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How To Teach a Healthy Dose of Skepticism?

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the doubt-early-and-often dept.

Education 880

c0d3h4x0r writes "It's no accident that 'whatcouldpossiblygowrong' is one of the most common tags applied by this community to stories about proposed ideas or laws. The ability to spot and predict faults is a big part of what makes a great engineer. It starts with having a healthy skepticism about the world, which leads to actual critical thinking. Many books and courses teach critical thinking skills, but what is the best way to encourage and teach someone to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism? Is it even a teachable skill, or is it just an innate part of the geek personality?"

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Oh, goody... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778415)

I posted in this thread before it dissolved into a religious flamewar and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.

Fail a lot? (5, Interesting)

NIckGorton (974753) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778417)

The best way is personal experience. Have a strongly held belief effectively challenged and have an epic fail. Then don't do what most of humanity does and use cognitive dissonance defenses to justify why you are still incredibly smart despite the fact you were in this regard a complete tool.

Generalize from your own experience and realize we are all flaming idiots but by using tools such as logic and the scientific method we can start to approach a modicum of cleverness. Then from that point on trust only 10% of what you hear and 50% of what you see, break a bunch of stuff while learning how not to break stuff as badly, and apply your skills to future problems.

Oh, and I would recommend reading 'Why People Believe Weird Things' by Michael Shermer. He describes this in great detail and even describes one of his own epic failures (he was abducted by aliens - kinda hard to own up to for a skeptic.)

Re:Fail a lot? (5, Insightful)

mimada (1252792) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778483)

Reminds me of a quote: Judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgment.

Re:Fail a lot? (2, Funny)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778953)

I prefer this quote:

(It was, of course, as a result of the Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots of SrDt 3454, that all mechanical or electrical or quantum-mechanical or hydraulic or even wind, steam or piston-driven devices, are now required to have a certain legend emblazoned on them somewhere. It doesn't matter how small the object is, the designers of the object have got to find a way of squeezing the legend in somewhere, because it is their attention which is being drawn to it rather than necessarily that of the user's.

The legend is this:

"The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.")
Alas, that legend is too long to fit in a Slashdot tag.

Re:Fail a lot? (1)

KevMar (471257) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778509)

Fail alot and learn from your failures.

Here is a nice post on the topic:
http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/how-to-fail-at-practically-anything.html [lifehack.org]

Re:Fail a lot? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778631)

"Fail alot and learn from your failures."

Learn from that one! :)

Re:Fail a lot? (1, Funny)

zapakh (1256518) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778751)

alright.

Re:Fail a lot? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778683)

Surround yourself with failures and observe their demise.

You could pull a few strings here and there as well.
"Hey I saw a meatball in that light socket, take this fork and get it.
I'll even give you half of it!"

Re:Fail a lot? (4, Informative)

SputnikPanic (927985) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778523)

Oh, and I would recommend reading 'Why People Believe Weird Things' by Michael Shermer.
The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan is another good one.

Re:Fail a lot? (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778837)

Oh, and I would recommend reading 'Why People Believe Weird Things' by Michael Shermer.
The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan is another good one.
Agreed. If I remember correctly, the opening [skepticwiki.org] of that particular book starts out with a dragon in my garage. You might be incredulous at first, but I assure you, the dragon is there. You open the door to my garage but you don't see anything. Of course not, I say ... because the dragon is invisible.

And so it goes to smell, touch, heat from breath, all these things are what you rely on to detect the dragon. But I have convenient mechanisms implemented to thwart your attempts at detecting my dragon.

This leads to a great quote:

"Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?"
And from that point on, I kind of recognized similar mechanisms in most religions ... designed to require no scientific or even empirical evidence of a higher being.

But I digress on religion, it applies to so much more than that. This book did instill an advanced "see it to believe it" mentality on me and I thank Sagan for that. What's even more shocking is how much I remember of the book since I read it when it came out around 1998.

Really though, I'd just teach people to question everything internally. Be smart about it and seek more information or data if there's any doubt. And really question those who get upset when you question them.

Re:Fail a lot? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778967)

"Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?"

Which is why I don't believe that invisible monsters could possibly make fresh tomatoes bad for you.

Um... hang on a second, I need to go visit the little boys room.

Re:Fail a lot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778565)

I like to use the 3 types of people method to show it.

Statment: 'This paint is wet.'
Person 1: 'ok the paint is wet I will not touch it' and they do not.
Person 2: 'I am not sure let me test that' they then proceed to touch it.
Person 3: 'that paint is not wet.' they then proceed to touch it.

Each one of us has some of these 3 qualities. Trust, questions, and distrust. It really just depends on who you are dealing with. I know people who are always 1 and others who are always 3.

