Hello, ようこそ、 and welcome!

This is the first post on Skeptikai.

Let’s jump right in.

Many people have unwarranted heuristics about the information on blogs. Heuristics are mental shortcuts that allow us to quickly sort out lots of information, like the “expensive = high quality” heuristic. Sure, the $25000 ring may be “better” than the $15000 ring… but sometimes this is just a way to manipulate customers who don’t know the true value of a product.

People with an anti-blog heuristic say things like “anyone can write blogs, so you can’t trust them,” as if this “someone” must automatically have less journalistic integrity than that “someone” who writes for a newspaper or other medium. Well, a journalist is “someone” and a blogger is “someone.” Often times, they’re the same person writing the same stories, yet somehow the information appearing on a blog seems less credible to these people. Ultimately, they just don’t realize what is on the blogosphere. They think it’s just a bunch of random people with far too much time on their hands.

Maybe this was true around a decade ago. The first major blog was by Justin Hall, a 19-year-old who started blogging in 1994 to such an extent that it practically ruined his life. After years of posting information about his personal life – including pictures of himself in the nude and of illegal drug usage – he finally broke down in 2005, in a video entitled “Dark Night,” which expressed his frustration, sadness, and despair. Fortunately, he chose to lead a less public life afterwards, and that video marked the end of his blogging.

People with this anti-blog heuristic tend to paint quality blogging with the same brush as those personal, politically slanted, and celebrity gossip blogs. They think that just because it’s not in print means that it must be riddled with mistakes, or that the accuracy of the work is entirely suspect. My argument is that it’s no more suspect than articles in newspapers or the like.

Print mediums that try to convey accurate information fix errors in later editions all the time. Even science journals (which go through not just peer review but also spell-check) have retractions all the time. I’m not saying trying to criticize any of these other mediums, but I don’t think it’s fair to do so to blogs. Newspapers, for example, have an inconspicuous little box somewhere on a separate issue, whereas blogs can fix errors immediately after being noticed, directly at the site. This, to me, seems much more in line with the way science works.

In fact, most people don’t realize that there is a venerable online science community who uses their expertise to help make sense of the world from various specialized perspectives. I was astonished when I stumbled upon it, first noticing just a few websites, and now following over a hundred blogs. You can seriously find a blog on ANY topic, written by some professor, doctor, or otherwise science-minded smarty-pants.

This community has become the new haven of current science news and public information dissemination. They complement news reporters well, because reporters generally don’t have expertise for every topic they cover. Science bloggers respond faster than any other science medium in the world, because they can be instant, and unfiltered. They do not need to appear on edited TV interviews, producing sound-bites and having their words put out of context. They can start the debate at any time, and broadcast from anywhere with internet access. On the surface, it seems like bloggers don’t have editors… but they do. In the science community, commenters (and fellow bloggers) are their editors, and editing is taken very seriously. It has to be, because careers, reputations, and even laws are influenced by the online discourse.

The agenda of this blog is manifold, but the main goal is to join this community in informally educating people who have little or no scientific background but plenty of curiosity. It may disconcert you to know that I am by no means an expert like some of the bloggers I look up to, and that I will be learning many things as I go on… but I hope it empowers you instead. Until just a few years ago, I hated science and wanted absolutely nothing to do with it (seriously, I can’t emphasize that enough). That was because I had never learned what science really is, or how it connects everything, until recently. Science is a method; a way of viewing the world, not just some boring subject in a lame class. If I can learn so much, so fast, coming from such immense ignorance, you should have no excuse.

On Skeptikai, I’ll write about tons of different topics, but often about explaining science, psychology and Japan – and I want to stay as far away from politics as possible. Basically, the “kai” (rhymes with “sky”) in Skeptikai (a kind of play-on-words from either the Japanese character “会” or “界”) means “association,” or “world.” This is suitable because I also want to contribute to the global skeptical movement, from my base of operations here in Tokyo, Japan.

This website has been a long time coming, and it’s exciting to finally start with a mountain of ideas. As I become more experienced, I may also share many of the developments from the land of the rising sun that the English-speaking world never hears about. I hope you’ll find this an interesting forum in which to engage in conversation and thoughtful debate. It seems fitting to enter the fray at a time when we have such technological potential for brilliance, yet we are plagued by an epidemic of ignorance.

Believe me when I say… we have lots to talk about.

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