Skeptical Questions That Need To Be Asked

on Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The following is an adaptation of a list from the Rational Enquirer (Vol. 6, No. 4 if you can find it), a now defunct skeptic magazine as near as I can tell. Regardless, it sums up my way of thinking about "mystic woo," such as dowsing, numerology, telekinesis, ESP, UFOs, homeopathy, and any phenomenon that uses the word "psycho" as its prefix, such as psychokinesis and psychoenergetics.

Adherents to the above mentioned pseudo-sciences and their followers will often claim that they have some sort of "proof" of their claims. However, much of what they present is anecdotal at worst or just bad science at best.

These questions need to be asked before a claim can be given any consideration:

  1. Has the subject shown progress?
  2. Does the discipline use technical words such as "vibration" or "energy" without clearly defining what they mean?
  3. Would accepting the tenets of a claim require you to abandon any well established physical laws?
  4. Are popular articles on the subject lacking in references?
  5. Is the only evidence offered anecdotal in nature?
  6. Does the proponent of the subject claim that "air-tight" experiments have been performed that prove the truth of the subject matter, and that cheating would have been impossible?
  7. Are the results of the aforementioned experiments successfully repeated by other researchers?
  8. Does the proponent of the subject claim to be overly or unfairly criticized?
  9. Is the subject taught only in non-credited institutions?
  10. Are the best texts on the subject decades old?
  11. Does the proponent of the claim use what one writer has called "factuals" - statements that are a largely or wholly true but unrelated to the claim?
  12. When criticized, do the defenders of the claim attack the critic rather than the criticism?
  13. Does the proponent make appeals to history (i.e. it has been around a long time, so it must be true)?
  14. Does the subject display the "shyness effect" (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't)?
  15. Does the proponent use the appeal to ignorance argument ("there are more things under heaven … than are dreamed of in your philosophy …")?
  16. Does the proponent use alleged expertise in other areas to lend weight to the claim?
If an idea fails to come out of that list unscathed it isn't worth considering, in my opinion, and should be rejected. Continued belief in such things is nothing but fooling one's self, and that's not the way I want to live.