You have a 2/3rds possiblity of being wrong and getting a bad result. The moral? Listen to me I know what I am doing, or at least ignoring 3 other results. :)

Re:Fail a lot? (2, Insightful)

cromar (1103585) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778591)

True dat. The sooner you can look beyond your own "ego" and start looking at the world objectively, the better. Another couple of books I would recommend are the Tao Te Ching and of course Socrates. Also, a well rounded course of study in Maths, Theology/Mythology/Folklore (you don't have to believe but it puts the world's people in a more realistic perspective), Literature, The Arts, and of course Science and especially Computing, etc...

Re:Fail a lot? (3, Funny)

gnick (1211984) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778887)

...a well rounded course of study in Maths, Theology/Mythology/Folklore..., Literature, The Arts, and of course Science and especially Computing, etc...
OK, I've mastered math and theology/mythology/folklore. I've observed, appreciated, and internalized all available literature and art. And I've mastered the sciences, computing, etc.

What do you recommend that I study now?

Re:Fail a lot? (4, Funny)

cptnapalm (120276) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778943)

Your navel?

Re:Fail a lot? (0)

jeiler (1106393) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778741)

+1: Insightful. But this post is already maxed out, and I have no mod points. The only thing I can add is it can help to have someone with you when you have that first epic fail who has enough sense to laugh with you, not at you.

Re:Fail a lot? (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778759)

break a bunch of stuff while learning how not to break stuff as badly, and apply your skills to future problems.
I recommend breaking small and inexpensive stuff first, and then move on to larger and more expensive stuff. You can't expect Tacoma Narrows [wikipedia.org] on the first try.

Re:Fail a lot? (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778901)

Yes, failure is an excellent way to learn that things go wrong.

I Seek Wisdom and Its Bastard Son, Truth (4, Insightful)

GogglesPisano (199483) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778929)

One useful byproduct of a long series of failures is that it produces a well-developed sense of cynicism and sarcasm, which are essential skills required for posting snarky (yet insightful - insightful, dammit!) remarks on Slashdot.

It just comes naturally with experience (5, Interesting)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778419)

Skepticism is just an offshoot of experience and the wisdom that (hopefully) comes with experience. After witnessing and experiencing a few spectacular failures in this life, the natural and healthy outcome is to develop a skeptical streak.

Re:It just comes naturally with experience (4, Interesting)

fictionpuss (1136565) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778623)

Ah, but what level of skepticism is healthy? Too little and you get the titanic, too much and you never reach the moon.

Re:It just comes naturally with experience (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778959)

And at some point in between you get Apollo 13. The key to everything is to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Skepticism should lead to contingency plans, not cop-outs. Then again, Skepticism being a branch of classical philosophy, I'm not sure its really exactly the right term to apply here.

Re:It just comes naturally with experience (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778815)

"Skepticism is just an offshoot of experience and the wisdom "
No it's not, it's something you ahve to train your mind for. You need techniques that you apply to everything, including..or even especially, your acred cows.

Step 1 (4, Informative)

seanellis (302682) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778437)

Subscribe to the "The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe" [theskepticsguide.org] podcast.

Re:Step 1 (3, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778823)

In my experience, being a capital-S "Skeptic" about one's pet dislikes (people have trotted out religion and global warming already, but not a single complaint about Microsoft yet!?!) isn't nearly as well-correlated with objectivity and critical thinking about anything else as the "Skeptics" would like to think.

Re:Step 1 (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778899)

Brian Dunning of the awesome Skeptoid podcast just released a movie about looking at things skeptically. Go to HereBeDragonsMovie.com to download it for free.

What you do is... (4, Funny)

mujadaddy (1238164) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778439)

...invite your pupil over to kick your football...

...then, at the last possible second, pull it away!

That'll teach em not to be so trusting!

I'm pretty sceptical... (1, Funny)

OzRoy (602691) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778461)

I'm pretty sceptical of any slashdot article that doesn't link to another article :/

Re:I'm pretty sceptical... (0, Troll)

ari_j (90255) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778575)

You got that far? I saw which "editor" (a term used too loosely) posted the story and knew that the tags should be !news and kdawsonsucksandisretarded. Of course, I had to read the blurb to know that this is also askslashdot.

Re:I'm pretty sceptical... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778673)

It's somewhat ironic that the question is asked on a web site where there's an unhealthy groupthink appearing on a regular basis.

Re:I'm pretty sceptical... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778853)

It's somewhat ironic that the question is asked on a web site where there's an unhealthy groupthink appearing on a regular basis.
I agree. The groupthink around here is absolutely outrageous!

Education from a young age (4, Interesting)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778465)

I didn't let my kid watch television until he was old enough to talk to.

Then I sat down with him, told him the rules for watching it, and emphasized one point:

"This is fun to watch, but remember - people lie."

At every level of life, when he was exposed to school, encountered any institution, or group, I would ask him, "How do you know this is true?"

I introduced him to the concepts of logic while playing games, and we made our own puzzles based on these concepts.

He is grown now, and has one awesome built-in BS detector.

Re:Education from a young age (1)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778571)

Sounds about right, although I can't condemn or endorse your methods in particular without seeing them more. Skepticism is a gift from your parents.

