damned skeptic

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I come back to the subject of skepticism frequently. 

Todays topic: “skeptic” and “cynic” are not the same. In fact, I’m a mushy, romantic believer in all things good and wonderful. I like babies, woodland creatures, milk and cookies – and that’s just my lunch menu! “Haw haw!” as Jack Chick would say.

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The fact is, someone needs to pull people out of the mush when they’re sinking into vague double-talk about “energy” and healing. Someone ought to question the “super” in supernatural.

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Aren’t you glad somebody thinks twice about quack devices, like the fake bomb detectors  that were nothing more than repurposed dowsing rods? People died because of that one. Remember the “power balance” powerbracelets that would make you a better athlete? Australian skeptics shot that one down and the company’s executives admitted they were fake and filed for bankruptcy. Skeptics do consumer protection.

The anti-vaccine people seem determined to bring back deadly diseases and infect children. Who’s doing their best to hold them in check? The damned skeptics. And homeopathic medicine – zero active ingredients – no plausible mechanism of action – no watergood evidence that it does anything – multimillion dollar industry. Need I say more? Yes, I do. If you’re a believer, I have some homeopathic water for sale – take one drop and you’re hydrated for a week. 

red_warningWhat are the warning flags that indicate something might not be true, and what signs lend credence to a claim? Ask your neighborhood skeptic.

Skeptic’s secret agenda: promotion of critical thinking and science.suspicion

“Science doesn’t know everything!” It’s true. But what it does pretty well is detect real physical effects in the real world. So if someone says they can cure a disease, move objects with their mind, or prove the existence of ghosts – bring in the skeptologist, or better yet, sharpen your own brain.

Don’t worry too much if you get fooled sometimes. Critical thinking can run contrary to what we are “wired” to do. We’re supposed to see faces in the tortilla.  The important thing is correcting yourself when you recognize the error.

IF

One last item and maybe I’ll get this topic out of mind for a while. It’s a quiz! This test is called,

¿Quién es el más cerrado? (Excuse my lousy Spanish.) Who is the most closed-minded?

Ms. X: “I was really dubious about global warming being real, but the evidence kept piling up and piling up and now almost every climate scientist on the planet believes it. I changed my mind.”

Ms. Y: “Astrology is true. My horoscopes are accurate every time. Nothing could change my mind about that because my personal experience proves it.”

Ms. X is a skeptic. Ms. Y is a true believer. Do not use the phrase “close-minded skeptic” without thinking hard about whether it really applies.

IF

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6 thoughts on “damned skeptic

  1. What your quiz actually does is to separate people who base their beliefs upon what other people say, versus those who base their beliefs upon personal experience. I remain very skeptical of anything which devalues personal experience.

    • dangblog

      Maybe I chose poor examples for my quiz. Devaluing personal experience wasn’t my intent. Was trying to get at the ability or inability to change minds based on evidence. For some subjects personal experience provides all the evidence you need. Not the ones I mentioned, however.

  2. yacman

    When it comes to data and science, I think personal experience should be devalued. I happen to know that I’m very subject to a number of logical fallacies. I try to resist the white coat effect and placebo effect and confirmation bias, but I know that, like all human beings, I’m fallible. I have had people tell me that they believe in psychic powers because they’ve seen them work. I’ve had people tell me that they believe in homeopathy because it healed them, and others who believe in astrology because their horoscope has uncanny predictive power. Personal experience, AKA anecdotal evidence, can be very misleading.

  3. Having an open mind is not nearly as easy to achieve as the scientific types might characterize it. For example, there are logical contradictions in the paths of persons X and Y. If person X tends to adjust their views based on what the evidence tends to indicate, then they will characteristically tend to look for more answers in the same location, creating a self-perpetuating self-deception.
    Another problem is that psychological data supports that we think emotionally and then allow for the data which supports these emotional decisions. This is as true of scientists as of any other human. Human experience tends to be the great skeptic of this ‘feedback loop’. As we grow and learn how people operate mentally, we become much more shrewd about interpreting what people say. “Lying with statistics” is the common catchword laymen use for all of this.
    The scientific ‘facts’ will change a scientist’s mind only when the scientist will allow it. History has taught us this lesson over and over.
    As human beings we probably can practice a dispassionate examination only on what we are not looking at.

  4. dangblog

    When you say “looking for answers in the same location,” the location in that example is worldwide scientific consensus, which is not a place for self-perpetuating self-deception. The reason it isn’t a place for this gets to your second point.

    You may be missing a fundamental part of the scientific method. It is specifically designed to avoid the bias you refer to on the part of individual scientists. That’s the point. Research goes through peer review, in which unaffiliated scientists do their best to tear apart someone’s findings and find and expose flaws or bias. Another part of the picture is replication, in which other people attempt to duplicate the results of an experiment.

    This process is not perfect, but over time, the truth tends to rise to the top. Among the results are the technologies that you use and rely on every day.

  5. yacman

    What Schn00dles is talking about is “confirmation bias,” a very real problem. That’s why it is vital to not discard data that does not support your hypothesis. Science never really can identify “truth” with absolute certitude. Truth is the goal of scientific thinking, but science is only asymptotic to the truth. Supernatural thinking (pseudoscience, religion, true-believers etc) usually circles around with an unending loop of confirmation bias. They are stuck in intellectual mud.

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