Science and Skepticism

Sunday, October 4, 2020

What Is It

In recent decades, we’ve witnessed intense cultural wars waged on scientifically established phenomena, such as climate change and the benefit of vaccines. Of course, we might agree that some degree of skepticism about the world around us is good—it would be impractical and even dangerous for us to blindly accept everything we are told as fact. But is skepticism always healthy? Or is there a point at which one’s skepticism regarding a given phenomenon becomes unwarranted or even detrimental form of denialism? And if there does exist such a point, how do we know when we’ve crossed it? Josh and Ray won't deny their discussion with Michael Shermer, author of Giving the Devil his Due: Reflections of a Scientific Humanist.

Listening Notes

Ray and Josh discuss whether people are too skeptical or not skeptical enough—especially given the rise in conspiracy theories. Ray argues that people need science and skepticism, but Josh questions whether lay people understand science? Don’t they have to simply trust science at some point? Ray pushes back and insists ordinary people need to be critical thinkers. Josh still thinks we need experts— but Ray questions how to get people to trust them. 
Roving Philosophical report: A discussion of faith as a source of skepticism of science.
Ray and Josh welcome Michael Schemer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine,, Josh and Michael discuss what motivates people to deny climate change and social distancing. Michael thinks it is politics. Conservatives believe in some science--they fly in planes, for example--but when science is affiliated with another political party it becomes suspect, which is what happened with climate change. Asked how we might decide who to trust, Michael claims trust should be placed in the scientific method and not in the authority of any individual, since this method is self-regulating. Josh agrees but wonders how we can convince people the scientific method is trustworthy in the first-place. Michael suggests giving visual evidence and removing the political and religious element of a belief when discussing science with someone. 
In the last part of the show, the hosts ask Michael about distinguishing between sloppy science and a conspiracy theory. Michael has a kit of questions to pose to help someone discern a conspiracy theory. One of these is “ If X is true what else would have to be true?” The more things that have to be true for X to be true, the likelier it is we have a conspiracy theory on are hands. The burden of proof is on the person making a claim, not the skeptic. It’s also worth finding out the greater themes--distrust of authority, often--underpinning belief in a conspiracy theory.
Sixty-second philosopher: Ian Shoales theorizes about skepticism and prominent conspiracy theories in the US.

Comments (1)'s picture

Friday, October 9, 2020 -- 9:19 AM

I was going to ask for help

I was going to ask for help in connecting with a program, but I have connected.

I will comment: I really had no question. It was not clear to me that if I did not ask a question I could not get connected.