I consider myself a scientific skeptic. I try to look at claims with a healthy dose of science and evidence. I like to consider what the evidence says before I make up my mind about things. I like to take a step back and ask “wait, what’s the proof for that?” I like to doubt things it they sound implausible.
Of course, that often translates to my friends and family as being a doubter, as being contentious, as being difficult, as not believing in things. I think my friends and family see me as being a nay-sayer to the things they believe such as homeopathic medicine, global warming, and the existence of ghosts.
I got into skepticism due to two podcasts: Science…Sort Of and the Geologic Podcast. I wasn’t always a skeptic. I believed in ghosts and spirits and Bigfoot and the conspiracy behind global warming. And then I started listening to these two shows and they talked about science and skepticism in an easy-to-understand way. Those podcasts lead to others such as Skeptoid and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and to more involvement with local skeptic groups. That involvement lead to more research and more understanding of how important it is to examine things critically and not take claims at face value without good evidence to back it up.
This, of course, has lead to family and friends to start saying “there was a study about this” when they tell me things. Great, I’m glad there was a study about it. How good was the study? How controlled was the study? Did you actually read the study or just the reporting on the study? What conclusions did the researchers reach? Where those conclusions in line with the data they actually collected? It’s a nuanced process that needs to be followed. I understand that can’t be for everything. I’m not going to doubt it when someone tells they hit a deer or they feel better when eating a gluten-free diet. I just also don’t like to take everything at face value.
Sometimes it’s hard to describe why this is important to me. I think George Hrab said it pretty well in his TEDx talk, so I’m just going to leave that link here. The video is about 23 minutes, but it’s well worth the watch if you are interested in learning why skepticism is important.
Sometimes it seems like it is all pointless and why should I care. But most of the time, I think it’s important to continue to inform people that they shouldn’t believe every miracle cure or health claim or wonder product out there. They should stop and say “hey, wait a second, how does that work?”. It’s okay to question how a product works and to demand that a product or procedure has been rigorously tested to ensure that it actually does what it should do or prevent what it claims to prevent. So I’ll keep questioning and just hope that my family and friends realize I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m just trying to make them understand that science is complicated and claims should require evidence.