The core of skepticism: Demand evidence

“Western science isn’t the only path to knowing. The Eastern philosophies have much to offer (and since they’ve been around so long, there must be something to them. Right?) based on intuition and personal reflection. It’s wrong to disregard things like acupuncture out of hand just because they don’t fit into your materialist worldview. You need to be more open-minded.”

Never mind the bullshit: Show me the evidence.

I have oft heard the mischaracterization that those who are scientifically- or skeptically-minded have the problem of being close-minded and dogmatically adhering to a materialistic (or, gasp, Darwinist) worldview. Nonsense. If you acted like that you’d be crushed by science. I think it is in fact the true believers (as they are called for lack of a better term) who are close-minded, since they are starting from an unfalsifiable premise based on spiritualism, mysticism, or religion (though I doubt many would like to have their beliefs categorized as such).

Alternative medicines (acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, energy medicine, etc), pseudosciences (Expanding Earth, creationism/Intelligent Design, etc), and other woo-woo (ESP, cryptozoology, UFO hunting, etc) do not suffer so much scientific scorn because they violate pre-conceived notions (though using the accumulated knowledge of science is extremely useful in gauging the prior plausibility of claims). Rather, they are junk because they have no numbers to back them up. The evidence simply isn’t there. The responses I’ve seen when the obvious question “Why wouldn’t doctors use these alternate modalities if they are so effective” arises is that there’s some grand conspiracy at work which is a whole other cesspool.

Carl Sagan once said that “[only science] really delivers the goods.” The definition of science that I like comes from Steven Novella and is “[Science] is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results.” Be systematic, careful, thorough, and use consistent logic when evaluating evidence (and set up your experiments so that the evidence has validity). If you can do those things, you have a right to play with the big dogs of scientific theories (though there’s still not guaranteed of you ultimately being right). A scientific theory must also be testable (sorry, dualism) and falsifiable, so it must make predictions (sorry, Intelligent Design). If you can’t play by those simple rules, you are cursed to remain at the kid’s table of pseudosciences.

Be open-minded and, crucially, be willing to change your mind when new results come in, but always, always demand evidence. The more outrageous the claim, whether it violate established and experimentally-validated theories or whether it suspiciously coincides precisely with the claimant’s political or social views, the more and better the evidence must be.

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