Carbon Dating has received many new readers recently, and I wanted to explain a little about what this whole “skeptic” community is and isn’t about. Here, I borrow from friend and longtime comic supporter Nathan Miller:

Skeptic_Venn_Diagram“Scientific skepticism is a process which refers to a Venn intersection between science education and consumer advocacy (I’d argue it’s neither more nor less).

Recently while discussing pseudoscientific health claims with a group of self-described proponents of scientific skepticism, a member of the group called me out by saying that it had nothing to do with skepticism. And he wasn’t the first; many self-described skeptics accept the label but focus narrowly on one thing about which to be “skeptical” (most typically the religion in which they were raised).

An example of “unreason” often heard within the skeptical community is that of the Cargo Cults of Melanesia who, upon witnessing the delivery by plane of European goods, built mock runways & wooden (non-functioning) radios and imitated runway traffic personnel, attempting to summon cargo of their own. They make a good example because they mistook what was necessary for what was sufficient. That is why “cargo cult science” is defined as “practices that have the semblance of being scientific, but do not in fact follow the scientific method.” In that vein, I’d like to point out that non-theism is neither necessary nor sufficient for the practice of scientific skepticism. 

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Many skeptical activists, those who promote the approach of evaluating testable claims which emphasizes evidence and applies the scientific method, happen to be non-theists. Some are not. Sadly, I sometimes see people of faith who might otherwise identify with the process I’ve described above reject the “skeptic” label because of its perceived conflation with non-theism. And the project of skepticism is poorer for the distancing of such allies. That perception hurts our mission to fight fakers, quacks, and scam-artists.

A couple years back, Sharon Hill wrote a “Media Guide to Skepticism” and it remains an excellent intro to what “Skepticism” is and isn’t. I post it here because even I sometimes need a reminder, lest I start to practice “cargo cult skepticism.”

Lastly, I’d like to add that “skeptic” is often misused by the media. For those who deny scientific evidence (that we landed on the moon, or that anthropogenic climate change is demonstrable, or evolution) the more appropriate descriptor is “denier”. They are not skeptical, because they are unwilling to consider evidence that contradicts their position. (CSI, Slate)

If you are willing to follow the evidence and reconsider your assumptions about the claims you hear in pop culture, feel free to consider yourself a Skeptic. Not sure how to change your mind? Maybe about GMOs perhaps? Let Bill Nye show you how to adjust your views after learning more from other scientists:

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