We would not be alive today if not for skeptics. So what is one?

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Although my writings are largely political, the other subject I’m passionate about is science and skepticism—the value of logical thought cannot be overstated. It seems that all too often people will believe what they’re told by a single media source, a politician, a political party, a professor, etc. But as the brilliant fictional “philosopher” Dr. Gregory House always said, “Everybody lies.”

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House M.D.
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House M.D.

Yet when I tell people I’m a skeptic, I get looks of confusion and apprehension. It’s as if I just told them I’m about to profess we never landed on the moon, that Bush was the impetus behind 9/11, that aliens are here among us, or that I’m part of some religious cult. So as a result, I wanted to put some of these myths to bed, but let me address the issues above before I go any further.

  • I believe anyone who believes we didn’t put a man on the moon is ignorant. Click here to see the Mythbusters dismantle these issues on the faked moon landing.
  • I believe anyone who thinks George W. Bush spearheaded 9/11 is disgusting, hateful, and ignorant. This has been thoroughly debunked by many members of the scientific community. National Geographic addressed the 9/11 conspiracy here involving several universities conducting independent studies—please watch. I’m not going to elaborate, they’ve covered it well enough. This nonsense is insulting to the military who would never follow such an unlawful order, even if it were given to them. Our military are far more thoughtful than these hateful idiots ever care to give them credit for.
  • What I know about odds and probabilities leads me to believe there is life in our universe outside of Earth. What I know about physics tells me it would have almost no way of getting here in tact. So yes I believe there is alien life, no I do not believe it has ever inhabited Earth.
  • I’m an agnostic/atheist. I do not believe in any supernatural or spiritual beings. The burden of proof is not on science, as such claims are not falsifiable. The burden lies with the people claiming such phenomena exist. I’m open to the possibility, provided there is any scientific evidence presented to support it—such evidence has yet to be presented.

So if it is not a cult and we don’t have meetings with strange customs like a secret handshake, wrapping our heads in tin foil, or creepy Gregorian chants, what is a skeptic?Tin_foil_hat_2[1]

Saying you are skeptic just means that you question everything (not doubt, just question), and apply the scientific method to answer any questions you might have. Here are a few statements I feel would accurately tell the tale of being a skeptic and some simple rules of thumb to bear in mind.

  • Rule #1 – Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Skeptics will have an evidentiary based belief system. The greater the claim one makes, the greater the evidence required to support it.
  • While we will often admit a creator is possible, skeptics are often non-religious. This is due to the overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence and the underwhelming lack of scientific evidence.
  • A skeptic will start from a null hypothesis—the idea that nothing is true until reasonably confirmed with evidence. If you tell me that magnetic wrist band will cure my headaches and increase my sperm count, you’d better have more than a testimonial, which of course are discredited by the placebo effect. Nothing less than a proper peer-reviewed study will do.
  • If we read some random meme on Facebook or Twitter which makes a provable claim, yet seems dubious in any way, we’ll usually assume it’s bunk and not even bother sharing it. If we’re curious, we might check it out on Snopes or other reputable sites, then share if we can confirm it to be true.070e54aedcf606e53698b9f0f2528a9e3f9ecd80b3cf90cd9ca6deb7f0eac351[1]
  • We place our trust in the science. Almost everything we enjoy in life, from gadgets to health care, we have because this method works—it has for centuries.
  • Skeptics are not conspiracy theorists. We don’t invent fantastic tales for shock value or ideology, we present logical arguments, we separate facts from opinions, and we let the chips fall where they may.
  • A skeptic would rarely believe in alternative medicines. If they really do work, proper scientific studies will confirm as much. At which point they’ll cease being alternative medicine and just be actual medicine.
  • A skeptic wants both sides of the argument. In politics, if a Democrat makes a claim, I want to hear a Republican’s or Libertarian’s rebuttal and vice-versa. If a scientist presents an idea, I want a similarly qualified scientist to challenge their findings. One side of a story is rarely accurate and you should be wary of anyone making a claim of absolutes in this manner.
  • We largely will often point out that shows about cryptozoology, astrology, alien abductions, ghost hunting, etc. belong on the The Sci-Fi Channel, not The Science Channel. While presented as science, they’re all largely full of utter nonsense. One cannot make scientific claims about Bigfoot if one does not have a living or dead Bigfoot standard to test.

So why is it important to be a skeptic? If you like being duped, skepticism isn’t for you—ignorance is bliss, right? But as Steve Jobs proved in 2003 when he opted for a homeopathic solution to his cancer instead of what his doctors recommended, being a skeptic can save your life. Jobs’ had been advised that his cancer was treatable and survivable if he were to undergo proper science-based medical treatment. By the time he realized his homeopathic option was bunk however, it was too late.

Steve Jobs - Apple Founder
Steve Jobs – Apple Founder

For those not familiar with homeopathy and why it is junk science, here’s a phenomenal article from Donald Prothero from skepticblog.com. As are all articles on their site, it is worth a read.

But let me go back further into history and explain why I believe mankind owes its very existence to skepticism.

When the black plague was running rampant, many had believed that this was God punishing humanity as he did during the flooding in the tale of Noah’s ark. As such, they felt that there was no way to intervene and stop this deadly scourge, and potentially that it was blasphemy to even try. While they may not have understood the scientific method or the concept of modern skepticism as we do today, it was indeed skeptics who decided that the plague might simply be a biological process with a cure instead of the will of God, applied scientific-like methods to the problem, and proceeded to eventually quash this most devastating of diseases.

While faith gives people comfort, and I would never try to take that away from them, when you start feeling the onset of a heart attack, a stroke, or any other medical emergency arise, who will you call first? 911 or your priest? If you answered 911, you’re already a bit of a skeptic. The next time you hear a claim that seems too fantastic to be true, grab your computer and do some research. I think you’ll find the scientific method quite rewarding once you get the hang of it.

*Please look to the left. You will find a header with a list of sites dedicated to science and skepticism. I encourage you to read as much as you can. While I’m an amateur who is just priming your skeptical pump, these are professionals who do this for a living. Learning is addictive, I hope you’ll check them out.

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