Doubt - A double edged sword

First, we acknowledge that doubt, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  It is closely related to the skepticism that underlies science. 


It depends on how it is used: to help, or to hinder.


Having said that, our primary goal on this page here is to point out the ways that doubt can be used to hinder by obscuring reality (lead folks to doubt what they can see, or what they are being told).


Obstructive Doubt:


Unfortunately, because doubt so often has a positive use, there are those who capitalize on the favorable view of doubt to cause us to doubt reality. In fact, there is a long history of using doubt in planned efforts to get people to doubt what's really going on.  It is a common strategy used by folks who want us not to see aspects of reality.  The problem is, it is possible to doubt almost everything, from the landing on the moon to climate change.


Obstructive doubt is questioning that attempts at least to undermine at most to outright deny factual information.  It is a detrimental (rather than beneficial) skepticism that is used on issues and problems with the hope that they will be dismissed and/or ignored.


Tobacco Industry: One of the very best uses of doubt is the well-documented strategy of the tobacco industry in their efforts to diminish the significance and impact of research indicating the role of smoking in the incidence of lung cancer.  A review of some 1200 internal tobacco industry documents revealed how they attempted to discredit and block research demonstrating the relationship between smoking and cancer, including both the addictive and carcinogenic aspects of smoking. 


 To read a full report about the tobacco industry's strategy


Climate Change: There can be no doubt that those who either don't want to agree that there is substantial climate change occurring these days, or that humans have caused, or contributed, or accelerated  this climate change, have been attempting to sow seeds of doubt concerning both the consensus of scientists who do see the climate change and the research findings they base this consensus on.


Of course, we are neither supporting, or denying climate change at this point (we'll save something like that for a separate page on this web site).  All we are doing now is pointing out that there really are attempts to cause people to doubt there is climate change, or human contribution to it.



Productive doubt:  On the positive side, doubt can be seen as akin to skepticism, a fundamental aspect of our attempts to perceive reality.  It can lead us to using critical thinking, and it is a basic aspect of all scientific inquiry.  With regard to the latter, it leads to efforts to validate scientific findings,  So, no, doubt is not always a way to obscure reality.  It can motivate us to discover reality.  Check out our articles about science to read more about how doubt is an underlying motivator and corrective force in scientific inquiry.


Doubting Doubt: Yeah, sounds a bit redundant, but all we mean is that the beneficial use of doubt can apply to doing a reality check on things we're told to doubt.  There are times when it is crucial not to make a false negative error. in this case deciding something is untrue on the basis of doubt, when in fact is is true (this is what a false negative is).


 To read about False Positives and False Negatives.

 To go to the brief introduction to Hot Topics

 To read about science and the beneficial use of doubt


 To go to the Articles Page.

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