Categories: Afternoon Inquisition

AI: What Kind of Skeptic are You?

Wednesday’s Afternoon Inquisition comes to you courtesy of the previous week’s Comment o’ the Week winner! Here goes DaveW:

Recently I’ve becoming more aware of the difference between having a skeptical philosophy and committing deliberate acts of skepticism. Both are important. A skeptical philosophy is a great way to parse new information and an critical part of a finely tuned bullshit detector. An active skeptic on the other hand might eat nothing but beans for two days to find out if they do indeed cause flatulence and perhaps very the type of bean to assess each type’s effect on volume and aroma. I read something recently and decided to try rinsing my hair thoroughly with water instead of shampooing to see if this might prevent my hair and nails from being so dry and brittle.

Do you consider yourself to be more of a philosophical skeptic, an active skeptic, or both? What acts of skepticism have you perpetrated recently?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Rebecca Watson :Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

View Comments (61)

  • @IanJN: This is a beautiful microcosm of the scientific process:

    “Why does the waitress only come when my mouth is full?”

    Start with a question...

    “Because when we’re not eating we’re talking, and she doesn’t want to disturb our conversation. Or it could just be confirmation bias.”

    ...develop a hypothesis...

    “So we should record all the times she comes and whether or not my mouth is full, and then make a graph.”


    ...establish testing protocols...

    “Let’s not, though.”


    ...and have your grant denied.

  • Yeah, philosophical skeptic. Rooting for team Science, cussing out the (journalist) referee when he's favoring team woo, etc...

    Not very active, apart from attending various skeptical events.

  • Definately a philosophical skeptic.

    Of course, I could do a better job at that, such as actually reading an article, rather than making an assumption that later makes me look like an ass!

    Oh for fun......

  • @w_nightshade: …and have your grant denied.
    Too true.

    @James Fox: I'm assuming you mean Robert M. Thorndike, the psychometrician at WWU, not Robert L. Thorndike of "Thorndikes Law of Effect", who's been dead lo these 20 years. If so, that's really sad, and somewaht surprising given the rigorous scientific method he has to practice.

    Read somewhere he was a big supporter of the race and intelligence findings in "The Bell Curve." I find them dubious.

  • I am an active skeptic. I have spent a lot of "free" time over the past three months building an "as yet to be unveiled" (vaporware) Drupal based web site that will hold a number of databases regarding human rights and people with disabilities. When we kick off we will have one bullshit detector database that will provide users with a place to search for bogus claims of cures for disorders that have none.

    Roughly 30 years ago, I still had some vision but it was degrading rapidly. I got hoodwinked by a bunch of alternative medicine programs that swore up and down that their was a cure for retinitis pigmantosa (RP) the disease to which I was losing my vision. I spent about $200K chasing magic potions and procedures ranging from enemas to acupuncture and, of course, none of it worked.

    To even a moderately skeptical person, this snake oil seems like a good thing to try when the alternative is do nothing and go blind (or degenerate in other ways into disability). The choice: go blind with science based medicine or bet on a real long shot cure?

    I understood the scientific method but not the scientific process. Many of these claims of cures showed "data" that supported their claims and I swallowed the hook, line and sinker. Then, back in the mid-80s, a friend turned me onto CSICOP and Rocky Mountain Skeptics and, at the same time, I learned about the publication and review process that allows claims to be challenged. I've been a skeptic since.

    I want to provide a resource for others to be able to visit that debunks bogus claims of cures for blindness but also includes research projects around the world who are making amazing progress with a number of different vision disorders and stem cells. So, if you search on a group that suggests that eating acorns and flapping your arms will cure you, we'll have a debunking; if, however, you search on the amazing work going on at many top medical institutes world wide, we'll give you links to their projects and progress.

    Also: My screen name, "BlindChristian" results from my actually being blind and that my parents chose to name me Christian. I became Blind CHristian when singing and playing harmonica in an acoustic blues duo called Blind Christian and Chunder which we thought was a cool name.

  • @davew: For the dandruff, try mixing 1 part apple cider vinegar with 1 part water to rinse your hair when the problem flares. The smell doesn't linger after rinsing. Works for me and my hair is a lot softer after.

    I lean more toward the active skeptic. I can remember all my life wanting tangible proof; even when I was into religion. I always doubted because I could never find any real, physical or scientific proof of anything. I could always explain things away as psychological or some other phenomenon.

    Growing up all I ever really wanted was a microscope and chemistry set, but my parents didn't think those were appropriate for girls. I'd still love to have those now.

  • @Garrison22: Yep, Robert M. (Robert L. is his father). We’ve talked at length about the IQ race issue and he did sign the letter in support of the ‘Bell Curve’ findings which he, as well as over 50 of the top psychometrics PhD’s, made their support public in an open letter. He also said that the issue was not about race but the accuracy and reliability of the research and testing. If you’re on FaceBook feel free to send me an e-mail at vohj300 at hot mail for an exchange of real names.

  • It's weird, as the years go by as a really commited skeptic, I'm becoming more and more an activist. I dont' confront people one on one too much. That was the one part of my fundie friends I really hated, they all became "born again" in high school and had to TALK TALK TALK TALK, and confront people. I didn't see that it worked well, so I avoid that. People don't need that in their daily life. (Example, my hairdresser said that she didn't get the flu shot as she hears it can give you the flu. I said "you know, you should as the pharmacist about that, because I'm sure that's not the case. But your pharmacist would be the best one to ask." Frankly, I just wanted a hair cut and she is a nice person.

    Tim Farley inspired me to start a narrow interest web site where I can help people that REALLY need information and help. I get to do it my style. being nice, trying to get to know the people, letting them share their stories so that the skeptics get educated about what their lives are like, and honestly, changing more than a few minds.

    That's the nice side. And then there is the ugh oh "Kitty was born in the '60s" side. I get a ton of negative feedback on my more radical do something skepticism. Putting notes in all the library books about woo and really interesting notes in Sylvia Brownes books. (links to good web sites). Attending UFO meetings "undercover" (wear a costume, they think you are one of them) and best of all the time I 'Desecrated a GRAVE!". Oh yeah, what can I say? I grew up influenced by a very proactive radical age. I'm not going to blow up Scientology HQ, yet. But it's funny how I feel a direct influence for what I call "performance art" and others call "you SEE, this is why people HATE skeptics... this kind of behavior".

    oh stuff it, people hate skeptics because we are telling them "what you claim to believe in is untrue". little radical performance art gets people talking. It's the fence sitters I often target more than the hard core believers also. sometimes the fence sitters don't even know they are sitting on the fence, and we need to remind them.

  • I'm 100% philosophic skeptic. I'm relatively new to acknowledging my skepticism [sounds like I"m coming out of the closet, no?] My comfort level is still a wee slim at this stage in the game.

    I'm quite private with my skepticism because I live in a hotbed of Christianity. That's not to say, I don't enjoy poking a creationist with a stick from time to time.

  • @w_nightshade:

    The deaf community is also the frequent victim of snake oil sales people who offer lots of false hope to people who actual solution to a degenerative disorder. Deafness is much harder than blindness as isolation can be horrible when no one around "speaks" ASL. Hence, they are easy targets for abuse of all kinds, including bogus cures for their affliction.

    Glad to see you are involved.