Skepticism starts at home

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In “What Do I Do Next?” a list of 105 ways to become an active skeptic , editor Daniel Loxton and his colleagues discuss personal relationships at length.  Karen Stollznow, editor of The Skeptic magazine reminds us that:

We are always representatives for skepticism, and should always be ready to discuss a skeptical perspective, where appropriate, with our children, family, friends, colleagues and strangers. This isn’t proselytizing; this is promoting science, education, logic, and healthy skepticism.

This is a tall order. Being put on the spot, potentially about topics you are not well versed in, can be difficult. I would add to the litany detailed in “What Do I Do Next?” that skepticism starts at home, and it is likely that your family is a good place to start discussing the consequences and reality of pseudoscience. They might get a little pissed off, but unlikely to hold a grudge.

So, I wanted to share a brief personal anecdote that recently happened and filled me with glee. My brother and sister-in-law are pregnant with their first child, and are undoubtedly feeling overwhelmed by the vast amount of information and misinformation being dumped into their laps that go along with pregnancy, birth, and child care. Reason #538 why I will not be having kids… the amount of research required to educate myself on how to do so would make my dissertation work look like a walk in the park. Well, they approached me last week with a question that they wanted MY help with. Me, the childless baby of the family; what could I possibly provide? It turns out that they wanted a scientific summary of the pros and cons of circumcision. They fell into my trap perfectly! Don’t know enough about a controversial topic that requires a decision? Find someone who you trust to do the research for you, and I have been working to let it be known that I am happy to provide that service for my family members. Chances are I can’t answer your question on the spot, but I am thrilled to work with you on researching the topic, so you can make an informed decision. And this is ultimately what skepticism means to me.

Turns out that my job was pretty easy on this one. Some new evidence on circumcision had been in the news recently, and Science Based Medicine had not one but two comprehensive posts on the topic. I provided my siblings with a summary of the medical arguments both for and against circumcision, but did not pursue the spiritual or emotional arguments that are also associated with this issue, which would be outside of my expertise. I won’t rehash that summary here, but I just wanted to point out that my intent was to provide the most compelling and significant evidence I could find, regardless of which side of the issue it was on. Then I summed up with the current recommendations on the topic by various reputable organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Cancer Society.

It filled me with warm, fuzzy feelings.

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One Response to “Skepticism starts at home”

  1. Lisa Bauer Says:

    It can be SO HARD to encourage those you love to be more critical. Kudos!

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