AI: How Many Skeptics Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

There are no skeptic jokes. None. I’ve searched far and wide — real-life skeptic friends, twitter skeptic friends, the audience here — and I think I can definitively say that there are none.

This perturbs me greatly, especially since I’m that kind of socially awkward personality that suddenly blurts out “How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb?” when there’s a lull in conversation with a musician friend. (The answer is none, by the way. They have machines that can do that now.)

So let’s make our own, dangit.

So, what are you waiting for? How many skeptics does it take to change a lightbulb?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

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  1. I’ll start: Five. One to do it and the rest to fret over whether changing lightbulbs is really what skepticism should be about.

  2. Some anecdotal evidence indicates that one is sufficient but we can’t be sure until someone comes out with an independently-funded, peer-reviewed, double-blinded study…. Why’s this room so dark?

  3. Two. One to change the bulb, and one to say, “But how do you know the old light bulb needed changing in the first place?”

  4. “I have nothing against new light bulbs in general, mind you … but has light-bulb-changing been shown to be effective beyond placebo?”

  5. Six. One to moderate a panel on the merits of lightbulb changing in the skeptical community, a four member panel consisting entirely of bald white men with glasses, and one ustream viewer to point out that maybe there’s a wee bit of a diversity issue with the panel.

  6. OK, I’ve gone through the various publications on the lightbulb-changing issue, weeded out the obvious cranks, plugged the remaining results into a spreadsheet, combining them into a single weighted average based on how well-researched each paper was. My preliminary estimate is 2.163464 +/- 3.

  7. Well, yes, the room went dark shortly after the bulb burned out but that doesn’t mean it CAUSED the room to go dark. There could’ve been any number of events occurring at about the same time, any one of which could’ve been the trigger for the room darkening. You’re falling for a classic post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. You should just leave it as is and see if the darkness clears itself up. If not, then you should consult a qualified darkness professional and see if they can determine the cause. The last thing you want to do is go messing around with some crazy lightbulb-changing home remedy. I mean, come on! Where did you read about that anyway, the internet?

  8. Look, there’s an unstated premise inherent in your question, and I don’t care *what* your woo woo “quantum” guru says, the lightbulb is always going to be a lightbulb no matter how hard you wish. What? Oh….hall cubboard, top shelf.

  9. 11- one to change the lighbulb and 10 to criticize the inaccurate reporting of it.

  10. There’s a good collection of atheist jokes over at “No More Hornets.”

    You could substitute Skeptic for some of them.
    In particular:

    Why did the skeptic cross the road?
    He thought there might be a street on the other side, but he wouldn’t believe it until he tested his hypothesis.

    How many skeptics does it take to change a light bulb?
    Two. One to actually change the bulb, and the other to videotape the job so fundamentalists won’t claim that god did it.

  11. I’ve started a new blog where we can discuss Lightbulbism in a supportive, dogma-free environment. Please go to and share your skeptical light bulb changing experiences with other like-minded folks. We will be tabling at Dragon*Con, NECSS and TAM in the coming year.

    UPDATE: I’m really excited to announce that none other than DJ Grothe himself “Liked” our new Facebook Group page.

  12. A man walks into a bar. He stands before the nearest patron’s drink and declares, “42 degrees!” He walks up to the next patron’s drink. “36 degrees!” He takes a seat at the bar as the bartender slides him a pint. “39 degrees!”
    “Amazing!” says a nearby customer. “You can tell the exact temperature just by looking at it?”
    “Don’t be too impressed,” says the bartender. “He’s only cold reading.”

  13. A scarecrow walks into a bar and marches up to a skeptic and his friend. It dumps the skeptic’s drink, spits in his face, and takes his wallet. The skeptic stares back in shock, but makes no move to stop it.
    His friend gets out of her chair, objecting, but the scarecrow pushes her roughly back down into her seat. She leaps up and socks it hard in the face, and it falls to the floor, out cold.
    “What the hell is wrong with you?” she yells at her companion. “You just sat there and did nothing!”
    “Sorry,” replies the skeptic, “but you know I don’t attack straw men.”

  14. Rebecca Watson walks into Skeptics in the Pub with yet another bottle of bright hair dye.
    “Sorry,” says the bartender. “We don’t allow red hairings in here.”

  15. A man walks into a bar and shows the bartender his ID. The bartender says “I’m sorry, but this is clearly fake.”

    “What?” the man replies, “What makes you say that?”

    “Well, for starters: do you really expect me to believe that your legal name is Idiopathy Esquivel Doolittle Exegesis Fiddly-bit Humuhumunukunukuapuaa?”

    The man nods and says, “My friends call me Iddy.”

    The bartender tosses back the driver’s license. “Sorry. I’m gonna need to see something more.”

