A few days ago my mother bought a box of natural herbs which, according to the product’s box, cleanses the body from harmful chemicals. She bought it from one of her friends at about 30 bucks. Being the skeptic that I am, I examined the box—which looked pretty legitimate and not something some goofball made on a low budget—to see if it had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Indeed, I found a tiny white box that said the product had not been tested by the FDA. I found that fishy. If I had a company or a medication which I knew worked, why would I not want it to be tested by the FDA? I can bet some money that this product does not work. I’m not 100% sure of it, but I’m pretty confident it doesn’t.
The word skepticism usually brings bad connotations. People who call themselves skeptics are thought of as persons who are out and about trying to disprove everything they can get their hands on. This is not true. Take the above anecdote, for example. I am skeptical that the product actually works. I’m not just trying to disapprove it for the sake of disproving it. If I could, I would put the product under strict tests and conditions to question its validity. If the results were positive, I would stop being a skeptic and attest to the product’s legitimacy. If the results were negative, I’d tell others and warn them of the scam, especially if the product proved to be harmful. That’s what being a skeptic is. Being skeptical is a good thing. However, being overly skeptic, like anything else, may prove negatively.
Skepticism plays a major role in science. Whenever a scientist makes a new discovery or formulates a new theory, even if it seems common sense to a good amount of people, peers are skeptical (or at least should be) and usually seek out to support or oppose said theory by carrying out their own experiments. For example, when Anton Mesmer came up with his treatment of animal magnetism, some persons were all over his treatment, trying to learn it to heal others. However, other scientists were skeptical and investigated the phenomenon. They were not trying to disprove Mesmer. They just wanted to see if it truly worked or not. Evidence told them it did not. That is good skepticism. It is what keeps science running in a self-correcting fashion (this process is known as peer-review).
And then there is bad skepticism. Despite having physical evidence (e.g. stones brought back to Earth), there are people who are skeptical about the moon landing. They think the government orchestrated the entire thing on a Hollywood set. I’m not sure what to say to this. My professor for a class I took on Earth Science (Fall of 2011) said he briefly worked in a team that studied the lunar rocks. But I don’t suppose that would convince these skeptics. They would say my professor was lying or working for the government to keep the whole scheme a success or something like that. Another example of bad skepticism is the group of activists claiming that vaccines cause autism, regardless of the numerous studies that say otherwise.
So, with this in mind, don’t believe everything you see or hear about on the internet. There are many false claims and pseudosciences lingering about. If something sounds fishy, chances are it might be, and you may want to look it up with reliable sources. I’ll leave you with a parody of the Dos Equis beer ad and say, “Stay skeptics, my friends.”