13 Reasons to Doubt

Edited by Edward K. Clint, Beth Ann Erickson & Jonathan MS Pearce

Extraordinary claims and extraordinary evidence.

The mainstream and social media feed our minds a diet of fringe science and outright pseudoscience. They relentlessly stream paranormal, supernatural, and otherwise extraordinary claims. Where do all these come from? They’re spread by shysters and charlatans, by corporate propagandists with cynical eyes on the bottom line, by priests and preachers of all kinds, by axe-grinding cranks and ideologues, and frequently by well-meaning dupes.

This may be a scientific age, but all too often, science, well-grounded scholarship, evidence, and logic are ignored—or even denied.

Scientific skepticism offers a corrective: skeptics defend science and reason, while demanding the evidence for extraordinary claims.

In this volume, we offer you thirteen ways to scientific skepticism: thirteen reasons to doubt extraordinary claims. The authors discuss groupthink and cognitive biases, science denialism, weird archeology, claims about religion and free will, and many other topics. Within these pages, there is something for anyone who wants to avoid biases and fallacies, cut through the masses of misinformation, and push back against fakers and propagandists.

Here are some Amazon reviews of the book:

Informed skepticism is one of the most important ways of looking at the world, and Thirteen Reasons to Doubt does a wonderful job of illustrating the need and the challenge of this intellectual virtue.

The essays contained in this short, accessible, charming read challenge some of our dearest notions–for examples, free will, the prevailing attitudes of the groups with which we identify, the trustworthiness of our own abilities to work out problems, and more–and ask us to look at them without simply taking them at face value. As philosopher and skeptic Russell Blackford articulates in his essay, which is written with his usual eloquence and care, we have a heavy burden of intellectual honesty in our current age, one in which propaganda runs rampant in favor of ideologies and faith still stands strong. It is to save ourselves from ourselves when it comes to this peril that informed skepticism proves its worth, and the collaborators on this enjoyable book illustrate clearly what it means, how to cultivate and guard it, what it implies, and how to use it even upon ourselves for self-correction when our biases start to lead us astray.

Each of the contributors, not only Blackford, does a superb job writing with clarity and passion in their areas of expertise, presenting a thought-provoking contribution to several important conversations at once. Thirteen Reasons to Doubt is ambitious and unpretentious, a friendly and welcoming guide of sorts to spotting bull, doubting yourself, and becoming the better thinker for it.

I found Thirteen Reasons to Doubt to be a pleasurable, accessible, quick, and edifying read on the position of informed skepticism, and I heartily recommend it to any who wish to push the clarity of their thinking and their intellectual integrity.

This volume is quite valuable for those in the skeptic or atheism movement, and the topics in the book are vast, especially considering its size. The authors have a nice diversity of backgrounds and national origins. Some chapters focus on particular subjects of a philosophical or scientific nature, while some are directed at what makes up the skeptic/atheist movement and how it should conduct itself. There is thus some criticism of the movement itself, much of it justified.

In particular I found the most useful the chapters that were of a more philosophical bent, since as Zach Sloss’s chapter on Hume’s argument against the testimony of miracles, or Jon Pearce’s chapter on (libertarian) free will. They cover the ground with great clarity while holding onto or being aware of the nuance involved in the subject matter. John Loftus’s chapter on science being predicated on non-magical being has rhetorical force, though I would have argued things differently (about why science should be naturalistic rather than entertain super-natural elements).

The chapters that I consider to be the most critical of the movements of skepticism and atheism are those of Maria Maltseva (talking about what it means to be a skeptic and if the definitions used are too strict or narrow); Jacques Rousseau (on issues of group think, debate on focus in the movement, and how dialogue can be impaired in online fora); and Ed Clint (critiquing a talk about the problems with evolutionary psychology that was too broad and not deeply aware of the subject matter). Ed’s chapter may be a bit too personal in its focus, but his case that a denial of the work and development that has gone into evo psych is a form of science denial–while still noting there is some really crappy evo psych out there–seems hard to argue against.

One feature to note about the volume is that some of the material as been stated by the authors online at their web hub, Skeptic Ink Network (SIN). However, much of the chapters are new or greatly extended, so this is not just publishing blog posts that you can otherwise read for free right now (which I would recommend you doing, nonetheless, even if you disagree with the authors here–or especially so). Overall, this book acts as a good introduction to the voices at SIN, and the diversity of their knowledge and foci are a boon to the skeptic/atheist movement in general.

I really do think this is a very solid book. The topics are very wide ranging (as befits the diversity of the authors) and covers topics outside of the “typical” skeptical ones (e.g., what some people deride as “Bigfoot skepticism”). Instead, you have philosophers, archaeologists, psychologists, anthropologists and more discussing topics from why skepticism is important to cognitive biases to science denialism and more. My personal favorite chapters are those by Russell Blackford and Jacques Rousseau, who both happen to be philosophers and skeptics. Rather than rely on negative reviews from folks who haven’t even read it, grab a copy and see for yourself what you think.