the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Manifest Skeptology

Posted by Jeff Id on August 11, 2011

I hate the term ‘Manifesto’.  Every time I read it I imagine some religious cult promoting a complex yet divinely unquestionalbe truth.  A skeptic manifesto is an oxymoron by birth — almost.  It fixes your position and in an improper fashion.  Without much thought, a manifesto would seem to be bad news for any scientist. It represents an idealism which cannot be broken.  So after reading a really crappy ‘skeptic manifesto’, I wondered if there is one which can define a proper skeptic that I could live with.  See, there are many who would see skeptic as being one with no foundation (philosophically skeptical of everything until nothing is known), there are others which see it as a foundation against the establishment or even wilder, a foundation against a consensus.  I see it as a foundation against your own beleif, an inner war which will never be won or else it is lost.  If you can’t occasionally admit being wrong, something is wrong with your life outlook.  Therefore a  skeptic has an ability to question even “known” things combined with an ability to accept what is reasonable.  Therefore, in my opinion,  a ‘skeptical manifesto’ should read something like this:

A skeptic is one who questions and decides through logic and reason their own opinion on a topic with a directed effort to ignore the distractions of non-evidentiary arguments or concern of the consequences of the logical conclusions.

Oddly enough, after coming up with my ‘manifesto’ it reads just as well this way:

A scientist is one who questions and decides through logic and reason their own opinion on a topic with a directed effort to ignore the distractions of non-evidentiary arguments or concern of the consequences of the logical conclusions.

So the point of this rambling is to see who can come up with a better/cleaner manifesto for a truly skeptical scientific thinker.

I like simple, so who has a better one?

And for those scientists who come here and see this as a holier than thou post,  I will again point out that in far too many cases, this is a battle within one’s self as much as a study of a scientific puzzle.

60 Responses to “Manifest Skeptology”

  1. Manifestos are for people who believe they are right. Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto (1848) comes to mind.

    Skeptics are people who are skeptical. Like the legendary denizens of Missouri (the “Show Me” state). Simply incompatible with the concept of “Manifestos”.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    I have no ‘manifesto’ or firm conclusions, but here is a summary of tentative ones over the past 50 years:

    1. Science vs. Propaganda

    2. Origin of the Solar System (1975)

    3. The Iron Sun (1983)

    4. Neutron Repulsion

    5. Global Warming Scam (2011)

    The best indicator that a conclusion has some validity is attempts by government-sponsored scientists to hide, avoid, misrepresent or manipulate the experimental data.

    These conclusions are summarized in “The Bilderberg Sun, Climategate and Economic Crisis”

    Thanks to the kindness of Fate, I am pleased to report that

    Today all is well,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  3. Brian H said

    Arg. Thread bomb. Thanks, Oliver.

    A skeptic is one whose questioning and rigor of examination of assertions and conclusions is proportionate to the agreement and authority with which they are advanced.
    A skeptic is a sworn enemy to group-think.

  4. timetochooseagain said

    A skeptic is one who seeks after truth, and questions always those who claim to have found it. No claim is accepted by the skeptic without documented evidence that can be verified independently. That evidence must be relevant to the issue at hand and all concerns should be addressed about the accuracy of the underlying data and all uncertainties with the interpretation of the data should similarly be open. This is all very simple stuff, it’s all one could reasonably ask for, I think. It’s not much, but it is a heck of a lot more than we see presently. Under those conditions, a reasonable skeptic can be convinced.

  5. Mark T said

    Skeptics question authority. I think your first blockquote says this in a few more words. That says nothing w.r.t. whether you choose to agree or disagree, just that you question.


  6. Richard T. Fowler said

    To be a proper skeptic, one must be committed to a full DISCLOSURE of one’s own uncertainties, and an aggressive EXPOSURE of others’.

    But one should also try to avoid holding others to a standard that is too high for their abilities, for that would be unproductive, unpalatable, and unfair.

