Monday, July 20, 2020

Skepticism

As testimony to God's sense of humor I suppose, I have found myself in recent years an instructor of courses in Graduate Research.

One of the primary things I try to teach to my students in Graduate Research is to be skeptical.  Question everything.  Discern studies critically.  

Ask these probing questions:
-Are the research questions that drive the study consequential (i.e., non-trivial)?
-Has the researcher declared to us publicly her/his bias?
-Has the researcher articulated for us the gaps/limitations of her/his study?
-Was the study conducted in accordance to the most rigorous research methodologies?
-Did the researcher carefully select a fair and representative sample set to study? 
-Did the researcher tell us who funded the study?
-Was the researcher predisposed toward a particular conclusion/outcome, from which she/he would benefit (either financially, reputationally, or politically)?
-Did the researcher provide important follow-up questions for future study?
-Did the researcher "invite" rigorous discourse/debate around her/his study?

Every time the answer to one of those questions is NO our "Danger-Mr. Robinson-Danger" alarm should start pinging.

Approaching new information with a skeptical eye/ear/brain is critical.  It refines our thinking.  It mitigates chicanery.  It generates rigorous discourse.  It promotes transparency.  It advances knowledge.  

When we stop being skeptical, we slip into one of two other mindsets:  Naivety (cluelessly uncaring) or Cynicism (arrogantly incurious).  Both diminishing; both dangerous.

Research is really just the reporting of new information.  Consider how useful it might be for us to apply the same sort of critical Skepticism to reports related to politics, medicine, weather, nutrition, religion, agriculture........

Those who resist rigorous discourse and debate are usually trying to hide something.

Skepticism = good.  Cynicism and Naivety = bad (perhaps even fatal).

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