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.



  1. WilPhil said,

    July 5, 2010 at 7:44 am

    This is a thought provoking post.

  2. jwalker1960 said,

    July 5, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I think that one of the biggest problems we face as skeptics is that, in many people’s minds, skepticism is synonymous with cynicism. This post is a great way to explain the difference. Well done!

  3. July 7, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    What a great resource!

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