Skepticism has taken on a variety of connotations. To some, it’s synonymous with cynicism, or negativity. To others, it’s a refusal to accept scientific conclusions, while skepticism is simply insisting on the evidence before accepting a claim.
Skepticism is simply evidence-based thinking and approaching all beliefs and assumptions with a healthy level of doubt. We should be open-minded to the possibility of all claims, but not so open that our brains fall out. We don’t want to be gullible or be fooled.
HOWEVER, EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS REQUIRE EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE.
And, if the evidence suggests we should change our minds, then we must be willing to do so, even if it’s uncomfortable. Failure to accept well-supported conclusions in the light of overwhelming evidence is not skepticism, it’s denial.
Essentially, skepticism is proportioning the strength of our belief with the strength and quality of the evidence, and it is the foundation of critical thinking and the scientific method.
Skepticism is also empowering. It’s a shield against those who seek to fool us, and a powerful tool to help us make better decisions.
We are inundated with information. But how can we know what’s true?
Consider the following claims:
- A supplement promises you can lose 30 pounds without dieting
- An email warns your bank account has been hijacked and wants your social security number
- A celebrity insists vaccines caused her child’s autism
- A social media post alleges a politician is running a child sex-trafficking ring
- A psychic asserts she can predict your future from reading your palm
- A friend maintains he cured his cancer with vitamins and a special diet
- A politician declares climate change is a hoax
When faced with such claims, a skeptic stops….really pauses….and says, “Wait, what? How do we know if that’s true?”
This simple shift in thinking is profound, because there can be real harm to falling for claims that aren’t true. It could cost you money, or even your life. So, before believing any of these claims, demand evidence.
But the most important and most difficult time to be skeptical is when we want something to be true. Claims that fit into our existing beliefs and biases have a way of bypassing our skepticism shield, making us more vulnerable to being fooled.
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