Skepticism is important

By Phil Plait | July 15, 2010 3:00 pm

My friend Surly Amy wrote a fantastic piece at Skepchick about why being a skeptic, being a critical thinker, is important. She includes a letter from a reader that… well, just read it for yourself. Make sure you read the whole thing.

Then go out and be skeptical. Go! It’s important.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Piece of mind, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: skepchick, Surly Amy

Comments (24)

  1. Mike

    Wherever do you find the courage to rail against the powerful forces of astrology, homeopathy, and anti-vaccers?

  2. Jens

    The story given sounds fake. I´d love if it was true, but as a skeptic I need evidence. At the moment it is at best an anecdote.

  3. Paul Hannah

    Mike, all I can say is that whenever you stand up and speak I, and thousands like me are standing beside and behind you. You speak for the truth and there can be no greater task and none more rewarding either because as you finish we are all silently cheering, whooping away at you and patting you on the back. You speak there because we cannot be there but you are anything but alone. Skeptics around the world are speaking the truth and if enough of us can find that courage to stand up for the truth, those spreading these lies will fade into the obscurity that they deserve.

  4. Teshi

    Why does it sound fake to you, Jens? I don’t quite see what about the story is particularly unbelievable, even if it is untrue.

  5. Jens

    Teshi asked: Why does it sound fake to you, Jens? I don’t quite see what about the story is particularly unbelievable, even if it is untrue.

    Some quotes from the story:

    “Because my wife’s doctor is awesome…”

    “As a result of the doctor’s thoroughness, the quick and competent actions of the medical team, and amazing technology that resulted from decades of scientific research in medicine,…”

    “And not 10 years ago, before we’d learned to strengthen our critical thinking skills thanks to the skeptical community, ….”

    Too much sugary lather.

  6. Being a skeptic is indeed good, even if it means disagreeing with Phil.

  7. Mike

    I find it very uncomfortable to be using an anecdote like this as “evidence” that medicine works. It’s the same logical fallacy used to promote homeopathy, herbal remedies, etc.

    The other Mike

  8. Steve Huntwork

    Our aircraft have been sent home and will return to Minnesota on Friday.

    This is FANTASTIC news, if you have been monitoring the Gulf oil spill.

    We will continue flights along the beaches once a month, but the majority of the oil has already been captured. You would never know that from watching TV, but thousands of people have worked very hard.

    Was this on topic? Yup!

  9. Cindy

    In reading a lot of the comments about mid-wifery, I have to agree with some of them. For both of my pregnancies, I had mid-wives who are associated with my OB-Gyn group. They were a lot more hands on and even recommended that I get the flu vaccine (interestingly enough, my doctor wasn’t too keen on it) and also the pertussis vaccine.

    During both deliveries they knew their limits and called in the OB when I needed an emergency C-section.

    So, like anything, it depends on the person.

  10. JGlanton

    Absolutely agree about healthy skepticism. And nowhere is it more important to practice that than when looking at simulations that predict catastrophic global warming due to carbon dioxide.

  11. Messier Tidy Upper

    Nice letter and well said. :-)

    Even if as (#7.) Mike correctly points out it is anecdotal evidence.

    I also agree with the statement by (#6.) The Arquette Sisters & I expect the BA himself would agree with that as well. ;-)

    @10. JGlanton Says:

    Absolutely agree about healthy skepticism. And nowhere is it more important to practice that than when looking at simulations that predict catastrophic global warming due to carbon dioxide.

    There’s a lot more supporting evidence and reason to think Anthropogenic Global Warming is real than just computer simulations. I hope you know that. There is considerable observational evidence and logical reasoning showing AGW is indeed occurring.

    (Whether & just how “Catastrophic” it will be is somewhat more of an open question I think but still.)

    I strongly advise you to take a look at this videoclip (try not to be too put off by the confrontational title) :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9SGw75pVas&feature=PlayList&p=029130BFDC78FA33&playnext_from=PL&index=6

    I challenge the climate skeptics here to watch through all the very watchable and informative videoclips on this playlist :

    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=029130BFDC78FA33

    and still say they don’t accept the scientific – esp. the 98% of the expert climatologist scientists – consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming.

  12. His skepticism reeks of dogma. I recognize that skepticism is important, but dogmatic skepticism is just as dangerous as any of the ideas to which he so strongly objects.

  13. Brian

    There’s nothing particularly hard to believe about this story. According to Wikipedia, HELLP syndrome happens in
    0.2-0.6% of all pregnancies — even if that number is off by an order of magnitude it’s still happening pretty frequently somewhere in the world. Chances are it will eventually happen to a couple who have recently learned to become critical thinkers.

