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Skeptic Trumps: A Satirical Skeptic Card Game

Article

Tim Farley

Volume 36.5, September/October 2012

Skeptic Trumps cards

The skeptical community’s growth has led to many unanticipated creative projects, particularly online. One such project is Skeptic Top Trumps, a virtual deck of playing cards featuring caricatures of popular skeptics.

It is the creation of Crispian Jago, a computer industry consultant in Read­ing, England. Jago started a blog in 2008, on which he began writing his “serious thoughts” about skepticism. “Unsurprisingly, nobody really ever read my blog,” he recalls. When writer Simon Singh was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association, Jago decided to respond with satire. He wrote a “bogus transcript” of one of the court hearings mirroring the witch trial scene in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It quickly became one of the most popular posts on his blog.

As a result he thought that “perhaps satirical skepticism might be an idea worth exploring.” Comments on a line in another Python-inspired post (“and your Dawkins smells of reason”) in­spired Jago to create an image of packaging for a fictional fragrance called Reason by Richard Dawkins. After this also proved very popular, “I looked around for more iconic images that I could bastardize into my own agenda.”

Jago found that amusing images consistently reached wide audiences. He calls them “a useful weapon in the skeptic’s arsenal.” Info-graphics and other visual parodies have become staples of his blog; one popular post is a catalog of pseudosciences and mystical beliefs called the Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense. Another depicts the history of science as a subway map.

Jago’s foray into card decks was inspired by the previous efforts of others. In 2008 stand-up comedian Chris­tina Martin saw a newspaper headline “Gay Rights Don’t Trump Christian Rights.” She recounted her reaction in a later article: “How stupid, I thought; as if people’s rights and beliefs can be reduced to a game of Top Trumps.”

Top Trumps is a popular series of card games for children in the United Kingdom that began in the 1970s. Each deck has a theme, such as World Records, Aircraft, or Military Vehicles. Each card represents one person or item in the category and contains a list of numerical statistics on that subject. Game play is akin to the card game War, comparing one of the statistics chosen by the player. The game ends when one player has collected all the cards.

In response to that newspaper headline Martin wrote a set of humorous “God Trumps” featuring the gods of various religions with illustrations by Martin Rowson. They were published in New Humanist starting in the fall of 2008 and quickly became the most-read article in the history of the magazine’s website.

Jago noticed their success and soon created his own card decks including Skeptic Tarot Cards and Celebrity Quack Trumps—the latter featuring celebrities along with their favorite pseudoscience. After it appeared, British skeptic David Allen Green suggested a deck of skeptic trumps to Jago.

Although proficient with tools like Photoshop, Jago is not an artist and didn’t want to use ordinary photos for the cards. So he turned to automatic avatar creator tools, choosing one in the style of the animated TV program The Simpsons. The result was a set of cartoon characters he called Simpsons Top Trumps: Skeptic Edition.

Consistent with the satirical nature of his blog, the cards include cutting remarks and humor. “As I am in awe of many of the subjects, I didn’t want the cards to be too sycophantic,” he said, adding that “as skeptics we too are not immune [to] critical analysis and ridicule.”

The 52 Simpsons cards were very popular. Several skeptics adopted their cards as their online avatars. Jago received requests to produce the cards as a physical deck, but he was wary that Fox Broadcasting, protective of their trademarks, would take a dim view of such an endeavor. Taking the cards further would require entirely new artwork.

After Jago used the Pope in a parody of The Cat in the Hat, he heard from artist Neil Davies, who offered his assistance on future projects. Seeing Davies’s work online, Jago knew his caricatures would be perfect for Skeptic Trumps. Davies agreed to do the artwork for free in exchange for promotion of his work. Since then, Davies’s art has been featured on the cover of the U.K. magazine The Skeptic.

Skeptic Trumps was re-launched in April 2010. The first card, fittingly enough, was Simon Singh. The new deck was just as popular as the previous one, with skeptics taking it as an honor to be depicted, “even though I insult them,” Jago notes. The popularity was such that other skeptics went to considerable effort to create a card for Jago himself. They secretly commissioned the artwork and surprised him with the card at The Amazing Meeting in London in 2010.

The deck has been updated several times, and currently numbers seventy-eight skeptics. When asked about his choice of subjects, Jago admitted that there are still a few he would like to do if Davies has time: “We haven’t done Joe Nickell yet, which is totally outrageous.” All are available free online, but they are still not available as physical cards.

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Tim Farley is a software engineer and technical instructor in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the creator of the Web Site What's The Harm, which explores why believing in pseudoscience and the paranormal is harmful. He blogs at skeptools.com.