Thursday, December 22, 2011

Of Foul-ers and Foul-ees

by Steve Cuno

Like a befuddled Great Dane that backs off when it could just as well swallow whole an annoying terrier, I continually turned the other cheek to a diminutive eighth grade classmate who enjoyed brandishing bravado in my direction. But one day I’d had enough and hit him back.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Absolute certainty in one's position may make for compelling, impassioned arguments, but it can be a sign that even facts and reality will fall by the wayside to maintain that certainty.

Sharon and I were looking around for a pithy quote about certainty, and found a few that we thought were worth sharing:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Noteworthy, 05 Nov 2011

A couple of articles worth reading:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Who are The Skeptic Illuminati?

We were approached by a group calling themselves The Skeptic Illuminati and asked to post the following, as several of the qualities they are looking for in members have been discussed on this blog.

An open letter to all who identify as Skeptics:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It was the best of times...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us....

Monday, October 3, 2011


The small-minded find in skepticism a handy bludgeon. What a waste. Skepticism serves humankind best when used as a mirror.

--Steve Cuno

I'm going to print this out and tape it to my bathroom mirror, as a reminder of the importance of applying skepticism to myself. Thanks, Steve.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Most Important Thing to Know...

Over the last few months, I have spent a great deal of time reading blogposts and comments on skeptical sites on the Internet, and one important fact has become readily apparent: that many in our community aren't aware of one of the most important things a skeptic should know.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Skepticism and Values

I've been meaning to write something in response to Daniel Loxton's Skepticblog post on the scope of the skeptical movement for some time now, but having been otherwise distracted with work and the seemingly endless Elevatorgate feuding, PZ Myers has beaten me to the punch.  And while I sympathize, to an extent, with Loxton's desire to put clear boundaries around skepticism, I also agree with some of the points Myers makes in his post.

These arguments are nothing new; they've been a  staple of debate among skeptics for a long time. See the links below for fairly recent discussions in which the different views are articulated (some better than others, of course).  The arguing will likely continue, because, in my opinion, they're about what we value, individually and collectively, as skeptics.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Noteworthy, 05 Aug 2011

Steve Cuno has a new post up on his personal blog about dogmatism and how to avoid it.

Do you have something to say about skepticism and ethics? Consider writing for S&E.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Favorite Words

Recently I got into a discussion with some bloggers about the power of words.  It was a fascinating discussion, as it highlighted for me just how difficult it is to communicate effectively.  It it so easy to be misunderstood, since expressing ideas clearly takes great skill, and people always have their own emotional baggage which affects the way words are interpreted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Skeptic on the Mat

By Steve Cuno

I hated Physical Education in high school. It is the klutz’s bane. Please don’t ask me to humiliate myself by telling you how I happen to know. I bring it up only so that you will understand why I shrink from conceding having learned anything of value, ever, in PE.

Yet once I did. It happened on the day that Coach Johnson pitted me against Scott W on the wrestling mat.

As Scott effortlessly twisted me into a braid, my classmates standing around the mat shouted instructions at me for freeing myself. Unable to make sense of the roar, I resorted to my secret move. Here it is in case you ever need it: I went limp. This enabled Scott to get the pinning over with, bringing the match to a merciful end. Peeling myself off the mat, I rejoined the surrounding onlookers as the next prospective braid stepped up to face Scott. Watching from the mat’s edge, I could now clearly see what I should have done, and what Scott’s new victim now needed to do, to break free. I added my voice to the not-helpful chorus of shouts.

That was when it struck me. From the perimeter of the mat, it’s easy to see what a wrestler is doing wrong. It’s not so easy when you’re on the mat yourself.

It’s worth remembering the next time one of us is tempted to jump all over another person, fellow skeptic or otherwise, who happens to exhibit what we suppose to be a critical thinking lapse. Especially given that, in that moment, it’s possible that it is we who, oblivious, happen to be on the mat, quite possibly committing lapses of our own.

Steve Cuno is the founder and chairman of The RESPONSE Agency, Inc., a direct response marketing firm, and the author of Prove It Before You Promote It: How to Take the Guesswork Out of Marketing. He is a popular speaker (including several talks at TAM), and contributes to the SWIFT blog at He also has a personal web site at

Monday, July 11, 2011

Noteworthy, 11 Jul 2011

Running a bit behind on these, due to unforeseen distractions... here are a couple of short, but worthwhile reads:

  • Steve Cuno posted on his blog a brief article on differing perceptions of what constitutes morality, particularly when sexual behavior is involved.
  • Over at Shethought, Josh Witten wrote about Richard Feynman vs. groupthink, challenging us to ask ourselves what role we play in group situations.

