A Brief Introduction to Skepticism
Skepticism simply means…
- making decisions based on evidence, and
- using science and reason to verify the validity of any and all claims.
As a community, skeptics embrace scientific inquiry and critical thinking. When skeptics hear a fantastic claim, we want to see the evidence before we will accept something as true.
Understand that this doesn’t mean we are a bunch of people who refuse to believe anything we are told. Far from it. Once we get proof, we accept the proof. Otherwise, it simply means that unless you have the evidence to back up a claim, we are unlikely to see it as believable.
You say you believe in Big Foot? We say, “Great. Show us the body.”
You say you have psychic powers? We say, “Great. Let’s test them out.”
Examples of Generally Accepted Conclusions in the Skeptical Community:
- Vaccines have been proven to work and are essential for public health.
- The theories of Evolution and the Big Bang are the best explanations for the creation of life.
- September 11 was indeed a conspiracy, but one organized by Al Qaeda, not by George W. Bush or the US government.
- GMO technology is a viable means of food production that can benefit the environment and feed starving populations.
- All alternative medicine has either not been proven to work or been proven not to work.
- It is unlikely that psychic powers are a real, superhuman ability that certain “gifted” people possess.
- Organic food is no different or superior to conventional or any other type of food.
- Monsanto is not evil; it is a company just like any other.
- Many conspiracy theories and urban legends, such as Big Foot, UFOs and ghost sightings have simple, logical explanations.
- It is unlikely that doctors and pharmaceutical companies are conspiring to keep us all sick.
- It is unlikely the position of the stars and planets determine your personality.
- Crop circles are human made.
Why Skepticism Is Important
The process of skepticism can help you spot extraordinary claims before you are fooled by them or someone takes advantage of you. Skepticism can help protect you against consumer frauds, popular myths and fads, or bogus products and services.
If you have asthma, and a friend says to you,
“I have a relative with asthma who went to Dr. WickenCraft! He put her on a juice cleanse, applied needles to her face and gave her a polished quartz stone to carry around to purify her electro-magnetic fields, and it cured her asthma! You should try it!”
If you are a practiced skeptic and critical thinker, you aren’t going to be so quick to buy into such a claim, and thus more likely to save your money and even protect yourself from potentially being harmed.
Are you skeptical or cynical?
Many people confuse skepticism with being generally doubtful or simply not believing anything we are told. While this aligns with the literal, dictionary definition of skepticism, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the skeptical process.
There is also the popular notion that skeptics are closed-minded, curmudgeonly cynics. We are neither closed-minded nor cynical. We just want to see the evidence.
Science and skepticism go hand in hand. In both cases it’s okay to change your mind if the evidence changes or there is new information.
To find out more about skepticism and what the skeptical community is about, here are a few links to visit:
- The Skeptics Society and Skeptic Magazine www.skeptic.com
- The Skeptical Inquirer www.csicop.org/si
- The Genetic Literacy Project www.geneticliteracyproject.org
- Science Based Medicine www.sciencebasedmedicine.org
- Skeptoid Media and the Skeptoid Podcast www.skeptoid.com