Ann Arbor Science & Skeptics Message Board › What is skepticism?
Ann Arbor, MI
Skepticism is a process of evaluating materialistic and scientific claims by examining the evidence and reasoning behind them. Skeptics often evaluate claims of a paranormal, supernatural, or pseudo-scientific nature with great scrutiny. For claims to be accepted, they must be scientifically testable (falsified by the Scientific Method) and can be supported by multiple, independent lines of evidence. They must have predictive power and align or expand upon the existing scientific laws and theories.
Examples of claims in which skeptics find the evidence to be insufficient for acceptance: extra-terrestrial visitation, astrology, psychic abilities (including ESP and remote-viewing), homeopathy, a 6000-10000 year old Earth, new age mysticism, ghosts, organic is healthier, link between neurological disorders and vaccines, 9/11 conspiracy, alt-med (acupuncture, naturopathy, 'straight' chiropractic, energy-healing, etc.), and Bigfoot and other crypto zoological phenomena.
Understanding the evidence of claims is important, but similarly - a grasp of logic and reasoning is also very important.
Arguments to support claims must be logically valid. However, many proponents of paranormal or pseudo-scientific claims often resort to logical fallacies. These are statements that contain incorrect reasoning. There are dozens of different types of logical fallacies, but the four most prevalent are as follows:
1. Argument from Authority - Because an expert believes something, it must be true.
Support for a belief or claim should come from the evidence, not from a singular person. One scientist that claims that the world is flat, doesn't mean that it is true. The scientist must provide evidence that stands up to scientific rigor and experimentation.
Often times, you will hear about a "scientific consensus" on a particular topic, such as global warming. A scientific consensus is not an argument from authority, as long as the consensus is supported by the evidence - which has been extensively peer-reviewed, corroborated, and carries predictive power.
2. Straw Man - Making an absurd or distorted misrepresentation of the opposing viewpoint's argument. In other words, is falsely framing the opposing viewpoint's position in order to better defeat it. This term comes from the idea of building a straw man version of the argument, like a scarecrow in a field is a ridiculous disguise for a person.
Opponents of climate change have often misrepresented the scientific claims of carbon dioxide's role in the global warming debate by calling it a pollutant, when in fact scientists don't make this claim at all. It is about levels and balance. Pain relievers, such as aspirin, are not toxic in low amounts. But if you take too much, then you can overdose and become very ill or die.
3. Non Sequitur or Fallacy of False Cause - An argument that falsely claims that one incident is causing another. A subset that often is stated is called "Correlation does not equal Causality"
Proponents of astrology believe that based on the moment of your birth and the position of the celestial bodies (planets, stars, and constellations) that you are predisposed to predictive traits and behaviors. However, when tested scientifically, astrological claims do no better than random chance.
4. Argument from Incredulity - An argument that because one finds something unlikely or unbelievable, then it can be assumed to be false, or alternatively that another preferred but unproven belief is true instead.
Critics of climate change commit this fallacy when they express disbelief that man-made global warming can adversely affect the world climate when taking into account the size of the world. Critics of evolution commit this fallacy when they express the lack of understanding how complex organisms can evolve from simple organisms. Their lack of knowledge, imagination, or understanding does not mean these arguments are valid. It means that they have not properly familiarized themselves with the evidence.