A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.
This post contains resources to learn about Skepticism and the Skeptic movement.
First, here is a something I wrote about skepticism. Although these are my words, these ideas have been expressed by many people in many different ways in the skeptic movement and, as usual, I stand on the shoulders of giants…
What is Skepticism and Why is it Important?
Skepticism is actually short for scientific skepticism. Skeptics employ the methods of Science and Critical Thinking to evaluate all claims with an open mind, yet insist on persuasive evidence and good reasons before accepting them. Furthermore, the more outrageous a claim, the more persuasive the evidence needs to be.
Skepticism is a combination of a tool box, the skill to know how to use the tools, and especially the courage to apply those tools to our own personal beliefs.
Moreover, skepticism is a method of self-defense. Skeptics study the ways in which our perception, memory, and mental processes can be deceived. In addition to our disposition for self-deception, those who engage in quackery, pseudoscience, deception, and profess to have supernatural powers, try to exploit the vulnerabilities of the mind with the intent to influence and swindle us. The consequences of which range from being fooled by a hoax and spending money on worthless services or products, to becoming a victim of fraud, or even causing harm to our health and well-being. Indeed, skepticism can even extend beyond self-defense to the defense of others in the form of skeptical activism.
Skeptics see the willingness to admit to not knowing and the capacity to change our minds with new or better evidence, or reasoning, as a virtue. Skeptics seek out the answers to that which we do not know and encourage curiosity, inquiry, learning, and continuous self-improvement.
For these reasons, skepticism is not cynicism or arrogance, but instead intellectual honesty and humility.
Skepticism is not easy, it requires practice, discipline, and resolve.
However, the reward is better judgement, having good reasons for our beliefs, and beliefs that are genuinely our own. This results in better outcomes from our decisions, a more accurate understanding of reality, and the best probability of knowing truths about the incredible universe we live in.
How is Skepticism Different From Critical Thinking and Science?
Skepticism is often defined as a combination of science and critical thinking, however, while critical thinking, science, and skepticism may include many overlapping ideas and methods, I claim that skepticism differs from traditional critical thinking and the scientific method in three ways.
One- Skepticism delves deeper in magnitude into the psychology and cognitive sciences which examine the many ways humans can be deceived into believing strange things, the way our brains can be tricked, and most importantly, how to defend against this deception.
Two- Skepticism differs in that it is also a growing social movement which strives to influence the public and policy makers of the importance in teaching critical thinking and science, and how it is essential for technological and moral progress. This movement also includes skeptical activism, fighting misinformation and exposing trickery, quackery, and fraud in order to defend the vulnerable from deceit.
Three- Skeptics champion and celebrate Science like no other group or movement. Not only for its technological capacity to solve problems, but also for its intrinsic intellectual value. This value comes from the fact that science can answer questions and discover truths about the human condition and our connection to all life on this planet. Science inspires curiosity and wonder, in both children and adults, allowing us to openly ponder our place in the universe. Furthermore, science fanned the flames of that innate human yearning for exploration and adventure, where we dream of visiting other worlds. Moreover, these dreams are then turned into reality by science, giving our species the incredible opportunity to actually travel to outer space, walk on the moon, and even to send robotic emissaries to some of these other worlds. Indeed, one day soon, this yearn for adventure, inspired by science, has us making plans to send humans to Mars. Perhaps, in the future, we may be able to travel beyond our solar system, when science takes us to the stars.
Here are some resources to learn more about skepticism, the skeptic movement, and skeptical entertainment:
YouTube is a great place to find videos on skepticism. Here is a Playlist I made with some of the most popular skeptic videos:
Skeptic.com- Skepticism 101
THE SKEPTICAL STUDIES CURRICULUM RESOURCE CENTER is a comprehensive, free repository of resources for teaching students how to think skeptically. This Center contains an ever-growing selection of books, reading lists, course syllabi, in-class exercises, PowerPoint presentations, student projects, papers, and videos that you may download and use in your own classes.
The Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe
The SGU for short, is an award winning weekly podcast about science and skepticism, and continues to be one of the most popular science podcasts in iTunes. I listen to it almost every week, I really enjoy the enthusiasm and humor of the hosts, the different segments including science news and games, and especially the educational and informative content!
They even have a great Facebook page to match.
To learn more, check out their website! http://www.theskepticsguide.org
Skepticism On Wikipedia
Of course Wikipedia is good source for learning about skepticism. Especially because there is an organization focused on keeping Wikipedia skeptical.
“The mission of the Guerrilla Skepticism editing team is to improve skeptical content on Wikipedia. We do this by improving pages of our skeptic spokespeople, providing noteworthy citations, and removing the unsourced claims from paranormal and pseudoscientific pages. Why? Because evidence is cool. We train – We mentor – Join us.”
Here are some good Wikipedia Resources:
Skeptical Conferences and Meetups
One thing skeptics like to do is to get together IRL! There are a bunch of skeptical conferences around the world, some might even be in your home town. The conferences are a chance to see some great presentations of skepticism and
science by some of your favorite skeptic and science personalities including James Randi, The crew from the SGU, and even Bill Nye The Science Guy is known to show up from time to time. It’s also a chance to socialize with fellow skeptics and it can be a lot of fun!
Also, there are tons of local meetups for Skeptic groups and so you should check meetup.com or do a search for your home town. One of the best ways to meet is to go to what many groups call Skeptics In The Pub.
I’ll continue to update and add to these resources overtime.