WHAT IS SKEPTICISM?
Perhaps the first thing to notice is the spelling of the word, which in the UK is usually 'scepticism' (similarly, sceptic and sceptical). In the USA it's spelt 'skeptic', etc. and this spelling has become universal in the present context. Whatever the spelling, in everyday usage saying that you're skeptical about something means that you're not convinced, you have reservations, you're not prepared to believe it's true until evidence comes along that will persuade you otherwise. So it's not the same as having a closed mind and refusing to believe something, however much evidence there is in its favour, just because, for whatever reason, you find it difficult to accept.
Over the last 50 years or so, across the world people have being getting together, forming groups and societies, holding meetings and conferences, publishing books and magazines, organising campaigns, and so on, using the word 'skepticism' to describe these activities. Indeed this development is now often referred to as 'the skeptical movement'. It has been driven by a recognition that so many extraordinary, yet popular and influential ideas, claims and practices that we hear and read about in our everyday life are irrational or unsupported by any convincing evidence, and are even contradicted by our existing knowledge of the world. This is in spite of at least 400 hundred years of progress in the sciences and other learned disciplines. Such claims are commonly made in advertising, the media and the high street, and now, especially, on the internet. People, often working together, may promote these claims simply because they earnestly believe them to be true, but many are made by those who earn their livelihood, status and influence thereby; such people include practitioners of various sort, celebrities, religious groups, politicians, and even (mentioning no names) royalty.
Traditionally, the kind of ideas and practices that skeptics have challenged and exposed have included claims of paranormal abilities such as telepathy and psychic abilities (mediumship or channelling); sightings of unusual phenomena such as strange creatures and monsters; extra-terrestrial spacecraft (UFOs) and alien beings; astrology; ghosts; creationism; and, in particular, alternative medicine such as homeopathy and acupuncture. Increasingly, however, skeptics have become most concerned about certain political issues of the day such as conspiracy theories, climate change denial, anti-vaccination campaigns, the teaching of creationsim in schools, hostility towards minorities, religious extremism, and anti-science in general. This concern has become even more accentuated with the rise of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts', the spread of disinformation on social media, and political populism.
Alongside this, those who identify themselves as 'skeptics' have increasingly turned their attention to science itself. Topics here include poor quality research and data-fudging; misreporting and even faking of results; non-reporting of negative outcomes of clinical trials, including adverse side-effects; and failure to replicate the results of experiments, including historically influential research.
To find out more about skepticism and for answers to some of the questions that may have occurred to you, click on ASKE blog, where you will find a series of short introductory articles about skepticism. You will also find some previously published articles by ASKE members in the Articles section.
Like-Minded Groups and Websites
Over the last few decades, across the world skepticism has had a growing presence and influence in the public domain. Many groups and societies specifically labelling themselves as 'skeptical' have emerged, along with organisations, some quite substantial, dedicated to promoting science, rationalism and evidence-based policy and practice in important areas such as politics, medicine and education. There are also a multitude of websites, Twitter accounts, blogs, podcast series and YouTube channels created by like-minded individuals. You will find many of these - UK-based and elsewhere - listed in the section Other organisations and websites.