It's hard not to feel like a slacktivist sometimes. You retweet a pithy zinger from Neil deGrasse Tyson, repost a clever web comic dismantling Christian exceptionalism, and "attend" that really important skeptic event by way of the Facebooks. There is nothing wrong with any of this. You're inspired and moved, but you also have your own commitments to manage. Raising awareness and challenging the zeitgeist are important and necessary activities, but they are also efforts in which the impact of your actions is not always clear, or are made so only over time.
If you are anything like me, sometimes you need action in your activism. To make a clear, palpable (even if small) difference in the world and to be able to see that immediately. You have the ability and the choice to engage against those who promote, sell and advocate for antiscience, pseudoscience, religious nuttery and other forms of caustic nonsense. Now I will tell you two ways that you can start right now.
The Independent Investigations Group
The Independent Investigations Group (hereafter, IIG) is the brainchild of Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles Executive Director James Underdown and is the largest paranormal investigations group in the world. It offers a $100,000 prize for evidence of the paranormal, supernatural, or occult power produced under scientific observing conditions. The challenge is similar to the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) Million Dollar Challenge, except that the JREF has many educational and advocacy initiatives and the IIG exists primarily to field and test claims of the paranormal.
The great work of the IIG has two kinds of beneficial impacts. The first is in directly challenging those who make extraordinary claims. We should not be content to let all such things be asserted without address, particularly claims which could serve to be dangerous or that could provoke credulity in others. That brings me to the second and more important impact: demonstrating to the public that such claims are definitively false. The IIG issues press releases and engages with the conventional and online media to magnify the effectiveness of the (up to now) failed claims to the $100,000 challenge.
You do not need to be a scientist or trained investigator to join the IIG, just a skeptic who believes that claims must be supported by evidence. The headquarters of the IIG is located in Los Angeles, but affiliates exist in Atlanta, Portland, San Francisco, Washington DC and Alberta with more being produced in the US and internationally. If you do not live in those areas, you may consider creating a group yourself. If that is too much commitment, you may also become a "member at large" and can contribute to the mission even if you unable to attend local IIG meetings. You can find out more about how to start your own group, becoming a member, and what the IIG does by visiting www.iighq.org and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
IIG introduction video: http://youtu.be/cgTuGP0jjmY
Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia
It is hard to overstate how influential Wikipedia has become. It is the primary, and often only, source of information that many millions of people use to find out about a topic or person every day. Whether this is a fully good or bad thing is debatable, but the fact of it remains. Here are some real numbers: the (English) homeopathy page gets 2 million hits a year. Jenny McCarthy's Wikipedia page got 300,000 views in January of 2013 alone. The cost of erroneous, uncited, and misleading content at pages like these is enormous accumulates hourly. Want to prevent millions of people from being duped and underinformed? Guerrilla Skepticism might be for you.
Created and lead by prominent skeptic Susan Gerbic, Guerrilla Skepticism exists to address inaccuracies and Wikipedia code and policy violations on many controversial pages about and fronted by charlatans and credulous advocates of nonsense, as well as any page wherein evidence adequate to justify its claims is absent or lacking. The project also exists to bolster and improve the quality of the pages of scientists, skeptics, and other members of the rationalist community to project the most positive, complete, and accurate picture to the public as possible.
One of the aspects of contributing to the Guerrilla Skepticism project that I find most excellent and rewarding is that there are no prescribed topics or pages. Anyone working on it may pick whatever page they wish to improve, provide it could benefit from a critical glance and skeptical evaluation: the paranormal, pseudoscience, "alternative medicine", religious figures/religious claims, fringe or mainstream scientists, politics, sports, et cetera.
As you might expect, tidying up Wikipedia is a Herculean task. Guerrilla Skepticism has many success stories, but it needs more Wikipedia editors. A lot more, particularly those who are fluent in a language other than English. There is a learning curve involved. A prospective editor must learn the technical workings of the Wikipedia website as well as the rules and policies which govern its content (The Guerrilla Skepticism team edits conscientiously and always in accordance with said rules and policies). The good news is that Susan and the Guerrilla Skepticism community is there to help you along- previous experience editing Wikipedia is not required. Find out more about the project at the website http://guerrillaskepticismonwikipedia.blogspot.com/ or check out my interview with Susan http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous/2013/02/13/what-is-guerrilla-skepticism-sin-interviews-susan-gerbic/. If you would like to become a Wikipedia editor for the project you can start by contacting Susan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gerbic?fref=ts
Ed Clint co-created Skeptic Ink with John Loftus and writes about Ev Psych, critical thinking and more here at Incredulous. He is a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.