Friday, December 23, 2011

Advanced Redditing

I spend way more time on reddit than I probably should—in fact, it's a small part of why I'm posting less at the moment than I have in months past. I wrote previously about r/atheism, the popular subreddit for nonbelievers. Again, while they do plenty of good—I got a massive outpouring of support during my recent "coming out atheist" drama, and they recently raised over $200,000 for Doctors Without Borders in just a few weeks—the content to be found there sometimes gets a bit shallow and repetitive. So here are a few other subreddits that are worthy of some attention from atheists, skeptics and lovers of science.

First, the r/atheism alternatives. While r/AtheistGems is updated only occasionally, it contains valuable nuggets in the form of well-reasoned arguments, YouTube videos and links to other resources. For example, this video of the recently late Christopher Hitchens has him eloquently tearing down the Ten Commandments and constructing them anew, while this thread has abundant links for engaging with Muslims. Then there's r/AtheismBot, which takes r/atheism and weeds out 85% of it (the Facebook posts, rage comics and other fluffy content), leaving the more serious stuff behind.

Another two topics worth looking at are r/freethought and r/skeptic. The former is much like r/atheism, but with a more mature tone and a broader focus that includes more science and politics in addition to religion. This discussion on the exaggerated importance of nationalism in society is a good example. The latter focuses mostly on various forms of pseudoscience including homeopathy, psychics and other products that exploit the credulity of the general public. r/philosophy is stimulating as well—most of it is outside my area of interest, but it can occasionally make me rethink some important issues.

One handy feature is the ability to combine subreddits into one larger multireddit. For example, r/DebateAnAtheist, r/DebateAChristian and r/DebateReligion combine quite well to form an all-purpose religious discussion. It creates a nice mix of conversations, some as challenges to atheists and others as challenges to Christians and other believers. For instance:
There are often more atheists in the conversation than theists, but every now and then I'll find a spark of real debate.

Finally there are the subreddits dedicated to science and education. r/science is a great place to find and discuss science-related news stories. What I particularly like is the fact that sensationalist headlines (a new "cure for cancer" is discovered practically every other week) are quickly picked apart by specialists in the comments section. In r/AskScience, anyone can ask their most pressing science-related questions and have them answered by experts in the field, whether it's how we know what the earth's core is made of or what the specs of a human brain would look like if it were a computer. Finally, in r/ExplainLikeImFive one can get answers to even basic questions explained in a welcoming atmosphere with easily understandable terms.

Reddit is such a vast and diverse place that it can be anything you want it to. It can be shallow entertainment, it can be depraved evil or crushing ignorance. But select the right parts of the site and it can be a genuinely educational and thought-provoking experience.

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