Re:Education from a young age (2, Insightful)

DylanW (189282) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778835)

This is true. I'm highly skeptical because my parents are very skeptical. Unfortunately, I think their mindset came from experience rather than training.

Of course this makes me a very negative and paranoid person. Sometimes it's hard to evaluate something correctly if you start looking at all the ways it can go wrong. And most people don't like it when your response to everything is "yeah, but *actually*..."--I've gotten the reputation for being a big kill-joy.

Which is probably one of the reasons no one wants to teach kids a healthy dose of skepticism--it's sort of depressing.

Re:Education from a young age (4, Insightful)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778877)

Also, different methods work on different kids, in different cultures. YMMV.

In general, teach your children to think. Give them tools they can use later in life.
  • A workable ethics system
  • Good manners
  • A good grasp of your language
  • Familiarity with a second language
  • At least basic math
  • The scientific method
  • Principles of logic
  • Healthy skepticism
  • Reward curiousity
  • Reward Kindness
  • Reward Perseverance
  • Set a good example

Re:Education from a young age (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778699)

Then I sat down with him, told him the rules for watching it, and emphasized one point:

"This is fun to watch, but remember - people lie."
So you let him watch House, then?

I learned by picking parents... (2, Funny)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778469)

that would scream and yell at me until I blacked out if I ever made a mistake.

As a systems engineer today, I rarely if ever make mistakes.

So, yes, this is possible to teach these things, in "healthy dose" quanities, I have no experience with them.

Re:I learned by picking parents... (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778927)

Haha, my parents didn't yell, but they pushed for perfection. I can't count the number of times I was made to do something completely over because one tiny thing was missed. I'm pretty sure that's why I'm a decent engineer today because I am OC about the details. Is this healthy? Who knows lol

It's teachable. Actually, it's even easy. (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778471)

But it won't be taught.

The very simple reason is that people who think are harder to govern than people who don't. What is wanted is people who can do their job, preferably well, but don't have any interests outside of it.

The reason why we get laws proposed that have glaring flaws is that those flaws are often what is wanted. The great majority of people does either not care or swallows the snakeoil and the promise of safety, simply because they were never taught to contemplate "what could possibly go wrong".

It's pretty much how Homer put it. We elect politicians so we don't have to think. Unfortunately, he's not alone with this point of view.

Re:It's teachable. Actually, it's even easy. (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778717)

The reason why we get laws proposed that have glaring flaws is that those flaws are often what is wanted. The great majority of people does either not care or swallows the snakeoil and the promise of safety, simply because they were never taught to contemplate "what could possibly go wrong".

It's pretty much how Homer put it. We elect politicians so we don't have to think. Unfortunately, he's not alone with this point of view.
Which Homer is that? The Homer who wrote the Iliad and atrachomyomachia and who was considered by the Greeks to have given them their Classical culture, or the one who gave us "D'OH!" and "C'mon, Marge! Less artsy, more fartsy!"

      And Spiderpig. Can't forget that one.

Re:It's teachable. Actually, it's even easy. (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778773)

Oops. Batrachomyomachia.

Re:It's teachable. Actually, it's even easy. (3, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778955)

Ok, this is /., I forgot. In any other board, this question wouldn't have been asked.

I mean the one that's more popular (or at least, widely known), because so many people can relate to him.

I think (1)

niceone (992278) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778485)

I think it is an "innate part of the geek personality". Different people have different personality traits, being the sort of person who literally lies awake at night wondering 'what could possibly go wrong' is very useful if you are designing a chip (for instance). On other areas of life it is not so useful!

Color me.. (2, Funny)

prakslash (681585) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778491)

I skeptical that such a skill can be taught.

Heheh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778493)

Trick 'em a bunch. Fool me once, can't get fooled again! (That is, teach by example.)

By actually doing difficult things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778499)

By actually doing difficult things, you learn big time when something obvious did not work in the end.

After two failed attempts, you automatically learn to *think before you do*.

Probably teachable... (4, Interesting)

Krinsath (1048838) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778505)

But you have to find someone who wants to live in a rational, logical world first. That's a lot harder than you might think, and probably explains why computer-saavy people tend to be more skeptical because logic is such a dominating facet of computing. "Normal" people, on the other hand, like their fairy tales and myths and "magic remedies" and so forth and tend to not appreciate it when you point out that what they're doing either doesn't work or has some other, more mundane, explanation...especially if that mundane explanation means they can't charge money for tours or Jesus-shaped bread.

Back to the question though, I find a healthy dose of skepticism from reading the various newsletters out there to be quite useful.

The James Randi Education Foundation (JREF) at http://www.randi.org/ [randi.org] has a weekly column they put out that is usually a good read discussing various "woo-woo" ideas and why, rationally, they fail as well as links to other such things. It's a decent enough starting point I suppose.

Re:Probably teachable... (1)

spazmonkey (920425) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778705)

I agree, but I must add that teaching logic and rational behavior to most humans is an instant fail. It's just not the way they are wired for some reason, and Darwin seems to be napping as they are rapidly outnumbering those of us that do value reason.

