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Brief overview of the first year
It’s been a year now since I opened this blog under my first and last name. I had two aims. First, I wanted a place of my own, with my name in its url, and indexed as such on search engines. Indeed, nowadays if you aren’t present on the Web, you almost don’t exist. In this view, it is better to insure some consistency in your various online profiles so as to project the right image of yourself. Because if you don’t, then, other will do it for you and you’ll have no control over what they say about you. Besides that, I wanted to continue what I had started on another blog and which was the observation of online debates, and particularly of an element that appeared more and more to determine their outcome: the claim, always more recurrent, to being « politically incorrect ». It seems that today, in order to exist in the public space, you have to start controversies all over the place and to do so, you absolutely have to be « nonconformist » and provoke other people, that is, shock them. Well, it turns out that these attempts give off a strong impression of mere wickedness and complete vacuity, as they mostly only generate fruitless controversies that usually simply hinder the analysis of the situation and the search for really applicable solutions. In such view, this habit of portraying oneself as a lonesome hero fighting for truth, common sense and « liberated » (if not actually unbridled) speech, while moaning about « not being allowed anymore to say anything » when facing the backlash that has been unleashed by one’s own provocations, looks to me increasingly like a really intellectual sham and a problem.
Discovery of the skeptic community
I wouldn’t say that this blog has been a huge success in terms of audience, far from it. Actually, only a few articles attracted people (from a few dozens to a few hundreds) and a couple have been nicely spread over social networks. However, my aim isn’t quantity, but quality. Of course, if I could combine both, that would be ideal. In my view, the best way to get there is to join the activities of an online community with which one shares common interests and values. In my case, it was the community promoting scientific skepticism, which I discovered for the first time a bit more than a year ago. What is scientific skepticism? You can see for yourself here.
In a way, it was a sort of revelation for me, because I’d been feeling for quite some time already that something was wrong with the way debates were taking place, especially those concerning scientific issues, like bioethics. In fact, I noted that people have trouble debating without quickly launching into ad hominem attacks, as if they hadn’t properly thought about their opinions before coming out in public and were resenting their interlocutors for bringing those flaws into light. I believe it isn’t just a matter of debate techniques, but also of a way to approach reality in general. The use of a method close to the basic principles of modern science, even to address non-scientific issues, could help avoid these pitfalls. Indeed, it makes it possible to stay alert not only to other people’s mistakes, but especially to one’s own.
My friendly encounters with « skeptics », especially French-speaking (I haven’t yet really established contacts with English-speaking ones), have nurtured my thoughts about not only the becoming of this blog, but also mine. Indeed, as I was addressing various debates about the place given to science in the discourses not only by journalists but also activists, I became progressively aware of the magnitude of the problem that initially caught my attention. A book by French sociologist Gérald Bronner, called La démocratie des crédules (The democracy of the gullible) shows well how the socio-technical logic determining the way the Web works, especially search engines and social network, facilitates the spreading of completely irrational beliefs and their reinforcing in the minds of millions of people, which sometimes make up significant parts of the public opinion. And these millions of people often do vote (or don’t vote, but abstention also impacts the results of an election or political decision), sign petitions, demonstrate and get involved in NGO or civil grass-roots movements, some of them being networked with high-ranking policy makers in parliaments or even ministers in governments, who therefore are in the position to strongly influence the overall evolution of our societies.
Recent developments in this blog
This is how my initial project, which motivated the launch of this blog, has been progressively refined and sharpened. Indeed, even if in my first plan, the issue of « political correctness » was already present, it was mostly as a peripheral symptom of the present evolution of the public « hypersphere » (that is, a sort of extension in the digital space of former places where opinions used to take shape and to manifest themselves, such as collective gathering area, the reader’s mail, intervention of the public in TV and radio shows as well as the election-voting polls), it seems to me now that it is actually at the heart of the trench warfare logic that happens more and more frequently during both online and off-line controversies.
What I realized is that behind these claims of political incorrectness and nonconformity was actually a difficulty to understand the world because of the breathtaking increase in variables that you have to take into account even for classical topics. It must be said that everyone faces this difficulty and the related temptation to go for the easy way. To resist it is the real challenge here. However, rather than accept that one can’t get a fully comprehensive picture of reality and that there will always be uncertainties lurking in the blind spots, there is tendency to seek shelter behind so-called common wisdom and to defend it at all costs against those who’d like to introduce some complexity in the narrative, by accusing them of red herring. This is where comes the rhetorical sleight of hand consisting in trying to pass preconceived simplistic ideas, prejudices or even outright falsehood for hair-raising truths that run counter a deceiving scientific, elitist or socially-dominant orthodoxy. This strategy usually comes with an attempt at framing the debate in a binary way: either you agree with the self-proclaimed champion of political incorrectness, or you are a victim, or even an accomplice, of the top-down dominating political correctness. This way of approaching a discussion definitely casts a doubt on the real willingness by the people with such a pretense to actually debate about any subjects, even the most taboo, as they keep claiming.
