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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:

“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.


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


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).”


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