Critical thinking skills in daily life can be the difference between a good decision and a bad decision. Skeptical thinking, likewise, is an important tool that many people use in order to discern between these decisions, and to make educated choices about their lives and the things that they choose to believe. As a consumer of science, I believe that it is important for people to have a repertoire of skeptical thinking skills, or tools, in order to make decisions deriving from the barrage of information (both false and true) that we absorb on a daily basis. I’ve chosen six skepticism tools from Carl Sagan’s article, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, that I think are the most important for scientific purposes and for everyday life. These skills include discussing the matter at hand, ignoring position of power, personal detachment from the subject, a sound argument, an understanding of Occam’s Razor, and the ability to test the subject for falsities.
The first tool that I believe is important to note is discussing the matter, or hypothesis, at hand. There should be at least some form of argument or debate on the selected topic from people educated in the subject in order to see the different viewpoints of the situation and each of the individuals. In other words, it’s critically important to hear everyone’s side of the story in order to figure out what is actually believable. For example, imagine if a board of nutritionists got together to discuss a new cereal on the market for children. The ultimate goal is to decide if the cereal is healthy for children. Each person obviously has their own ideas about the cereal and whether or not it’s good for a child to consume, so it would be important to hear each person’s knowledge on the situation before any decision is made. In this way, I feel as though this is one of the most important tools because it helps people sift through the information they receive before they make a decision.
Another tool that I find important in skeptical thinking is ignoring position of power. In other words, one shouldn’t believe a statement just because it came from someone in authority or from a higher position. We are all human, so we all occasionally make mistakes. Blindly following someone’s statement because they are in authority could potentially lead to misinformation. For example, if a mayor was making a speech at an environmental convention and mistakenly announced a false fact about a species of bird, it would be foolish for everyone in the audience to immediately believe what the mayor said without doing any type of research and getting confirmation from other sources. Power of authority does not mean that the person in question is always correct.
Personal detachment from the subject is another important tool for skeptical thinking. The whole idea behind proposing a new hypothesis, from not only a scientific view but also from a regular viewpoint, is to debate the proposed subject and discuss whether or not...