You Don’t Have To Be A Rocket Scientist


No, Really. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist…or any kind of scientist for that matter, to be a skeptic. Learning a new way of thinking is pretty scary. You wonder if you’re doing it right. Especially when you read posts on the JREF forum. It’s hard not to feel a little less than intelligent.

The wonderful think about the skeptic community is that we are a pretty diverse group. We have members of all ages, genders, ethnicities and education levels. One of the major players in the skeptical world, James “The Amazing” Randi, didn’t finish high school. He has traveled the world performing magic and working to educate people about charlatans and frauds. Mr. Randi is working on his 10th book currently.

Penn Jillette is a graduate of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Clown College.  Teller, his partner, formerly taught high school Latin has been a guest lecturer at Oxford University and appears to have attended MIT. So even within famous skeptical partnerships there is a wide range of educational background.

Penn has written numerous essays and a book, “Sock”. His communication is insightful and thought-provoking. While he comes across as brash and overbearing, his writing indicates a much greater depth.

And then there’s me. I’m one of those jack of all trades types. I don’t have a formal college degree though I’ve attended Northwest College as a photojournalism major. Turns out I have no talent for photography so I dropped out. Then I tried animation at the Art Institute of Atlanta. I changed majors to graphic design because the redundancy of drawing frame after frame with only minute changes drove me nuts.

After a year and a half of graphic design I quit because I didn’t see how a degree in that field could be of help to anyone. I saw it as crass manipulation and I didn’t want to manipulate people on a mass level. Or any level for that matter.

Later I spent a year with the psych department of the University of Maryland. That’s where I took what would later become my favorite college class ever. Statistics. Even though I felt like my brain was leaking out my ears and half the time I didn’t think I had any clue what I was doing, that course taught me how to read medical studies and evaluate research. This is probably the most important skill I have.

Unfortunately after that year I didn’t feel that I could, in the end, be of help as a psychologist. I don’t think I have what it takes to listen to people’s problems day in and day out for years on end. So I dropped out.

Intertwined amongst all that is over 500 hours of training in various disciplines of hypnotherapy. There is no formal degree in hypnosis, though I looked at several unaccredited “universities”. When we moved to Florida my hypnosis practice collapsed. I still have that skill set though because I am a skeptic, I have set it aside. We still do not really understand how hypnosis works. I’ll be covering that in a later article.

Then, of course, there is all the time and money spent on training in Reiki, crystal healing and herbalism.

The point of this long, rambling bit of text is that even though there are lots of people with big, intimidating degrees from MIT, Oxford and Harvard, it’s people like you and me, the average person, that makes the skeptical movement grow. We learn new ways of thinking and exploring our world right here in our own living rooms. We go to skeptical events, we share ideas with others that may or may not be skeptical.

This is how the skeptical movement grows. With people like us just being skeptical.

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5 Comments

  1. Sgerbic said,

    March 27, 2010 at 11:38 am

    I also loved Statistics. I didn’t like the math associated with it but I loved learning how statistics are used and misused. A great read on the history of statistics is “The Lady Tasting Tea” you can add that to your evergrowing list of books you will never get around to reading, but would like to.

  2. D.J Grothe said,

    March 27, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    So true, Maria! Skepticism isn’t just for the over-educated, it is for everyone. Some of the most influential skeptics and critical thinkers of the 20th century were not traditional academics. Martin Gardner is a prime example.

    Some of us are even skeptical of the academy, or at least of too much emphasis on degrees and not enough on the practical applications of the skeptical perspective.

  3. MaryLynne said,

    March 28, 2010 at 9:15 am

    I’m so glad I found this blog! I found that shortly after I lost my religious faith, other faith-based beliefs started falling like dominos. Aromatherapy, homeopathy, Reiki, color therapy, accupressure, accupuncture, healing touch, crystals, herbal therapy – My skepticism started before I discovered Bach flower essences and iridology, else I’m sure I could add those as well.

    I remember explaining to my skeptical brother, “Once you accept that there are things that exist that are beyond our experience, it opens a new world.” Meaning once I believe that any of it is true, than all of it could be true.

    Once I decided that I believe things that I can perceive credible evidence for, including being consistent with other beliefs I have evidence for, all those beliefs started evaporating as soon as I turn the spotlight of skepticism on them.

    Skepticism requires such precision! “I believe based on evidence” isn’t even accurate – someone can then say “We are evidence for God” or “I got better is evidence for sleeping under pyramids.” But I find the more precisely I try to use language to accurately describe my thought processes and belief system, the more . . . .precisely? the more powerful and useful and sharp my thought processes become. I can’t find quite the word I want.

    I am often finding areas in my life where I have a belief system I have not yet submitted to a skeptical review. However, I think I’m getting there. The other day I recalled that I had once heard that humans lose an average of 100 hairs off their head every day. When I heard it I accepted it – sure, I believe that! As I was cleaning my hairbrush, I thought, “I wonder if that is true. How did they measure that? They can’t just count what’s in the hairbrush, I lose hair all day. How big was the sample? If I ever need to know for sure, I’ll look up the study.”

    Anyway, all of that is to say that this is a very important journey to me and I’m so glad that I found this blog to help. Most of the other blogs I follow are atheist blogs – they are important, too, but I find that the religious skepticism is only a part of being a secular skeptic. I’m glad to get support in figuring out the rest of it.

    • Herbwoman said,

      March 31, 2010 at 12:02 pm

      Congratulations on finding your skeptical pathway! It’s great that you’re teaching yourself to think critically. There are a few other blogs that deal with straight skepticism and only touch on religious skepticism when relavent issues come up in the news. Skepchick.org is one. Freethinking for Dummies (http://jwalker1960.wordpress.com/) is another. Stay tuned because thanks to YOU I’ll be writig a blog post that covers resources for the fledgeling skeptic.

  4. May 8, 2010 at 12:07 am

    […] want to stress again that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a skeptic. These musicians make an impact on the world with their lyrics. They help people to […]


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