“The Amazing Meeting 9″ conference — organized skepticism's biggest, broadest, and most important meeting of the minds — is almost upon us. It seems a good moment to look back at the most widely discussed presentation at last year's TAM: astronomer Phil Plait's “Don't be a Dick” speech (video) calling for less name-calling1 and more civility in skeptical outreach:
The best idea ever thought of in the history of humanity is useless unless someone communicates it. It will die in the test tube. And in our case, what we’re communicating here to people is not necessarily something they want to hear. And so, our demeanor — how we deliver this message — takes on crucial, crucial importance.
As some readers may know, Plait's “DBAD” speech touched off an online firestorm that smolders to this day.
I explore the ethics of skepticism quite often2 (it's one of the main reasons I blog in addition to writing books and Skeptic magazine articles) but today I'd like to look at something simpler and more concrete. Let's explore a straightforward historical question:
Was Plait's call for civility something new for skepticism?
It happens that the answer is, “No, not even a little bit.” (Please note: this is a long article, running over 4500 words.)comments (105)