How to Become a Better Scientific Skeptic

turtlethinkingSo you consider yourself a scientific skeptic, asking for evidence and arguments for bogus claims? Great. Now what? You already know how to question dogma and pseudoscience and you are learning more and more every day. What is the next step? Believe it or not, there are many problems and pitfalls facing skeptics, both newcomers and veterans. What can you do to become a better skeptic?

1. Avoid becoming a pseudoskeptic

A pseudoskeptic is someone who uses his knowledge and abilities to rationalize and defend ideas and positions that he or she has come to for irrational reasons. This is usually done by applying a much harsher skepticism against things that counts against his or her idea, whereas things that supports the already accepted belief is accepted with little critical thought. In other words, he or she walks and talks like a skeptic, but is really a peddler of pseudoscience in disguise.

2. Striving to master arguments

Don’t just attack bad arguments. Put the arguments you are trying to refute in their best possible form, and then refute them. This way, you are better than your opponent in every way, even when it comes to understanding their own arguments.

3. Keep it simple and to the point

A lot of people like to dig down to details, but remember that you are writing for others not yourself. If they do not get it, there is little point in writing, save perhaps the pleasure in intellectually dominating others. Nothing wrong with that per se, but not that useful for trying to spread your message.

4. Be an ambassador for skepticism.

Some people, especially those with a strong religious background or those who are deep in the trenches of pseudoscience, do not have that much experience with skeptics or consider skeptics to be arrogant and close-minded. To avoid adding fuel to the fire, be humble, kind, funny and generally a nice person, even if they use personal attacks. Be patient in explaining things to them and admit that you do not have all the answers.

5. Try learning more stuff every day.

There is no such thing as too much knowledge. Read books, blogs, forums, science news etc. If you have to, go straight to the source and look up proponents of pseudoscience and ask them about their beliefs to have easier access to their arguments. Despite making zero scientific progress, pseudoscientific arguments and assertions evolve over time.

6. Practice self-examination

Understand your own beliefs, biases, expectations and errors. Try to excise them with reasoned logic and empirical evidence. There is nothing wrong with being wrong, only with not fixing that error. Forget about prestige, focus on solutions.

7. Understand common denialist tactics and how to counter them

Understand the debating strategies often used by pseudoscientists and learn how to deploy effective countermeasures to them. Also see the entry titled Common Denialist Tactics Defined and Destroyed.

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Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

One thought on “How to Become a Better Scientific Skeptic

  • March 7, 2013 at 16:44

    This is such a great website!! How didn’t I come across earlier? Thank you!!

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