When Skepticism goes too far

Is it possible to be too skeptical?

Too many people are missing a healthy level of skepticism and end up being far too credulous. Ironically, many people that claim to be skeptics end up being so skeptical of some things they end up being overly credulous when they hear stories that seem to counter that which they are skeptical about. Conspiracy theorists, I’m looking at you.

An example, some people are so skeptical of the pharmaceutical industry that they begin believing any YouTube video, FaceBook post, or celebrity that criticizes it. They end up believing things like, “They have a cure for cancer, but there’s no money in it.” or “Vaccines cause autism.” Their brains seem to shut out all the evidence and facts that show these ideas are soundly debunked at best, completely ridiculous and impossible at worst.

Let’s take the idea that someone out there has a “cure for cancer”. I actually used to think this was highly probable, but then I thought about it a little harder and realized it was impossible. “Cancer” isn’t just one disease, it is over 100 different diseases. The idea there could be one cure for all 100 is simply so improbable it is effectively impossible.

I am going to allow my own skepticism to possible get the better of me and state that I don’t find it impossibly improbable that perhaps a cure for something like breast cancer might have been found and is being hidden. I target breast cancer because breast cancer research is the most heavily funded type of cancer research even though it is far from being the most lethal. With all that money going into it, it seems possible that a cure may have been found. It also seems possible, knowing the greed of men like Martin Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who increased the cost of a drug by 5,455%, that this cure could be hidden to avoid disrupting a major cash cow. I say this with more than a little trepidation and a very healthy level of skepticism in my own skepticism on this. It’s like a skepception (for my less pop culture savvy readers, that’s a play on the name and concept of the movie Inception.) 

GMO’s are another subject where people go overboard in their skepticism. As far as I can tell, to some people, the name “genetically modified” just sounds scary and brings up visions of mad scientists creating “Frankenfoods” willy-nilly with no oversight or testing. This leads them to fall into the trap of believing YouTube videos and celebrities over well-founded and evidence-based science. I will put a little blame on the media for some of this because well-documented science studies can be boring as paint drying. Meanwhile, Frankenfoods makes for a great click-bait headline.

I used to be an overly credulous skeptic. I believed in UFO abductions, anti-vax propaganda, New World Order (Not the wrestling faction), etc, etc. It wasn’t until I gained some skepticism about my skepticism that I was able to really begin some proper research. It was this skepticism about my skepticism that closed my mind enough that my brains stopped falling out and I could focus on evidence-based information. This is also when I was able to let go of the various wild ideas I had about God/the gods and became an atheist.

I admit I still love a good conspiracy theory (see above regarding cancer) and I am not convinced on the UFO thing yet, but I am more prone to fact check now. Learning to be a skeptic about my own skepticism was the healthiest thing I could do for my skepticism, my brain and honestly, my mental health.

Until next time, keep drinking the Kool-aid and be nice to one another.

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1 thought on “When Skepticism goes too far

  1. Wil C. Fry

    One reason I *almost* became a conspiracy theorist was due to overactive skepticism, which arose naturally after I first began to abandon the religion of my childhood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my thinking could be framed something like: “If this one GIANT thing [religion] that I was always told was true actually isn’t true, then maybe EVERYTHING else I’ve always been told is true isn’t true either.” This led to a tendency to believe any challenge to mainstream thought. Oswald didn’t kill JFK? Maybe so. Aliens actually have landed? Could be. And so on.

    Much later, I put a *method* to it, which helped. Once I realized I was rejecting religion due to logic and lack of evidence, then I could apply those same standards to other mainstream thought. Perhaps I’m fortunate that I realized this just in time to avoid becoming a basement-dwelling doomsday prepper.

    When someone proposes a non-mainstream view, I can ask: “which seems more reasonable?” Is it reasonable that thousands of scientists around the globe secretly conspired to produce non-accurate temperature readings — involving dozens of government agencies in a multitude of nations that don’t agree with each other on anything else — or is it reasonable that a small number of people who directly benefit from fossil fuel extraction corporations would intentionally spread doubt about science in order to protect their short-term interests? The second is ENTIRELY more reasonable. And it turns out that evidence backs up that second scenario.

    I also learned that sometimes it’s okay to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not convinced”.

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