Skepticism and Expertise

I’ve been writing on skepticism for a while now. Occasionally I see a blog post or an article where the author attempts to describe what constitutes a skeptic.

This morning, over at this blog, there’s a post about a recent kerfuffle about magicians and skepticism. I don’t want to dive into the controversy, there actually isn’t much there but I want to talk about how the author defines a skeptic.

Overall, I have no issues with the article. One sentence though, threw me off a bit:

Skepticism requires subject-matter knowledge to be effective.

Ummm, no. No one is required to be a subject matter expert (SME) in any area to be an effective skeptic. It’s helpful if you know something about the subject you’re discussing, for instance CAM. Just because I happen to know something about the ineffectiveness of CAM does not make me an expert. I read about it, from those that are SME’s and that helps me as a lay person to be effective as a skeptic.

None of us would be able to call ourselves skeptics if we had to be an SME in every subject. Is it helpful? Sure, but it’s not required.

Having enough knowledge to question claims made by others is what makes a good skeptic. Being able to analyze those claims, consult the literature if possible, and even ask those that are experts on the subject.

Being a skeptic requires some work, but you don’t have to spend your life with your nose in a book or in a classroom to be an effective skeptic.

3 thoughts on “Skepticism and Expertise

  1. “Skepticism requires subject-matter knowledge to be effective.”

    Where in this quote does it say subject matter expert? There is a difference in having knowledge, which the quote sets as a standard, and being an expert, which requires several magnitudes greater knowledge to qualify as an expert. You seem to have moved the goal-post from where the original quote placed it.

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  2. “Having enough knowledge to question claims made by others is what makes a good skeptic. Being able to analyze those claims, consult the literature if possible, and even ask those that are experts on the subject.

    Being a skeptic requires some work, but you don’t have to spend your life with your nose in a book or in a classroom to be an effective skeptic.”

    Where in the quote you excerpted is there any conflict with this statement? Seems to me this is exactly what the writer of the quote in question was saying.

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  3. “None of us would be able to call ourselves skeptics if we had to be an SME in every subject. Is it helpful? Sure, but it’s not required.”

    Undoubtedly true. Where did the writer of the blog say, explicity or implicity, that it is required?

    I have no quarrel with what you say about skepticism. But I don’t understand why the quote you excerpted was your impetus for writing this?

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