Scientific Skepticism: Distinguishing Reality from Imagination!

I usually write these articles as conversations with my mom. For fun, and because my latest book is set in Walt Disney World, I decided to present the first half as a conversation between Figment and his friends.

Well Figment, Scientific Skepticism is a way of looking at ideas and beliefs and figuring out what is true or not. It means not just accepting things at true without evidence, asking questions, and looking for evidence.

Fair question. It's a little more than just being doubtful. Scientific skepticism requires that we really look into a claim, and accept it if it the evidence says it is true, and reject it if the evidence says it isn't. A person who doubts everything, even when there is plenty of evidence that it is true, may be skeptical, but he or she isn't being scientifically skeptical. A true skeptic goes where the evidence takes them. A skeptic is doubtful of claims that have no evidence, especially if they are fairly unusual, sound too good to be true, or are really important. But there's no need to go around doubting everything all the time. If your friend says they can fly, and they have lovely wings like you do, it's probably safe to go ahead and believe them. But if you see your friend struggling to get off the ground, like our friend the caterpillar, then maybe you should be doubtful that he is correct. That doesn't mean he's lying, or even that he is definitely wrong, just that the evidence doesn't support his claim and we need more evidence.
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Go find more evidence! Be a sleuth. Get curious. You never know what you'll find.
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Excellent! You have directly observed trace evidence of you! So we know you exist. I'm glad you believed in you enough to go searching.
No! You follow the evidence, strictly. If the evidence says it's true, you accept that the evidence points to true, until it is disproven. But if a thing is unlikely, or pretty amazing, and there is no evidence that it is true, you keep in mind that it probably isn't true, at least until someone provides better evidence. We don't need evidence that unlikely things are false because they are unlikely to be true. If I tell people that there is a flying purple dragon in Epcot, they would be foolish indeed to just trust that I am telling them the truth. It isn't as if there are lots of flying purple dragons, except of course, in our imaginations. You're a pretty unique fellow.
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Sometimes people post things online that makes us think, "Wow, those dragons are really jerks. They're burning down hospitals!" Then other people respond by posting their own false stories, like, "Dragons are being attacked by angry mobs who think they are burning down hospitals." It's easy to get caught up. You should be skeptical of those stories, especially if you're really afraid of dragons... or if you are a dragon. It's easy to get carried away and believe things that match what we already imagine is going on. If you feel like others don't like dragons, it's easy to believe other people are attacking dragons, and to get upset when people post things claiming dragons are doing bad things. The more things match a story playing in our heads, the easier it is to be taken in by false stories that also seem to match. It's hard, but it's important to not let our emotions and our imaginations trick us into listening to silly people, or we'll seem silly too! 

Ok, that was a bit of fun. While I enjoy being a bit silly, I really do think scientific skepticism is even more important today than ever. That's why, while I was writing Three Shots Fired from Cinderella Castle I wanted to make sure my protagonists were appropriately skeptical. This book is fiction, so I can assert some things that aren't true, as long as they are plausible and they're not definitely disproven. I can say there is a sinkhole under Epcot, as long as no one has tested the ground under Epcot and definitely shown this to be false. Even if they have, if most people don't know that, I can probably get away with it. My characters though, have to be appropriately skeptical about the things going on, just as you or I would hopefully be in such a situation. I decided to have my characters grapple with these sorts of issues. How do you know that what you think is true, really is true? And how do you convince others? The answer in both cases was, evidence. Let me explain.

 

My two main protagonists are a YouTuber named, RickWDW85 and an former imagineer named, Doug Able. Rick is a bit impulsive and competitive. He's jealous of the success of other YouTubers and desperate to find the big story that will propel him to stardom. Doug is a bit angry and desperate to regain the promising career he had. So both of them have strong motivations to both accept wild theories, and to try to convince others of things they believe, possibly on too little evidence. So these two men have to sort through their feelings and the things they've actually seen or heard, and determine if what they think is true. Then, they have to get others to believe them. So how do they do that?

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No real spoilers, I promise. - Doug and Rick aren't as different as they may at first seem. One is just older than the other, and has been through some tough times. Both may be imaginative and thrill seekers, but they also value scientific skepticism on some level. This is apparent from the get-go when they constantly question their own conclusions. Doug wonders if what he saw was an indication of an invasion, however unexpected and unlikely that may seem, or if he is exaggerating and misinterpreting the clues. After all, they could just be militia, right? He goes in search of other people to help him figure it out, repeatedly. And each time he gets a little new information, he wants more. He realizes that other people aren't going to just take his word for it. They'll want actual physical evidence. They need to see with their own eyes. Rick fears others won't think as he does, so he keeps his concerns to himself, and thus makes the situation worse. But he too looks for supporting evidence. When others tell him not to worry, that everything is probably fine, he isn't able to just accept that. He wants to know. And knowing means getting the evidence himself. Importantly, however much he doesn't believe Doug from the beginning, he is willing to examine the evidence, and accept whatever it shows. 

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I don't want anyone to think this is a story that takes itself too seriously. While the story should please skeptical readers for its adherence to scientific skepticism, it's really just an adventure yarn set in a rather unlikely set of circumstances. You don't have to be serious, to be skeptical. You can have fun. You can have an imagination. I hope you find this story as fun as I did when I wrote it. And remember, Figment is a purple dragon who really exists in Epcot, but he's not really real. Imagination is a great thing, but sometimes you have to be a bit more skeptical, like Doug and Rick.