Re:Probably teachable... (1)

the4thdimension (1151939) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778753)

But you have to find someone who wants to live in a rational, logical world first. That's a lot harder than you might think, and probably explains why computer-saavy people tend to be more skeptical because logic is such a dominating facet of computing. "Normal" people, on the other hand, like their fairy tales and myths and "magic remedies" and so forth and tend to not appreciate it when you point out that what they're doing either doesn't work or has some other, more mundane, explanation...especially if that mundane explanation means they can't charge money for tours or Jesus-shaped bread.
I think, coming with this logic, is the want and tendency to constantly question the things around you rather than just accept them as real. If you teach people to question the things they hear, no matter the source, that leads to the step of critical thinking - that is, wondering why people are doing and saying the things that they are.

Idiot proofing (1)

southpolesammy (150094) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778507)

My thoughts were that it was always a side effect of the need to idiot-proof everything we do, borne from past experiences. I don't know that skepticism would exist if not for the need to learn from our failures.

Teaching skepticism? (3, Funny)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778513)

>> what is the best way to encourage and teach someone to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism?

Teaching skepticism? I doubt it.

It may be possible... (1)

dohadeer (598581) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778515)

... but I have yet to see any compelling evidence.

Don't get your hopes up (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778517)

My dad was the king of let downs, that's how I learned.

It comes with experience (1)

Cow Jones (615566) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778537)

IMHO, the ability to spot problems in designs comes with experience, and it's also the reason why tech guys and marketing guys usually don't get along very well. The first time the marketing team presents its newest killer idea in the presence of an engineer, they'll get back a lot of critical feedback. It is, in other words, the difference between dreamers and doers.

Disappointment is the mother of skepticism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778539)

I don't know if it's best to force it, but I think skepticism develops through disappointing experiences. When things you trust let you down repeatedly, you learn to trust less blindly, make contingency plans, allow a margin of error, question what you're told, and so forth.
I'm not saying you should intentionally screw people over just to make a point, but draw on these experiences as a teaching resource.

Trust, but verify!

The Skeptical Environmentalist (5, Interesting)

mongoose(!no) (719125) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778545)

Interesting book by Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistics professor. It has a lot of ancidotes about environmental policies and looking at the real impact of them. I don't agree with everything the author has to say, but it I thought it did a good job teaching critical thinking and encouraging people not to accept statistics at face value.

Re:The Skeptical Environmentalist (1)

backwardMechanic (959818) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778867)

I don't agree with everything the author has to say...
Surely that should be modded funny in a thread about skepticism!

Skepticism as Cause, rather than Symptom (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778561)

I would say that skepticism isn't so much symptomatic of the geek personality as causative thereof: the most prominent "geek" trait that I can think of - unwillingness to embrace untested or illogical ideas paired with a willingness to wholeheartedly embrace logical or testable ideas - seems to be wholly dependent on a well-balanced sense of skepticism.

All of the things that I typically associate with geeks versus non-geeks differ most dramatically in the presence or absence of internal consistency and predictability, a trait that skeptics seek in anything they examine before they are willing to accept it.

As a geek, (-1, Flamebait)

spazmonkey (920425) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778569)

I'm skeptical that normals can be taught the difference between edible and non-edible items, much less higher reasoning.

Good luck teaching them higher reasoning skills, logic, situational awareness or even, say, acting in their own best interest - all prerequisites bedore even beginning to install a healthy dose of skepticism...

Re:As a geek, (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778703)

Holy sheet! Do you have *ANY* friends??? Get over yourself, kid.

Re:As a geek, (1)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778743)

Speaking of figuring out what's inedible... apparently someone in the produce business can't even tell the difference between shit and a tomato. Otherwise, how the hell are we getting an outbreak of intestinal bacteria all over something which has no intestines?

Manure to be used as a fertilizer is supposed to be composted thoroughly. Hands that handle food are supposed to be cleaned thoroughly, especially after using the toilet. Animal enclosures aren't supposed to allow effluent to run downhill onto food crops. How is this all so difficult to understand?

Yet we have people sick in 17 states and I can't have a slice of zesty red beefsteak on my burger at any restaurant in town. There's something very wrong with this.

Very easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778573)

Have them conned out of some money. Maybe by some "free energy" people or something similiar.

Nothing like first hand loss to make people skeptical about claims.

Keyword: *Healthy* (2, Insightful)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778593)

A better question might be: How can one learn a sense of 'healthy' skepticism without going overboard and becoming outright cynical?

It's the difference between "let's be careful before we dive into something new & shiny" and "Get off my lawn!"

Re:Keyword: *Healthy* (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778873)

A better question might be: How can one learn a sense of 'healthy' skepticism without going overboard and becoming outright cynical?

Refuse to become a sage and continue to be a fool. The fool is immersed in and learns from the world where the sage stands above it and professes. The longer you can be a fool, the longer you will avoid cynicism.

