole? He's been dead for months now, but he keeps getting credit for my work, and quite a few of my Christmas cards were addressed to him.

Alice said...

Your wife predicted that was what was going to annoy you most! ;-)