I've fallen a little behind on my Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcasts. This morning I was listening to the Aug 26 episode with the Richard Saunders interview. This interview reminded me of something really important about being a skeptic. It is important to have the right attitude.
Skepticism is about a positive state of mind. It is about curiosity and open mindedness. It is about excitement and joy in the way the world works. I'd guess that most people don't see skeptics that way. I think that skeptics have a reputation for being fun wreckers. Boring, analytical, joyless and always contrary. I'm sure that some people that claim to be skeptics have earned this reputation. But my idea of skepticism is different. For me being skeptical means when you hear a claim that sounds fantastical, you obviously have doubts, but you don't stop there. You say, 'How cool would it be if that were true?' Then you ask for the data. You look at the evidence. Have your doubts, but don't have your mind made up. Be excited for the chance to learn something new and unexpected.
That said, I think one of the reasons that skeptics sometimes get a bad rap is that they often feel isolated and out-numbered. When you are the lone rational voice, it is important to be clear and unambiguous. People don't like to have their irrational beliefs questioned, so they label any well reasoned opposition as harsh. I'm not sure that reaction can be helped. So, be positive, curious, and open minded, but strongly defend the position that the evidence supports. That is being a skeptic.