Scientific skepticism


Scientific skepticism

Scientific skepticism or rational skepticism (also spelled scepticism), sometimes referred to as skeptical inquiry, is a scientific or practical, epistemological position in which one questions the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence. In practice, the term is most commonly applied to the examination of claims andtheories which appear to be beyond mainstream science, rather than to the routine discussions and challenges among scientists. Scientific skepticism is different from philosophical skepticism, which questions our ability to claim any knowledge about the nature of the world and how we perceive it. Scientific skepticism utilizes critical thinking and inductive reasoning while attempting to oppose claims made which lack suitable evidential basis. The "New Scepticism" described by Paul Kurtz is scientific scepticism. [cite book
last = Kurtz
first = Paul
authorlink = Paul Kurtz
coauthors =
title = The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge
publisher = Prometheus Books
date = 1992
location =
pages = 371
url = http://www.amazon.com/New-Skepticism-Inquiry-Reliable-Knowledge/dp/0879757663
doi =
id = 0879757663
]

Characteristics

Like a scientist, a scientific skeptic attempts to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability rather than accepting claims on faith, anecdotes, or relying on unfalsifiable categories. Skeptics often focus their criticism on claims they consider to be implausible, dubious or clearly contradictory to generally accepted science. This distinguishes the scientific skeptic from the professional scientist, who often concentrates their inquiry on verifying or falsifying hypotheses created by those within their particular field of science. Scientific sceptics do not assert that unusual claims should be automatically rejected out of hand on "a priori" grounds - rather they argue that claims of paranormal or anomalous phenomena should be critically examined and that such claims would require extraordinary evidence in their favor before they could be accepted as having validity.

The following is a definition of scientific skepticism from Skeptic magazine:

:What does it mean to be a skeptic? Some people believe that skepticism is rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse skeptic with cynic and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas—no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are skeptical, we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe. Skeptics are from Missouri, the "show me" state. When we hear a fantastic claim we say, "that's nice, prove it."...Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Some claims, such as dowsing, ESP, and creationism, have been tested (and failed the tests) often enough that we can provisionally conclude that they are not valid. Other claims, such theories concerning the origins and dissemination of language, gravity waves, or the diet of Tyrannosaurus Rex have been tested but results are inconclusive, so we continue formulating and testing hypotheses and theories until we can reach a less provisional conclusion.

Popular targets of criticism among skeptics include psychics, parapsychology, dowsing, astrology, homeopathy, tarot reading, alien abductions, and ESP, which sceptics allege are pseudosciences or unsupported by existing evidence. [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Skeptics Dictionary Alphabetical Index Abracadabra to Zombies
work =
publisher = skepdic.com
date = 2007
url = http://skepdic.com/contents.html
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-05-27
] Skeptics such as James Randi have become famous for debunking claims related to some of these. Many skeptics are atheists or agnostics, and have a naturalistic world-view, however some committed skeptics of pseudoscience including Martin Gardner express belief in a God. [cite web
last = HANSEN
first = George P.
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview
work =
publisher =
date = 1992
url = http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/CSICOPoverview.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-05-27
]

From a scientific point of view, theories are judged on many criteria, such as falsifiability, Occam's Razor, and explanatory power, as well as the degree to which their predictions match experimental results. Skepticism is part of the scientific method; for instance an experimental result is not regarded as established until it can be shown to be repeatable independently. [cite web
last = Wudka
first = Jose
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = What is the scientific method?
work =
publisher =
date = 1998
url = http://physics.ucr.edu/~wudka/Physics7/Notes_www/node6.html#SECTION02121000000000000000
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-05-27
]

By the principles of skepticism, the ideal case is that every individual could make his own mind up on the basis of the evidence rather than appealing to some authority, skeptical or otherwise.

Perceived dangers of pseudoscience

Skepticism is an approach to strange or unusual claims where doubt is preferred to belief, given a lack of conclusive evidence. Skeptics generally regard it as misguided to believe in UFOs and psychic powers if no empirical evidence exists supporting such phenomena. The Ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that to release another person from ignorance despite their initial resistance is a great and noble thing. Modern skeptical writers address this question in a variety of ways.

