Doubt - A double edged sword
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 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).
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
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 thisclimate
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).
read about False Positives and False Negatives.
go to the brief introduction to Hot Topics
read about science and the beneficial use of doubt
go to the Articles Page.