With just over a week until MSSX, our very own Dr Alice explains her discovery of scepticism, and why she gets so frustrated by cancer pseudoscience.
What can we expect from your talk at MSSX?
It will be written and have an ending, I promise. You can almost certainly expect for me to get over excited or overly passionate about something seemingly innocuous. Call it a trademark.
How long have you considered yourself a skeptic?
I was probably about 16 when I became an atheist, then 19 when I discovered skepticism. So around 10 years. Like most skeptics, discovering the movement gave me a way to describe the thoughts I already had. Then, when I finished my undergraduate degree in 2011 I started to get more actively involved, I started attending Merseyside Skeptics Society events and ultimately helping out with anything I could.
Who is your skeptical hero, and why?
My skeptical hero is my grandfather. Grandad, or GD as I called him, was born in the 30s but he was an atheist his entire life. He loved to ask questions, especially the questions that no one else was asking. And he loved nothing more than to debate – but he’d always be playful and compassionate with those debates. He taught me from a young age that the smartest people ask the most questions and don’t assume they know it all. You can learn something from everyone as long as you just listen.
Is there a form of pseudoscience that annoys you the most, and why?
As a cancer cell biologist, I get frustrated by cancer quackery – especially the stuff based loosely in science. I feel passionately that our tendency to “dumb down” the science to the general public pushes them right into the arms of those who claim to cure cancer using “science”. We could all do far better to respect patient’s choices and give them better tools to dismiss quackery.
What is the most important or interesting lesson you’ve learnt as a skeptic?
Don’t be smug – you don’t know all the answers. Question your own beliefs as rigorously as someone else’s and don’t propagate “truths” if you haven’t checked that it’s actually true.
As MSSX is the 10th anniversary of the MSS, and lots of other skeptical groups started in the UK around the same time, how do you feel skepticism has changed in the last 10 years?
In the last ten years skepticism has become more empathetic, and less self-righteous. We’re still not perfect at being self-aware, we are still human after all, but we’re trying harder at it. We’re moving towards prioritising compassion and respect even of those we disagree with. We’ve moved away from heroes who haven’t proven themselves worthy of the title and we’ve become bigger advocates of the specific methods of skepticism.
You can catch Alice, as well as five other main stage speakers, and much more, at MSSX on Saturday 6th July – pick up your £29 tickets today, and we’ll see you next month!