How to use science, skepticism, and diverse viewpoints to improve your life, your community, and your country.
Oh yeah, and to beat anti-intellectualism while we’re at it, too.
If I can sum up this blog in two sentences, this is it.
Let’s start with science.
How can we use science to improve our lives? To improve the lives of our friends, our families, our loved ones?
The answer lies in a big trade secret:
Science is a method that discerns key truths about our reality.
And knowing the truth can go a long way towards improving our lives.
The device you are using to read this blog right now. The medicine the doctor gives you when you go to the hospital.
Heck, even the food you eat. That stuff has been made cheaper over the years due to scientific improvements in agriculture.
All of these things have been made possible due to the hard work of researchers worldwide who have dedicated much of their lives towards studying their fields of interest.
Through the powerful process of peer review, scientists critique each others’ research and repeat experiments, testing theories and falsifying various hypotheses associated with them, until what remains of the scientific theory more or less describes reality.
The truth of science eventually emerges as scientists pick at it just as the end of the tunnel eventually emerges after miners pick at the rocky side of a mountain.
And, one would hope, such truths would withstand the pressures of ideology.
But not everyone values truth over ideology.
There are salesmen out there who profit off of people’s misunderstanding of science to swindle them of money for fake cures or faulty products.
There are politicians running the country who are implementing policies not based on science or evidence but that benefit them politically.
These people affect our lives in a big way. Snake-oil salesmen can deprive our pocketbooks of vital cash to support ourselves, and bad, anti-science policy can lead to all sorts of negative effects, from health issues caused by negative environmental effects to wasted tax dollars caused by ineffective policies.
How do we determine whether a product is real or fake? How do we decide which policies conform to reality?
That takes evidence-based skepticism.
Checking sources. Examining our own cognitive biases. Looking at the science and seeing whether the policies or the products conform to it. Science is objective, after all, and so eventually, we should be able to make like miners and find the truth hidden beneath it all if we use our own tools of questioning and evidence.
Still, it’s not enough to be skeptical. After all, we all let our guard down and let ideology get the better of us every once in awhile. We tend to read articles that we already agree with and ignore the ones that we disagree with.
We all have our own personal ideological bubbles.
And to truly be skeptical, we need to burst those bubbles.
People tend to make friends with those of similar ideas and beliefs, and tend to base their beliefs on that which agrees with their values and that which is beneficial to them.
Values are not a bad thing. They give meaning to our lives and help us decide how to act in a wide variety of situations.
What we value is influenced by our upbringing, our communities, and our experiences.
Sometimes there is a cost to going against a belief, due to one’s values. If those in your friend circle or community support a certain idea, coming out against it may hurt your social standing, which is one of your values.
One thing the vast majority of people value is their livelihood. If something directly affects one’s livelihood, one is likely to respond to it or try to perform actions that maintain a good livelihood, whether perceived or actual.
Sadly, when our values collide with science, values tend to win. Unless we value evidence-based skepticism above all else in all cases (and let’s face it, none of us do) we’re bound to get things wrong sometimes while believing ourselves in the right.
If a businessperson or politician tells us something that agrees with our values, even if that something is not true or does not agree with science, then we may find it challenging to challenge them.
That’s how the charlatans and unscientific policies get to us.
That’s how anti-intellectualism spreads. It feeds on people’s values and convinces them that certain ideas that don’t align with reality are true, and with everyone in their bubble believing it too, the stakes are too high to stop believing it. People aren’t willing to sacrifice their deeply held beliefs just because the facts disagree with them.
This is how we get global warming denialism.
This is how we get anti-GMO fear mongering.
This is how we get the eternal debate between the left and the right.
Both sides believe strongly that they’re right. But with each individual issue, there is a right and a wrong when it comes to the science, and they each have a mixed record of getting that right.
Yet try as one might, changing a person’s beliefs to fit the facts is challenging, for the reasons I explained above.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
When people talk and listen to those that they trust in a calm, open manner, minds can be shifted, ever so slightly.
When our wallets start running dry, we do something about it.
When we appeal to people’s values in favor of the truth, we can turn the tide.
We need now, urgently, to listen to views that we disagree with, to listen to a wide variety of viewpoints, even if we think they’re crazy.
Because the first step towards convincing someone of something is to listen and understand their perspective and to put yourself in their shoes.
And then ask them to do the same to you.
This is how we’ll beat the charlatans and anti-science politicians.
By learning from others, listening to their concerns, and understanding that what truly benefits us is the truth.
That is why we have multiple views represented on our site. Views from across the political spectrum. All vetted for evidence-based skepticism, of course.
And that’s just one of many tools we’re here to give you.
We’re here to give you the skeptical and scientific tools necessary to save you time, money, and improve your livelihood.
After all, you won’t have to waste your time or money on faulty products if you don’t fall for the next remedy that science says doesn’t work.
And if enough people in your district tell their congressmen that they won’t support a bill because they’re concerned with its lack of an anchor to reality, your tax dollars won’t go into supporting a bad bill.
And if we get something wrong? Please let us know! Don’t keep us trapped in our bubbles!
I truly hope that you find this site useful and that it opens your mind as much as you open ours.