I have a brother who has a highly rational way of thinking. He is grounded in an extraordinary background of mathematics and scientific reasoning. He approaches the world with many questions whose answers he unravels through processes of experimentation and inquiry. He sports both an open and critical mind at one and the same time. He decides on the truth of ideas based on rigorous proofs rather than simple beliefs. His skepticism is not simply denying something because he does not wish it to be true, but a way of actually proving whether or not something is fact or fiction. In that spirit he has been a subscriber to the Skeptical Inquirer magazine for many years. He is a devotee to using the scientific method to determine truths whenever possible. When it comes to deciding on the worth of an idea he is as unemotional as Spock.
The Skeptical Inquirer says this about skepticism:
We are all skeptics. Skepticism is a part of everyday common sense we all use. It is also a key component of scientific thinking. It helps lead to fact-based judgements about what is real and what is not. It allows you to see for yourself which claims you’ve heard stand up to tests of evidence and which do not.
Humans have used skepticism to advance scientific knowledge, but there have always been deniers unwilling to accept the evidence and instead cling to myths and false beliefs. Galileo reasoned that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of our universe. His idea was considered blasphemy and he endured persecution because he was unwilling to recant his theory. His proof lay in his observations of Venus with a telescope. He saw that Venus went through phases like our moon does. The only way to explain this was that Venus was going around the sun, not the Earth. He also saw three of Jupiter’s moons which would have been impossible if the Earth were the center of the universe. In the 1500s Copernicus reinforced Galileo’s idea that the Earth orbits around the sun. Additional scientific work over time proved Galileo’s hypothesis to be absolutely true.
Folklore is the opposite of of scientific discovery. It takes an idea and spreads it as truth without the rigors of investigation. There have always been tales and superstitions that have circulated in societies. in today’s world we have an anti-science movement that questions everything from vaccines to climate change. Sadly such trends slow down the progress of those who devote themselves to proving or disproving the worth of various ideas. Right now we are seeing a resurgence of diseases long thought to be eliminated as the anti-vax crowd insists that it is more dangerous to give their children immunizations than to risk catching illnesses like polio, measles, smallpox or even Covid-19. Sadly people are denying the research that was proven to be safe and effective decades ago.
The anti-science movement is so prevalent and destructive that doctors, nurses, researchers, professors and all forms of scientists are literally being harassed and threatened with violence. There are those who would try them and incarcerate them just as Galileo was long ago. Things have become so bad that some scientific spokespersons literally fear for their lives simply because they have voiced what they know to be ideas proven by rigorous scientific method. It seems almost barbaric to have people returning to an unwillingness to accept science that takes us back to a time of great ignorance.
Too many people are politicizing science and scientists rather than appreciating their efforts. There is nothing wrong with questioning things, but our sources of information should not be politicians or businesses or posts on social media. We should be seeking experts who have devoted their skills to unlocking truths about the world around us. We should be inspecting the validity and reliability of studies and forming our conclusions based on the scientific method whose steps include making an observation or asking a question, gathering background information, creating an hypothesis, making predictions and performing tests, analyzing results and drawing conclusions, sharing those conclusions or asking new questions, documenting the results of experiments.
There is nothing wrong with questioning things about which we are unsure. We can even come up with our own theories about things, but unless we put those ideas to a rigorous test or do some massive research from reliable sources we are doing ourselves and those around us a grave disservice . It is foolhardy to pretend to know more than the experts. I’ve learned the importance of studying issues before making decisions. A bit of true skepticism leads us to fact based decisions. Beware of those who deny the truth simply because they do not like the conclusions. They set us back and make our lives more difficult. We have many problems to solve. We would do well to listen to those who have devoted their lives to investigating particular issues and using the scientific method to separate truth from fiction. Our future depends on whether we look forward or descend backward. The choice seems fairly clear.