I was discussing skepticism with somebody last night at a bar who was not a skeptic. Typically in this sort of situation somebody will have some preconceived ideas of skeptics based on some skeptic they know of (usually it’s Richard Dawkins in my experience), but this person had never heard of “organized skepticism” or the “skeptical movement” or “skeptical community”. Eventually he asked me for some examples of my favorite skeptics (which I listed off a dozen or so), but it got me to thinking, who really are my skeptical “hero” or my “favorite” skeptics…
Now I am being a “tad” liberal here, as I’m grouping well known atheists, skeptics, and scientists all as one entity, even if they are not typically thought of as a “skeptic”. Also, I wanted to limit my list to only living skeptics, so as much as it may pain some people to see him omitted, there is no Carl Sagan listed below.
I’d also like to mention that other than #1, these are in no particular order. Actually that is not 100% true. The order they are in is based on who I could think of something fun and interesting to say something about first. Basically I created my list of people, and stared at them until something would pop into my head about one of them, then I’d expand on that idea for a paragraph, and go back to staring at the remainder of the list.
Finally, I had to cut this list off somewhere, and since it is my list, I get to choose where to cut it off, and it just happened to be 11, since I had more than 9 people I wanted to talk about, I think top 10’s are Letterman’s thing, a top 12 seemed kinda lame, and 13 or more sounded like too much work when I said it out-loud. So you’re stuck with 11, and I WILL know if you stop reading early, so don’t even try.
1) Neil deGrasse Tyson
Tyson got me back into science about three or four years ago; which lead to me becoming part of the skeptical community. Seeing Tyson’s first appearance on the Colbert Report re-ignited my passion for science and understanding the universe, which I had sort of let slip out of my life for many years. But most importantly, Dr Tyson is probably the best person today at making science fun and interesting for the general public, but he managed to do it without ever dumbing down the science.
The rest of the people in this list are not ordered (think of everybody excluding Tyson as tied for second place), but I did put Dr Kiki second for a reason, and that is because TWIS was the first podcast I began listening to after Tyson turned me back on to science.
As I said in my review of the TWIS podcast more than a year ago (on a quick unrelated note, look for a new updated review coming in the near future): “This is a stupendous science podcast, and easily my favorite“.
Nothing against Richard Dawkins, Ken Miller (who both get their time on this list later) or any of the other great people out there doing all they can to fight creationism and push an understanding of the reality evolution, but Eugenie Scott is my favorite person to talk on the topic of evolution and creationism. Eugenie never pulls any punches and does a great job showing the intellectual dishonesty of those trying to promote the pseudo-scientific nonsense and the harm that allowing them free reign can cause.
In her many interviews she comes across as supremely likable and knowledgeable, and manages to make every interview interesting and never dry.
Plus she get some bonus points for thoroughly debunking virtually every aspect of Expelled, as well as is humanly possible.
Richard Wiseman is probably the person on my list I would have the most questions for if given the chance to sit down and chat for a while. Obviously a conversation with anybody in this group would be great, and I’d learn much from any one of them, but Wiseman’s areas of expertise seem to be the broadest, and easily the most obscure. Quirkology has to be the most fun I have had reading a book I since, well, ever I guess. And if you listen to a few of his interviews right before reading, so you’re hearing his voice in your head reading to you, it makes it even that much better. Basically what I am saying here, is go to Amazon, search for Quirkology, order it, sit by your door, wait for the USP guy to show up, rip open the box, and start reading…
Ok, what are you still doing here? Go to Amazon. I’m serious. Stop reading my blog already. Here, I’ll help you out with a link. Happy now? Click it already…
I’ll assume you’ve read Quirkology by now, or you’re just not very good at following directions, so we can move on to D.J. Grothe, host of CFI’s Point of Inquiry podcast. D.J. does something that few if any other podcast hosts do, which is to take the position of the devil’s advocate during his interviews. This leads to a discussion that is quite different than other podcasts, because it forces his guests to answer the hard questions that most hosts tend to avoid.
