You Can’t Fit What We Skeptics Do into a Neat Box

Kendrick Frazier

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We scientific skeptics, we skeptical inquirers, do it all. I am sure one of us somewhere is right now going after some extraordinary claim none of us has even heard of yet, studying it in depth and critiquing it with all the tools of science and skepticism.  She—or he—will soon let the rest of us know the results (we hope in SI).  Equally likely is that others are synthesizing complex information that might give us a better understanding of, say, how our brains work—both to achieve brilliant creativity or to deceive or elude us. We are complex creatures, we human beings, and I think we all share an endless fascination for discovery and the unknown. And we continue to ponder how simultaneously some inquiring people can achieve great, provable insights while others go off the rails into fringe science or pseudoscience or—worse—antiscience or fake science. 

I am writing a book about science and pseudoscience (and antiscience). Throughout it, I attempt to contrast science and pseudoscience by describing actual science and how it works as well as the values that guide good science.  (I include an entire chapter on “The Values of Science,” which are closely related to the values of skepticism I have talked about in this space before.) I feel strongly that by portraying the real adventure of real science and some of its astonishing findings—and how we achieved them—we can help others more clearly identify pseudoscience or bad science. And we can help people see where pseudoscience fails us and falls far behind, a kind of sterile (yet strangely appealing to some) intellectual garbage heap.

That brings me to a related point that I think most skeptics appreciate. Our skepticism is always guided by the evidence, and that evidence is obtained by scientific thinking and empirical investigation. While we might make mistakes, we can’t go too far off course if we stick closely to the methods and values of science and of good skeptical investigation—and then focus on the evidence. We combine the potent methods of science and skeptical inquiry and emphasize the quality of the evidence (or lack of it). Now that is a powerful recipe for sifting out sense from nonsense, the real from the unreal, and for advancing real knowledge.

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