Skepticism is the best approach we know of to avoid being fooled or fooling oneself. To paraphrase David Hume, it’s “proportioning one’s belief to the evidence.” As Carl Sagan said in his Cosmos series, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
Skepticism is a way of knowing about the world:
- The term is derived from the Greek word skeptikos: inquiring, thoughtful
- A methodology for understanding the world through evidence and reason
- Applying the methods of science to all empirical claims, especially our own
- Preferring to discover what is true rather than just believe what is comfortable
- Recognizing that we all tend to rationalize beliefs we hold for irrational reasons
- A commitment to the scientific method rather than any particular conclusion
Skepticism involves a working knowledge of:
- Critical thinking, logical fallacies, and the cognitive errors & biases we all experience
- How faulty memory, misperception, and oversimplification can cause false beliefs
- Concepts such as the null hypothesis, open-mindedness, and the burden of proof
- The relative reliability of types of evidence, i.e. anecdotes, authority, or replication
- The scientific consensus on “controversies” i.e. evolution, climate, GMOs, or in medicine
Skepticism deals with subjects not often addressed by academia:
- Supernatural claims (ghosts, miracles, out-of-body experiences, psychics)
- Pseudoscience (UFOs, free energy, quack medicine, Bigfoot, astrology)
- Pseudopsychology (recovered memories, graphology, “lie detectors”)
- Pseudohistory (conspiracy theories, historical revisionism, urban legends)
Skepticism is an area of activism:
- Science advocacy, confronting pseudoscience & paranormal claims
- The intersection of science education and consumer protection
- Letting people know the benefits of thinking critically/skeptically
- Harm reduction by shedding light on dangerous false beliefs and scams
- Using scientific knowledge to oppose bigotry, i.e. sexism, racism, etc.
What is the “skeptical movement”? It’s people who:
- Appreciate science and skepticism as tools to determine what is true or false
- Attempt to apply tools of skepticism widely and consistently in their lives
- Confront non-evidence-based claims and beliefs, testing them when possible
- Recognize the harm such claims and beliefs can cause, and try to minimize it
- Enjoy socializing with other like-minded skeptics, exchanging ideas and opinions
What are some goals of skeptics? According to one source:
- Debunking. There’s a lot of bunk and someone needs to debunk it. Like the bunko squads of police departments busting scammers and con artists, skeptics bust myths.
- Understanding. It’s not enough to debunk the things that people believe. We also want to understand why they believe. Through understanding comes enlightenment.
- Enlightenment. The power of positive skepticism linked to reason, rationality, logic, empiricism, and science offers us a world wondrous and awe-inspiring enough.
There’s a worldwide community of skeptics, rationalists, and other science enthusiasts connected through podcasts, blogs, social networks, conferences like SkeptiCamp, The Amaz!ng Meeting, NECSS, and CSIcon, organizations like the Center for Inquiry and local groups like Skeptics in the Pub.