I’ve been enjoying an “Uncorrected Advance Reading Copy” of the upcoming U.S. edition of Mike McRae’s Tribal Science from Prometheus Books, which has once again put me in mind of something I think about often: the considerable bogusness of the conceit of “skeptics” versus “believers.” There is a social subculture that can be called “skepticism” and there is a niche of scholarly activity by the same name, but it’s a mistake to suppose that skeptics and believers are very different sorts of people.
The true landscape of skepticism and belief is so complex that I can’t resist summing it up with this wonderful T-shirt slogan from Ben Goldacre: “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.” Bulldozing the complexity of human striving for understanding into tribal “skeptic” and “believer ” piles distorts reality, and makes it harder to do the already difficult work of solving mysteries and promoting science literacy.
I remember the first time I learned about Type I and Type II errors, from another Michael – Michael Shermer. I hope that Americans will consider reading Tribal Science (available via Prometheus Books) with the same interest and enthusiasm I had when I first picked up a copy of Why We Believe Weird Things.
Michael McRae is one of the writers of this series of YouTube videos from TechNYou – the Critical Thinking Series.