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Posted by on Aug 19, 2012 in Skepticism | 15 comments

So what is a skeptic, anyway?

Before I get into the substance of this post, I have to admit, I hate it when people apply self-congratulatory labels to themselves, and “skeptic” often seems to be such a label.  It becomes even more ridiculous when the person doing so isn’t the least bit skeptical and completely unaware of the various biases he or she possesses.  Given all this, I have to say that I am definitely not a skeptic in any formal sense, but I do think critically about many issues, I question authority, I evaluate the credibility of the experts I rely on for information, and I try to avoid groupthink. As to whether I’m successful in all these endeavors; well, I’m skeptical.

In truth, I stumbled on skepticism by accident. I was looking for something akin to a booze cruise, and the one I took happened to have a “skeptical” theme. But that didn’t bother me, since I’ve never believed in gods, psychics, conspiracy theories, dowsing, or homeopathy; and the booze served on the cruise was mighty fine, even if it was skeptically-flavored. I enjoyed the people I met, made many friends, and was eventually interviewed on a few skeptical podcasts exposing some lies told, surprisingly, not by, but about, the Discovery Institute.

Getting to the point, what is skepticism? At its root, skepticism means applying the scientific method to claims of the supernatural, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine, political assertions, and any other falsifiable propositions. It means being aware of your own biases, thinking and arguing logically, remaining open to the possibility that you’ve reached the wrong conclusions, and revising your views when the evidence demands. But most importantly it means being skeptical of your own skepticism and of those whose intelligence you admire, because that’s when you’re most likely to be led astray.

So everyone is a skeptic to some degree. There’s nothing special about those of us claiming to be such. At the end of the day, skepticism is just a reminder to think critically, reach decisions based on the evidence, and recognize our own fallibility.