Thursday, April 30, 2009

Am I skeptical of the skeptics?

I may be skeptical about a lot of things, but shouldn't I also be skeptical of skepticism itself? Yeah, I am. Duh. We should be skeptical about everything.

But what does that mean?

Skepticism, at least the way I mean it, is not the same as doubting. What kind of position would that be if I doubted everything? Not only would I doubt psychic predictions, I would also have to doubt the impossibility of psychic powers. Not only would I doubt the link between the MMR vaccine and autism, I would also have to doubt the safety of vaccines. Not only would I doubt the 9/11 truth movement, I would also doubt that terrorists attacked the World Trade Center without any help from our government. What kind of self-defeating position is this?

But of course, I do doubt all these things. But doubt is only where skepticism begins. Following initial doubt, we carefully evaluate these claims in order to determine exactly how much doubt is warranted. It is not always the case that the public doubts too little. It is just as often the case that the public doubts too much.

And why might this be the case? One common reason is that people are not aware of or undervalue scientific evidence. A good skeptic realizes that a well-conducted scientific study can be worth more than a thousand heart-wrenching anecdotes. And an established scientific theory is supported by many such scientific studies. I doubt scientific theories too, but only as much as is warranted, which is not a whole lot.

So when I say I am skeptical of skepticism, this does not mean that I have serious doubts about it. It means that I have initial doubts, which I have evaluated and given careful consideration. And yes, some doubt is warranted towards skeptics. Skeptics will make mistakes and missteps. They can accidentally mine quotes. They can disagree about the sources of superstitions. They can make straw men of their opponents. They are human. But the basics of the skeptical method, those are sound.

1 comment:

Baumann Eduard said...

The skeptic of skeptic : a meaningfull thinking

The skeptic of skeptic of skeptic : more difficult

What about:
The skeptic ( of skeptic )^42 ?