Skepticism and me
by Josh DeWald
April 26, 2013
I was recently asked "Do you really need evidence for everything?" That's actually a difficult question to answer, but the short answer is "yes, I do". In practice, I don't need to look up absolutely everything because I have already spent a lot of time investigating various topics and have a good sense for the "high level" claims around health and the environment. Also... many things just don't matter that much.
But if you are making a claim that:
So in essence, much of my Skepticism has a certain self-centered aspect in that I would prefer to verify information that affects me before applying it. It amazes me how willing people are to tell me what I should or should not do based on information that they have never verified. I don't need to literally look up every piece of information ever told to me. There is a balancing act to determine whether the information matters in some way. But if I intend to share the information, it is my duty as a good citizen in the Internet age to at least look into things before passing them on. It is quite easy to link (and re-link) to misinformation on Facebook or Twitter (consider the normal case of having a couple of hundred Facebook friends... if only 5% of them re-share something that means more than a 1000 people see it after 1 level!). It is very difficult to counteract that information. I try hard not to be a source for information that later turns out to be misinformation. Does that mean that I perhaps spend too much time "fact checking"? I like to think it's worth it.
(Note:This isn't meant as an advertisement for my own articles, so I am not linking. But for most of these I wrote an entry either on this blog or my other one, Google will find them).
So what are some of the real-world effects of my skepticism?
Things I stopped doing/didn't do at all because I looked into them:
Things I continue to do because I have looked into them:
Things I do that I should probably look into more:
I am not an expert on any of the topics I discuss. I have to defer to the actual experts, to the scientific consensus. Yes, the consensus might turn out to be wrong. But that's unlikely at the level that most of us interact with science. Please find an example more recent than Galileo (more than 300 years ago!). Please find an example that isn't just an actual scientist being rejected by the "accepted wisdom" of mostly non-scientists.
The world is too complex to rely on "common sense" and "folk wisdom" or my own sense of "well, I'm a pretty smart guy, I'm sure I can come to my own conclusions". Distrusting corporations and the government is not the same thing as having evidence of specific harm. There aren't too many lions hiding in the trees, but there are plenty of quacks and frauds hiding behind impressive-looking websites and authoritative-sounding credentials and "Institutes". There are plenty of well-meaning people who heard, or misheard, information and passed it on, even when it turns out to be untrue. I take comfort in that in today's world it is easy to find well-sourced and reliable information not provided by a person trying to sell you something
by Josh DeWald
@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit