From Abracadabra to Zombies
The Skeptic's Dictionary began with fewer than 50 entries in 1994. The 600th entry was posted in early 2010. Each month, the site gets about 600,000 visitors and processes more than one million page views. Thousands of readers have e-mailed comments, suggestions, and criticisms. In response, I've added many new entries since the first "printing." Many reader comments have been posted. Thanks to alert readers, numerous errors have been corrected.
All or part of the Dictionary has been translated into several languages and these translations are available online. There are print versions available in English, Estonian, Dutch, Korean, Japanese, and Russian. A Spanish translation should be out in 2008 or early 2009. An online Turkish translation is now in the works.
To let readers know of recent new entries, updates, or revisions, I've created a Newsletter and I've created a What's New? page. The original idea of a dictionary with definitions of terms and short articles on selected topics and individuals has been expanded. I added a Mass Media Bunk blog for critical commentary of the mass media's treatment of strange beliefs and a Mass Media Funk blog for comments on articles in the mass media likely to be of interest to skeptics. Those blogs have been consolidated in Skeptimedia. I also added an Internet Bunk page for reviews of false, misleading or deceptive information on the Internet regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events; a What's the Harm? blog for comments on the harmful effects of irrationality; a Suburban Myths page to list false notions that pass for the truth even among those who should know better; a Skeptical Links page that includes hundreds of links to skeptical Internet sites; R & R for book reviews; a Too Good to Be True page for comments on WWW scams; a Skeptical Essays page for links to essays I've written and to essays written by others that should be of interest to skeptics; a page of links for young thinkers; a Skeptic's Halloween page with links to relevant Dictionary entries; an In Memoriam page to celebrate the lives of skeptics and scientists who have died; and a Skeptic's Shop in association with Amazon.com, including an Essential Books page that lists and offers for sale my personal favorites in the skeptical genre, and a Bibliography & Bookstore page with hundreds of selections arranged by topic.
There is a Site Map, a FAQ and interviews page, a feedback page, and an acknowledgments page. There is, of course, a table of contents page that lists all entries in alphabetical order. There are also links to eleven topical indexes.
I have enjoyed the correspondence with readers from all over the world. I thank those who have expressed how sorry they feel for me as a non-believer in any god, ESP, the Easter Bunny, Bigfoot, the Roswell myth, and pyramid marketing schemes. Their sympathy, though appreciated, isn't needed. Skepticism about the supernatural, occult, paranormal, and pseudoscientific is not the whole of my life.
Another reason for publishing on the WWW, besides the opportunity of a world-wide audience, was to write a book using hypertext. The idea of a text with instant links to other materials, internal and external, is fascinating and powerful. There are more than 5,500 files and 85,000+ internal hyperlinks in the SD. Obviously, the quantity and quality of materials now available on the WWW has increased and improved dramatically since I began this project. The original intention of suggesting skeptical books and articles for most entries has been expanded to include many Internet links, both skeptical and non- skeptical. The Skeptic's Dictionary is now a pipeline to thousands of sources of information written by many different people throughout the world and available at the click of a mouse. However, the reader should be warned that it is impossible to keep the 225,000+ external links up-to-date.
Another attractive feature of publishing a WWW book is that the book is dynamic. I do not have to wait until the next edition comes out to change things. I can change things every day. I can add entries, correct errors, and make other modifications at will. If I regret tomorrow what I publish today, I can delete it. If I learn something tomorrow which would enhance an entry I published yesterday, I can modify the entry immediately.
The dynamism of this kind of work has its drawbacks. For one, I may be quoted today and tomorrow someone may look for the source and it may be gone! Also, several people have posted my material on their websites, sometimes with proper citation, sometimes with no indication of where they got the material. Thus, there are several unauthorized copies of my articles posted on the WWW that contain material I may no longer support. But I think the benefits of this dynamism outweigh the drawbacks. Still, I don't know that I will ever be able to say that The Skeptic's Dictionary is finished.
The main drawback to publishing on the WWW has nothing to do with the dynamism of such texts. The main drawback is the one which comes from self-publishing. There is no peer or professional review process. On the other hand, the review process has not prevented the publication by major publishing houses of an overabundance of gullible, credulous, incompetent, pandering texts that cater to the taste for the supernatural, the paranormal, the pseudoscientific, and the occult. Thus, the reader on the Internet is not at a disadvantage compared to the reader of printed materials. Each reader must take full responsibility for evaluating whatever material is read. Every book in your local library may have been reviewed before being accepted for publication. Still, you cannot be sure that simply because a book has been reviewed it is trustworthy. You have to decide that for yourself. In any case, I have many reviewers from around the world who have corrected me on matters from punctuation and spelling to dates and measurements, as well as chiding or castigating me for what they consider to be my misguided evaluations and analyses or ignorant and malicious omissions.
I was first attracted to the idea of publishing on the WWW because I knew that the information I printed would be available to anyone with a computer and a modem. No one would have to buy my book. It would be free. I realized at the time that computers, modems, or cable and DSL connections are not free and that many schools and libraries did not yet offer Internet access. But the day is approaching when most schools and libraries, as well as various community agencies and businesses will offer cheap or free Internet access to the public. I hope many of those using public access points will find their way to The Skeptic's Dictionary.
However, I realize that there are many people who cannot or will not access the Internet. I hope many of them will avail themselves of the print version of The Skeptic's Dictionary published by John Wiley & Sons in August 2003. I hope also that many who have come to appreciate the Internet version will buy a copy of the Wiley book, if not for themselves, at least as a gift for someone who might benefit from a reference book with an attitude.
Robert T. Carroll