    Proper skepticism is, therefore, a difficult balancing act. It is an essential task, but it is also hard to consistently do well while retaining whatever level of respect that one has earned in the past. The proper skeptic may be a relatively easy target for charges of hypocrisy, whether deserved or not. Some may try to tell him that if he cannot propose a better idea, he has no right to open his yap. The proper skeptical response to such a claim is that he has not only the right, but the obligation, to at least occasionally point out his skeptical thoughts — even if he _cannot_ come up with anything better.


  7. greg2213 said

    “I hate the term ‘Manifesto’. Every time I read it I imagine some religious cult promoting a complex yet divinely unquestionalbe truth.”

    Such as the Communist Manifesto? Nice to see someone else who doesn’t care for that word.

  8. KevinUK said

    Skeptics are people who are prepared to admit that after weighing up all the evidence and making due allowance for uncertainty (variability) ‘they just doesn’t know’. IMO being able to admit that you just don’t know whether something is true or not and being able to humble and modest enough to admit that you are just taking and educated/informed guess is an admirable quality.

  9. steveta_uk said

    Mark T said “Skeptics question authority.”

    Indeed, but that mustn’t be the cause, else you’ve just dropped into the “manifesto” trap.

    As a skeptic, I question science, religion, CAGW, politics, the supernatural, ghosts, talking to plants, 9-11 theories, moon landing conspiracies, perpetual motion, alien contacts, and much much more – “authority” is a very small subset of that, and not all authority is questionable.

  10. curious said

    Sceptical thinking should always include the element of “what could prove this/my theory wrong” and for this to be pursued with equal vigour and rigour to proving the theory right.

    Second the comments above re: transparency and the need to acknowledge and accept the “don’t know” position as well as personal faiblesse – which should include staying within the bounds of one’s knowledge.

  11. Anteros said

    My scepticism is usually oriented towards my own beliefs/prejudices, but sometimes takes on a militant tendency – ‘I don’t know and NEITHER DO YOU’..

  12. Anonymous said

    A wise skeptic knows that wisdom advances only when we acknowledge our ignorance. Ever mindful of the likelihood of error, the wise skeptic investigates all the evidence, considers all reasonable theories, ignores political interference, and with a humility borne of history formulates his independent assessment of what is likely to be the best explanation.

  13. stan said

    Oops. And meant to add “And changes that assessment when more evidence, further consideration or better theories indicate that it is appropriate to do so.”

  14. Brian H said

    Re: Anteros (Aug 12 07:49),
    A little Devil’s advocacy here:

    How do you know I don’t know?
    Are you certain?
    Are you skeptical of your certainty about that?
    Or can you admit that you don’t know if I know?

  15. Bad Andrew said

    Nutshell: A skeptic is a person who is not satisfied until he or she independently troubleshoots/scrutinizes all the way through the evidence to the answer to the question/problem posed.


  16. Beth Cooper said

    Impossible to scrutinise everything so recognise that the view you are taking must be provisional, the science is never settled.

  17. Bad Andrew said

    “Impossible to scrutinise everything”

    Impossible? Who says? That’s what science is about. Knowing how to produce all the relevant evidence.


  18. Bad Andrew said

    Beth, the science of my clock radio is certainly settled. It’s been error-free for years. When programmed correctly, the alarm always goes off. The snooze button has worked like a champ through many pressings. Now, it may break down one day, but the evidence says that is inevitable. And guess what, there will be another clock radio to take it’s place, constructed similarly with prolly virtually the same knowledge that was used to build the one I am using now.


  19. Richard T. Fowler said


    There are assumptions made in the design of your clock radio. Just because the device works as intended, that does not prove that the assumptions are true. The proper skeptic does not confuse the success of an experiment with proof that the experiment’s initial assumptions are true.

    He likewise does not confuse the failure of an experiment with proof that initial assumptions are false.

    You may believe the assumptions if you feel the situation warrants, but a proper skepticism requires prompt and thorough DISCLOSURE of your uncertainties whenever your work relies on them. Attempts to cover them up or to falsely portray them as certain knowledge are anti-skeptical.