Send suggestions for Noteworthy links to us at admin(at)

Do you have something to say about skepticism and ethics? Consider writing for S&E.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On Naming Names, and Tuning Tones

Trevor Boeckmann posted this letter to Rebecca Watson on the UNI Freethought blog.  I was going to post the following as a comment, but I had so much to say that I decided it would be better to do yet another blogpost about “naming names”.

Dear Trevor,

Maybe something good can come out of the Rebecca Watson "call out" at the CFI Leadership Conference, and the blogstorm that followed. You have just been taught what may be a far more valuable lesson by this debacle than by any talk that was given at the conference you have just attended.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Contest Winner #5: "The Ethical Obligations of Skepticism," by K.O. Myers

There is an inherent power in holding a skeptical worldview. Skepticism adapts tools of reason and weighing of evidence, designed and refined by science, and applies them to everyday life. It’s arguably more likely than any other to get us close to something resembling objective truth. But becoming a skeptic also turns intellectual rigor into an ethical responsibility.

I believe that skepticism, conscientiously applied, obligates us to do two things as consistently as possible: to apply the rational, reasonable thought process to our own lives, and to acknowledge, both in ourselves and in others, the cognitive pitfalls that make complete rationality practically impossible.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Noteworthy, 29 Jun 2011

Barbara Drescher's Swift article, Need Advice? Ask an Expert, is an excellent reminder that in our enthusiasm to to help others through our skeptical outreach, we should be careful not to go beyond the limits of our own knowledge about a topic.

Do you have something to say about skepticism and ethics? Consider writing for S&E.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Contest Winner #4: "Ethics Compels Skeptical Outreach," by Tim Farley

You are standing at a busy street corner in a bustling city. Traffic zooms by as you wait for the light. You notice that a person nearby, distracted by a cell phone conversation, is about to step out right in front of moving traffic. Do you reach out and pull them back?

Of course you do.

This is basic human decency. It doesn't matter what religion or philosophy to which you subscribe. Unless you are a time-traveling Captain Kirk, you should feel ethically compelled to pull the person back and save them from harm.

It is my contention that this same ethical compulsion applies to skeptics.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Noteworthy, 21 Jun 2011

We're always looking for articles relating skepticism and ethics. If you run across one, even if it isn't brand new, please send us a link at admin at, and we'll check it out for posting in the next Noteworthy. Thanks!

You can now follow us on Twitter as @skepticethics to get info on updates to the site. We also now have a fan page on Facebook, which receives the blog feed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Fathers and Forgiveness

One of our readers was inspired by Sharon's first post to tell her own story about applying skepticism in difficult emotional situations. She requested that we post this anonymously.

Father's Day used to be difficult for me. I would stress about it: Should I send my father a card? Just ignore him? Call him on the phone? Send a present? I had a very difficult childhood because of my abusive father. As an adult, I've tried to reconnect with him, and he has proved, again and again, that he has not changed at all. In fact, he feels he should have been “tougher” with his children. I can't imagine how he could have been tougher without killing us. Indeed, he came close a few times. (His stepdaughter even took out a restraining order against him, after he had "disciplined" her child.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Contest Winner #3: by Mike Wagner

How skeptical must I be, to sit reading a page on skepticism and ethics and wonder at its legitimacy? It has appeared, as though summoned from the void by anonymous hands, to challenge readers to compete for a prize one can't even be sure exists.

The inspiration of poetic hyperbole aside, what trust should we grant to the author, or authors, who may be using us as proverbial rats in a maze of ethical study?

Therein the answer lies, posed by a simple question. What's the harm?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Noteworthy, 13 Jun 2011

We're always looking for articles relating skepticism and ethics. If you run across one, even if it isn't brand new, please send us a link at admin at, and we'll check it out for posting in the next Noteworthy. Thanks!

You can now follow us on Twitter as @skepticethics to get info on updates to the site. We also now have a fan page on Facebook, which receives the blog feed.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Contest Winner #2: "Hypocrites Wasn't a Philosopher" by Blake Smith

"A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions beliefs on the basis of scientific understanding. Most scientists, being scientific skeptics, test the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation using some form of the scientific method." -- Wikipedia, Skepticism

I am a skeptic and science enthusiast. My world view has evolved over my lifetime, but adopting the term skeptic as a short-hand to describe my personal philosophy has been tremendously helpful both as a reminder to myself to in turn be skeptical, and to explain to people I encounter why I don't necessarily believe whatever it is they're telling me about.

Like most people I know who thus self-identify, skepticism is something I learned. One can be taught how to evaluate the world. I don't accept many things on faith - yet I have faith in the tools of skepticism to help me figure out what is real and what should be doubted.

Coming from a fundamentalist protestant background, it is thus ironic to find myself in a position where I have to remind people in my community that many of the values which are core to "being American" are better served by logic and reason than by the traditional delivered wisdom of religion.

Or at least that's how I see it. Perhaps you'll disagree? Read on.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Getting Along, by Steve Cuno

OK, so I’m a little slow. Only recently did it dawn on me that most of my very close friends are mega-conservative.

