Thursday, September 6, 2012

MassMedia: Skepticism, Critical Thinking and Science (U1-P1)

A skeptic, a critical thinker and a scientist walk into a bar...

No, but seriously, what is a skeptic, a critical thinker and scientist?
How should we define these three terms and how are they related?  Are they three different labels for the same thing?  Related, but a little different?  How are they different?

Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, defines a skeptic as follows:

So, a skeptic is a person who does what?  Please do note that Shermer defines skepticism and skeptics a little differently than how the words may commonly be used.


One way of defining a critical thinker is to identify some of the traits of a critical thinker, a critical thinkers creed, if you will.

The Critical Thinker’s Creed

  • We are Open-minded.
    • We seek to understand other viewpoints.
  • We are Knowledgeable.
    • We offer opinions/claims backed with logic and evidence.
  • We are Mentally Active.
    • We use our intelligence to confront problems.
  • We are Creative.
    • We break out of established patterns of thinking and approach situations from innovative directions.
  • We are Independent Thinkers.
    • We are not afraid to disagree with the group opinion.
  • We are Curious.
    • We go beyond superficial explanations. We seek deeper understanding.

So, a critical thinker is a person who follows the creed above (or some similar creed)?
Do you follow this creed?


We could define a scientist as a person who does science, but that begs the question what is science. Below are some possible definitions of science based a presentation by Dr. William McComas (Skeptic Society)

  • “Science is what scientists do.”
    • So, science is what scientist do.  Scientist are those who do science.   This one isn't so helpful.
  • “Science is a method of testing claims and it is not an immutable compendium of absolute truths.”
    • This definition works.  Highlights how science is a process, something we do.
  • “Science is the quest for knowledge, not the knowledge itself.”
    • Again, science is a process, in this case, a quest.

So with these last two definitions of science, then how do we define a scientist?

I started this blog post with some questions: How should we define these three terms and how are they related?  Are they three different labels for the same thing?  Related, but a little different?  How are they different?

Got some answers?  If so, next...

Now, after thinking about how these three terms relate to one another, ask yourself, how do they relate to you?  Are you a scientist?  A skeptic?  A critical thinker?

And, what does this discussion have to do with related terms like theory and research?

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  1. Based on the three definitions presented above, a scientist can be a skeptical critical thinker and a critical thinker can also be a scientific skeptic. Also, because skepticism is rooted in ".. the application of reason to any and all ideas" and " a method leading to provisional conclusions," a skeptic is a critical thinker who may or may not apply scientific methods to confirm or deny such conclusions.
    Before reading these definitions, I would have considered myself to be a critical thinker. However, I'd now like to think of myself as a critical thinker who is skeptical about following the "status quo" and not afraid of applying research before reaching conclusions. I guess that would make me skeptical critical thinker who is also part scientist.

  2. I think that these phrases are birds of a feather as they do have their differences but are similar in that they consider all aspects of things before reaching conclusions. That being said, after I looked at all the descriptions, I find that I am a Critical Thinker. I think independently and I know a little bit about a lot of things.

  3. I would like to think that I am a Critical Thinker. I don't mind hearing other's viewpoints but I am also an independent thinker. Once I have my mind set, it's hard to convince me otherwise.

    1. How does "Once I have my mind set, it's hard to convince me otherwise" fit into the critical thinker's creed?


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