“There Are Too Many Skeptic Podcasts”

I’m catching up on blogging things from the past. A few months ago I heard the episode of Skepticality that was the audio of Tim Farley’s presentation from Skepticamp 2011 in Atlanta. It was entitled “Please Don’t Start Another Blog or Podcast!” I like Tim Farley’s stuff on Skepticality, but I’m going to say right up front, I think the entirety of the sentiment and content of his presentation was pure assholery.

The basic gist of his talk was that there are already lots of online skeptical venues, many blogs and podcasts and websites so you, newly minted skeptic with enthusiasm, you should not start another one. Because there are too many. Bullshit. I’ve been hearing this kind of sentiment for as long as I’ve been involved in the blogosphere. When I went to Bloggercon in Palo Alto in 2004, people were making that kind of statement, that there were “too many blogs.”

There is a cruelty inherent in this kind of statement. It says that there is a time period that one can join the party and after than that, you are shut out. Sorry kid, you should have been involved in 2005 and then you could have a skeptic podcast but because you missed it we don’t need you. Sorry, person who wants to blog but we filled all those positions in 2002.

These stances are clearly nonsense on the face of it and driven by the fallacy of full consumption. That is to say – any amount of production more than I personally can consume is excess. This is a selfish and solipsistic view and is inconsistently applied. People will say there are too many podcasts on topic X because there are more than they can listen to, but they never say “There are too many television shows being produced” or “Too many books being published.” These rules only apply to the hoi polloi and their citizen media, not the serious professionals doing serious work.

I’m on record as saying there are never too many of any of these things. There are not too many blogs, not too many podcasts, not too many skeptic podcasts, not too many comic book podcasts, not too many stand up comedian podcasts or any sort of category you can come up with. Back at Bloggercon 2004, I made the statement that “I don’t think there are too many blogs if there are ten billion in the world, one for every single person and some people having a few. I’m not required to read any more than the ones I care about, which is all anyone is asked.”

I’m sure Tim Farley has good intentions with his presentation and has the goal of making the skeptical community a more efficient entity. However, the methodology he is using to state that is downright harmful. Telling people you can’t get involved in the way that excites you because other people are already excited and doing that is not an effective motivational message. Creating a class system where the early adopters get to do whatever they please and the late comers are relegated to helper roles is not cool, and is the opposite of everything I believe about citizen media.

If you care, create. If your creation isn’t that good, it will find it’s own level. More importantly, as you log the flight time it will get better. Telling people not to start is telling them not to log that flight time, not improve, not develop skill sets. It is stunting tomorrow’s superstar creators because today has superstars. It is short-sighted, not fun, not cool and a terrible message for any kind of community.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

9 thoughts on ““There Are Too Many Skeptic Podcasts””

  1. Ken Kennedy says:

    Damn straight, my friend. You’ve always held this view, and it’s part of what drew me to your podcast. Thanks for being so consistent.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    I think you are very much misrepresenting the core point of my presentation. (For instance, you have quote marks on some text in your post that are NOT things I said in the presentation! I would appreciate it if you would remove them).

    The core point of my presentation is that there are MANY OTHER ways that skeptics can get involved in the community online that are being overlooked.

    The unstated premise being that many people look online and assume, “OK, If I want to be involved then I need to have my own blog or podcast because that’s the only way to do it.” I don’t think that is so, I think there are many very awesome ways to participate in the online communities, and actually contribute and make a difference, that don’t involve starting a blog or a podcast. That’s what the bulk of my presentation is about – contributing to crowdsourced projects like Wikipedia and so on.

    If you actually listen to the presentation all the way through, near the end I tell people that if they decide, after everything I’ve told them, that they want to start one anyway – that’s fine too. But please specialize it and make it unique. That will improve your chance of standing out and being a success. That is ultimately what I want people to do – to contribute something that they feel is valuable and successful, no matter what form.

    I agree with you that people should go ahead and do what they want to do. I wasn’t trying to order people to do anything. I was just trying to alert them to other alternatives that are important and blatantly obvious.