  20. Bad Andrew said

    “There are assumptions made in the design of your clock radio.”


    Of course, but what whatever the assumptions may be, they obviously allow for the function of the radio. I think you are going off on a tangent. We are talking about only what information is required to make clock radios here. The knowledge is there. Science has it. We can look at all the necessary evidence. The radio is the proof that such knowledge exists and can be collected by someone.


  21. Bad Andrew said

    I always like to compare things like clock radios with squiggly lines (granted the colored ones are exciting) that are supposed to represent the temperature of “the globe”. Not exactly at the same level of value. If the end result of any scientific endeavour is nothing more than a squiggly (granted it could be colored) line, I’m pretty much going to wonder “so what”?


  22. Richard T. Fowler said


    It’s not a tangent. It is precisely what is at issue. You have yourself convinced that your clock radio’s design and the explanation for how it works are not based on any uncertainties. But they are!

    To get into the details of those uncertainties _would_ be a tangent.

    The anti-skeptic is the person (whether a scientist, or not) who just looks for a theory, ANY theory, that when applied will produce a working device or other experiment. THEN HE STOPS! “Great! We found a theory that ‘works’. End of study.”

    You are calling such a theory an example of ‘scientific knowledge’. What if there is another, contradictory theory that, if applied to the radio, would ALSO allow for the radio to work?

    Guess what? THEY CAN’T BOTH BE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH! (Because they are mutually exclusive.)

    So in summary, the incurious, anti-skeptic works and works and slaves, UNTIL … he finds an answer that works … AND THEN HE STOPS!

    For the skeptic, the work is not yet done. Because if there are other possible explanations, they have to be falsified before the theory can become a certainty, a/k/a “knowledge”.

    Now Beth Cooper says it’s not possible. I would argue that this position is actually an unproven theory. I would argue that it may, in some cases, be possible, and in my personal opinion it CAN be possible. I just dispute the approach of ‘Device X always works as expected, therefore every theory it is based on is now known to be true, and we can stop questioning it or quantifying any uncertainty, because there IS no uncertainty’.


  23. Gary said

    Then there’s always the position of Quincy Adams Wagstaff

    I don’t know what they have to say,
    it makes no difference anyway –
    whatever it is, I’m against it!
    No matter what it is or who commenced it,
    I’m against it!

    Your proposition may be good,
    but let’s have one thing understood –
    whatever it is, I’m against it!
    And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it,
    I’m against it!

    I’m opposed to it.
    On general principles I’m opposed to it.

    For months before my son was born,
    I used to yell from night to morn –
    “Whatever it is, I’m against it!”
    And I’ve kept yelling since I first commenced it,
    “I’m against it!”

  24. Bad Andrew said

    “You have yourself convinced that your clock radio’s design and the explanation for how it works are not based on any uncertainties. But they are!”


    You are changing the subject now. I never said anything about uncertainties. I said the knowledge to build a functioning clock radio is there. And I never said studying anything should stop. You can “What if” until you fall asleep, hope you discover something useful. Just set your clock radio so you can get up on time tomorrow, if you dare brave the uncertainties . 😉


  25. Richard T. Fowler said


    Actually, based on my experience, you are very fortunate. Because I’ve had a lot of electronic alarm clocks, and not _one_ of them, as far as I can remember, always performed as my theoretical understanding led me to believe it should. So from my perspective, I’m braving reckless uncertainties just by relying on one of those things! 😀


  26. Genghis said

    A skeptic is someone who strives for balance and understanding between uncertainty and truth.

  27. Anonymous said

    A skeptic is one who questions and decides through logic and reason their own opinion on a topic with a directed effort to ignore the distractions of non-evidentiary arguments or concern of the consequences of the logical conclusions, aka a scientist.

    A mainstream scientist is one who questions and decides through logic and reason their own opinion on a topic with a directed effort to ignore the distractions of non-evidentiary arguments or concern of the consequences of the logical conclusions as long as they do not significantly vary from the norm.