    And if you think the story is unbelievable because it has “too much sugary lather” — I just don’t know what to tell you. You clearly have never been around a couple who just got through almost losing the life of their unborn child, not to mention the mother. Feelings tend to run rather high in such circumstances, has been my experience.

  14. @Jens:

    What, someone who is emotional and a decent enough writer to express himself must be lying? Besides, as others have pointed out, the anecdote is not being used to say “you should go to a doctor”; the message is that the skeptical movement helped a couple make decisions based on evidence and risk — and that saved lives.

    This is true regardless of whether the decisions made where the only correct ones.

  15. Ian

    I’m with GK Chesterton on Skepticism – “It is assumed that the sceptic has no bias; whereas he has a very obvious bias in favour of scepticism.”

  16. Josh

    I have to say that midwives are not bad.

    My wife is currently pregnant. We switched from a doctor to a midwife practice at around 30 weeks because I got a new job at a hospital with awesome benefits. Plus the doctors that my wife had been with before were very much “this is how you do things” and we found out are known for a large number of C-sections. Our first visit to the midwife, she asked “Why aren’t you taking iron supplements? Your iron has been low since your first visit to the doctor.” This is after my wife specifically asked the doctor about iron supplements.

    Now, this midwife practice has an OB on staff, but most care is done by midwives. This is honestly the only type of midwife practice I have ever seen. If there exists a midwife practice that does not have an OB behind them, I would be scared. What the person in the letter is talking about sounds more like a doula than a midwife. A doula can assist in the birthing process but should never be trusted on her/his own. If you choose a midwife, choose one who is a registered nurse and has delivered babies before.

  17. Murff

    Nice read. I followed the links to some of the blogs of the people who responded to that piece…apparently, the 2nd responder was not impressed with a Dr. Plait speech at TAM. I’ve only ever seen videos of Dr. Plait speaking, and I must say they have always been fun and informative.

  18. I am very skeptic to everything and the idea of not being skeptic, but this includes of cause the skeptic view on all those skeptic people out there and here.

  19. @#2: Sometimes I think the best things skeptics can do is back away from internet forums for a little while. I’ve noticed some people get militant enough about anecdotes and fallacies and whatnot that they can miss the forest for the trees.

  20. Jeff

    gdnf: “I am very skeptic to everything and the idea of not being skeptic, but this includes of cause the skeptic view on all those skeptic people out there and here.”

    I myself am skeptical about the whole concept of “skepticism”. I have no idea what it is, what is its methodology? I do know something else older with established methodologies, it’s called “science”. People should study books like by Thomas Kuhn on the scientific method.

    plognark: “Sometimes I think the best things skeptics can do is back away from internet forums for a little while. I’ve noticed some people get militant enough about anecdotes and fallacies and whatnot that they can miss the forest for the trees.”

    this is why the scientific method is tried and true. At scientific meetings over the decades and centuries, scientists debate out which hypotheses can best explain the evidence, and as the evidence grows, the hypotheses can be thrown out or modified to accommodate new data domains. Science is never “proven” in the sense that it is always tentative and can be modified, and the history of science illustrates this.

  21. keplerlover

    Critical thinking skills are paramount, too bad more “skeptics” haven’t developed such skills, e.g. Penn Jillette on smoking and global warming denialism, Randi similarly on AGW denialism, and Shermer, it’s hard to know where to start with him…..Sean Carroll said it best in that he really wants to be RIGHT, rather than a skeptic.

  22. Nullius in Verba

    I don’t know about fake, but the story does appear to be a non sequitur. A pregnant woman feels nauseous, goes to a doctor, turns out to have a dangerous condition and is saved. At what point does skepticism enter into it? That a person went to a doctor with a medical complaint? Is that the only reason that someone might go to a doctor? Is it not possible that people might do so simply because they are credulous and gullible people who believe in the ‘awesomeness’ of doctors?

    Skepticism may be considered the systematic rejection of Argument from Authority. But there are a lot of people who confuse it with rejection of the wrong, fake, bad Authorities and unquestioning acceptance of, trust in, and obedience to the right Authorities.

    It is a classic morality tale: humble person shows trust in the Good Wizard and is rewarded. Trust the Good Wizards, and reject the Bad, and you too may be rewarded.

    I am sure the basic medical story is genuine. But putting it together in this form, with this conclusion/moral… somebody’s selling something. And it isn’t skepticism.

  23. Robert Arrington

    Skepticism is a good thing but what is important to remember, I think, is that the method of science is the means by which your skepticism is resolved. Observe, form a hypothesis, test against available data, develop a theory and be open to the posoibility of it being falsified and replaced by a better theory. A scientist is a skeptic who is convinced away from skepticism by evidence.

  24. I located your webpage while browsing for some thing different on Bing and yahoo about topics related to movies, however I got the opportunity to go through this post and I found it very interesting certainly.

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