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Why I wrote these pages...

During the course of my travels I’ve met many, many people who believe things for which there is no evidence whatsoever. In most cases, there is very strong evidence against their beliefs, but they choose to believe in spite of this. When I express my disbelief, I’m invariably told I should be ‘more open-minded’. What they really mean is I should be more ‘credulous’, that I should uncritically accept the existence of mystical, magical forces.

Being ‘open-minded’ actually means being prepared to examine the evidence on both sides before accepting or dismissing a claim. The problem is that on the one side you generally have personal beliefs, unsubstantiated anecdotes, an appeal to history – that whatever they believe in has been believed in or practised for hundreds or thousands of years – wishful thinking, confirmation bias – where you accept anything which seems to support your belief, while dismissing anything which contradicts it. Occasionally you also take support from biased or poorly controlled tests, trials and experiments.

On the other side you frequently have detailed, thorough research, carefully controlled experiments in which the claim either fails, or turns out to be nothing more than a placebo effect. I’ll be told that ‘science has been wrong before’, or that ‘science doesn’t know everything’. My reply is consistently a quotation from Carl Sagan:

“Science is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have. Self correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined, arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised.”

Sadly, Carl Sagan also pointed out that ‘You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe.’

So why do I bother? Because gullible, credulous people are fleeced daily by cynical, dishonest practitioners – people spend huge sums to hear complete nonsense from so-called psychics like Sylvia Browne, John Edwards, James Van Praagh. And in the field of So-called Complementary and Alternative Medicine, with the apt acronym of SCAM, people with quite serious conditions will try worthless remedies, thus delaying proper medical diagnosis or treatment.

In my early exchanges with the gullibles, I would exhort them to ‘go away and do the research’. Now I can give them my web address, point them to a page relevant to their particular belief, and suggest that they follow the links. I exhort you to do likewise ... don't just uncritically accept something, do the research.

And if you know of any evidence which supports any of the claims examined in these pages, I, and the rest of the skeptical community, would love to hear about it. Email me.

But first, make sure you understand what we mean by 'evidence'. Not arguments from authority. Not 'it's been practised for x years'. And please don't write and tell me 'my mother took it and she got better...', instead, go away and look up 'post-hoc fallacy.

I look forward to hearing from you :)



 

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