  3. J Wynia says:

    It’s also funny how often it comes at a time that, in retrospect 5 or more years later is when the “too many” was barely at the 1% mark.

    Maybe when there are “too many” for you to listen to them all, you’ll get to pick the ones you actually enjoy. I know that most of the existing skeptic podcasts drive me nuts to the point I really only listen to one (doesn’t matter which). This, despite being seriously interested in the topic.

    Maybe, if another few hundred podcasts show up in this space, I might find another 1-2 that I really like.

    Nearly every slide he includes as evidence of “too many” reads as “a good start” as far as I’m concerned.

    Maybe, if the numbers grow enough a new role of someone who picks the best out and edits will emerge (pretty much what happens every time, actually). Maybe there’s getting to be room for a podcast that gives a quick summary of the best of the rest. Not my thing, but it’s something that really can only happen when you break through the “too many” barrier.

    “Too many” movies released means I get to watch nothing but movies I like. “Too many” TV shows means that every time I sit down in front of it, I get to watch something I really wanted to watch instead of just “what’s on”. “Too many” books means that every page I read is worth reading. “Too much” music means that my iPod is FULL of music that I really enjoy.

    “Too many” podcasts on a given topic means that I can subscribe only to the ones that don’t make me fast forward or reach for the skip button every other episode.

    Let a million flowers bloom.

  4. dave says:

    Tim, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I removed quotation marks around anything that might be construed as you saying it, leaving only around my words and general statements.

    Before I blogged this, I did not relisten to the entirety of your talk. I did go back through your slides. If your core point is not the one in the title and the first 1/3 of the talk, you might want to tweak the presentation. Had it been “How to Help The Online Skeptic Community” and you presented your eight ways as the primary bit, I wouldn’t have had an objection. Your stats about how much content exists now, the message that you shouldn’t get involved in this way but instead that way were engineered to trigger my hot button. A coda at the end doesn’t change the fact that your main message as presented is a negative one. It’s right there in the title.

    I stand by my statements that whether you intended it or not, your talk enforces a class system. If you want to get involved now, you encourage people not to get involved in the sexy work of creating new top level projects, instead buy things and edit Wikipedia and do other clerical work. We’ve already got the leaders, now we need people to get out there and follow already. Don’t bother auditioning for the lead role, think about being an usher or popcorn vendor.

    The stats about how much skeptical content are produced don’t mean anything to me. Like J Wynia, I have tried many and find most of them are not ones I will listen to regularly. It’s not interchangeable widgets. I like Skepticality and the Geologic Podcast. I don’t like SGU or Point of Inquiry or Skeptoid. It’s a matter of taste. I have sampled literally thousands of podcasts and over 90% of them I don’t subscribe to. I looked at the list on your blog and what I would call the 3rd skeptical podcast I listen to – American Freethought – is not on your list. So I only listen to 2 of yours.

    I think your talk contains positive and a negative messages. In my opinion, you’d do better boosting the gain on the positive and turning down the negative.

  5. Tim Farley says:

    Good points all. Frankly, I titled the talk the way I did in a deliberate attempt to be controversial and attract attention. And yet the only controversy I’ve engendered is this post, which comes five months later. I’m not sure what this tells me. It could be any one of the following:

    * Most people don’t give a rats ass what I have to say, controversial or not. Possible, but I hope not.

    * The skeptic community is more interested in spending their time on controversies like “elevatorgate” (which was going on at the same time as this) to the exclusion of most other stuff. I hope this isn’t the reason.

    * There is so much skeptic content out there that very few people actually saw my presentation. (Ironic option).

    (Toward that last option, my blog post got 524 views. The video on Vimeo had 84 views. I don’t know Skepticality’s listener stats for that episode).

    One thing I will disagree with: it’s a very different thing to talk about comic book blogs or movie blogs. It has to do with the size of the target audience.

    The audience for blogs based on many topics like that is huge. Millions of potential audience members for a movie or TV blog, for instance. Lots of opportunity there for experimentation.

    This presentation was specifically targeted at the skeptic community, which is a very small community by comparison. It’s somewhere on the order of 50K to 100K people total, nationwide in the US who would self-identify as a skeptic, tops. And many of them are older people who do not actively participate in blogs or podcasts.