    In other words, a mainstream scientist is a politically correct skeptic.

  28. Duster said

    With respect to any given issue a sceptic is potentially as dogmatic as a “believer.” It is therefore more important to be sceptical than it is to be a “sceptic.” In science scepticism requires that all “explanations” have empirical content, that is they reflexively address the real phenomena of the real world. It is more important to be as sceptical of one’s own ideas than it is to be sceptical of others. All too often people who have an “original idea” think that because it came out of their head, it must be both unique and precious. They are in general profoundly mistaken. This BTW is what makes the concept of “intellectual property” laughable.

  29. Tamara said

    Skeptics are not convinced by appeals to authority, emotion, faith, or consensus, but may be persuaded by facts supported by logical, verifiable, and tangible evidence.

  30. DeWitt Payne said

    Confirmation bias is the bane of true skepticism. As they say about cons, if it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

    All too often people who have an “original idea” think that because it came out of their head, it must be both unique and precious. They are in general profoundly mistaken.

    Words to live by. However:

    This BTW is what makes the concept of “intellectual property” laughable.

    That isn’t always true. People do have original ideas. I’ve never understood the idea that patents and copyrights are somehow morally wrong.

  31. Jeff Id said

    I like that one Tamara, but it needs even more refinement to be really workable. Listing what one is not convinced by is so cumbersome. Perhaps only a positive description is required.

    Scientific skeptics are exclusively persuaded by logical, verifiable, tangible and repeatable evidence.

    In my case it may be:

    I promise to work hard to be exclusively persuaded by logical, verifiable, tangible and repeatable evidence.

    There are always battles in ones self which must be overcome in science. I’ve had enough background to see results reverse my own understanding –painfully. Even some on this blog, but the point is that skepticism is a war for a truth seeker. There are many here who simply don’t get that CO2 does trap outgoing heat. They won’t see evidence. We’ve even seen those who refuse to realize that the basic blackbody equations aren’t f’d up. Why? Because they don’t like the result IMHO or they can’t deal with being wrong with their previously misunderstood claims. Mann has spent decades denying that his first bad paper that made him famous was flawed garbage. He’s invented a half dozen ways to get the same result all covering the initial error. He would have lost a lot to admit his error. Instead he’s made himself a fantastic career out of rubbish, yet the horrendously bad quality of it guarantees that it will have zero net impact on science knowledge in a hundred years — except perhaps for a sociology study.

    Scientists are skeptics first and the mashmatics of today’s paleoclimate science will vanish in the annals of recycling mills in the future.

  32. Jeff Id said


    My company is based on an idea my partner and I devleoped completely independently from any connection to today’s research. We’ve done things with it that are well beyond publications that I’ve read, although it has been some time since I read any. The truth though is that we don’t have verifiable proof that we were the first. I’m certain that we were the first in production with them, and nobody has followed, but we don’t know if the math had already been developed for something else.

    We just don’t know.

  33. Jeff Id said


    My partner and I hold a number of patents now. We have been copied many times before we began writing patents. In fact, more than one very large company exists because of our copied work. How cool is that! I can imagine that a lot of people would consider it an achievement. Not us…..

    It’s cool if you get a nickle for each copy, otherwise it stinks. It may be we thought fo it first, employed it first, spent the money on development first, or were simply smarter than the moron competition. But we built it and because we did, products were more affordable to the public. Now we have patented our work and several have attempted copies. So far, no luck for them.

  34. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    Jeff, DeWitt,
    Interesting thing, intellectual property rights. I have no problem with patents, since they a) are based in factual/rational evaluation (no perpetual motion machines allowed!), and b) are for a very limited duration. You disclose your secrets in exchange for a limited period of exclusivity. Copyrights, on the other hand, have reach the point (IMO) that the law is essentially a political sop to long term copyright holders, not a protection for creators of original material. The original ‘creative artists’ are often (usually?) long dead, and the copyright becomes a commodity to be bought and sold like an investment. Does Micky Mouse (circa, 1920’s?) really still deserve legal protection? If so, then how about Shakespeare and Mozart? How about Homer? If intellectual creations deserve protection for enormous periods, why have most of my patents long since expired?

