We Could be Wrong: The Value of Intellectual Humility in ‘Skeptical Inquirer’

September 9, 2020

In our hyperpolarized, hyperpartisan era, perhaps the hardest thing to do is to admit we might be wrong. Baseless, unscientific beliefs are routinely expressed with absolute certainty, and for advocates of science and reason it is tempting to confront false claims with equal conviction, or even contemptuous dismissal. But in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer, researchers advance what they believe to be a more effective “guiding credo” for skepticism: the embrace of intellectual humility.

“Intellectually humble individuals habitually reflect on their thinking processes, applying the principles of skepticism to their own reasoning,” write a team of scholars led by Emory University psychology professor Scott O. Lilienfeld. Their research shows that intellectual humility helps inoculate one from things like confirmation bias, conspiracy theories, and falling for “pseudoprofound BS” stuffed with scientific-sounding jargon.

The capacity to admit the possibility of error is a virtue that has been championed by skeptic heroes, including Charles Darwin, Carl Sagan, and Paul Kurtz. “In many respects, we can think of science as an organized prescription for intellectual humility,” write the authors, wisely concluding, “But of course, we might be wrong.”

Also in the September/October issue of Skeptical Inquirer:

  • Benjamin Radford reveals the harm posed by popular “pseudoexperiments,” usually media-driven stunts with the illusion of objectivity that purport to let you “see for yourself” what the truth is.
  • Brian Bolton exposes how creationist groups such as Reasons to Believe reject scientific evidence that doesn’t suit their predetermined explanations, filtering everything through a biblical Christian worldview.
  • Matthew J. Sharps and colleagues separate popular myths about mysticism and UFOs from the very real scientific and technological accomplishments of the indigenous cultures of the American Southwest.
  • Harriet Hall demystifies the process of pharmaceutical development, plainly explaining “how a drug is born.”

And much more. Skeptical Inquirer is available in both print and digital subscriptions.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.

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