Fantasy and Skepticism

SciTech Daily Review currently has a link to this highly interesting 1996 article from the Skeptical Inquirer. It cites studies by George Gerbner and others that say people who watch a lot of television are more likely (than those who don’t) to be hostile to science and friendly toward pseudoscience, including after controlling for education and other variables. It then goes on to detail the way science and skepticism are the bad guys in several movies and tv shows, while nice, regular, credulous people are the goodies. Of course, this has been true as long as the ghost story has existed (which is probably as long as humans have), because it’s such an excellent device, to have a lot of skeptics around scoffing until the Monster comes along and bites they tiny heads off and nibbles on they tiny feet. Think of Horatio in Hamlet, saying “Tush, tush, ‘twil not appear,” when of course it does. It’s all part of the game of the flesh-creeper, the hair-raiser, the spooky story. But all the same, things that are just part of the game can have consequences.

It’s hard to imagine what to do about the problem though. Perhaps everyone who watched one hour of Alien Abducters Are Coming up the Stairs could be required to follow it with an hour of Critical Thinking Skills for X-Files Fans. But who would enforce such a thing? Perhaps all the tv sets in the world could be so programmed. But then what of Magic Realism? Every time Salman Rushdie put a radio up someone’s nose or Harry Potter learned a new game, would we all have to read a corrective? And then would we all have to listen to an army of literary critics and novelists and therapists telling us why imagination is essential? No, it’s unworkable. And yet it probably is true that all the Dumb Skeptics stories do shape people’s attitudes to skepticism. What can one do, other than start a new website…

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