Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Skeptics' Circle

Yesterday, I may have been hoisted on my own petard by being insufficiently skeptical about what may well be an urban legend. (I suspect that Dr. Bob, when or if he becomes aware of it, will be amused at my discomfiture, given the hard time I gave him a while back speculating about whether the tale of a thwarted terrorist attack he posted was in fact an urban legend. Ah, well, never let it be said I can't have a laugh at my own expense.)

In my own defense, the story did appear in a reputable news source (although, as an urban legend hunter, I should have remembered that this is definitely not a guarantee that a story is not an urban legend). Also, technically, the possibility raised by this story (that, logically, legalization of prostitution could lead to the requirement that unemployed women take jobs as prostitutes or lose their unemployment benefits) is still indeed a possibility I hadn't considered. (Yes, I'm hiding behind technicalities here, but such is my shame at exercising insufficient skepticism. Time for some plausible deniability...) As Snopes says on the matter, "The thrust of the article [an original German article upon which the account in the Telegraph appears to be based] seems to be that there is a loophole in the law which has not yet exploited and should be closed." And, indeed, even if the story is an urban legend (as seems fairly likely now, although Snopes.com still lists it as "undetermined"), the logic expressed in the original Telegraph article hard to argue with: "Now that prostitution is no longer considered by the law to be immoral, there is really nothing but the goodwill of the job centres to stop them from pushing women into jobs they don't want to do."

In any case, mea culpa, if this is indeed an urban legend. In passing along the story (plausible deniability about whether I ever considered it to be true or not or no plausible deniability), I may well have violated my own standards of skepticism, which is, of course, embarrassing. However, this whole incident just goes to show that even people like me, who are interested in skepticism and critical thinking and pride themselves on usually being able to recognize urban legends when they hear them, can occasionally fall for them. They are that insidious. But there is an antidote, and it's not just Snopes.com.

Yes, all of this self-flagellation is nothing but my sneaky way of introducing the inaugural edition of The Skeptics' Circle. As an antidote to credulity of the kind I unfortunately exhibited yesterday, St. Nate has rounded up from around the blogosphere the very best blogging on skeptical thinking about urban legends, quackery, the paranormal, psychic phenomenon, and pseudohistory. They come from a wide variety of sources and cover a wide variety of topics. Check it out! Even we skeptics occasionally need a refresher course!

Given my performance yesterday, I just hope St. Nate doesn't change his mind about letting me host the second session of The Skeptics' Circle, two weeks hence. Honest, I promise not to let it happen again! (At least not for the next two weeks, anyway.)

2 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 2/04/2005 11:01 AM, Blogger Saint Nate said...

Heh ... don't worry, it's still undetermined, and in light of all the strange legal issues that have previously risen from Germany's legalized prostitution situation this would't be the strangest.

I hope to have the Skeptics' Circle schedule up tonight and you will be on it.

 

At 2/04/2005 2:58 PM, Blogger Orac said...

Whew! That's a relief. I was afraid you might take away my Super Secret Skeptics Society Decoder Ring...

 

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