I’ve seen and heard the new breed of skeptics, where any idea or hypothesis is presented with little to no evidence, backed with a statement about how the government is hiding something or the “evidence” is top-secret. Or somebody posts a well made video on Youtube that explains some claim, with the caption “I was skeptical, but here’s proof!!” For a while now my first response was seriously!?! All you need is a video or a claim?

I’ve seen many people use the “skeptic” label to suggest ideas and hypotheses that are merely unsupported claims that are designed to gain attention with little effort in following any scientific methodology. “Truthers”, “Birthers”, and any other “ers” out there who claim “well I’m just a skeptic..” as if just saying that provides truth or facts to their claim,“I’m a skeptic, so if I believe it, it must be true..” and thus will lift any requirement of providing solid testable, evidence or data. Saying “I’m a skeptic” doesn’t lift the onus that is required of making a claim or making the statement that one supports the claim. Nor does it make a claim more valid if one claims to be a skeptic.

Is generally any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.
Philosophical skepticism is an overall approach that requires all information to be well supported by evidence. Classical philosophical skepticism derives from the ‘Skeptikoi’, a school who “asserted nothing”. Adherents of Pyrrhonism, for instance, suspend judgment in investigations. Skeptics may even doubt the reliability of their own senses. Religious skepticism, on the other hand is “doubt concerning basic religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation)”. Most scientists are empirical skeptics, who admit the possibility of knowledge based on evidence, but hold that new evidence may always overturn these findings.
(citation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skepticism)

I think it takes more than just claiming “I’m a skeptic” to really engage in the pursuit of the truth. To me any real skeptic should be versed in logical fallacies in order to avoid falling prey to invalid claims that are presented as truth or fact. One of the best methods of sorting through information, data and claims is the “Baloney Detection Kit”


As well as this nice Logical Fallacies website:

More of this blog here: http://www.avriastudios.net/science/2012/08/06/skepticism/

Views: 88

Comment by Brian Daurelle on August 8, 2012 at 8:49pm

Everyone's a skeptic about some things, it's just a matter of degree and priorities.  When searching for the truth, we must first ascertain which things are possible to know, which we need to know (versus which would be useless to know) and have a good framework to distinguish the true from the false. 

A classic philosophical puzzle is the idea that we might be brains in vats, having our electrodes stimulated to create the illusion our physical reality.  A subset of this problem, a more relevant and immeadiate one, is the idea that we have no free will, only the well-programmed illusion of it.  These are logic problems that we inherently can't solve because we can never be outside observers of our own minds, and the problems deal with the nature of our minds.  One can be skeptical of the idea of physical experience, or that of free will, and nothing will have changed.  There is no readily evident way to disprove either (I qualify that with 'readily evident' just to make sure I'm not on the wrong side of history when someone finds a convincing way to demonstrate or disprove one of these principles experimentally), so it's practical to not be skeptical of such things. 

We can then turn our attention to problems that affect us greatly.  I think if everyone fairly weighed the importance of issues such as 'does religion lead to a crummier world' versus something like 'was the president born abroad?', the former would be given much higher scrutiny.  Note that I haven't endorsed or refuted either proposition, just pointed out that one is very relevant to almost everyone's lives, while the other is of practically no consequence. 

Additionally, we should choose things to be skeptical of based on things we know about the world, our 'framework', which should help us distinguish truth from falsehood. 

Finally, it should go without saying that a skeptic should be constantly examining all of his views and opinions in search of unjustified beliefs, assumptions or preconceptions.  Despite the vitriol directed against politicians who 'flip-flop' on issues (despite that we live in a political culture in which such an insult as flip-flopper exists!), the mark of a truly intelligent person is the ability to change their mind, the ability to accomodate facts about the world by changing or updating their framework.  The mark of the religious, on the other hand, is clinging to assumptions, inventing justifications in order to avoid changing beliefs, and the out-of-hand moralistic condemnation of things that don't fit their view of the world.  The word 'religious' is thus understood to apply to a whole host of other beliefs outside of purly religious ones, and the history of science shows that even the greatest thinkers of every age (Newton, Einstein, Gould to name a few) weren't immune to the phenomenon. 

The point here is that birthers and truthers aren't using the word skeptic wrong; they are skeptics, they're just very bad ones. 

Comment by JustNorrik on August 8, 2012 at 10:09pm

I don't think Birthers or Truthers are skeptics, they have their minds made up previous to any argument where new information is added. Birthers for example are not skeptics in the slightest, by law having one parent a US citizen makes Obama a US citizen. This isn't up for debate, its fact, its law. They'll twist and twist, and ignore facts to get to their position, that's not skepticism. Truthers rely on cherry picking experts to reach their position, again that's not being a skeptic, that's using the concept of skepticism to validate a belief and make it appear more real. 

The one's I'm talking about are the ones who do mental gymnastics to get to their position, and then to make it valid, claim to be skeptics.. Real skeptics in my experience are open to debate, because they may not have all the facts, and they're open to introducing new facts through debate is part of their process. Birthers and Truthers don't like to debate for new or relevant evidence, they have all their evidence and usually its in a video made by somebody they don't even know. 


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