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Scientific skepticism or rational skepticism (also spelled scepticism), sometimes referred to as skeptical inquiry, is a practical, epistemological position in which one questions the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence. In practice, the term is most commonly applied to the examination of claims and theories which appear to be beyond mainstream science, rather than to the routine discussions and challenges among scientists. Scientific skepticism is different from philosophical skepticism, which questions our ability to claim any knowledge about the nature of the world and how we perceive it. Scientific skepticism uses critical thinking and inductive reasoning while attempting to oppose claims made which lack suitable evidential basis. The New Skepticism described by Paul Kurtz is scientific skepticism and scientific skepticism is a core part of the Brights Movement beliefs.
Scientific skeptics attempt to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourage accepting claims on faith or anecdotal evidence. Skeptics often focus their criticism on claims they consider to be implausible, dubious or clearly contradictory to generally accepted science. This distinguishes scientific skeptics from professional scientists who often[weasel words] concentrate on verifying or falsifying hypotheses created by those within their particular field. Scientific skeptics do not assert that unusual claims should be automatically rejected out of hand on a priori grounds - rather they argue that claims of paranormal or anomalous phenomena should be critically examined and that such claims would require extraordinary evidence in their favor before they could be accepted as having validity.
Popular targets of criticism among skeptics include psychics, parapsychology, dowsing, astrology, creationism, homeopathy, tarot reading, alien abductions, and ESP, which are either pseudosciences or unsupported by existing evidence. Skeptics such as James Randi have become famous for debunking claims related to some of these. Many skeptics are atheists or agnostics, and have a naturalistic world-view, however some committed skeptics of pseudoscience including Martin Gardner have expressed belief in a god.
From a scientific point of view, theories are judged on many criteria, such as falsifiability, Occam's Razor, and explanatory power, as well as the degree to which their predictions match experimental results. Skepticism is part of the scientific method; for instance an experimental result is not regarded as established until it can be shown to be repeatable independently.
By the principles of skepticism, the ideal case is that every individual could make his own mind up on the basis of the evidence rather than appealing to some authority, skeptical or otherwise.
Skepticism is an approach to strange or unusual claims where doubt is preferred to belief, given a lack of conclusive evidence. Skeptics generally consider beliefs in the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) and psychic powers as misguided, since no empirical evidence exists supporting such phenomena. The Ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that to release another person from ignorance despite their initial resistance is a great and noble thing. Modern skeptical writers address this question in a variety of ways.
Bertrand Russell argued that individual actions are based upon the beliefs of the person acting, and if the beliefs are unsupported by evidence, then such beliefs can lead to destructive actions. James Randi also often writes on the issue of fraud by psychics and faith healers. Critics of alternative medicine often point to bad advice given by unqualified practitioners, leading to serious injury or death. Richard Dawkins points to religion as a source of violence (eg in his book The God Delusion, and considers creationism a threat to biology. Some skeptics, such as the members of The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast, oppose certain cults and new religious movements because of their concern about what they consider false miracles performed or endorsed by the leadership of the group. They often criticize belief systems which they believe to be idiosyncratic, bizarre or irrational.
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