    Which reminds me, I really need to file another disclosure soon…

  35. RB said

    A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    To err is human;
    Trust but verify 🙂

  36. BlueIce2HotSea said

    I came up with some one liners …

    A skeptic understands that our best models of reality will one day be replaced by better ones.

    A skeptic has the capacity to suspend judgment when evidence is inconclusive.

    Skeptics have faith in the fallibility of their own work.

    But, can’t beat Lindzen…

    “As far as I can tell, skepticism involves doubts about a plausible proposition. I think current global warming alarm does not represent a plausible proposition.” – Richard Lindzen Jan 7, 2011

  37. Kan said

    Patents are really just a license to hunt. You must spot, track, then shoot. The target does not come to you.

    Sometimes (very much) worth it. Most times not.

  38. Sera said

    A skeptic is someone who listens politely, then goes home and figures it out for him/her self.

  39. kim said

    I believe that who
    Believes nothing, is nothing.
    But what to believe?

  40. A skeptic truly understands that don’t know means don’t know; and speculation is just that.

  41. Don B said

    A friend is extremely skeptical to the point of cynicism about most things, but she is gullible when it comes to catastrophic AGW. She believes the NY Times and the BBC are honest reporters about climate science, and can not imagine anyone not believing the science. We remain friends by not discussing the topic.

    The skeptic must self-analyse for biases, and overcome those, as well as holding the traits described already in this thread.

  42. Bdaabat said

    The terms being discussed are not really equal.

    A manifesto is an expression of belief. It’s an attempt to explain and justify ones belief. The manifesto seek information which supports it’s position and discards information which counters it’s position.

    Skepticism (at least my understanding of it) is more of a process. It’s simply the application of the scientific method. You collect information, form an initial opinion, then work on disproving that opinion through investigation and experimentation. It’s really about the process one goes through to gain understanding.

    The BIG difference?

    The process of being skeptical (rigorously applying the scientific method) means that as ones understanding changes and grows, the opinions of the individual change as well. In fact, change is expected.

    The skeptical outlook is the inverse of belief. A manifesto is an attempt to support one’s belief and to influence others to believe as the manifesto’s creator does.


  43. chuckr said

    ” There are known “knowns.” There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.

  44. Beth Cooper said

    As a sceptic i must be sceptical about my own scepticism. My respect for critical argument and the scientific method is high. BUT.. as a flawed member of the human race i recognise that i don’t always live up to them. Flawed me, a bundle of genetic predispositions,cultural influences and emotional responses. Do i always apply the critical method to problem situations? No.
    Sometimes I may not even recognise them as problem situations, (put the blame on meme, boys.) Do I sometimes,
    consciously, sceptically apply critical method to problems? Yes. (Thank you, Socrates, Galileo and Karl Popper, if I were not a sceptic, you would be my heroes.)

  45. Skeptic said

    You like simple? So do I.

    A skeptic is one who questions. (© Jeff Id).

  46. Richard T. Fowler said


    WRT your post 44, this is a reasonable response to my comments. I would just point out that where I disagreed with you, that was a statement of belief and not a certainty. Also I have faith in my Creator to lend me and others a helping hand. So despite all our flaws, we often outperform our natural abilities. And all truth will ultimately be revealed, whether or not we are able to expose it.

    Thank you for your thoughts.


  47. A true skeptic is actively “truthing.” All conclusions are therefore tentative.

    The following tentative conclusions were all embarrassing when first reported. The first five have been been reinforced by other observations.

    1967: Iron meteorites formed as early and trapped as much short-lived radioactive elements as so-called “primitive meteorites”.

    1975: The Sun itself exploded and ejected all of the material that now orbits it, before reforming on the neutron core.

    1983: The interior of the Sun consists mostly of the same elements as ordinary meteorites and rocky planets: Fe, O, Ni, Si, S, Mg and Ca.

