The Skeptics' Circle reloaded
In less than a week, Be Lambic or Green will be hosting the 14th Meeting of the Skeptics' Circle. Naturally, I have a keen interest in helping Mark succeed in presenting a truly fantastic edition, given that this will be the first Skeptics' Circle since the announcement at last week's Circle that I would be taking it over from St. Nate after his unfortunate impending departure from the blogosphere. (Aside to Nate: You called your recent hosting of The Carnival of the Godless your "second to last post." In my book that means you still owe your fans--like me--one last post, and we're going to hold you to that!)
Consequently, I urge all of you out there who do blogging that is appropriate for this carnival to send your best recent writing to Mark, according to his instructions here. Mark notes that he has rather heavy duty spam filters in place; if he doesn't acknowledge your submission, he wants you to leave a comment. Alternately, if you still don't get an acknowledgment, you can send the submissions to me, and I will forward them on. Guidelines for what we're looking for in posts contributed can be found here and towards the end of this post.
I will probably be tweaking and fine-tuning these guidelines in the future when I get around to it, but it's highly unlikely that I will make any radical changes. Basically, we want posts that use facts and/or science to examine and/or debunk myths or phenomena that are widely believed but have little or no basis in fact. Topics can range from evolution, psychic phenomena, quackery, pseudoscience, pseudohistory (such as my personal bête noire, Holocaust denial), or anything you can think of that would benefit from the application of critical thinking, skepticism, and science. There's a lot of, well, just plain bullshit out in the blogosphere that gets amplified as it gets passed from blogger to blogger, and the Skeptics' Circle was designed to serve as an antidote to this phenomenon.
Now that the initial shock of the transition is past, I thought I'd take the opportunity today to discuss some of my ideas for the future of the Circle. The three main areas I'd like to touch on include hosting, publicity, and the nature of this particular carnival.
As with all blog carnivals, perhaps the most important factor is to find good hosts who are willing to go that extra mile to round up interesting, intelligently written, and entertaining posts, to organize them in an entertaining fashion, and then to publicize their edition of the Skeptics' Circle to the the hilt, which describes past hosts of the Circle quite well. I fully expect that it will also describe the future hosts whom Nate lined up before stepping down. To give you an idea of the quality of past hosts and past Circles, here is the schedule as it stands now:
February 3, 2005
The First Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Saint Nate's Blog.
February 17, 2005
The Second Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Respectful Insolence.
March 3, 2005
The Third Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Rhosgobel: Radagast's Home.
March 17, 2005
The Fourth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by The Two Percent Company.
March 31, 2005
The Fifth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Science and Politics.
April 14, 2005
The Sixth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by SocraticGadfly.
April 28, 2005
The Seventh Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Thoughts from Kansas.
May 12, 2005
The Eighth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Pharyngula.
May 26, 2005
The Ninth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Saint Nate's Blog.
June 9, 2005
The Tenth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Skeptico.
June 23, 2005
The Eleventh Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Anne's Anti-Quackery & Science Blog.
July 7, 2005
The Twelfth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Unscrewing the Inscrutable
July 21, 2005
The Thirteenth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Respectful Insolence
August 4, 2005
The Fourteenth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Be Lambic or Green
August 18, 2005
The Fifteenth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Atheism Guide
September 1, 2005
The Sixteenth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Red State Rabble
September 15, 2005
The Seventeenth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by decorabilia
September 29, 2005
The Eighteenth Skeptics' Circle, OPEN
October 13, 2005
The Nineteenth Skeptics' Circle, hosted by Time to Lean (whose blog has even been mentioned in the Amazing One's newsletter!)
As you can see, Nate did a fine job of lining up quality hosts all the way up to September 15 (October 13's host was my find) before handing over the reigns, and there were some excellent editions during his tenure. I don't want to rest on Nate's (and, of course, past hosts') laurels, though. I'm looking for more hosts who will strive to carry on the evolving tradition of the Circle. So, what kind of blogger, specifically, am I looking for? First of all, the main theme of your blog doesn't necessarily have to be science, quackery, pseudoscience, or skepticism, but you should be the type of blogger who likes to write about one or more of these topics at least occasionally. Second, you should have an interest in skepticism and the application of critical thinking, science, and data to dubious claims. (If you regularly check out The Amazing Randi's weekly newsletter, you're probably already halfway there.) Third, you need to want to do it and to be willing to give it your best shot at doing it well. I can tell you from my own personal experience hosting the Skeptics' Circle, that hosting a high-profile blog carnival early on in the life of your blog is a great way to get noticed and help your blog take off. Indeed, I cut my teeth hosting the Skeptics Circle and went on to host Grand Rounds and Tangled Bank, and then the Skeptics' Circle again. It's also a hell of a lot of fun, and I'll help you in any way I can.
So how does one host a blog carnival like the Skeptics' Circle? There are two main styles of hosting blog carnivals. There's the good, old-fashioned straightforward style, as exemplified by St. Nate's recent hosting of the Carnival of the Godless; Grand Rounds as hosted by fellow surgeons Bard Parker or Aggravated DocSurg; or Tangled Bank as hosted by Buridan's Ass or About Town. This is the most commonly used style and is still often the best. However, some hosts don't wish to be confined to a simple listing and brief commentary about the submitted articles, however pithy the commentary may be. They choose to use somewhat more--shall we say?--creative styles of organizing and presenting, as exemplified by my hosting of the Skeptics' Circle and Grand Rounds. (Of course, it is possible to go off the deep end a bit using these sorts of gimmicks, as I admit that I probably did when I hosted Tangled Bank, but better to reach and fall flat on your face than not to reach at all, I say.) Other highly creative examples include Grand Rounds as hosted by the Mad House Madman, Maria, Polite Dissent, Mudfud; the Skeptics Circle as hosted by Brent; and Tangled Bank as hosted by Science and Sensibility. As you can see, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination, making this a great chance to strut your stuff in front of a wide audience.
