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Skeptical Bias

Entry 511, on 2007-04-12 at 17:16:44 (Rating 2, Skepticism)

If you have read many of my blog entries you will know that I am a fairly skeptical person. One of my favorite podcasts is "the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe" and I look forward to every new episode. But I think a lot of skeptics tend to lose their credibility by treating paranormal subjects as false before they look very closely at the facts, and by treating the whole subject as a joke.

I am probably a bit guilty of this myself. I have been involved with a debate regarding near death experiences recently, and I found myself starting out with the assumption that the events were probably false. After looking at NDEs more closely I didn't see any reason to change that opinion, but it did show me that I am a bit biased.

It seems that this might be inevitable because every opinion I've seen or heard on the paranormal does appear to have an element of bias. I think its safer to assume any new idea - especially one which contradicts existing knowledge - is false, so a skeptical bias is probably better than an overly credulous one.

So I started thinking about whether there are any areas of the paranormal which might be valid, or at least where I have reasonable doubt, but I just couldn't think of anything. The more closely I look at a paranormal phenomenon, the less likely it appears to be true. In the past I have taken some pseudo-scientific theories far more seriously than I do now, so I have to conclude that all paranormal phenomena are basically false.

That doesn't mean that there isn't an element of fact in some of them. For example, I think that some herbal medicines have a certain degree of effectiveness, but because of uneven strength, unknown side effects, contamination, etc, I think they are more dangerous than conventional medicines. On average after taking a herbal medicine you will be worse off than if you did nothing, but occasionally it might be useful.

So I'll continue being skeptical but also look at the other side of the debate. I always make sure I have at least one podcast which approaches pseudo-science from a more credulous perspective in my collection, and that's the best I can do to counter the effects of my bias.


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