The idea came to me while writing my new book, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (to be published by Chicago Press in early 2010) and more recently a short column for Skeptical Inquirer (due out toward the end of the year).
The question I was struggling with was: why skepticism? Why am I devoting so much of my time and energy to help fostering critical thinking and generally trying to advance a skeptical outlook in our society? I came up with three related answers:
1. Gullibility (which I think of as the logical opposite of skepticism) literally can kill. Just consider people who are unnecessarily dying of AIDS in South Africa and elsewhere because their leaders bought into insane ideas about holistic medicine and Western governments' conspiracies to spread the disease.
2. When it doesn't kill, gullibility opens one up to being taken advantage of both emotionally and financially. The obvious example here is the case of people who fall prey of dubious figures like Sylvia Browne, John Edward, James van Praagh and the like, because these characters assure them that they can get in touch with dead loved ones.
3. Finally, there is what I would call "the Matrix argument." As you might recall, that movie was about Neo, who thinks he is living a perfectly normal life, which turns out to be a fabrication, a virtual world created by intelligent machines bent on exploiting human beings. In a crucial scene, Morpheus, who is trying to get Neo do help the resistance against the machines, offers him a choice between a red and a blue pill: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
Taking the red pill is not just the only way to make the story in the movie continue, it also is the morally right thing to do. Welcome to gullibilityisbadforyou.org