Be skeptical, not cynical
According to George Hrab, being skeptical — as opposed to being cynical or denialist — is a good thing. Doubts and reservations are the backbone of science and reason and have led to some of humanity’s greatest achievements.
He is a musician, a comedian, a storyteller, and a skeptic. He has written and produced seven independent CDs and one concert DVD; published two books; recorded hundreds of episodes of an award winning podcast; and has emceed numerous international science conferences, all while being the drummer for The Philadelphia Funk Authority. He’s travelled to four continents promoting critical thinking, science, and skepticism through story and song.
He says he is considered one of the preeminent skeptic/science/atheist/geek-culture music icons currently living in his apartment. (Whaaaat? Yup, that’s what he says.)
For about the first four minutes of this talk, he discusses Jenny McArthy and the anti-vaccine movement she helped to found. She popularized a fraudulent 1998 study that claimed to link the MMR vaccines most children are required to get with autism.
She even claimed her own son got autism from the shots, but Hrab points out that what he actually had was something else with no connection to the shots and that he is doing well now, a few years later.
The study was later withdrawn by the scientific journal that published it and the researcher lost his right to practice medicine, because of his fraudulent and unethical methodologies. Many studies done since have shown no link between the vaccinations and autism, but it is difficult to undo the harm that was done by believing bad science non skeptically.
He points out that Jenny McCarthy is not a bad person. She just isn’t very skeptical, so she drew wrong, harmful conclusions.
- He advocates evidence based thinking and embracing your doubt.
- When you hear a new piece of information, say, “Whaaaaat?”
- “Every time you look on the Web,” he says, “Every time you receive a piece of email … pretend it’s April 1st.” April Fool’s Day. You don’t want to be the fool. Don’t assume everything is wrong; just check the evidence. If there’s no evidence, then don’t hesitate to doubt. Be skeptical.
- Don’t be afraid to doubt. Doubt drives the engine of science.
Everybody should be skeptical
“Everyone is susceptible,” he says. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote Sherlock Holmes, believed in fairies in the garden. Little flying girls with butterfly wings. The only way to avoid believing a lot of nonsense is to be skeptical.
“Most important,” he says, “Don’t take my word for it.”