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Bright Horizons

by Daniel Loxton, Jan 05 2014

Happy New Year, folks! I’m settling back into work having celebrated an epic holiday season with my family, and feeling a bit like I’m going to explode. The music is on loud in here. I’m rested and happy, looking back over a fascinating year—and looking forward to the bright horizons of the year ahead.

Do you feel it? That soaring quality in the air, that sense that this is a year we accomplish beautiful, useful things? That this is a year when we will make the world a little bit better?

For old school skeptics, there was much to be proud of in 2013. There was a renewed clarity to scientific skepticism, or so it felt to me. The media and events of our field gathered us together, taught us new things, invited us to solve mysteries and share what we’ve learned with others. Grassroots highlights included Sharon Hill’s Doubtful News, Tim Farley’s Skeptools research, and the somewhat misnamed Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia, spearheaded by Susan Gerbic. I was especially inspired myself by Blake Smith’s MonsterTalk podcast (with Skepticality, an official podcast of Skeptic magazine). Understated, compassionate, thorough—Blake seems to me to be one of the best of us.

From podcasts to lectures to parody videos to Skeptic itself, the work of the Skeptics Society not only made me feel very proud this year, but also seemed to me to have a lightheartedness that I really enjoyed. Junior Skeptic busted mermaids! (Who woulda thought that would be a topical mystery in 2013?)

If you’ll forgive me for saying so, it felt very good to roll out three of my own long-percolating mega-projects this year: my two-chapter exploration of skeptical history, “Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?” (PDF), and a number of complementary pieces in print and online; my Kids Can Press children’s book Pterosaur Trouble; and, my big Columbia University Press cryptozoology book with Don Prothero, Abominable Science!

I have to say, complaints about the relevance of “Bigfoot skepticism” blow away like so many cobwebs when Nature, the Wall Street Journal, and The Times of London are excited about critical research in this field. And well they should be, for cryptozoology was back in a big way in 2013, making headlines with everything from (hoaxed) mermaids to (ridiculous) Bigfoot DNA to the (much more interesting) possibility of Yeti DNA. A terrible new Nessie video swept headlines, as did viral video hoax Bigfoot sightings. There are even (silly) new headlines right now claiming that a (clearly artificial) Bigfoot has been shot.

Cover of Skeptic Vol. 8 No. 4

The current issue of Skeptic magazine, on newsstands now, contains my Junior Skeptic story on Immanuel Velikovsky.

Nor is it just monsters shambling back into mainstream celebrity. When I did my two-part Junior Skeptic story on ancient alien claims in 2007-2008, that was received as a sort of just-for-fun, retro throwback. Two years later, the topic took over the History Channel. Today, Ancient Aliens is on Season 6. (The latest Junior Skeptic returns to fringe archaeology with a look back at Immanuel Velikovsky.)

None of these topics are going away. The paranormal and pseudoscience in general aren’t going anywhere. Claims revolve into and out of the limelight, seemingly forever. As long as these Groundhog Day recurrences continue, the world will have a use for scholars of weird things.

Because I care a great deal about accuracy, depth, and responsibility in skeptical research and outreach efforts, I frequently emphasize the unending toil of our task. But work is not only toil. When we love what we do, when it helps people, work can be joy.

Today, looking to the horizon, to the surprises and puzzles and challenges of the year ahead, joy is what I feel. Joy like I can hardly stand; joy like I may explode. For the music is loud, the work is worthwhile—and the sun is shining, if only in my heart.


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