    Even before you wrote this post, I had already planned to do a different version of this presentation that will be titled something like “The Five Minute Skeptic” and will focus around the idea that most folks are too busy to make a big time commitment, but would like to feel like they are doing something. I’ll just dump all the stats stuff and focus on the crowd sourcing part.

    Good discussion, thanks.

  6. Tim Farley says:

    Incidentally, the same week you posted this the Meet the Skeptics episode was with Dezrah Blinn, and he has an interesting (more positive) take on my presentation.

    It’s in the last 7 or 8 minutes of this podcast:

  7. dave says:

    Tim, I listened to that show. Two points:

    1. Dezrah Blinn doesn’t seem to have spent the last seven years encouraging people to get involved in the creation of new media or the last four organizing a conference on that very topic. As such, we have wildly different persepectives.

    2. Did you really just point me to an episode of Meet the Skeptics without irony? The show started in Sep 2010 with one episode but didn’t get rolling in earnest until Feb 2011. So, it is OK to start a skeptic podcast in Sep 2010 or Feb 2011, but not in June 2011 when you were telling people to find something else to do? The intent of your talk was to discourage shows exactly like this one. Were your talk a little earlier and your advice heeded by Christopher Brown, this show would not exist.

  8. Susan Gerbic says:

    Let me state up front that I have 3 blogs and am a co-host on Rational Alchemy podcast. One blog personal, the other is my local skeptic group (Monterey County) and the third is a specialty blog. http://guerrillaskepticismonwikipedia.blogspot.com/

    Rational Alchemy already existed and I just signed on recently as a co-host when Jeff Wagg left the show.

    I understand what you are both saying, Tim’s message does (seem to say at first) your too late in the game, so do something else. He has cleared up his meaning in his above comments. At TAM9 I gave a paper presentation begging for help from the skeptical community to help edit Wikipedia for skeptical content. Everyone I talked to said that was a great idea, but didn’t hear from them again. I did get a bunch who handed me a card for their brand new blog/podcast. Its been months since TAM and my to-do editing list is down the street. Volunteers, I have just a handful. The new blogs/podcasts have dried up and mostly not uploading new content. Where are these people who said they wanted to be involved?

    I feel that is the problem, Tim Farley and Daniel Loxton have been saying for years that cleaning up Wikipedia is one of the most important things you can do if you want to help out the skeptical cause. But because people think it is “clerical work” and “not sexy” they are stuck drinking beers at the next Drinking Skeptically and bitching about how they didn’t become the next PZ Myers or Bad Astronomy blog.

    If we want to become a skeptical movement, we have to MOVE, get things done. I have not read your blog so I don’t know if you have a specific topic you cover, but lets say you write an awesome blog about your opinion on homeopathy. Your readers love it and it gets a few hundred readers. That’s wonderful, more power to you. If you are just looking for applause and like preaching to the choir, then keep it up. If you want to make a real impact and propel the skeptical cause forward then you can edit a skeptical article about homeopathy (not a blog) into the homeopathy page and it will be exposed to about 100,000 readers (not usually skeptics, but people looking for information about the term). Did I mention that is each month? Talk about impact!

    If you want to remain passive then enjoy trolling the Internet for yet another podcast/blog. If you want to actually help out, then Tim’s presentation has given you several ways to do so.

    Let me remind you that you will not receive any feedback, no applause. But it is very sexy, very stealth, and puts skeptical content where it needs to be. I’m totally generalizing here, for specifics you will need to read my blog.

    One more thing. Tim, people who want to be a part of the movement do care what you write. You are cutting edge in the skeptical movement. Yes, the skeptical community is very interested in drama (we are humans after all) why do you think soap operas are so popular which is all Elevatorgate was. I’m glad you mentioned the “target audience” we are a very small group. That is why we have to be better focused and not so redundant about getting our message across to the world. MTS podcast is more specialized than most talk-at-you-with-my-beef-of-the-week-podcast. And is exactly what Tim advocated.

    And Tim. Don’t change the name of your presentation. We need this discussion.

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