George Hrab | Rethinking Doubt: the Values and Achievements of Skepticism


Here, in one of the most lucid, well-spoken talks on skepticism I’ve seen this month, George Hrab gives the low-down on the importance and general good sense of our very human capacity to doubt and ask valid questions, no matter the answers we may get or who they might upset, especially ourselves.

Courtesy of the TEDx Talks YouTube channel

This talk explains why being skeptical–as opposed to being cynical or denialist–is a good thing. Having doubts or reservations has led to some of humanity’s greatest achievements.

George Hrab has written and produced seven independent CDs and one concert DVD; published two books; recorded hundreds of episodes of an award winning podcast; and has emceed numerous international science conferences, all while being the drummer for The Philadelphia Funk Authority. He’s travelled to four continents promoting critical thinking, science, and skepticism through story and song. George is considered one of the preeminent skeptic/science/atheist/geek-culture music icons currently living in his apartment.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

No, That’s Not An Argument…Really, It’s Not.


Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my acquaintances on social media had sent me to a link to an obviously (to me at any rate) ideologically partisan blog, that linking to an also obviously partisan interview on another blog, one with a climate change contrarian, in hopes, perhaps, of magically getting me to ‘see the Truth™’ and instantly transforming me into a climate change contrarian with a flash of mystic pixie dust, or the powder of Ibn Ghazi sprinkled ‘pon while making the Voorish sign…

Not that there’s anything bad about pixies, mind you…at least they’re a bit less antisocial than gremlins in those IT communities of make-believe.

*Ahem.*

Well, neither the blog nor interview was anything but pure politics and so hardly scientifically compelling, I posted a response to her via private message, with only minor edits [in brackets] for context in this blog entry:

“One thing I’ve learned about science over the last seven years is that no matter what you may personally believe, its results don’t depend on religion, politics, or ideology; they don’t depend on what you had for breakfast, what party you campaign for, or what you disapprove of; and they don’t depend on the agenda of an imaginary Evil Leftist (or Centrist, or Rightist) Conspiracy™.

Trying to debunk science with politics, or anything else [but science itself], shows a mistaken view of how science works, what it is, and what it’s for; Whatever you may think, science is an evidence-based enterprise, not “What do we want to vote on today?” or an electoral primary.

I have standards as to which arguments support the claims they are alleged to. None of these implies any need for perfect absolute proof, just minimum cogency:

1. They must be cast in the most neutral, objective language possible, avoiding ideological buzzwords and partisan slogans. This is simply known as writing professionally.

2. They must commit the fewest possible errors in reasoning, avoiding as many logical and rhetorical fallacies as can be managed. The argument’s conclusion must follow from the premises reasonably.

3. They must commit the fewest possible factual errors and inaccuracies. Any facts the premises are based on must really exist as claimed…out-of-context factoids and half-truths are not acceptable legal tender. Those damnable standards again.

Any argument failing even one of these tests has no leg to stand on, and cannot serve as reliable support for the claims it makes.

If offers a claim without the evidence it purports to, and so may be dismissed without evidence against it, as there is none for it [as per Christopher Hitchens’ Dictum].”

Whether the blog and interview it linked to that she sent me (I read both) was simply a quick attempt at ideological conversion, or an actual argument, is irrelevant.

The attempt in its own way was admirable: We all want others to accept the truth as we see it. The trouble is, however, that often what we consider to be true is frequently not. That’s the consequence of living in a universe with phenomena, like climate change, whose policy implications often run counter to what our political, religious, and economic or other ideologies tell us.