I’ve been enjoying an “Uncorrected Advance Reading Copy” of the upcoming U.S. edition of Mike McRae’s Tribal Science from Prometheus Books, which has once again put me in mind of something I think about often: the considerable bogusness of the conceit of “skeptics” versus “believers.” There is a social subculture that can be called “skepticism” and there is a niche of scholarly activity by the same name, but it’s a mistake to suppose that skeptics and believers are very different sorts of people. The true landscape of skepticism and belief is so complex that I can’t resist summing it up with this wonderful T-shirt slogan from Ben Goldacre: “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.” Bulldozing the complexity of human striving for understanding into tribal “skeptic” and “believer ” piles distorts reality, and makes it harder to do the already difficult work of solving mysteries and promoting science literacy.
The truth is that self-identified skeptics are not so terribly good at critical or scientific thinking. There’s little shame in that; nobody is all that good at those things. Nor, on the other hand, are paranormal “believers” all that terribly bad. Regardless of our intellectual commitments, regardless of our investments in this or that ideology or belief, humans everywhere are pretty damn smart—and also pretty dumb.comments (34)