I first heard the term "armchair skeptic" about two years ago, on the JREF cruise to Alaska. One of the guest speakers was complimenting the others for all the work they had done promoting skepticism and fighting against the purveyors of pseudoscience, and in trying to encourage the attendees to be skeptical activists, the speaker made a rather sneering reference to those who aren't activists as being mere "armchair skeptics".
That set my back up a bit. I certainly admire and appreciate the work that skeptical celebrities like James Randi, Phil Plait, Michael Shermer, and others have done over the years to promote science, skepticism, and critical thinking. I also admire the hard work put in by field investigators, like Joe Nickell, who spend countless hours looking for evidence and explanations for paranormal claims.
I also think it's terrific that ordinary people have had the wherewithal to start projects like Stop Sylvia Browne and What's the Harm?. But there are a lot of us out there with busy lives that don't have the time, energy and resources to be a skeptical activist or investigator.
That doesn't mean the rest of us are just sitting on the sidelines. Applying critical thinking in our daily activities — at home, at work, with our friends and families — may not be activism, but it sets an example. If even one of your friends, colleagues, or family members follows that example, you've made a difference. You don't have to set out to change the world; realistically, most of us can't. That's nothing to be ashamed of or to be scorned. The world needs armchair skeptics, too.