The Minnesota Skeptics have had enough of astrologers, psychics, homeopaths, conspiracy theorists and snake-oil salesmen. Instead, they’re interested in critical thinking, science, and the psychologies of belief and perception – the group assembles regularly to engage in discourse that embraces those principles and to sip fine adult beverages.

The Skeptical Movement

The Skeptical Movement dates as far back as the 19th Century and has gaining a renewed momentum in recent years. Travis Peterson, the organizer behind the Minnesota Skeptics, answers a few questions about the movement and the recent surge in growth and popularity.

What is the mission of the Skeptical Movement?

The mission of the skeptical movement is to promote scientific skepticism and critical thinking – understanding the shortcomings in how we think and acknowledging our personal biases. Nothing is too sacred to examine critically

What is the history behind the Skeptical Movement?

A lot of the principles of skepticism can be found in the writings of Epicurus and Mark Twain, alike. The enlightenment thinkers, such as John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire, were essential. But the modern movement was made possible by James Randi, Steve Novella and many others.

What about religion?

The claims of religion are definitely within the purview of scientific skepticism. Things like possession, miracles and relics can be tested. If they stand up to scrutiny, then that can be taken into consideration. They rarely do. Personal faith is, by definition, something that is believed without evidence. Untestable claims are just that. But to quote Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Why the recent surge in popularity?

I think that is due to podcasts. Their ubiquity and quality have really skyrocketed in the last decade. Skepticism was once the domain of old, white guys. Now everyone has the keys. [In the words of Isaac Asimov,] “There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.”

What are the latest topics of concern? Why?

Climate change denialism is definitely the most pressing concern. The abject refusal to accept the scientific consensus is a hurdle we must overcome. The fear-mongering of the anti-vaccine groups are also of great concern. Seeing the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases is definitely not what we need. The science is clear.

Minnesota Niche Lightning Round: Believer or Skeptic

 

On the hunt for your own Minnesota Niche group? Check out these stories about other social adventures in niche-dom.

Special Thanks: Black Forest Inn
Production Team: Bernie Beaudry, Joe Demko, Ezra Gold, Ryan Klabunde, Brennan Vance

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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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Speaking of environmental issues, the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mining project near the Boundary Waters Canoe Are has triggered a flurry of debate – and Almanac’s David Gillette explores the issues in this investigative story, “What’s at stake in the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel project?” 

The new podcast, Long Lost: An Investigative History Series, offers plenty of opportunity for critical thinking and discourse. The series revolves around the disappearance of three young brothers from Minneapolis in 1951 – a tragedy that remains one of the state’s oldest active missing persons cases.