Teaching skepticism is easy (1)

ryanvm (247662) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778597)

Teaching skepticism is easy. Just consistently fail to meet others' expectations.

It's an innate skill (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778611)

It's an innate skill. I know, because I have it. Whenever I use a product, I gravitate immediately to its design flaws, because they are invariably the first thing I try to do with it.

-When I bought a MacBook, my immediate impression was that it had poor interface design because the first things I tried to do on it, were the things that had unfixed (or rationalized as not worth fixing) issues: taking multiple stills from a video, uploading pictures to photobucket, editing PhotoBooth pictures in iPhoto, being stuck on a window in Mail, and others.

-When I used a sample of handwash gel, the first thing I noticed when using it was that you have to spill it if you want to use it.

-After I bought a car, I noticed that you almost don't notice if you have your headlights off at night, because all necessary instrumentation lights up, unlike my previous one, where you can't see anything on the dash at night until you turn them on.

I could go on.

All I would say to engineers and designers is: PLEASE, just use your product once! Most of the stuff I use seems like it hasn't even gone through this.

Is this really... (1)

Anonymous Cowtard (573891) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778617)

Is this really something you want to outright *teach*? I think it's best to let some learn for themselves but give them "encouragement" along the way. I think if you teach it you end up with people who are overly skeptical because they seem to never develop the key ingredient of skepticism: critical thinking. It seems, at least from my experience, that people who have the "take everything with a grain of salt" line of reasoning pounded into them lose the ability to know when they have crossed the line from being a skeptic to someone to whom no amount of reasoning, facts or other data can move from their position as they will dismiss it due to their continuing to follow their teaching beyond the letter. If they learn on their own and build it up with experience then the seem less likely to fall into this mode.

Re:Is this really... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778909)

Yes, yes you do.People must be taught proper thinking habits to be skeptical. How to question, when to question and what to ask is very important.

Your post underlines why skepticism need to be taught.

And to understand the difference between support and unsupported belief.

Maybe it's just not human nature? (5, Interesting)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778619)

In the UK we have this newspaper called the Daily Mail. Some people call it the Daily Hate Mail, because that's basically how it sells - it makes the reader angry. Every story is blatantly biased, designed to make your blood boil. There is always someone doing something stupid, someone to blame for every problem in the world. It's really obvious that it's actually a load of rubbish, but people seem to just have a natural tendency to like that sort of thing.

Herman Gering admitted that the Nazi party used basically the same trick. The argument that you are being attacked, that other people are the cause of all your problems seems to be very compelling, perhaps because evolution makes the world competitive by nature and because if it's someone else's fault, it's not yours.

A lot of men in particular seem to have a hard time admitting they are wrong too. Even if you point out how stupid their beliefs are, people have a hard time accepting it. So, when ideas come along that are even quite blatantly stupid people tend to latch on to them if they support their existing point of view.

I think the only way to counter it is to teach philosophy and rational thinking from an early age. People seem to literally not know how to think, how to form a logical argument or dissect one in a rational manner.

Build something (2, Interesting)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778637)

When I was in high school, we had two upper level physics class, AP Physics, and Electro-physics. I took the electro-physics class because we got to build things instead of study for a stupid test all year.

I learned quite a bit about electronics, but I think the most important thing I learned was failure mode analysis. The class had so many projects that required you to build things (physical things, not just circuits) that I, and everyone else in the class became very good at it. The projects started very simple and progressed in difficulty throughout the year.

At the end of the year, the Electro-physics class challenged the AP physics class to a sort of competitive science project, building a catapult. That's where our experience in construction paid off. Our project was heavily researched, carefully designed, and we even left a day to debug it (which proved extremely helpful). In the end, we won the competition.

Teaching skepticism... (2, Funny)

FataL187 (1100851) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778645)

My parents always tried to teach me to be skeptical, however I was never really sure that I believed anything they were saying.

It's a natural biproduct of critical thinking (5, Interesting)

Torinaga-Sama (189890) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778647)

True skeptics aren't taught, they are usually forged through their own mistakes and misjudgments. In education it would behoove us to encourage mistake making as a learning tool instead of the current academic paradigm of grades and rankings.

Of course I am a graduate of The Evergreen State College which has no grade system so apply salt liberally.

lifetime subscription to slashdot (1)

infonography (566403) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778659)

Can't think of any better way. Let them read some nonsense from Twitter or his sock puppets, read a few Apple rumors. Yeah you'll get the job done.

RRF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778693)

Read a lot. Use that as an augmentation to one's experience.

Replicate. Try to replicate all the practical ideas you've read about that seemed useful, to use that augmentation of one's life experience to improve one's life.

And most important. Fail. All the time and in often spectacular ways. This is truly the greatest teacher. And if you don't get enough of this early on, you'll probably go "Oh that river swolen with fresh rain and glacial water is probably good for swimming. It's June." And that will end the cycle. Abruptly.