    Without blinking an eye the man pulls out a student ID card. The bartender looks at it, and sure enough exactly the same name is printed on it. But the bartender simply says, “Still not enough.”

    So then the man produces a US passport. The bartender looks it over, but then returns it and says, “Still not enough.”

    “Oh come on! That’s three pieces of picture ID I’ve given you! What more could you possibly want?”

    The bartender shrugs. “Sorry, but extraordinary names require extraordinary evidence.”

  16. Hah! I was just trying to make up some new lighbulb jokes earlier tonight. I came up with “how many trans women does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but first she has to spend a year living with the new lightbulb to prove she actually prefers it”

    Skeptics? *rolls up sleaves*

    How many skeptics does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Skeptics don’t screw in lightbulbs, they screw up the delicate psychic balance of the orgone energy that lights the room.

    How many skeptics does it take to change a lightbulb? Doesn’t matter. Skepticism can’t change anything.

    How many skeptics… ?

    – None. Skeptics live in the eternal darkness of their spiritually empty lives.

    – Three. One to be skeptical of claims that the new bulb works, one to be skeptical of claims that the old bulb doesn’t, and a third to point out the inherent biases of the other two skeptics.

    – Three hundred and twenty-two. Extraordinary tasks require extraordinary numbers!

    – That’s a straw-man fallacy. I never said the lightbulb needed changing.

    – I’ll offer $1,000,000 dollars to anyone who can prove there really is a lightbulb.

    And for my grand finale:

    How many skeptics does it take to change a lightbulb?

    We can’t know for sure. That’s an unfalsifiable question.

  17. One more… I can’t resist…

    How many skeptics does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Just one. All things being equal, the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one.

  18. Depends. If the light bulb is in an elevator, it may be best just to leave it alone, unless it made it clear that it *wants* changing.

  19. 1,001.

    One to change the bulb and 1,000 to argue over whether the change was really necessary on the internet.

  20. One to change the lightbulb, 10 to argue convincingly that lighbulbs aren’t just a manufacturoversy concocted by Big Photon.

  21. How many skeptics does it take to change a lightbulb?
    None. It’s so easy a chimpanzee could do it. But you’ll do fine.

    How many lightbulbs does it take to change a skeptic?
    I don’t want your damn lightbulbs! I just want the evidence! When life gives you lightbulbs, make life take the lightbulbs back! Do you know who I am? I’m the person who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lightbulbs! I’m gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lightbulb that BURNS YOUR HOUSE DOWN!

    How many skeptics does it take to change a lightbulb?
    Why would you want it changed anyway? It’s working perfectly fine… Skepticism isn’t about changing _everything_…

  22. How many skeptics does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Are you sure the bulb is, in fact, burned out? Have you checked the breaker? Has there been a power failure?

  23. There is clearly insufficitent data available as the nature and location of the bulb have not been defined and there’s an interesting note about the lightbult in that it is a commonly misheld belief the Thomas Edison invented the lightbult when it was, in fact, a man by the Name of Joseph Swan who first develloped an incandescent….

  24. How many skeptics does it take to change a light bulb?

    None. They reviewed the literature years ago and switched to CFLs.

  25. Not sure if this was the inspiration for the post, but Friday was the 132nd anniversary of the Edison light bulb.

    The first electric lamp was invented by Humphry Davy in 1802, but over the course of the century it was improved upon by up to 10 different inventors and scientists. Edison’s improvement—a well sealed vacuum and carbon filament—was responsible for making the light bulb practical by extending the life and lowering costs (previous models used a platinum filament. Pricey!).

  26. Oh wow! The Edison anniversary wasn’t the inspiration…what a fantastic coincidence!

    You guys, these are amazing. I was camping in Wisconsin at Skeptics Under the Stars with the Women Thinking Free foundation this weekend, and others can attest — I was reading these to people around the campfire every single night. I particularly took a shine to the scarecrow one. (I live for long, detailed, groan-worthy jokes. LIVE FOR THEM).

  27. Oh wow! The Edison anniversary wasn’t the inspiration…what a fantastic coincidence!

    No no no; what you should have said was, “Of course it was the inspiration. I just didn’t feel it needed to be mentioned explicitly.”

    How many skeptics does it take to change a light bulb? Two: one to change the bulb and one NOT to change the bulb, thereby providing a control group against which to measure the efficacy of bulb-changing.

  28. How many skeptics does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Ah. I see you’ve bought into the old lightbulb myth.

  29. Three skeptics walk into a bar… according to eye-witness anecdotal accounts, anyway… so really, it’s entirely possible that no skeptics have ever been in a bar. I choose to remain agnostic towards this claim until further evidence is provided.

  30. What would it take to break the skeptical consensus on Religion?

    Ditch the metaphysical stuff and call it Politics.

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