Skepticism About Skepticism


Calling someone a “skeptic” can be a term of praise or condemnation.

Too often, it expresses approval when the target of skepticism is a claim we reject, and disapproval when the target is a claim we hold dear. I might praise skepticism towards homeopathic medicine, but disdain skepticism towards human evolution. Someone with a very different set of beliefs might praise skepticism regarding the moon landing, but disdain skepticism regarding the existence of God.

Sometimes, though, skepticism is taken to be a healthy attitude towards belief — a characteristic that we might praise regardless of its target. Skepticism is supposed to reflect a willingness to question and doubt — a key characteristic of scientific thinking. Skepticism encourages us to look at the evidence critically; it allows for the possibility that we are wrong. It seems like a win, then, to learn that courses in skepticism can decrease belief in the paranormal or — as reported in an article forthcoming in Science & Education — that teaching students to think critically about history can decrease belief in pseudoscience and other unwarranted claims. To read more from TANIA LOMBROZO, click here.