    1983: The Galileo Mission to Jupiter will see “strange xenon” there, just like the “strange xenon” discovered in the Allende meteorite in 1975.

    2001: Neutron repulsion in the solar core powers the Sun, heats planet Earth, and sustains our lives.

    2011: AGW is a scam: The “common enemy” selected to unite nations, end the Cold War, and avoid the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation.

    I sincerely hope the last conclusion is wrong. The goal itself is noble, but the misuse of government science as a tool of propaganda presents a greater threat to society: A tyrannical world government like George Orwell described in “1984.”

  48. kuhnkat said

    #9 Steveta_UK,

    ““authority” is a very small subset of that, and not all authority is questionable.”

    It doesn’t matter whether we THINK something is questionable or not. We MUST question it to challenge our own possible beliefs and biases!

  49. Maurice J said

    If it is settled it is not Science.
    If it is Science it is not settled.
    In proper Science empirical evidence rules, a concept that has been largely sidelined in todays world. Climate, Diet and Agricultural pseudo-science in the modern world come to mind.

  50. pesadia said

    What is the difference between a sceptic and a believer? Both the terms seem to me to proclaim fixed positions.
    One can be sceptical with regards to a particular theory without being a sceptic in general.
    An essential quality of a good scientist would be that he/sheher be sceptical when considering the results of his/ research.

  51. pesadia said

    Sorry, should read………… essential attribue of a good scientist etc

  52. pesadia said


  53. Steve McIntyre said

    The famous scientist Rene Descartes’ reflections on method are worth reading/re-reading: Oddly his famoues Discourse on Method has a section on meteorology, where he provided the modern interpretation of clouds. Unlke modern academic philosophers, Descartes had a practical life as well and rather disdained the philosophers of his day. His skepticism is quite modern.

  54. Richard T. Fowler said

    #53, Good post, Steve! Thank you.


  55. Kenneth Fritsch said

    I agree with you, Jeff ID that skepticism has a very personal essence to it. I hope my skepticism is rooted in reason, but I think also that skepticism gets built into your psyche such that it can be almost instinctive. When it comes to the issues of climate science specifically, although surely not unique to it, what surprises me is not the skepticism, but the lack of it. The wonder is whether some who accept evidence and conclusions so readily have really done the analysis or whether they want not to doubt for fear of losing their convictions that are based in areas other than science.

  56. BDAABAT said

    Richard Feynman:
    The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty damn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress, we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain. Now, we scientists are used to this, and we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure, that it is possible to live and not know. But I don’t know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question — to doubt — to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.
    “The Value of Science,” address to the National Academy of Sciences (Autumn 1955)


  57. Gary said

    Here is another take on skepticism:

  58. Bebben said

    Well it’s not a manifesto, but I do have my own definition of a skeptic:

    “Climate skeptic: Person who, after having been called “fascist” in a debate in 1977 (cooling) or yelled at during a party in 1990 (warming), is ready to believe anything when he or she sees the evidence.”

  59. John Vetterling said

    From Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards, GAO 2007:

    “Professional skepticism is an attitude that includes a questioning mind and a critical assessment of evidence. Professional skepticism includes a mindset in which auditors assume neither that management is dishonest nor of unquestioned honesty. Believing that management is honest is not a reason to accept less than sufficient, appropriate evidence.”

    Substitute Scientific for Professional, scientist for auditor, and consensus for managment.

  60. suricat said

    Hi Jeff, I like the subject. However, here’s me thinking that a ‘sceptic’ is just someone that needs more factual evidence to achieve their ‘concurrence’, when it’s shown at a different level here. It seems we’re asked to ask ourselves of our level of ‘scepticism’ (US: skepticism [no, this doesn’t work with my UK spell-checker. Just another anomaly for a ‘sceptic’])!

    OK, I’ll bear this thread in mind. What other threads can I compare this thread with? 😉

    Best regards, Ray Dart.

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