The new stuff on this blog
I have long hesitated in creating a new domain name and open another blog. Ideally, I’d like to build a platform from which to promote scientific skepticism on both scientific and non-scientific issues. However, considering my present means and my availability, but also the present state of my project, I think it is more reasonable for it to remain a personal blog for the time being. I still lack experiences and I feel I need to keep deepening my overall approach to this issue as well as the project itself. I’ll therefore start with this personal place, which will stay at its present domain name. But in the long run, I hope to build another website with a more well-defined form and its own domain name. I’m still not sure what shape it will take yet: association, company, social enterprise, something else? After all, although my aims are sociocultural and academics, I still need to eat. So, I’ll have to figure out if I continue this as a side-activity next to my main job or if I can make it my main job.
New layout theme and structure
Concerning the layout, I have decided to use a new theme, but one produced by the same people who made the one I used previously. I also found a new extension for picture light boxes that is nicer and easier to use, so that when you click on a picture, it will be appear in a pretty overlaying box, that can be easily closed. However, the biggest change was made in the structure of the blog, as I have renamed several categories in order to fit better its present state. I have decided to put more emphasis on « political correctness » and I invented some new ironic ones that illustrate how this claim for anticonformity also appears in the three sets of problems I had identified last year: the use of the notion of « science » in debates on issues comprising scientific aspects (scientifically correct), the issue of fallacies in debates (politically correct) and finally, the need to debunk so-called « alternative » information (factually correct). It is still possible to browse through the entire blog using the site map.
Some explanation about my sloppy graphical creations
You’ve probably noticed it, but I’m not a graphic designer nor do I have any formal training in this field. Actually, I’m about as much a designer as a I’m a Japanese astronaut. So, you won’t be surprised to read that it took me hours to painstakingly craft this « thing » supposed to be a banner at the top of my blog. However, as crazy as this might sound, I actually like it somehow (maybe because I did it myself, who knows!) and I got somewhat attached to it. So, it will stay there until I find or figure out how to make a better one! Concerning the meaning behind the « sheep », it ironically relates to the notion of non-conformity. Indeed, those who claim to be « politically incorrect » often portray themselves as highly individualistic people who, as a principle, will never follow the flock. But systematically running in the opposite direction from the group is as stupid as always following it without asking any question. In both case, one doesn’t think for oneself and only acts like an automate. As it seems that nowadays it’s all the rage to be « politically incorrect » in the public space, it logically follows that to run against the mainstream, one must be…well, « politically correct », or, in other word, a sheep. But not just any sheep, a black sheep, that is, one who doesn’t absolutely acts as everyone expects it to. The two weird shapes in the upper corners of the banner are actually sheep hoof prints (yep, they do look like this) and they symbolize a stamp of approval: « correct »!
At this stage, what do I hope to accomplish with this blog? Well, quite simply, I’d like to promote what I would deem a « correct » approach to things, in the first sense of the word as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, that is: Free from error; in accordance with fact or truth. I’ll therefore try my best to conform to the fundamental academic and journalistic ethic in order to produce texts that are as free from error and as much in accordance with facts and truth as possible. This means that I’ll directly run against this so-called « incorrectness », claimed by so many people participating in public controversies, and which is usually merely actual « incorrectness » in its first meaning, that is: Not in accordance with fact; wrong, that is: wrong, mistaken, in error, erroneous, inaccurate, not accurate, inexact, not exact, imprecise, invalid, untrue, false, fallacious, wide of the mark, off target, but also misleading, illogical, unsound, unfounded, without foundation, faulty, flawed, but also wrong as well as ill-advised, ill-considered, ill-judged and beyond the pale; as in: They are dishonest, misleading, factually incorrect, selective with data and paranoid.
I also hope to be able to contribute to the efforts by the skeptic community to promote a critical mind and scientific skepticism. I would like to help increase the number of skeptics in Switzerland, where I feel that we aren’t very many yet. There is indeed the great team from PodcastScience and other quite dynamic groups within the PodcastSuisse association, but to my knowledge, there is no actual skeptic organization in this country, like there are in many others.