Apr. 06, 2011 - Issue #807: Spring Style
Conference hopes to teach scientific method to the weird
Daniel Loxton, like a lot of kids, was fascinated by monsters. "As a kid I thought I was going to investigate monsters for a living and in fact that's what happened." The writer and editor of Junior Skeptic magazine tackles the mysteries of ghosts, mythological animals like Griffins, the Roswell aliens and the existence of the Cottingley Fairies. Aimed at youth, Loxton hopes the magazine provides kids with the tools to grapple with the existence of not just mythological creatures, but common beliefs people hold to be true without question. His approach to issues is finding success. Nominated for the Silver Birch award in Ontario, Loxton's book Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be approaches a topic that isn't taught in the first 10 years of education in Ontario. "There's no reason why a 10 year old or a six year old can't be taught the basic concepts," says Loxton.
Loxton's dedication to approaching big issues with the scientific method at a young age comes from his own experience. As a child he was interested in the paranormal realm, the existence of the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot, and issues of cryptozoology, but it was a skeptic's outreach conference that brought the ideas of skepticism and scientific method to these issues that made Loxton realize he was missing a piece of the puzzle.
"I walked into the panel expecting to hear what I was used to: intriguingly open-ended, ambiguous 'you decide' type talk but what I found there was a whole parallel literature on topics I knew nothing about. I walked in interested in mysteries and out interested in the same mysteries but I realized didn't have the whole picture."
For Loxton, the issue is scientific literacy and providing the tools for children to approach issues they're passionate about.
"Nobody owns critical thinking. Scholarship, critical thinking, investigation, everybody has a right to those things, but we aren't born knowing them. We have to be taught," says Loxton.
His approach to issues is mirrored in the approach of the Greater Edmonton Skeptical Society, which is why Loxton accepted the speaking engagement at LogiCon this Saturday. "Being [hosted] at the World of Science makes it a science-centric event and takes it away from some of the parallel rationalist movements like atheism. I like a real science basis to skepticism." The LogiCon also hosts a kids track of events and talks, and a beginners' series aimed at people new to skepticism.
While some adopt skepticism as a princple and can become judgmental of other's beliefs, the GESS has adopted the definition of skepticism, "Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are 'skeptical,' we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we become believers."
"In the skeptics' world I'm known as a softie," says Loxton. He's willing to come to the defense of paranormal believers.
"My talk is titled 'The Reasonableness of Weird Things.' I know several people who believe in ghosts for the reason that they saw a ghost." says Loxton. "You have to grant the reasonableness of factoring in your personal, visceral experience of seeing a ghost. Of course it leans on the scales of evidence. But there's no point in being judgmental about that, we should all be working together to understand what happened."
For Loxton, it's more about respecting people's desire to understand the world. "They're trying to find meaning in the universe," says Loxton. "The universe is a really big and wonderful place and getting as clear a view of that as you can is the best way to look after yourself." V
Sat, Apr 9 (9 am – 4 pm)
Telus World of Science
Cost: Admission to World of Science
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