And on a personal note, D.J. went out of his way at a CFI event to make my wife feel welcome in an environment where she felt somewhat alone, which shows that his podcast persona which comes through is very genuine, and he is indeed one of the “good guys”.
How can you not love a person who’s self described tag-line is “Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal“. In person PZ comes across as the stereotypical “gentle teddy bear type”, and at the same time he has managed to become one of the most reviled people around by some groups. I could go on further about how his blog, Pharyngula, inspired me to write my own blog, about how much I’ve learned from reading his posts, about how cool he is in person, etc, but really, if you’re reading my blog, odds are you’re already reading his…
The Bad Astronomer himself makes an appearance. I wanted to think up some new reasons of why Phil is so cool, but I think I previously covered everything in my post, Eight Random Reasons To Follow Phil Plait. Well except the obvious, in addition to all he already does, as the president of the JREF, Phil is one of the people helping to do the most to spread the idea of skepticism and put frauds in their place. What’s not to love about a guy who’s part Neil Tyson, part PZ Myers, and part James Randi.
The believer on my list, Ken Miller is unique in at least one way from all of the other members of this “exclusive” club, but it’s similarities and common interests that put him here. A devout catholic, Ken is one of the best known proponents of evolution, and one of the most effective voices against creationism. Many times creationists will drown out scientists who happen to be atheists, as pushing evolution as part of their “faith”, but as a christian himself Ken Miller is able to talk to theists from a point of view that Dawkins and others are just incapable of. The fact that he does not shy away from pure science, and pushes as hard as anybody else in defense of reason makes Ken Miller a unique and strong voice for science.
What can I say about the most well known of the Four Horsemen that has not already been said? This is not a rhetorical question, honestly, I am at a loss for something original to say. It’s all been said by countless people, countless times. Nobody is more passionate about science, and evolutions is particular, than Dawkins, and it comes across brilliantly every time he speaks. I know that some people in the skeptical community criticize him for being too combative, but frankly I think we need both the Ken Miller/Eugenie Scott types and the Richard Dawkins / Christopher Hitchens types. And when one of them can speak so eloquently and with such love for science
If, as we are often accused, we as evolutionists worship Darwin, then Dawkins is our jebus, and Daniel Dennett is of course Santa. The second of the Four Horsemen that makes my list, his public image is nothing like that of his colleague, Dawkins. Dennett is the most philosophical, and thus abstract, member of my list, his book Breaking The Spell does the best job I have seen of explaining how, and why religion needs to be examined. And where Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens make the case in a manner that is aggressive, Dennett manages to be just as strong in his views, and conclusions, but manages to word it in such a way as to not cause theists to tune out as they do often times with the others of the Four Horsemen.
Penn Jillett & Teller
Some people may accuse me of cheating here, claiming that Penn and Teller are two people and not one (thus putting my list at 12 people), the best response I can give is: this is my list not yours, and I’ll cheat if I want to, neener, neener…
Admittedly, of the posts I have written about two duo, they have primarily concerned Penn Jillett, and not Teller (Climate change? Once more, ‘I don’t know’ and There Is No God), primarily because Penn is the more vocal and bombastic of the two. But Teller is every bit the skeptic, every bit the rationalist, every bit the force for science and reason that his larger half is.
And even after sitting in the 2nd row during their show, and knowing how a number of their tricks are done (at least in theory), and it having been almost a year since I saw the show, I’m still in absolute awe of their ability… If there is or ever has been a better magician than Teller, I’d have to see it to believe it.
I know I left off many, many great people, but if I did not force myself to stop at some point, I could have kept going on forever. But I will give a honorable mention to Christopher Hitchens, Steve Mirsky, Stephen Hawking, Adam Savage, Julia Sweeney, Ben Goldacre, Ben Radford, Richard Saunders, and so many other great people fighting for reason and rationality in the world today that I left off of my list… May HIS noodly appendage bless them all.
I also want to make a very special mention of Mr Wizard (Don Herbert) for making science fun for me as a kid; without his influence when I was young I can’t say for sure I would be as interested in science and skepticism today. He made it fun for generations of kids to look for the why and how in the world…
So, who are your 11 favorite skeptics… and why?