Every now and then you'll have a nice success or two to build you up for the forthcoming failure. And those are always nice. If you do it well enough, you'll have enough left over success to enjoy, and some fucking funny, stupid, and or sad stories. Everyone loves stories.

Read books on it (5, Interesting)

AdamHaun (43173) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778709)

I don't think geeks are much more skeptical than other groups of people. Everyone thinks groupthink and bias don't apply to them, but the reality is a lot more subtle. A good book I've found for learning about innate human biases is How We Know What Isn't So [amazon.com] by Thomas Gilovich. It's filled with examples of how pattern detection and reasoning are skewed by the same heuristics that make our brains so effective in the first place.

General Semantics (1)

neuromancer23 (1122449) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778719)

Speaking as a computer programmer (J2EE) who is currently working on a PhD thesis in Social Psychology, the best cognitive approach to good mental health is without a doubt general semantics. In addition it also has the happy side effect of curing all sorts of schizophrenic and psychotic disorders through its approach to language.

The best book on the subject for the average reader is "Drive Yourself Sane" although purists with math skills will probably enjoy the seminal and founding text of G.S. "Science and Sanity"

Intelligence is after all, the ability to recognize exceptions, which once recognized, result in resolution through a higher-order abstraction or an alternative but parallel model, biologically altering neural associations in the CNS:

http://www.google.com/search?q=neuronal+group+selection [google.com]

skepticism isn't unique or special (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778727)

skepticism is simply an innate resistance to something new. if you want a good example of skepticism, try conservatism, which is clinging to the way things used to work, because you reject a novel way to do things... which is not necessarily bad, btw

all societies exhibit a rate of change. that rate of change must not be too fast or two slow. if the change is too slow, the society fails to capitalize on developments in the wider world, and falls into poverty and backwardness. if the change is too fast, bad ideas are picked up before they are properly evaluated, and damage society with maladaptive concepts out of touch with human nature

skepticism is merely an innate human resistance to change. and depending on the context, that can be a good or bad thing. skepticism is not automatically healthy or helpful, although it often is

meanwhile, the idea that skepticism should or could be taught, when it is already in all of us, is rather silly. skepticism requires very little mental effort, all you have to do is resist another person's idea. this is not difficult to achieve. if you have ever spent any time around 2 or 3 year olds, you will find that skepticism is the default reaction to anyone or anything new

in fact, i would go so far to say that if there is any relationship between skepticism and teaching, skepticism needs to be UNLEARNED, untaught. a lot of people are obstinate and fall into stasis and mediocrity, simply because they are so skpetical to new and better ways to do things

Re:skepticism isn't unique or special (0, Troll)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778975)

"skepticism is simply an innate resistance to something new. "

You could not be more wrong. I mean. it is unbelievingly, fundamentally wrong. You could only be more wrong id you said skepticism is a round banana square.

Where the hell did you get such a stupid idea?

Carl Sagan (4, Informative)

GreggBz (777373) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778731)

The best book I ever read on this subject is here. [amazon.com]

This book gives you a deep fundamental understanding of science and the scientific method. The chapters focus on debunking a variety of outrageous pseudoscience. Ideas from UFOs to conspiracy theories to the Lost City of Atlantis are swept away by convincing arguments. Once you read enough of this, the higher meaning presents itself. Don't let the nonsense comfort you falsely. Be skeptical and trust in science. It is the most reliable methodology for getting to the truth.

Few books really changed my outlook in life. This is one of them. Read the reviews at Amazon. You will see I'm not alone. For me, in this crazy world, science really has become a candle in the dark.

high school (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778739)

First suck out hope. Then inject bitterness and resentment. You know the process of going through High School as a geek.

Reap what you sow. (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778749)

Many books and courses teach critical thinking skills, but what is the best way to encourage and teach someone to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism

Ensure they have to use, maintain, destroy what they create. In other words, question yourself too, not just others.

I've always thought (cursed) that people should be forced to work on things they design - usually when trying to reach that bolt on the engine that's impossible to reach or actually turn if ever reached.

People never learn what it menas to fail (1)

multi-flavor-geek (586005) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778755)

They always have these safety nets so they never get hurt, or take a risk, or bloody a knee. I know what I can do know =by learning then what I could not do. Basically it works out that I have a certain level I can obtain without going to extreme measures to achieve it, and knowing now where those extreme measures start in, I can actively stay below them. Right now I have a job in a new venture that is working well, I have a magazine started, which is going well, and I am thinking of where I want to move next with my life. I have limits, but I know that I am below them. There are a lot of things that I would love to do with my life but I realize that a lot of those are just not reasonable without taking risks or making sacrifices that I cannot afford to take/make. I know I can write, and given enough time I know I could finish a book or a screenplay (please note, blogging and or /.ing does not show actual writing skills) and therefore I am skeptical about whether that would be a good direction to go. I love to paint and my art is very well received, but at the same time I am skeptical of my ability to make a career out of it. I would love to build a sailboat and live on board as I float around, but I am skeptical of my ability to put all of that together and make it work within a reasonable amount of time. Therefore I am going to stick with the little apartments, and keep things simple and stress free until the opportunity arises to make a jump to something else and the opportunity overwhelms the skeptic.

