AI: Your First Skeptical Media?


When I was applying to transfer colleges this year, I wrote a lot of application essays. The best question I got was about finding something unexpected, something I wasn’t looking for. I chose to write about my first exposure to skepticism, and how it lead me onto the path of seeking a formal science education.

That first exposure, for me, was the audiobook of The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. It opened my eyes and utterly changed my world.

My first exposure to the modern skeptical movement and community came soon after that, as I sought out more science to listen to. I found The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and began listening to that during my long work days.

What was your first media exposure to skepticism? Was there a book, podcast, or TV show that made you first begin thinking about this stuff?

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  1. I started with a classic: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Explained evolution in a fashion that just clicked, knocking out the foundation of my faith – that I needed God to explain how we got here, why we are the way we are. Definitely an eye-opener. 

  2. Honestly, I think my first 'skeptical media' was Skepchick/Teen Skepchick. I've never been particularly religious, but I've also not always been particularly skeptically minded. My dad mentioned TS to me after I'd moved out and said I'd probably like it. And now I write for them! 

    • Skepchick was definitely my first too! But sometimes concepts were built on other skepticism, so I started reading Teen Skepchick to get the background and simpler language for new concepts. Now, like Elly, I write for TS and debunk the woo I was raised with 😀

  3. Great question! My first skeptical media was SGU as well. I downloaded a bunch of episodes for a long road trip, and it made the time FLY by. I also downloaded a bunch of episodes of CFI's podcast at that time, and there were some good ones, but I never found it as compelling as SGU. I still listen to SGU regularly. In fact, that's how I discovered Skepchick!

    • It's how I discovered Skepchick too!
      I listen to some other skeptical podcasts too, but SGU is still my favorite.  A close second for me is Skeptically Speaking – her interview style works for me, and they have guests on that I wouldn't hear elsewhere, which I like.  Not the same voices we hear everywhere else, you know?

      • Yeah, I like Skeptically Speaking. I also listen to Rationally Speaking, The Atheist Experience, and Godless Bitches. Good podcasts. =)
        Really, all of my exposure to skeptical media and the community stemmed from SGU. They encouraged me to go looking for more.

        • Oh! I forgot to mention GB. I love it so much for the sounds of home. I'm from San Antonio (TX) but study in Chicago and it's nice to hear rationality in Southern accents while I'm away.

  4. I have a funny story about finding the Bad Astronomer through an anagram website (The Bad Astronomer = Moon Trash Debater).  Back then there wasn't a blog, but I started reading the blog later.  One of the early members of the blogroll was "Memoirs of a Skepchick" with just Rebecca Watson… though I can't say I read it back then.

  5. When I was a CÉGEP student I took a  course on critical thinking, and one of our textbooks was Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things".  That was my introduction to this sort of thing, although I was rather religious at the time and it took me a while to deal with many of the new ideas I'd encountered.  (In case you're wondering, the course was completely optional.  Had I been so inclined, I could have opted to do one on 'therapeutic touch' and the like instead!)

  6. My dad dragged me out of bed to watch James Randi perform psychic surgury on the Tonight show (with Johnny Carson). 
    Then I read his copies of Flim Flam and The Magic of Uri Gellar.

    For me, it was linked to being a fan of "The X Files" in my early teen years. A Google search lead me to articles in Skeptical Inquirer magazine examining the show – I went on to subscribe to it for a couple of years. Around the same time I also read "How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World" by Francis Wheen and "Scepticism Inc" by Bo Fowler. (I still want to be Agent Scully when I grow up.)

  8. Strange as it may seem, I think the first really significant sceptical text was Chariots of the Gods. It's the book that first made me question religion and the whole idea of God: the idea that the gods were actually aliens and that there was no need for mysticism was a new concept to me at the time (I think I was 11 or 12).
    Of course, the thesis underlying Chariots of the Gods is bollocks, but the basic questioning of authority that it presents is perfectly valid, and it stuck with me — eventually leading to my dismissing von Däniken's arguments.
    Beyond that, science fiction. Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, take your pick. And, eventually, of course, Carl Sagan and Cosmos. The Demon-Haunted World came long after I needed it, but it remains a great book.

  9. I remember the firsts fairly well.
    The curiosity show on Australian TV in the 80s was probablymy first. (Meeting Rob Morrison at TAMoz was a highlight for me.)
    First time I heard of "The Skeptics" was Barry Williams (I think) ringing into ABC Radio during a cricket (5th Test, Australia vs West Indies 1992/93,) to say that the number 87 was not unlucky and that the statistics backed him up.
    My reactivation, so to speak, occured after reading about the 3rd or 4th asteroid that was going to kill us all in a month. Inspiring me to search for "Bad Astronomy" on google and finding Phil Plaits original pre-blog site.

  10. I would say that I got my first exposure to skeptical media in the mid-1980s. I spent 5 years in the middle of my 20s in a New Age cult (up until 1983), and had been totally traumatized by the experience, not the least of which was having a spiritual belief system I was deeply invested in collapse. I managed to hook up with a counseling service that helped ex-cult members, and through it I was introduced to the counter-cult movement. Many of the books, articles and conference talks I absorbed addressing ex-cult members were de facto skeptical media; I was exposed to some fantastic analyses of religion and mass poltiical movements, and how they are structured and function; what fanaticism is, what authoritarianism/totalism is, how just about any person can be conned, manipulated and persuaded without them being aware of what is going on, how history can be distorted and fictions can be believed as gospel, how myths are started and cultivated, how a cult leader can be deified by followers, and so on. One therapist I knew back then mentioned the magic word “CSICOP” (now CSI and the publisher of “Skeptical Inquirer”). I am forever grateful.

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