skepticism is not a position (it’s a process)

NATRUAL-BORN SKEPTIC, that’s what I am! This is a word that is often misunderstood—and therefore misused—by many people, especially people intending it to be deprecatory. Merriam-Webster defines skepticism as “an attitude of doubting the truth of something (such as a claim or statement).” 1

This is true as far as it goes, it just doesn’t go far enough. The Skeptoid website has a more inclusive and more accurate definition:

Our mission is to keep Wikipedia pages concerning all topics under the umbrella of scientific skepticism factual.

“Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion. . . . 

Skepticism is, or should be, an extraordinarily powerful and positive influence on the world. Skepticism is not simply about ‘debunking’ as is commonly charged.

Skepticism is about redirecting attention, influence, and funding away from worthless superstitions and toward projects and ideas that are evidenced to be beneficial to humanity and to the world.

The scientific method is central to skepticism. The scientific method requires evidence, preferably derived from validated testing. Anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies generally don’t meet the qualifications for scientific evidence, and thus won’t often be accepted by a responsible skeptic; which often explains why skeptics get such a bad rap for being negative or disbelieving people. They’re simply following the scientific method.”

So, for those of us with any inclination towards accepting science as the best method we have for understanding the empirical world/universe, then skepticism is a necessary process. 2

Skeptoid just published an introductory piece by Susan Gerbic, founder and head of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW). Here is an excerpt from that piece:

“[Wikipedia] is the fifth (or sixth) most viewed website in the world, it is the closest we have to a repository of all knowledge, and it’s built for the average reader. The information inside Wikipedia is so influential and powerful that we, as skeptics, need to make sure that the reader is getting correct information and leaving notable citations that they can follow if they want more information.

For the last four years, I have run a project that recruits and trains people to become Wikipedia editors. The training is very hands-on and personalized. I call this project Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW). Our mission is to keep Wikipedia pages concerning all topics under the umbrella of scientific skepticism factual, interesting to read, and well-cited with notable secondary sources.

The GSoW project is very interested in making sure that when people venture to learn more about a pseudoscience topic, there will be accurate information for the reader to find.”

So, please read Ms. Gerbic’s article “Helping Build a Skeptical, Scientific Wikipedia” in full, then visit GSoW on Facebook and ‘like’ them. And then seriously consider becoming a GSoW editor.



1   The quote that I have used for this article’s title—that skepticism is not a position, it’s a process—is from Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, among many other claims to our attention.

2   I have written other pieces on skepticism: for examples try “skepticism vs. propagandism: the obama golf habit is greater than the bushes’ but a helluvalot less than ike’s” and “it is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer (on occam’s razor, part 3: secular humanism and the mystical skeptic).”