Sometimes being a skeptic can be difficult.
As skeptics we spend a lot of our time telling people that they are incorrect, that their beliefs are false. We do this not because we think we are better than anyone else but because we want to help people understand science and understand how things actually work so that they in turn will not get taken advantage of financially, have their health jeopardized or worse.
We skeptics are not contrarians, we try to make the world a safer place and to encourage advancements in technology and medicine. We strive for intellectual enlightenment not solely for ourselves but for everyone. We are one-part science communicators and one-part consumer protection advocates. But even with these idealistic good intentions we are often times the odd woman/man out at parties or around the water cooler. We are looked at as naysayers and argumentative, faithless, curmudgeons out to ruin fun and hope for everyone else. We are called know-it-alls or incorrectly considered close-minded. We are after all the ones that stand up and speak out when the majority wants to believe in homeopathy or angels or some sort of warm and fuzzy magical thinking. We burst bubbles, we dispel myths and sometimes we squash the fun of irrational fantasy. We explain how things really are. This outspoken bravery in the name of rationality often places us in the minority and that can be a very lonely and difficult place to be.
It is important to remember that while we rarely (if ever) get a thank you note or even a handshake for our efforts, what we are doing is important and it does make a difference. So next time your friend or coworker gives you a dirty look when you explain how homeopathy doesn’t work or how a chiropractic neck adjustment can give you a stroke or the fact that the real secret to ‘The Secret’ is that it is utter nonsense, think about the following letter that was sent in to us here at Skepchick.
The writer asked to remain anonymous but mentioned that he hoped we would share the story with other skeptics, activists and educators. This letter wasn’t just sent in to the writers here at Skepchick, it was sent in as a reminder to us all. What skeptics are doing is important.
I have a story — a very personal one — about how learning to think critically can be a matter of life or death.
My wife has been pregnant with twins. Yesterday was the 29-week mark. She went into the hospital after having been nauseated for a few days — they were worried about dehydration, so they brought her in for an IV drip. Because my wife’s doctor is awesome, she ordered a whole panel of lab tests, just to be sure there had been no damage.
What they found was HELLP syndrome, a form of severe preeclampsia. If it hadn’t been noticed until 24 hours later, it is very likely my wife would have seized and died at home, taking the twins with her. They prepped her for an emergency C-section. As a result of the doctor’s thoroughness, the quick and competent actions of the medical team, and amazing technology that resulted from decades of scientific research in medicine, both mother and twins are just fine.
What struck me is this: science-based medicine and our own critical thinking were key to saving my family. If we’d gone to a naturopath instead of a hospital, they’d all be dead. If we’d been big believers in homeopathy, they’d all be dead. If we’d sought the services of a “natural child birth” midwife instead of a team of doctors, *they’d all be dead*.
And not 10 years ago, before we’d learned to strengthen our critical thinking skills thanks to the skeptical community, we might have made any of those fatal decisions.
I’m telling you this because I think it’s important to understand that *what you do is important*. Science saves lives. Critical thinking *saves lives*. Helping people understand these things… it *saves lives*.
Thank you, and the skeptical community, for saving my family.