By Karen Stollznow
Are Skeptics closed-minded, nay-saying curmudgeons?
If you agree with this assessment, you've mistaken skepticism for cynicism. These labels are often confused, but they're not interchangeable at all. Skepticism is a positive outlook of enquiry, open-mindedness, curiosity and wonder, not a negative, narrow-mindedness based in pessimism and misanthropy. Dictionaries and thesauruses often claim that skeptic and cynic are synonymous, but as a Linguist, I can assure you that these sources aren't always accurate. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Joe Nickell, the modern ‘Sherlock Holmes’ of the Committee for Scientific Inquiry (was CSICOP, now known as CSI). I told Joe that I've been an “investigator of the paranormal and pseudoscientific” for the past 10 years, at which he interjected, “I like that...you called yourself an ‘investigator’, rather than a ‘debunker’. That sounds much more positive”.
‘Debunk’ is a word I've never used to describe what I do, or a useful word to explain what skepticism is all about. Admittedly, it's not a commonly used word in Australian English. Furthermore, ‘debunk’ implies that the ‘debunker’ has already made a negative judgment, prior to any investigation. Skepticism is about questioning, not doubting.
We all have the ability to question, so we should all be natural skeptics. Kids make great skeptics! They exhibit curiosity and a keenness to understand the world around them. Remember though, that children will believe that they are always being told the truth by the 'wise', 'knowledgeable' adult.
What can undermine our questioning skills is the blind acceptance of what we're told. Often, we need to question the answer.
Skepticism isn't only for scientists.
A healthy dose of skepticism is important for all of us, to avoid being the victims of abuse, exploitation, fear, manipulation, and most of all, to be true to ourselves. Ironically, I once received a fortune cookie that proclaimed: Skepticism is the first step toward truth.
For those who don't regularly administer this 'healthy dose' to themselves, there are real life dangers. There are many documented cases of people who have lost money, time or even their lives, through exposure to cults and dogma, or the negligence of pseudoscientific practitioners. These are only the extreme cases we hear about. When you apply skepticism in your thinking, you can trust your own judgment.
Here are a few quick tips to apply some useful skepticism to your own life:
think, rather than believe or feel
question, rather than simply accept
keep an open mind, rather than a closed-mind
If you're not a skeptic...are you the closed-minded one?
Read more of Stollznow’s articles at www.bad-language.com