Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Joy of Skepticism

I was sitting in bed reading last night when my husband came into the room, a concerned expression on his face.

“I’m really getting worried about that storm,” he said.

“What storm?” I put my book down, puzzled.

“Florence,” he replied. “Ken called tonight and at around seven and said he heard it was a Category Three and headed our way.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And where did he get that information?”

Larry sat down. “I don’t know,” he said. “The news, I guess.”

I picked my book back up. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Ken’s wrong.”

“Why would you say that?” he asked in a tone edged with irritation.

“Because I checked the wires before I left work.” I had just finished my twice-weekly editing stint an hour earlier, and at 10 p.m. the National Weather Service’s official report had Florence still at tropical storm strength and projected to eventually head north. What Ken had alleged was impossible.

“Well, I was only going on what Ken said,” Larry muttered. “I don’t know what reason he’d have to lie.”

I bit my tongue, having no desire to rehash the conversation we’d had a few weeks earlier regarding the $4,000 steak story. Larry’s brother, who was touring Europe, had called to recount his dining experience in an Italian restaurant that sold $4,000 steaks. I’d not believed the story for two reasons. For one thing, Larry’s brother is prone to wild embellishments and for another no restaurant that served $4,000 steaks - if such a place existed - would let him in as a worker, let alone as a patron.

I had told Larry then what I refused to repeat. People make up, embellish or repeat crazy stories for all sorts of reasons. Some just like to be listened to, like our neighbor who once told us about witnessing a bobcat fight so fierce that by the time it was over, an acre of bushes and small trees had been uprooted. Others like to trick people, hence the urban legends we’ve all come to know and hate, like the story of tourists being waylaid and later waking up in tubs of ice, to find they’ve had their kidneys stolen. Others have financial motives, and make up stories so people will give them money.

Most people who pass on bogus information are benign, though. Ken, who works at the local grocery store, probably heard someone else’s embellishment about the storm, believed it, and passed it on. Ken is a friend, so Larry believed him. Larry’s like a lot of people, who equate kindness - or feigned kindness - with credibility.

I can’t do that. If something strikes me as unbelievable I feel compelled to check it out, I don’t care who it’s coming from. You should, too. You might be surprised at what you’d find.

Larry accuses me of being a too skeptical, but I don't think that I am. I think I'm realistic, and that realism keeps me from sending my money to scam artists, believing Bill Gates will send me $100 if I forward an email or panicking about the weather.

One of our staff writers and his wife had a baby recently. A photographer took a great picture of mother and child. It’s a funny shot; in it the baby is looking at its mother with the most dubious expression. The caption under the picture read, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

For the record, that’s skepticism.


Andy Looney said...

I got pretty wet walking home during Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Took me until 1961 to dry out.

Morgan said...

Ha! My dad was in the National Guard during Hazel and had to help cleanup. He's still wringing out his shoes.
Andy, you always make me smile.

Andy Looney said...

On Friday afternoon they used to take us next door to the church for the last 45 minute period for benediction....Catholic school of course...I was in grade 7.

Suddenly the stained glass windows turned blacker than Toby's arse and the teachers told us to go straight home.

My mother had hot chocolate waiting for us.

Next day we learned of the death toll in the Toronto area.

Erik said...

Larry accuses me of being a too skeptical, but I don't think that I am. I think I'm realistic,

Yup, and I am not paranoid!

Morgan said...

"Yup, and I am not paranoid!"

Me either, erik. Wait...what was that? ;-)

Ayman said...

Word up homies!

Suspect said...

If those creationist idiots were more skeptical (or is it sceptical?) of the Bible...

Erik said...

well there's one for randomness!

Morgan said...

Unusual suspect,
It's skeptical, and I personally find the attempt to force creationaism and ID to be taught to kids ridiculous. We homeschool and it was quite difficult to find a science curriculum that did not include some form of ID or creationism slant.
I say teach science and keep you religious views to yourself.

thimscool said...

Maybe this will get a response from my man Eaglewood...

Love the icons...

That Cleaning Lady said...

I think I'm married to your brother-in-law. Mr. Embellishes -and -can -darn-well prove it too!!

JohnR said...

thimscool: interesting site but kind of whiny.

The astrology argument is poor.

The sun and moon can be used to discern the seasons, time, and position on the Earth, the same with the stars esp for sailors.

And yet it has nothing to do with astrology.

Also, go out away from the city in an area with no light and look up. There are millions of stars for the viewing. I see this at my mother's all the time. So many they blend together in clouds of stars and put out a lovely light, dim though it is, you can see by it.

I don't think Eaglewood is going to bite.

thimscool said...

I think you're right about Eaglewood, John.

I didn't read the part about astrology. Did you check out the Koran?

eaglewood said...

Late, but I am going to bite.

I am laughing my rear end off at just the little bit I saw.

Anyone cane take single verses and make them mean what they want them to mean. everything must be taken in context.

thimscool said...

Yah. It's pretty weak. But it was on topic.