Article in Psychology Today: The Art of Positive Skepticism

Critical Thinker

Senior Member.
The article offers strategies we all should employ to avoid being duped by bunk. These were the main points.



Five Ways to Model Positive Skepticism

Be a Deception-Detector
People constantly make claims that affect our daily lives. From those selling products and services to candidates running for political offices, we are barraged with decisions that require us to act. Thomas Kida, in his book Don’t Believe Everything You Think, shows how easily we can be fooled and why we should learn to think like a scientist.

Challenge claims by asking for evidence. Ask questions like, “What makes you think this way?” “What assumptions have you based your claim upon?” “What facts or research support your ideas?” “Are there facts or studies that dispute your claim?”

Constant streams of commercial messages, TV news, and campaign ads try to tell us how to think. When we allow others to think for us, we become vulnerable to indoctrination, propaganda, and powerful emotional appeals. In her book, Descartes’s Method of Doubt, Janet Broughton examined the important role that doubt plays in our quest for truth.

Recognize the limits to anyone’s claims of truth! Look below the surface rather than accepting ideas at face value. Ask yourself questions like, “What is the logic of this argument?” Listen to yourself when something doesn’t feel right!

Play Devil’s Advocate
Part of being a good skeptic is learning to play a devil’s advocate role. Take a position you don’t necessarily agree with, just for the sake of argument. This doesn’t have to be combative. You can simply say “In order to understand this idea better; let me play the devil’s advocate.” Putting your mind to work poking holes in what you think might be a good idea can lead to greater understanding of a problem. Playing devil’s advocate is a great way to teach children how to see another person’s perspective.

Use Logic and Intuition
We are persuaded to doubt or believe other people’s claims through logic and intuition, and most of us tend to rely heavily on one type of thinking or the other. Whether you are a logical or intuitive thinker, it’s helpful to alternate between these two qualities of mind. In his book, Embracing Contraries, Peter Elbow says, “Doubting and believing are among the most powerful root acts we can perform with our minds.” We become better thinkers when we deploy doubting and believing more consciously through the use of logic and intuition rather than by chance.

Be a Bias-Detector
One of the most important tasks of a true skeptic is to determine whether sources of information and analysis are impartial. This is a trait that serves us well when we turn on the television. If we only listen to one channel, or our favorite news commentator, we’ll likely be persuaded by biased or emotional appeals. Ask yourself, “What’s the other side of this story?” “Is this one person’s story or does it apply to thousands of people?" “Is there an underlying belief or assumption being made that reflects this reporter’s ideology?”

R.M. Dawes’ points out in his book, Everyday Irrationality: How Pseudo-Scientists, Lunatics, and the Rest of Us Systematically Fail to Think Rationally, that emotional appeals and story-based thinking often lead to faulty reasoning. The point in detecting bias is to be able to identify messages that are intended to persuade rather than inform us.

Positive skepticism leads to better problem-solving, innovation, and creativity! It also helps develop our abilities to think critically about the world around us! Do you agree? Feel free to poke some holes in my thinking!
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