Anthony Magnabosco describes himself as an atheist living in a very religious section of Texas, looking for better ways to explore the claims made by people in a respectful, productive, and efficient manner. He claims he found all of that and more in something called “Street Epistemology,” which he describes himself as, “An informal, consensual interaction that respectfully challenges (usually through the asking of questions) the reliability of the method being used to support a high level of confidence their claim is factually true.” That may sound a bit of a mouthful, but this is exactly what he is and has been doing with some rather interesting results.
How did you become interested in this area?
Dr. Peter Boghossian wrote A Manual for Creating Atheists, the furnace from which Street Epistemology was forged. I set out with my cameras to learn Street Epistemology with strangers. Video viewers, audio listeners, and text readers may be able to observe how the technique began, improved, and continues to evolve. Fundamentally I am intrigued how these engagements seem to help people reflect on their views in a patient and kinder way.
What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?
Well, maybe I am teaching some things along the way, with the hope that they scrutinize whatever I might be teaching. Then, encourage them to teach you and hold you to the same level of scrutiny. Make it a partnership, an honest attempt to claw a bit closer to the truth.
What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?
Look closely and ask questions. Let’s discuss where we see the faults. I see many in there myself right now. But something unique seems to be is happening in these types of conversations, and I think it’s worth serious scientific study to figure a few things out. So my advice based on my work thus far is: Be prepared because this shit is fascinating.
Do you have a favourite quote that you use?
Hmm. No, not really. Sometimes I might be reminded of a quote during the discussion but then have to decide whether or not I should share it. I don’t like adding to much more to the conversation that they didn’t already bring. And this is only when I’m doing SE stuff—I’m a bit more forthgoing in non-SE engagement.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?
There are many ways to learn more about SE now: YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Reddit, the Street Epistemology website, etc. My preference is watching videos of people practicing it and then read the books while lurking in one of the SE communities. Notice where the divergences happen. If you’re interested, help us make this thing safer and better.
Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy…
My first thoughts were “Wow, yeah!” If I one day could conduct something in person, I would survey people beforehand to see which topics gains the most interest employing the SE approach, after watching a dozen or so examples beforehand. I would then build a talk around those topics.
Allowing plenty of time for clarification, collaborations, and consensual fun. My suspicion is that there are probably a few people in the area that would be equally or more competent describing the approach (hopefully remaining fair and accurate).
Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention?
If anyone would like to learn more, please go to streetepistemology.com or search for “street epistemology” to start seeing examples. Thank you for interviewing me.