Keep religion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778757)

out of your home, along with other types of magical thinking

How could everything go right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778761)

what-could-possibly-go-wrong is inextricably linked to how-can-i-make-it-right. open source governance [wikipedia.org] is the geek institutionalization of both.

Philosophy (1)

Permutation Citizen (1306083) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778769)

We already have philosophy courses to learn skepticism and critical thinking.

In my experience (1)

BZWingZero (1119881) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778771)

I'm not sure this would teach skepticism in the general sense, but at least would show that science can say anything and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Just teach them about the dangers of DHMO and then reveal what it is a few days later.

Look up to the skies at night (1)

The_jos (659077) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778777)

Depending on the people you try to teach to be skeptical this might help.

When people are very firm on a point I think they are wrong I ask then to imagine they are looking at the night sky.
Then I ask them if what they see is real.
Most of the time they will reply: yes.

Then give them something to chew on: but the light from some of the stars travelled only for a few years while the light of other stars might have taken several decades to reach us.
It could even be that those stars never existed at the same time.
Is what you see real or not?

After that there is another question: imagine you are on a planet close to Polaris.
And take a peak to the sky from there.
Would you see the same as what we see here?

I think those kinds of questions could teach people not to take anything for granted.

Learn from these guys, The Skeptics Guide (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778785)

Try the weekly podcast from these [theskepticsguide.org] guys. The main guy S. Novella (Chairman I guess) frequently shows in great and unambiguous detail how to deconstruct and deal with areas you need to be skeptical in/off. Creationism, Homeopathy, Fake Mecicine (Snake Oil), UFO's, Bigfoot etc. I've been listening for 5 months, since I got my Xmas iPod, and I've learnt a lot.

Bob

Not sure about "skepticism" (1)

jhRisk (1055806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778797)

Whereas perhaps someone who is skeptical is more likely to be thorough in their exploration, I'm not sure it's something we should be striving for in our engineers. Hyperbole incoming! A hypochondriac would likely be a better doctor with respect to prescribing medicines and a misophobe a better maid but is that what we should shoot for?

Reinforcing the importance of being thorough, following procedures and truly thinking through the possibilities as analytically and logically as possible I believe is more important and easier to teach. It also works directly against major contributors to engineering related issues which are unfortunately related to characteristics innate to many if not most people on this planet; the desire to not think unnecessarily, cut corners if possible, etc. Besides, in my experience I've found that any skeptisim in my engineers as it invariably affects their ability to properly weigh other critical details in their analysis such as the propensity for it to occur, repercussions, etc.

P.S. I'm assuming here we're talking about the literal definition of "skepticism" (albeit not in severe form) and as it applies to someone's overall outlook and perception.

Teach illusionism / "magic" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778807)

Illusionism.

Specifically, show some tricks - e.g. with playing cards or so - and go on about how you're doing real magic and all that; then afterwards, show them how it's REALLY done and that it's all just tricks.

Show them the mis-beliefs of others (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778817)

Seems to me the seed of skepticism is the personal discovery that lots of people believe something that you know is untrue. Help your student to really learn this, and you've got a skeptic. Most adults believe a lot of untrue crap anyway, so some smart kids figure this out by themselves, often painfully. I also think some people are naturally more skeptical than others.

Science classes (4, Interesting)

backwardMechanic (959818) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778829)

I've often thought about running a science class in schools with deliberately miscalibrated rulers. Or maybe an undergrad lab, where a selection of the instruments are 'off'. See how long it takes the kids to figure it out. (My colleague just lost a weeks work because he didn't bother to test his fancy fibre-optic temperature probes by sticking them in a glass of water with a thermometer. He'll remember that lesson!)

school of hard knocks... (1)

capsteve (4595) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778833)

experience is the only way to develop a healthy dose of skepticism. too many kids are graduating and rolling into their first "real" jobs with a healthy serving of entitlement, and what they really need is a swift kick in the ass to bring them down a notch or two in order to adjust their level of expectations to a realistic level.

not everything can be learned from a book or class. a good dose of menial and manual labor is always quick way to teach a young pup simple lessons, including skepticism...

i think you are referring to teaching skepticism with regards to engineering... well, IMHO the best way would be for your students (or perhaps only the best ones) to work as laborer at a construction site. working shoulder to shoulder with some old timers, learning the ropes from the physical side of engineering might impart this elusive skill...

Pseudo-skeptics vs. skeptics (5, Insightful)

Cutie Pi (588366) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778839)

In my experience there are two forms of skepticism-- true skepticism, which is healthy and sadly lacking in most people, and what I call "pseudo-skepticism" which is in great abundance. Pseudo-skepticism goes right along with pseudo-science and as is often used as a foundation for a belief system. Example: the 9/11 conspiracy theorists are rabidly skeptical of anything presented by the government or mainstream media (which is good, to a degree), but are completely accepting of the most crackpot theories imaginable. (The more crazy the idea, the better IMHO). They do this while covering their ears and singing LA-LA-LA anytime any one tries to debunk their theories with science or counter-evidence. Both sides of the global warming debate contain pseudo-skeptics as well, and unfortunately, they are the ones making the most noise.

