I enjoy a good conspiracy theory. While I don’t subscribe to the idea that the 9/11 attack was really perpetuated by shape-shifting lizard people cleverly using high explosive and holograms I enjoy hearing about it. But I seldom enjoy the presence of hardcore conspiracy theorists. This is because of their religious belief in questioning everything.
Questioning things is a great practice but often a futile one when you don’t know what you don’t know. A classic example is the “all natural” crowd. You know the type. They can’t help but bitch about whatever you’re eating because it’s not organic, fair-trade, all natural, non-GMO, grass-fed, and locally grown. According to them all of humanity’s problems are caused by “unnatural” foods. Unnatural, in this case, means pretty much anything that has been genetically modified. Credit is deserved for not taking the statements of geneticists at face value. After all, no geneticist takes the claims of another geneticist at face value. But most of the “all natural” crowd has almost no background in genetics or biology so they tend to base their claims on pseudoscience. Because they lack a background in genetics and biology they don’t know what they don’t know.
This is a characteristic common amongst the “question everything” crowd. More often than not they lack even a basic understanding of the science behind what they’re questioning. Because of this their attempt to question everything quickly becomes an exercise in making up an alternative explanation for commonly accepted beliefs. Meaningfully questioning things requires having an understanding of the topics being questioned.
So how does one become a good skeptic? By asking meaningful questions. How does one ask meaningful questions? By researching and experimenting. If you question whether genetically modified crops cause cancer you should research biology, namely the field of genetic modification and cancer. Without that knowledge you will likely make assumptions that subject matter experts refuted ages ago.
Being skeptical is good but there’s a world of difference between somebody whose skepticism is based on a scientific understanding of the subject matter and people who just want an alternative explanation to be true so they can feel superior to all the “sheep” who are too dumb to know the truth. Be the former. If you want to question something, which you should, spend time researching it instead of parroting some bullshit vomited out by Alex Jones.