About Skeptically Challenged

Skeptically Challenged is a forum for exposing pseudoscience. Every day we are bombarded with information and highly questionable claims that have little basis in objective reality as determined by science. Skeptically Challenged throws down the gauntlet to pseudoscience, examining the evidence for everything from wacky cancer cures to spooky encounters to UFO sightings.

Skeptically Challenged is a multimedia format, producing a weekly podcast and blogging about issues in pseudoscience as well as the Skeptic community at large and the promotion of scientific and critical thinking within the community.

 

What is a Skeptic?

A Skeptic is someone who is interested in understanding the reality of the world to the best our current ability to do so. This means that a Skeptic cannot accept the validity of a claim based on hearsay or anecdotes. Rather a Skeptic will asses all the objective evidence available and use a set of logical process to arrive at the most plausible conclusion. The primary tool in a Skeptics arsenal is Occam’s Razor, this simple principle states that the conclusion which requires the least number of new assumptions is likely to be the most correct. Second is a basic application of wisdom from science communicator Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

You may ask how does this works in the real world? Let’s use the example of homeopathy, a method of alternative medicine developed in the 1800?s. The central claims of homeopathy are that like cures like, for instance you are having trouble sleeping, caffeine keeps you awake a “like” effect, and that increasingly diluted solutions are more potent, combining these principles means that to cure insomnia you could use caffeine is a greatly diluted amount which should help you sleep. This is an extraordinary claim and requires a lot of new assumptions, the laws of physics and chemistry dictate that increasingly dilute solutions will begin to have an increasingly diminishing effect and biology would tell us that caffeine causes alertness not tiredness. Therefore Occam’s razor dictates that the conclusion that needs the least new assumptions, that homeopathy doesn’t work is the most likely correct conclusion. Extraordinary evidence would be required to accept the claim that homeopathy works, such as very well designed and performed impartial clinical trials that show a clinical effect. No such evidence exists for homeopathy therefore the Skeptic will conclude that homeopathy doesn’t work, even if uncle Bob swears he took it and it cured his cold, based on the evidence Occam’s razor dictates it is more likely the cold resolved itself than the homeopathy had an effect.