Skepticism vs Cynicism


As skeptics we walk a fine line. We use logic and science to look at and assess the information available on a wide variety of topics.  Skeptics don’t just “debunk” ghosts or point out why homeopathy is just a placebo. It’s our job to critically examine our world. If we are open to evidence and yet still maintain a critical eye, then we can avoid the pitfall of cynicism.

A cynic is one who, for example, watches an ad for a new weight loss tool on TV and automatically dismisses it out of hand. Perhaps it looks like a gimmick. Perhaps the cynic has seen something similar previously and dismisses it out of hand because of the similarity.

Remember the “Balloon Boy” incident late last year? When it was revealed to be a hoax, so many people became instant cynics. Be it the size of the container below the jiffy pop balloon or the way it spun on it’s axis, thousands of people suddenly “knew” after the fact that there was no kid in the balloon. That’s where cynicism and skepticism split.

A cynic “knows” it’s BS because . A skeptic examines the information at hand but still retains an open mind until all of the data has been examined and a conclusion has been reached. This is also one of the things that makes being skeptical so difficult. We can reach conclusions about a topic BUT we must constantly be reexamining those conclusions with the appearance of new data. That’s how any good scientist approaches a theory. Examine the data, posit the theory and be willing to revise that theory as new data surfaces.

Beware the cynical pitfall, dear Alice.  It doesn’t lead down the Rabbit Hole.

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3 Comments

  1. Freethinkers, not. said,

    September 10, 2010 at 5:30 am

    Sadly most of the “skeptics” I’ve seen on blogs like those listed, or in many newspapers’ columns, don’t show a shred of being open-minded about anything. They come across as “fundamaterialists” whose dogma is utterly opposed to the possiblility of anything non-material existing. They do themselves, atheism and science a disservice, I believe.

    • September 10, 2010 at 12:29 pm

      Unfortunately, those people have gotten sucked in by the pitfall of cynicism. It happens because we are human beings and not robotic. Our emotions get in the way. But that’s okay. Being human makes being skeptical that much more difficult because of how we evolved. Our pattern recognition skills can lead us in both directions: Belief and cynicism. It leads us to belief in pareidolia and it leads us to cynicism because since we have seen fill-in-the-blank before then anything news that resembles fill-in-the-blank is generally dismissed out of hand as being bunk.

  2. Walt Geist said,

    December 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Well…this seems to draw a line that only a saint could walk. I am a skeptic, but I don’t always have to hear the entire song to name the tune, nor do I make every decision “life or death.” By necessity, I group things. By the above strict definition, in order to be a true skeptic, I should open every spam I get just to see if it could have merit. I don’t, and unless you are already locked up in Bellvue, you don’t either. I use the anecdotal evidence, batch them and move on. However, If I want to choose between Hyundai and Honda, or raise the bet at poker, I weigh my options based on the evidence at hand, review the relevant facts and make as informed a decision/judgment as I can given what I perceive.


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