Bertrand Russell argued that individual actions are based upon the beliefs of the person acting and if the beliefs are unsupported by evidence then such beliefs can lead to destructive actions. [cite web
last = Russell
first = Bertrand
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = On the Value of Scepticism
work = he Will To Doubt
publisher = Positive Atheism
date = 1907
url = http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell4.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-05-27
] James Randi also often writes on the issue of fraud. On a case by case basis, he attempts to show how some promoters of pseudosciencewho? make money from their claims, while secretly knowing them to be false, which is generally known as a "profit motive". Critics of alternative medicine often point to bad advice given by unqualified practitioners, leading to serious injury or death. Richard Dawkins points to religion as a source of violence, and considers creationism a threat to biology. Some skeptics support opposition to some cults and new religious movements because of their concern about what they consider false miracles performed or endorsed by the leadership of the group. [cite book
last = Langone
first = Michael D.
authorlink = Michael Langone
coauthors =
title = Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse
publisher = W. Norton. American Family Foundation.
date = June 1995
location =
pages = 432
url = http://books.google.com/books?id=9xJDszg7cuwC&pg=PA5&lpg=PA1&ots=VDlBZ5ncHK&dq=Recovery+from+Cults+(book&psp=1&sig=oQmdwJdCl0hGWEiECFhtG4bNO5U
doi =
id = 0393313212
] They often criticize belief systems which they believe to be idiosyncratic, bizarre or irrational. See also "Allegations against cults made by skeptics."

Famous skeptics and skeptical organizations

Magazines

* "Skeptic" magazine (US)
* "Skeptical Inquirer" magazine
* "The Skeptic" magazine (UK)

Television programs

* ""
* "MythBusters"

See also

* Anomalous phenomenon
* Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP)
* Critical thinking
* Fideism
* (book)
* David Hume
* Intellectual dishonesty
* Magical thinking
* Marcello Truzzi
* Pathological science
* Philosophical skepticism
* Karl Popper
* Protoscience
* Pseudoscience
* Pseudoskepticism
* Quackery
* James Randi
* Steven Novella
* Scientific method
* Scientific consensus
* Scientific revolution
* Skepticism
* Robert Todd Carroll's "Skeptic's Dictionary"

References

Further reading

* cite book

last = Carroll
first = Robert Todd
authorlink = Robert Todd Carroll
title = The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions
publisher = John Wiley & Sons
year = 2003
id = ISBN 0-471-27242-6

* cite book

last = Randi
first = James
authorlink = James Randi
coauthors =
title = Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions
publisher = Prometheus Books
date = June 1982
location =
pages = 342
url =
doi =
id = 0345409469

* cite book

last = Randi
first = James
authorlink = James Randi
coauthors = Arthur C. Clarke
title = An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural
publisher = St. Martin's Griffin
date = 1997
location =
pages = 336
url =
doi =
id = 0312151195

* cite book

last = Sagan
first = Carl
authorlink = Carl Sagan
coauthors = Ann Druyan
title = The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
publisher = Ballantine Books
date = 1997
location =
pages = 349
url =
doi =
id = 0345409469

* cite book

last = Gardner
first = Martin
authorlink = Martin Gardner
title = Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science
publisher = Dover Publications
date = 1957
pages = 373
url =
id = 0486203948

External links

* [http://skepdic.com The Skeptic's Dictionary] - Carroll, Robert Todd, contains many articles on science, alternative medicine, pseudoscience, etc
* [http://www.skeptic.com/about_us/manifesto.html A skeptical manifesto] , Shermer, Michael, A philosophical analysis of scientific skepticism
* [http://www.csicop.org/si/2001-07/criticism.html Proper Criticism] . (csicop.org) - Hyman, Ray, Suggestions to upgrade the quality of Scientific skepticism
* [http://www.scientificexploration.org/jse/articles/pdf/12.4_martin.pdf Strategies for dissenting scientists] . Martin, Brian, Society for Scientific Exploration. Journal of Scientific Exploration, Volume 12 No 4. 1998. (PDF), Strategies available for dissenting scientists.
* Carl Sagan's [http://www.xenu.net/archive/baloney_detection.html Baloney Detection Kit] . Operation Clambake. 1998. Based on the book "". (ISBN 0-345-40946-9)
* [http://www.theness.com/articles.asp New England Skeptical Society Newsletter Articles] - Includes articles on such topics as Homeopathy, Intelligent Design, and other pseudoscientific topics
* [http://www.faqs.org/faqs/skeptic-faq sci.skeptic FAQ]
* Topics that are commonly discussed in the newsgroup [news://sci.skeptic sci.skeptic]
* [http://www.ukskeptics.com UK-Skeptics] - the UK's rational skeptics organisation.
* [http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/home.cgi Skeptic annotated bibliography]
* [http://www.tournamentdesign.org/td/chance.html Laws of Chance Tables] - used for testing claims of success greater than what can be attributed to random chance
* [http://www.wooster.edu/geology/FYSW/NonsenseFYS.html Nonsense (And Why It's So Popular)] A course syllabus from The College of Wooster.


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