On Twitter last night (or to be honest, very early this morning), I saw a statement which I took umbrage with and would like to address here.
“Isn’t pseudoscience just a tax on stupidity?”
There are two points that I would like to make in response to the above suggestion.
Firstly, nobody, regardless of their ability to analyse claims made by charlatans and woo-peddlers, deserves to be swindled or to have their health compromised. Nobody deserves to be taken advantage of by liars and thieves. I believe that, barring cases of extreme wilful ignorance, the blame for harm caused by belief in pseudoscience rests squarely on the shoulders of those who propagate it.
Second, to a degree, critical thinking is a learnt skill. We should be mindful of assuming it to be a marker of intelligence, or suggesting that a lack of critical thought denotes a lack of intelligence.
Simon Singh was generous enough to retweet my first point (frankly, I’m honoured – he’s a wise and accomplished person and has put me in some amazing company) and it received a reply from Mark Pentler, who stated,
“that should be the mantra of every skeptic. Educate the masses for the good of the species, not to feel smug”
I agree with Mark’s sentiment. Those of us with the ability to see through deception can use this skill to help others and to take down those who lie and take advantage of the credulous. We can also encourage others to develop the same skills, by which they will be better able to look out for themselves. And while it is satisfying for many reasons to point the finger at a lie and loudly call bullshit, I feel that the greater satisfaction comes from doing good with our faculties, rather than the smugness of being right for it’s own sake.
I am relatively new to skepticism and as such, tend to veer away from making generalised statements regarding such (or, indeed make grand claims regarding my own skepticism – I openly admit to my amateur status), but I’m willing to overlook my hesitation today because I feel that these are points worth making.
Skepticism is a tool. It can be used to protect others and taught to others so that they can protect themselves. The greater the number of people who are empowered by skepticism, the less successful the pushers of pseudoscience will be.
Me on Twitter: @joalabaster