A true skeptic is skeptical of both points of view, and does the critical thinking necessary to form his/her own opinion. This is harder to teach since it comes from experience, which is harder to come by in this sheltered world of ours.

Too much skepticism is bad too (1)

bjdevil66 (583941) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778851)

Being able to discern the motives behind the skepticism is just as important as being skeptical in the first place.

What I've found is that while skepticism is a valuable tool to keep bad ideas from being implemented, people sometimes use "extreme" skepticism to shoot down ideas they don't understand or fear. In my instance, we started to use a new CMS for our web sites (Drupal). The initial reaction to it was very strong in the negative - people were talking about "the usual" - security issues, support, etc. However, when they started to use it, they grew to like it, and their skepticism went away.

Perhaps you want to teach critical thinking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23778855)

I think Skepticism and Critical thinking are being confused here. They are two distinct things. Critical thinking is a method or series of actions by which a concept or thing is dissected, where skepticism is an attitude. To take things one step further, critical thinking and thinking in a critical way are two different things.

I personally find skeptical attitude and critical comments to be negative contributors to discussions and learning. I don't work in behavior and development but the case is made for this in two books that are worth reading.

1) A general theory of love
2) Unconditional parenting

It's not about teaching it. (5, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778861)

It's not about teaching skepticism and critical thinking. It's about not squashing those natural talents by teaching kids about the empty power of magical thinking, house-of-cards hollow self esteem disconnected from actual achievement, and the endless wallowing in platitudes about "having faith" and "just believe, and you can do anything!" etc. The cultural institutions that rely on such stuff are always at odds with critical thinking. Kids are natural scientists - they understand the need to test causality, and are always curious. It's a shame that so many people completely misunderstand the nature of ethics, and seem to think that mysticism (the enemy of critical thinking) is required in order to derive a sound moral framework.

Parents are too quick to pass the baton to religion, new-age hokum, or just feel-good Oprah-ness in order to make their kids feel good about the world. They just want things to be easy, and don't have the personal fortitude to usher their kids through the slightly challenging phase of learning to apply their natural reasoning skills to topics that are somewhat less immediately tangible than what happens when you touch something hot. Issues like "what happens when one state taxes high tech entrepeneurs more than the the state next door" or "what happens when you let a gene pool get too shallow" or "what happens when you use GOTO statements in your code because it lets you get to lunch earlier that day" aren't any different than "what happens when you dump a hot oatmeal bowl in your lap," but require a little more discipline to digest.

The platform for rational thought is already there. You have to kill it, though, or slowly suffocate it throughout child development, in order to make it something that it feels like work to wake it back up later. Just keep it alive in the first place, and we wouldn't have such a mixed bag cultural messes to deal with. We wouldn't be seeing the strange, sad dance of a politician twisting and turning while explaining why he's suddenly between churches while running for president... since he wouldn't have been glued to a crazy church in the first place. Think how much less noise and distraction we'd have without all that nonsense.

In a word: Failure (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778913)

People are too afraid to let their kids fail. You learn skepticism by messing up, by making bad decisions, by getting scammed. Let your kids fail (just make sure they aren't getting in over their heads so that failure doesn't have consequences that are *too* dire).

Don't be afraid to share with them about failures of judgement you've made in your own life, and what the consequences were, and how you dealt with those failures afterwords.

Also, make sure your kids watch/listen/see news after a certain age. It's true you might not want to scare them when they are entirely too young, but I would think that once a kid's older than about 5 years old, it's probably time to start teaching them about the world. Make sure they are aware of the stories in the news about people getting scammed, or kids and high school students getting kidnapped, etc.

So in summary, let them learn from their own failures, and make sure they are aware of and learn from other peoples' failures too. Don't shield them too much. People learn skepticism themselves if they simply aren't shielded from the truth too much.

Lie to your kids. (1)

Loether (769074) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778923)

Easy. As a parent you should lie to your kids early and often. Teach them not to trust authority, especially you. :) I'm only half kidding. Play practical jokes on them. Before you know it they will be questioning everything.

I'll give you an example. When I was a little kid my engineer dad thought it would fun to play a trick on me. It was a snow covered winter morning. He walked down the driveway and down the street. Then when I got bundled up and walked outside he got down on one knee and he held his arms open wide and told me to run to him. I take off at full steam and fall headfirst into a huge snowdrift in the ditch next to the street. It was funny and it taught me a good lesson in critical thinking.

How could you get a job? (4, Insightful)

pileated (53605) | more than 6 years ago | (#23778973)

In my experience skepticism is the one quality that most agitates employers, sad to say.
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