It’s a fact. I spend most of my time fraternizing with people who: believe in creationism; think climate science is bogus; think President Obama is the antichrist; want to throw undocumented Mexicans out of the country or in jail; oppose equal rights for the sexes; oppose equal rights for the LBGT community; believe in a god, spirits, auras, ghosts, astrology, reincarnation, resurrection, karma, etc.; aren’t too worried about the environment because the Second Coming of Christ will come along before we have a chance to finish ourselves off; aren’t worried about injustice because all will be set straight in the Hereafter; think that what consenting adults do in private is their business; confuse believing what the evidence doesn’t support with being “open-minded”; and who to think that anyone who disagrees with them is at the very least just plain wrong, and at the very most just plain sinful.

Take all of the above, flip it 180 degrees, and you have a pretty fair description of me.

Cool, isn’t it?

I mean, the fact that they and I can still be, not just friends, but close friends.

There’s a word for that, and it applies to both of us, to our credit. The word, I believe, is “maturity.”

Steve Cuno is the founder and chairman of The RESPONSE Agency, Inc., a direct response marketing firm, and the author of Prove It Before You Promote It: How to Take the Guesswork Out of Marketing. He is a popular speaker (including several talks at TAM), and contributes to the SWIFT blog at He also has a personal web site at

Noteworthy, 09 Jun 2011

This has been out for a couple of weeks, but this SWIFT post by Steve Cuno is worth a read. Steve has kindly agreed to contribute articles to S&E (regularly, we hope), the first of which should be up on the site soon.

And here's another good one from Steve's personal blog.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Noteworthy, 07 Jun 2011

In case you've missed them, here are a couple of articles worth checking out:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Contest Winner: "This is not a Good Essay", by Mike McRae

You won't like me very much. I'm not a nice man.

I helped a girl pay for an abortion when I was 19. It probably wasn't mine, but to be honest, I think I'm more confident in that claim than I really have a right to be.

I was married at 23. Divorced at 24. Remarried at 31 (she was initially a one night stand).

I don't believe in your god. Or any god, for that matter.

I mean it when I call illegal 'boat people' asylum seekers, think gay people have a right to marry and adopt children, see benefits in open marriages and might accuse you of being a bigot if you disagree with me.

I've been known to stand up for the rights of criminals and scowl at the praise lavished on public heroes.

I don't always believe in democracy.

I eat meat.

Maybe most damning of all, I'll take your most personal beliefs and tease them apart until all that's left are threads of truth and threads of wishful thinking. Depending on my mood, I might even do it in front of you.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Essay Contest Winners

The winners of our essay contest are:

Friday, May 20, 2011

A small voice says, "Please stop," while the crowd yells, "Off with his head!"

On April 6th, Rebecca Watson posted an entry on Skepchick about Lawrence Krauss, who had been quoted in a Daily Beast article defending his friend, financier Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein had been embroiled in a sex scandal involving underage girls, and Dr. Krauss, in the quote, expressed his skepticism of the allegations of sex trafficking and pedophilia that had been made. Rebecca mercilessly ridiculed Krauss for what she saw as an abuse of science and skepticism in the service of sexism and denial of criminal behavior.

That blog post, and the many comments that followed, touched a nerve -- in fact, multiple nerves -- for me. To explain why, I need to tell you about my background:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Essay Contest Closed

Our essay contest ended at noon PDT today.  Thanks to those of you who took the time to send us an essay; winners will be contacted over the next several weeks.

Special thanks to Jeff Wagg for promoting the contest on IndieSkeptics, Rational Alchemy, and elsewhere!

Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

There's Still Time...

If you are interested in entering our essay contest, get your entry in before noon PDT next Saturday, May 14th!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Contest Deadline Extended

Due to recent increased interest, we are extending the deadline for our essay contest by two weeks, to Saturday 14 May 2011, at 12:00 noon PDT.  You have until then to get your entries in at

Also, please accept our apologies for our anonymity.  We will remain anonymous only for the duration of the contest; once the deadline has passed, we will be more forthcoming about who we are.  The main reason for this secrecy is so that people won't try to skew their entries towards a topic or argument that they think we might be more inclined to find favorable, based on their knowledge of us, or what they can dig up on us on the Internet.

So please bear with us for the next couple of weeks.  Looking forward to seeing your entries!

[updated to correct the erroneous e-mail address]

Friday, March 18, 2011

Essay Contest!

As we get this new blog under way, we're looking to gauge the level of interest in the intersection of skepticism and ethics, as well as specific topics that people might want to see addressed here.

So to kick things off, we're running an essay contest!  If you have something to say about how ethics applies to skepticism, how skepticism can be applied to ethics, or just a story to tell that relates the two, then write it up, send it in, and you could win a cash prize!