What is A Skeptic?

Yesterday we reviewed what skepticism is. Today we’re talking about what a skeptic is.

A skeptic is someone who applies logic and critical thinking to situations and events that are presented in daily life.  That’s the short definition.

A skeptic is also part investigative reporter and part science educator. It sounds difficult, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a skeptic. All you have to do is be able to figure out if the information is coming from a credible source. For instance, a couple days ago a story broke about a new 100% effective contraceptive for men. I searched for an article on it in Google and went to the first entry I found. It was a web site called Newser.com. I had never heard of this particular media outlet, so I clicked on a couple links in the story and tracked it back to the UK Telegraph. They have a good reputation as a reliable media source.

Uncle Bob’s stories, entertaining as they are, do not constitute a reliable source. Stories from friends and neighbors are referred to as anecdotal evidence: “evidence” that comes from anecdotes or stories. This would be like the time that Uncle Bob almost stepped on a Snow Snake and barely escaped with his life. After all everyone knows that Snow Snakes are deadly. A reliable source, on the other hand, has a reputation of having reported accurately most of the time with only infrequent minor errors. Unfortunately no source is accurate 100% of the time, so a skeptic must also investigate the information given and check with multiple sources to verify accuracy.

As for being a science educator, really all that means is that you need to be able to coherently talk about the topic at hand. Sometimes that means using the scientific terminology involved. But that also means being able to interpret sci-talk into a language the average lay person can understand. I’m not implying that science should be dumbed down but let’s face it, when you’re sitting in on a lecture about subatomic particles it’s REALLY hard for those of us who are not physicists to glaze over just a bit. So we need to communicate the information in a way that anyone can understand. From my experience it really is just a matter of knowing and understanding the subject at hand. If you don’t know as much as you’d like, then go back and read some more. There is a wealth of information out there that actually IS backed by scientific research.


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