How long does it take? Well, the straightforward approach will probably take a couple of hours the night before you post the carnival. The creative approach will take as long as you wish to dedicate to it.
Interested? Send a request to me at email@example.com, and I'll see about getting you on the schedule. I want to line up hosts as far in advance as I can manage.
The Skeptics' Circle has already become fairly well known, having been linked to regularly by such established bloggers, such as Pharyngula, Majikthise, and One Good Move, among others (to all of whom I'm grateful). (Unfortunately we've never managed to get Instapundit to link to us, as he does to Grand Rounds every week.) We've even been linked to twice by the Amazing Randi himself! (Of course, I'd love to have Randi link to us every edition; if anyone has an "in" with the Amazing One and wants to advocate for us, please contact me.)
Of course, more is better here. So, once again, if you have any new ideas of how to promote the Circle or know of any high-traffic bloggers who might be sympathetic to the ideals represented by the Skeptics' Circle, and thus willing to link to us regularly, please let me know, and I'll contact them, hopefully persuading them to let me add them to the publicity mailing list. Remember, the more publicity, the more incentive for people to host and host well, and the more incentive for bloggers to send in their very best writing and the better the Circle will become. The better and more widely read the Circle becomes, the more effective a weapon it becomes against the rampant credulity in the blogosphere.
The Nature of the Skeptics' Circle and Submitting Your Work
I wanted to finish this post with a few words on the nature of the Skeptics' Circle and what kinds of posts I would and would not like to see. First, let's dispose of the easy part, the types and formats of posts:
- Submissions should come from bona fide bloggers. That means a weblog that is regularly updated in a format in which the articles have dates on them, preferably with more recent articles at the top. I realize that the boundaries between a website and a blog can sometimes be blurry, but I think most people recognize a blog when they see one.
- Submissions should showcase the writing of the blogger submitting it. After all, the very purpose of this blog carnival is to showcase high quality skeptical blogging. That's why Instapundit-style simple links with little or no commentary or analysis are rarely, if ever appropriate. However, commentary that quotes significantly from another link is certainly acceptable, as long as a signficant proportion of the content comes from the blogger.
- Submissions should be fairly recently written. Ideally, they should have been written after the last Skeptic's Circle, but within the last month is usually acceptable. If the article is particularly good, the host may of course show some discretion.
- The blogs from which submissions come don't necessarily have to be devoted to science or skepticism, but should have some content of that nature.
St. Nate did not want political or ideological biases to come into it. I'm not sure how that will be possible, unless the topics are restricted to science and pseudoscience, and I'm not sure such a carnival should be so narrowly restricted. On the other hand, leaving things too wide open could potentially put each host of such a carnival in the uncomfortable position position of having to evaluate the arguments themselves, which might be too much work. Also, not all hosts would have the same capabilities in the same areas.
I still feel the same way, and now that I'm in charge I don't want to put our hosts in such a position. Hosting is supposed to be fun and challenging, but it should not become onerous, nor would I want the Skeptics' Circle to turn into a bunch of political rants. However, certain issues that are regular fodder for the Skeptics' Circle are already charged with political implications. The most prominent example, of course, is the conflict between biologists and science teachers and advocates of creationism trying to get "intelligent design" taught in the classroom. Another example is global warming, where there is a broad scientific consensus that global warming is happening and that human activity is contributing to it (although how much and what we should do about it are, of course, hotly debated questions). My point is that it's impossible to avoid politics completely, and a recent article in Slate pointed out that skeptics these days are almost by necessity dealing with politically charged issues like global warming, intelligent design, stem cell research, and end of life issues. The question is, should the Circle even try to remain apolitical?
My answer now is: yes, for now. The reason is simply because of the very nature of a blog carnival. It would be different if there were some sort of "peer review" of the articles with expertise in the relevant fields, but that's not what we have. We have different hosts every two weeks, with one person (me) being the only element of continuity. I have a great deal of knowledge about quackery and creationism, as well as the scientific method and critical thinking in general, but I feel far less comfortable wandering too far out of my area of expertise. I've been thinking of ways that I could add a backup means of "peer review" of questionable articles, and I hope to flesh them out soon. If I can pull that off successfully, I may very well let a little more politics slip in. But only if I can pull it off successfully. In the meantime, the Circle will stick to areas that can be evaluated using evidence, reason, and the scientific method. (Don't worry; politically charged or not creationist fallacies remain fair game because they are clearly pseudoscience--or antiscience, if you prefer--because they can be clearly debunked using evidence and science.) Certainly, I would appreciate input on this matter, especially from past hosts and regular contributors to the Circle.
I have, however, decided to loosen up a bit Nate's requirements for hosts that their blogs be apolitical. That requirement was instituted a couple of months ago after the previously mentioned unpleasantness. Now that things have been going relatively smoothly the last couple of months, I don't think it's necessary to continue to be quite so stringent. (Besides, the pool of apolitical bloggers dedicated to science and skepticism is relatively small.) Consequently, I'm now quite willing to cast a wider net and to consider interested bloggers whose writing is primarily political--if they think they can remain relatively objective in evaluating the submissions. I'm just a facilitator for the Skeptics' Circle, anyway. In reality, without contributors to provide high quality skeptical blog posts and hosts to present them in an entertaining and engaging way, there wouldn't even be a Circle. My thanks go out to all who have hosted, contributed, or publicized the Circle in the past, and I hope you will continue to support us in the future.
Which brings us back to this week. Mark wants submissions. Mark needs submissions. Mark's gotta gotta have them--by Wednesday, August 3, of course!
And, once again, if you're interested in hosting, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.