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09 September 2013

Why & How to Be a Skeptic?

Sometimes in this world the best defense from spammers, misinformation dispatchers, rumor-mongers, and their ilk is to take a skeptical perspective. According to dictionary Skeptic is:
  • a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual. 
  • a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others. 
  • a person who doubts the truth of a religion, especially Christianity, or of important elements of it. 
  • a member of a philosophical school of ancient Greece, the earliest group of which consisted of Pyrrho and his followers, who maintained that real knowledge of things is impossible. 
  • any later thinker who doubts or questions the possibility of real knowledge of any kind.

The adage if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, does not offer the same protection it once did, with the modern age's offerings of computer generated images and the like.

How to be Skeptic!

  1. Listen closely or read carefully if the information you are offered that seems to go against your common sense or reason. There are lots of people who make up stories for the sake of doing it, but few who are really talented at keeping the manufactured facts straight for any length of time.
  2.  Ask pointed questions, and expect specific answers. If someone tells you they heard or read something in the media, ask when, where, and in what context. You can often go directly back to their purported sources and see if the story pans out.
  3. Check other reliable sources of information. If you have access to the Internet, search the topic, and look for authentic links like university websites, or other institutions.
  4. Find the bottom line of what you are being told. In email circles, often you will see the potential for someone to benefit by convincing you to believe something. An example would be the proverbial (almost) free laptops. Most people are automatically skeptical of these offers, but enough people fall for the sales pitch to make continuing to send them profitable.
  5. Listen to the news and read periodical publications. These sources are supposed to be dependable, with the possible exception of the news figures caught in recent times going a little over the line with "confidential" sources, maybe the supermarket rag?
  6. As a news consumer, be sure to write to newspapers, magazines and broadcasters correcting mistakes and demanding that they keep a certain quality of coverage. There are campaigns going on against "copy and paste" journalism and to get newspapers to cite and link to the original scientific papers used in their coverage of scientific stories.
  7. Decide if the issue is worth generating skepticism. If someone tells you the Martians landed in Manhattan, and you live in Fiji, it would make little difference to you. But when someone tells you to spend your life savings on a start-up company, skepticism can be a valuable asset.
  8. Cultivate a skeptical mindset. Even in the academic world, there have been innumerable instances of accepted facts being exposed over time as ridiculous. We once thought the world was the center of the universe but skeptical thinking people overcame this accepted "fact".
  9. Use the reason test as a habit. This goes back to listening to, and thinking about what you are hearing. If someone tells you something, and it slips into your subconscious, you are more likely to accept it as fact if you hear it mentioned again somewhere else. The idea is planted in your mind, and if it is not challenged, it may become more reasonable to accept it when it is repeated later on.
  10. Test statements for yourself when it is practical. If someone tells you driving with the windows down will save gas, try it out. This may not be a good idea when some television pitchman is selling a $79.99 gadget that can be installed in ten seconds and double your mileage, but often there is little risk if no investment or potential for embarrassment exists. This doesn't mean you should believe someone who tells you poison ivy makes an excellent herbal tea.
  11. Never imagine yours or anyone's understanding to be wholly objective. Remember there is no such thing as a truly infallible source, and that your own interpretation of even a very reliable source is necessarily subjective, and therefore subject to error. You should consider your own experiences, if only because they are occasionally all you have to rely on. Even the statements of a highly reputable source should not be taken as writ, while those of a disreputable source should not be dismissed automatically.
  12. Remember the results of these suggestions. The object of the requested topic is how to be a skeptic. Listening, checking, and testing will probably open your eyes and show you just how much myth and misinformation is being spread in our daily lives, and when you find this out, presto! You will become skeptical.
  13.  If you think this article is BS, congratulations! You're already a skeptic!


  • Listen to Skeptic podcasts. Podcasts like "The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe", "Skep-chick" and "Skeptoid" will keep you in the know and point you toward reliable information sources. 
  • There are great websites devoted to urban legends, email scams, and other misinformation. Snopes.com has a huge data base and great search link, and it is free! Make a habit of checking out generic warnings your friends send you by email. Snopes will have researched many of these and will tell you when they are unfounded. 
  • Join the Skeptical Community and keep abreast of the latest in hokey fads and dubious claims. Most major cities have annual Skeptic's conferences and there are a number of skeptic's forums online that will help you weed out the fact from the drivel. 
  • Look for friends whom you respect as authorities on the topic you are questioning. If they don't decide to "snow" you for the fun of it, they can be excellent resources.

Edited by Bob Robertson,  http://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Skeptic

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