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Faces of Skepticism

by Daniel Loxton, Mar 16 2010

Recently, we launched a new, wider-format version of Designed here in the Junior Skeptic studio by webmaster William Bull, this format offers something that speaks right to my heart as an artist: the chance to run honking big 3-column graphic banners. It’s taken skepticism a while to get on board with this “pictures are good” business. Here was a chance to have some fun with it.

We knocked around some ways to play with the format, but I always knew where I wanted to start. My own background is in visual art — portraiture in particular. To me, there are few things so compelling as a human face. And hey, “a human face” is just what skepticism needs more of.

If you’ve been involved in skepticism for as long as three or four minutes, you know what it feels like to be cast as the villain. After all, are we not “closed-minded debunkers”? Well, OK, we’re not. I’m not sure I’ve ever even met a skeptic who was quite the nay-saying caricature our critics would have us believe — but it’s hard to say that in a way that people can hear.

Thinking about putting a more welcoming face to skepticism, I thought immediately of Robynn “Swoopy” McCarthy, co-host of the Skepticality podcast. Today, the show is known as Skepticality — the Official Podcast of Skeptic Magazine, and that’s no accident. I fell in love with the show’s sincerity and heart early on; when I saw the opportunity for us to assist each other’s projects, I leapt for it. I’ve never regretted that strong alliance for a second. Derek and Swoopy’s dedication, humanity and passion have only grown in all the time since.

And so I knew, Swoopy was my first choice for the banner portrait series. What better ambassador could skepticism hope for, especially in the “skepticism 2.o” era? Nor is it just her manner or intelligence or that wonderful smile that make her an ideal representative: as co-creator of the world’s first skeptical podcast, Swoopy is a genuine pioneer.

Heck, it’s perfectly fair to say she helped create skepticism 2.0. Things have changed so fast that it’s easy to forget how sweeping the changes have been. When Swoopy first rolled up her sleeves for skepticism, the landscape was utterly different. As Skepticblog’s Brian Dunning (of Skeptoid) recalled, “The first time I listened to Skepticality, I learned two things. First, that there was such a thing as ‘podcasting.’ Second, that there was such a thing as ‘the skeptical movement.'”

And here’s the thing that stands out most of all: Skepticality took the stage as a purely independent project. Skeptic has helped to extend their reach, but Derek and Swoopy changed the world all by themselves. “Grassroots skepticism” indeed!

With my own portrait of Swoopy as the seed, I invited a small group of skeptics to contribute photos and bios for the banner series (and set to work hammering the contributions into a standard format for the series). Some are well-known figures; others are members of the wider community. Each, alone or in collaboration with others, pursues their own unique version of skeptical activism.

I wanted folks who looked friendly and inviting (this is an ad series, after all) but who also embodied the best of the new skepticism. I wanted folks who were doing things, helping people, defining the new landscape — and I wanted to use the platform of to showcase their independent efforts. Think of this as a small, just-for-fun part of a larger conversation about win-win-win methods for traditional skeptical organizations and grassroots skeptics to support each others’ public service projects.

Five of the six faces in the series are female. It happens that I invited men and women in about equal numbers, but I’m perfectly happy with the way things worked out. Today, women are finally closing on parity with men in representation and respect in skepticism (they have always stood out in accomplishment), but I think it does no harm to move the spotlight around from time to time.

So, check out this first series of banner portraits, and please join me in thanking the models for participating. The six portraits should be served up automatically in random order at the top of Just refresh your browser a few times to view them all, or c Click through to the bios to learn more about a few of the voices of grassroots skepticism!

Like Daniel Loxton’s work? Read more in the pages of Skeptic magazine. Subscribe today in print or digitally!

14 Responses to “Faces of Skepticism”

  1. K.O. Myers says:

    Humanizing skeptics by getting them out from behind their blogs/podcasts sounds like a fine idea, although as of this morning I’m still just seeing the UFO banner. Thanks very much for the link, BTW. =)

  2. K.O. Myers says:

    Okay, scratch my earlier comment. I’m seeing the new banners now. They look great, and I still appreciate the link. =)

  3. Bruce Press says:

    Great picture of Swoopy! Derek and Swoopy were the springboard for my involvement in the skeptical movement, as well.

  4. Robo Sapien says:

    Do I sense a “Ladies of Skepticism” pin-up calendar in the works? Since we’re going that route, I would like to contribute to the movement as tour bus driver for the Skepticism Bikini Team.

    GJ on the new Skeptic site, very much improved.

  5. Brian M says:

    I’m not sure that women are “closing the gap”, but I’m actually kind of glad to see that most are women. It breaks the pre-conceived notion that we are all old angry men.

    No offense to The Amazing Randi, but if you had put James Randi, it would have just played to that old notion.

  6. Jim says:

    Excellent work.

  7. Badrescher says:

    Excellent work! The images look great, bravo on the idea, applause for the women, and Derek & Swoopy are indeed all of those things. Nobody deserves more pats on the back than they.

  8. Jim R. says:

    Awesome! And before Phil Plait says it: “Mmmmmm….Swooooopy.”

  9. Drew says:

    Speaking of awesome women in skepticism, why hasn’t Kirsten Sanford posted anything since August of 2009?

  10. Nicole G says:

    Oh my goodness…. I need to make buttons for Dragon*Con with “I swoon for Swoopy.” Or something. <3

    Those banners are all really awesome. Great idea!

  11. Zevv says:

    Is it ok to be skeptic about photoshopping ? Can somebody explain to me why this girls face had to be severely disfigured before she was allowed to be on the banner ?

    Shame on you, skeptics, you should know better than that!

    • Wow — that’s a lot of effort to reveal something I’m not hiding. Yes, this and all of the images in the series received quite a lot of post-production work. (Some of these started as poorly lit candids without make-up or studio lighting of any kind.)

      I removed the original backgrounds for every image, corrected lens distortion (the “severe disfigurement” you’re talking about here), and adjusted lighting (even painting in rim lighting by hand), and so on. I made subtle changes to expressions, and of course cosmetic touch-ups as well. (No one wants a blemish in a huge three column advertisement!)

      All of the models approved the final version of their own image. Bottom line: glamour photography is not photojournalism. Think of these as something closer to paintings.

  12. John Draeger says:

    The wide format version of and the banner portraits are excellent. Thanks to all those involved. Daniel, you have talent!

    I think scientific skeptics need to come out of the closet and be seen and heard. Photos, or at least real names in messages and comments, are a good way to accomplish that. I decided to use my full real name on this blog from the start. It would help if others did the same. Keepin’ it real is part of skepticism it seems to me.