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Today, I found out about this Skeptics exchange. I was excited to show it to my friend who is undoubtedly a skeptic as I thought to myself, "he has found his people!"

However, I have known him for long enough that I also thought the other possibility was likely: that he would doubt the utility of Skeptics itself.

Sure enough, his text response to me was:

"I am skeptical an exchange for skeptics is healthy"

I am seeking responses from Skeptics regarding my friend's meta-skepticism. If this question has been asked before, happy to accept a link.

thanks!

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  • I know I've seen a few questions get posted - veiled and otherwise - accusing the community of not being true skeptics. They tend to be received very poorly. I'm glad to see a Meta question attempting to approach the issue in a more positive manner. – F1Krazy Jan 28 at 9:44
  • I feel this question could be far more direct. How would person C respond to person B's response to person A's claim? Why not just ask directly "Is an exchange for skeptics healthy?" – Oddthinking Jan 30 at 7:53
  • @F1Krazy - thanks! I had no idea about the history of the question. – Gabe Saravia Jun 12 at 22:37
  • @Oddthinking - I see your point! I was coming from a place of ignorance regarding best practices here and hence I thought it worthwhile to attach context. – Gabe Saravia Jun 12 at 22:37
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Considering the interaction, I see a number of possibilities:

  • Your friend is just going for the cheap, obvious joke, and means nothing by it.

    "I am a skeptic.

    "Oh, I doubt that."

    There is no need to respond.

    I tend to use phrases like "I try to be a skeptic" or "I like to think I am a skeptic" just to avoid that comment.

  • Your friend is a skeptic, and is just expressing an initial, weakly-held, default stance before going and looking for the evidence to refute it.

    There is no reason to respond (except perhaps to check back later to find out what he learnt.)

  • Your friend isn't a skeptic. He is just a person who likes to be contradictory, and thinks calling that stance "skepticism" makes it okay. Did he check out the site at all, or look for any evidence to refute his position? If not, he is not acting skeptically.

    There is no reason to respond


But suppose we were to respond anyway.

Is this site "healthy"? That term is too vague to respond to. What does it mean to be healthy? For whom?

Is this site a good source for learning the truth about dubious claims? That is a bit better. It is certainly a claim that one can be skeptical about.

I am old enough to remember when Wikipedia arrived. I gave it very little chance of succeeding. By rights, it should have degenerated into the sort of mess they have on Yahoo Answers. There was no way crowd-sourcing facts should work in theory. But, I was convinced by the evidence. It is now an amazing resource. You should NOT trust it on controversial subjects. You should double-check all of the important claims. But as a quick source of definitions and backgrounding on a subject, it is incredible.

I offer the backlog of Questions and Answers as evidence that Skeptics.SE is similarly an awesome resource. Pick some questions at random. Pick some questions on topics that you know well. Examine the answers. Check the sources. Do some equivalent research to see what answer you would have given. See for yourself whether this site does what it says on the tin.

I can intellectually point to conceptual flaws in the way we let any old person vote on answers. I can intellectually point to the backwards burden of proof. I can intellectually come up with plenty of reasons why Skeptics.SE should not work in theory.

But, I am a skeptic, which means the empirical evidence outweighs the theory, and I think the empirical evidence clearly shows the users have produced an wonderful resource to help stem the tide of lies in the world.

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Before I start, I'd like to point out that I'm not really an active participator here. I read quite a bit of the questions and answers; but I have not asked or answered any questions myself. I don't think it will affect the relevance of this answer; but I think it's worth disclosing.

I think what's important here is to recognize the type of skepticism this site is focused on. From the FAQ

Scientific skepticism?

This site is about applying scientific skepticism. We only accept answers based on independently verifiable applications of the scientific method ("facts").

In other venues, people can get lost in long discussions about what should theoretically happen — think about questions such as: "Will you get more wet if you run or walk, in the rain?" —, but not here. We don't allow such speculation, we expect only scientific trials of these matters to be discussed, and answers to be fully based on those.

Please be very aware of the difference between theory and practice, because users will challenge you on this!

So basically, if this is the type of skepticism that he is looking for, this site would (ideally) be for him. As far as your worry about him saying:

"I am skeptical an exchange for skeptics is healthy"

Assuming he's a scientific skeptic (the type this site is intended to be for); then he should be able to do his own independent research into our site to see if it actually practices scientific skepticism in a healthy way. This could be done by looking at the evidence; which would be how our site addresses the questions that it receives. Basically, he can apply (some level of) scientific skepticism to the claim that this site is unhealthy.

Hopefully, he will notice that the site is quite focused on addressing notable claims and that there are rules requiring all answers be referenced. Thankfully, scientific skepticism is often called rational skepticism. It addresses claims and judges them based on the available evidence. You don't have to get into the whole line of "but how do you know that?" in infinite regression; because scientific (or rational) skepticism is about questioning conclusions and how they relate to evidence; not on being skeptical about every possible thing in the face of that evidence.

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