Science and Skepticism

Sunday, October 4, 2020

What Is It

In recent decades, we’ve witnessed intense cultural wars waged on scientifically established phenomena, such as climate change and the benefit of vaccines. Of course, we might agree that some degree of skepticism about the world around us is good—it would be impractical and even dangerous for us to blindly accept everything we are told as fact. But is skepticism always healthy? Or is there a point at which one’s skepticism regarding a given phenomenon becomes unwarranted or even detrimental form of denialism? And if there does exist such a point, how do we know when we’ve crossed it? Josh and Ray won't deny their discussion with Michael Shermer, author of给魔鬼应得的东西:一个科学人文主义者的反思。

Listening Notes

Ray and Josh discuss whether people are too skeptical or not skeptical enough—especially given the rise in conspiracy theories. Ray argues that people need science and skepticism, but Josh questions whether lay people understand science? Don’t they have to simply trust science at some point? Ray pushes back and insists ordinary people need to be critical thinkers. Josh still thinks we need experts— but Ray questions how to get people to trust them.
Ray and Josh welcome Michael Schemer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine,, Josh and Michael discuss what motivates people to deny climate change and social distancing. Michael thinks it is politics. Conservatives believe in some science--they fly in planes, for example--but when science is affiliated with another political party it becomes suspect, which is what happened with climate change. Asked how we might decide who to trust, Michael claims trust should be placed in the scientific method and not in the authority of any individual, since this method is self-regulating. Josh agrees but wonders how we can convince people the scientific method is trustworthy in the first-place. Michael suggests giving visual evidence and removing the political and religious element of a belief when discussing science with someone.
In the last part of the show, the hosts ask Michael about distinguishing between sloppy science and a conspiracy theory. Michael has a kit of questions to pose to help someone discern a conspiracy theory. One of these is “ If X is true what else would have to be true?” The more things that have to be true for X to be true, the likelier it is we have a conspiracy theory on are hands. The burden of proof is on the person making a claim, not the skeptic. It’s also worth finding out the greater themes--distrust of authority, often--underpinning belief in a conspiracy theory.


Comments(2)'s picture

Friday, October 9, 2020 -- 9:19 AM

I was going to ask for help

I was going to ask for help in connecting with a program, but I have connected.


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, March 4, 2021 -- 12:24 PM

Skepticism is a healthy

Skepticism is a healthy stance, under some circumstances. Among those I count beliefs; opinions; and ideologies: such schemas are constructs of groups of humans who espouse particular ways of regarding persons, places and/or things. In many, if not most cases, science has little to do with those persons, places, etc. It serves no such agenda or motivation, working towards a betterment of the human condition, not a tunnel-vision view of ideological blather...something politics, for example, holds in reverence.

In another post, you asked about overreach in matters of science. I remarked on the question. That
remark was, I hope, essentially consistent with these.. Stephen J. Gould's notion of NOMA---
non-overlapping magisteria, though found faulty, seems apropos here, if only for comparison.
No. I am not a scientist. Nor would I bite the hands that help me and those I love stay alive.

Saw my oldest step-son today. Asked him if he would get vaccinated for Covid . He said he was not sure. I hope he makes up his mind. Soon...