A Skeptical Parenting Anthem – Part 2
(Non-mobile users, if you’ll permit me a nostalgic pop-punk indulgence, this article is best read while listening to it’s namesake. Hit play and come back, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
Part 1 of this article, a history of things I don’t like, proved too lengthy to write. Instead, please accept this short excerpt from it.
In a triumph of public relations over reason, many industries from Tobacco to Pharmaceutical to Oil, coopted science for their own gain, with infrequent but scarring incidents over many decades. Trust broken and wary, the public, without a strongly developed ability to think critically, became increasingly independent, wanting to take ownership of their choices. Once the internet created large platforms with low costs for entry, the information available to the public, both accurate and inaccurate, exponentially increased while the distinguishing characteristics between them diminished. Creating a false dichotomy, adherents of many unproven concepts began to convince larger and larger groups that science and its methods had gone too far. The way forward, they now argued, is to take a step back, to older, simpler, natural methods for everything from medicine to farming, sometimes accepting but more often, ignoring the forgotten costs of the obsolete.
Let us now continue on to Part 2.
Grounded Parents is a blog about skeptical, science-based parenting. What does that mean?
You are probably here because a skeptic you know shared the link. Think about that person now. Sometimes they seem like a jerk, correcting or mocking people on the internet, right? This is not what skepticism is about, despite virtually all of us being guilty of it at one time or another. Skepticism is not about proving people wrong. That’s just an amusing pastime.
It’s also not about atheism, even though most skeptics are nonbelievers. It’s not about proving there are no Big Feet; you can’t. It’s not about GMO’s, feminism, vaccination, The Food Babe, Steve Novella, or Rebecca Watson. It’s notably not about Richard Dawkins.
I want to tell you that skepticism is the search for truth, but I can’t because some assholes already took that phrase and turned it into something meaningless. But goddamn it, it is the search for truth. Not an exciting “truth” that’s hidden away from the “sheeple” and only we, a special unique few, know. No, that narrative only serves the masturbatory purposes of those who believe it. Science is hard and truth, the real truth, is boring as fuck. If there is a bar for entry, that’s it. Can you put in the time, the effort, and the intellect to understand the science and then accept the stupid boring mundane answers as readily as you can accept the fascinating ones?
Skeptics use the concept of null hypothesis to guard against incorrect assumptions and faulty claims, requiring that anyone trying to say something actually, you know, prove it. Of course this relatively simple concept gets muddied right off the bat by the vast areas where we don’t have good data, so skepticism is also about understanding the limits of science. A good skeptic learns to say “I don’t know,” “no one knows,” or “that’s not something we can know” and feel good about it.
Finally, we have an appreciation for the consensus of the scientific community. One of the easiest ways for otherwise rational people to go off the rails is to disregard legitimate science as tainted by money, politics, or vast conspiracies of dubious evidence. Money is, of course, a factor. It can create a bad paper. Ideologically driven science with bad methods can do the same. Money might push a bad paper past peer review. But money can’t get other scientists to replicate the results. It can’t convince readers on the other side of the globe to expand on the work. In the end, science will always find the truth.
Take it from someone whose job is to figure out how machines work: a child is a complex system, with countless variables and interfaces, terrible feedback, and no log file. While sleep-deprived, you get emotionally invested in trying to figure this enigma out without the benefit of a control group, a pause button, or a manual. It’s no surprise at all that parenting drives the best of us half-mad.
So what do parents do? They try anything they can think of; they ask friends and family for advice; and fairly often, they turn to experts. And I wish I meant their pediatrician but no, we are talking about the sea of experts who will tell you (but more often sell you) the answer to your problems.
Here’s my assertion: Almost all of these people have some valuable idea to contribute, but none of them are totally right. Your child is your child. They are simultaneously a unique snowflake and just like every other kid who’s ever existed. So you need to look out into that sea of advice and pick out the bits of truth. You are the only expert on parenting your child. But that doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you feel like, ignoring criticism and caution. This is a vital obligation; you need to respect it. You need to become an expert at reading that news story about car seats, checking its sources or finding the original paper. You need to understand logical fallacies and realize how that emotional plea on facebook to feed your children organic was actually just smoke and mirrors over expensive veggies. You need to learn about confirmation bias and how eating sugar doesn’t actually change kids behavior.
You need to be skeptical.
Look, you’re already a skeptic. You use critical thinking every day. It’s how you decide whether to believe the auto mechanic or plumber. It’s how you make good decisions at work. You are a fact-crunching machine, but you have to apply it all the time. And you’re not infallible. Neither are we. So stick around, give skeptics a chance and we’ll show you some ways to think better, avoid the B.S. that people so often throw around, and be the parent you want to be.
Featured image used under CC with our thanks, belongs to theNerdPatrol.
Skepticism isn’t about proving PEOPLE wrong, it’s about proving ideas wrong, which then gives us more idea of which ideas are right.
Sure, that’s true. My point was that skepticism is first defined by it’s adherence to scientific principles, not by it’s opposition to pseudoscience.
I would say that skepticism is about trying to established the plausibility of a given idea – not about to prove it wrong. And we (try to) use tools such as critical thinking and the scientific method to try to establish how plausible a claim is or is not.