Louis Dubé is the President of Sceptiques du Québec and the Editor of Le Québec Sceptique. Here he talks about his life and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was personal and family background regarding culture, geography, language, and religion or lack thereof?
Louis Dubé: I was born and raised in Quebec as a Catholic within the dominant French culture of the second half of the 20th century. Around 18 years of age, I began to seriously doubt the validity of religion as a world view. All religions seemed to me to be myths full of contradictions and to be inconsistent with many scientific findings in biology (evolution of species) and astronomy (our place in the cosmos). I eventually became skeptical of all claims that did not have a basis in physical evidence and a valid argumentation in the interpretation of relevant facts.
Jacobsen: What were some of the pivotal moments or educational lessons in being guided to a more skeptical outlook on the world?
Dubé: Before I was 20 years old, I had read the works of some French philosophers/novelists (Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre). But it really was the English Philosopher Bertrand Russell (“Why I am not a Christian”) who convinced me of the mythical nature of religions with what I then felt were very good and clear arguments against beliefs in religious dogma. At about that time, I also read about skepticism from one of its pioneers, Martin Gardner (“Fads and fallacies in the name of science”). Those two authors contributed largely to a skeptical approach to unsubstantiated claims.
Jacobsen: Within Quebecois Canadian culture, who are the perennial fraudsters? Who are upcoming or new ones? How can the public protect themselves and others from their bogus salesmanship? In fact, does Francophone culture provide a different filter for the forms of fraudulent, whether alternative medicine (e.g. Reiki), cultists, spiritualists, or New Age gurus, compared to Anglophone culture in any way? My assumption is most likely, “No.”
Dubé: Some 30 years ago, when our association “Les Sceptiques du Québec” was founded, astrologers and fortune tellers were relatively popular. Our skeptical organization dutifully debunked their claims and even offered (for about 25 years) a “prediction contest” to prove that anyone can randomly attain the same percentage level of good predictions. We naturally oppose the standard fare of paranormal claims: ghosts, channelling, UFOs, miraculous necklaces, imaginary monsters, etc. We also strive to disprove all sorts of pseudoscientific claims: homeopathy, free energy, miraculous cures of all types, conspiracy theories, …
Education, our primary mission, is probably the surest way to protect the public from those false claims. It is not an easy task but it’s like what skeptics all over the world do, whichever language they speak.
Jacobsen: What are some of the activities, events, and tools provided through Sceptiques du Québec and Le Québec Sceptique, as you are the President of the Sceptiques du Québec and the Editor of Le Québec Sceptique?
Dubé: We organize monthly conferences and publish a magazine (70-80 pages) three times a year. The speakers we invite are academics, scientists, science communicators or authors of books relevant to skepticism. The articles we publish draw from the same types of people and from local skeptics. No subject, no matter how controversial, is off-limits. For frank discussions, we have also invited astrologists, ufologists, conspiracists, religionists, theologians…
We offer a $10,000 prize to those who are willing to try to prove their paranormal claims following a rigorous experimental protocol. So far, none have succeeded. We also host on our Web site a French translation of Robert T. Carroll’s Skeptic’s Dictionary and of Stephen Barrett’s Quackwatch.
Jacobsen: What is the way of thinking comprising skepticism? How does this differ from cynicism?
Dubé: Our type of skepticism does not come from a rigid and dogmatic philosophical position such as cynicism. It’s more a method to ensure that our ideas are reasonably justified by quantifiable observations and reproducible test results. It is often said that true skeptics do not voice an opinion until being shown rigorous demonstrations, especially concerning extraordinary claims.
Our approach, like that of most skeptics, follows the scientific method: observe reality, form hypotheses and rigorously test predictions stemming from those hypotheses. Only correct predictions give a theory a chance of being right and useful.
Jacobsen: What are the approximate demographics of Sceptiques du Québec and Le Québec Sceptique?
Dubé: Our association has around 300 members and sells about 250 copies of each issue of our magazine Le Québec sceptique, published 3 times a year. We also host a skeptic forum where almost 500 000 messages have been exchanged over the last 20 years by over 5000 subscribers from the international French skeptic community and from other inquiring individuals – many expressing opposing views, which leads to lively discussions.
Jacobsen: Who are some allies in the Canadian – Anglophone and Francophone – fight against pseudoscience, pseudohistory, pseudomedicine, and general nonsense?
Dubé: We have a few allies in the Montreal area. Most are Francophone organizations such as the “Agence Science-Presse” on the skeptical side and the “Association humaniste du Québec” on the secular side. The Anglophone “Office for Science and Society” of McGill University deals with a lot of pseudo-medical claims, so do several Francophone and Anglophone bloggers in Quebec.
We naturally keep in touch with some of the French international skeptic organizations: “Association française pour l’information scientifique” (France) and “Comité belge pour l’analyse critique des parasciences” (Belgium).
Jacobsen: What makes some faiths and fundamentalisms more dangerous than others, when things stop being humorous in their absurdity? How can these arise in cults, in religions, in economic ideologies, in hyper-nationalist fronts, and so on?
Dubé: Islamists probably represent one of the most dangerous religious fundamentalists; they exercise political power in several countries and some fund major terrorist organizations. There are also several Christian extremist faiths in North America, especially those against contraception, abortion, medical care and blood transfusion, whose influence we should attempt to diminish with scientific facts. When religion and politics mix, freedom usually suffers greatly.
Jacobsen: What are some of the more recent updates happening for 2019 for Sceptiques du Québec? What are some of the prominent pseudoscientific and fraudulent claims in Canadian society? Who are some of the prominent fakers in Canadian society, who need calling out by name and their fraudulent practices?
Dubé: Our primary mission is to improve critical thinking for our members and the general public. Fake scientific news poses great challenges in that respect. We will also continue to organize conferences and publish articles in order to improve scientific literacy and rigorous analysis.
Homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic have gained official status in our province against the better judgment of the scientific community. We will certainly oppose their hold on people unaware of the lack of evidence for their efficacy. Medical claims of different types will need to be addressed whether on treatment, medication or diet. We will no doubt continue to have serious discussions on many topics of interest to our membership regarding religion, ufology and conspiracy theories.
Jacobsen: Any thoughts or feelings based on the interview today?
Dubé: The need for critical thinking is as important today as it was in previous decades. Easy information access through the Internet presents the additional challenge of checking many more dubious stories. Fortunately, there are several skeptical and rigorous journalistic sources that we can rely on. We only need to be aware of our biases, regularly consult such reliable sources, check facts and try to exercise fair judgment. A lot of necessary and enjoyable work ahead of us.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Louis.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.