I think, therefore I am (skeptical)

Something strange has happened to me since beginning this blogging/book writing/documentary making journey.

I’ve become a pigheaded skeptic.

I can’t seem to read any study without an intensely critical eye. I’m not talking about breastfeeding-related stuff, either – it can be anything from a link between in utero environment and future health outcomes, to how plastics cause cancer. First, I look at the background of those involved – their associations, degrees, areas of interest. I continue on to the sponsors of the study; who funded it, and why. And then of course, I look at the methodology, the controls, and what the findings actually say versus what is extrapolated on in the discussion section.

When I am done with all of the hyper-analyzing, I normally end up annoying everyone who has the misfortune to mention said study in my presence, by explaining all that is wrong with how the media reported it, why the study was entirely blind to several relevant confounding factors, and so forth. My friends are starting to realize that it’s the better part of valor to just keep their mouths shut about “new scientific reports” around me, lest they end up listening to an hour-long lecture. My friends are saints, have I mentioned this?

The problem with having your eyes opened to all the inherent flaws, all the human error, all the publication bias and ego and politics, is that it makes you so gosh darn cynical. Even studies which support things I believe in aren’t immune to my wrath. You’re telling me vegetarians diets cut the risk of cancer? Great, says the veggie of 20 years, who is currently raising her children on the same diet. But the Fearless Formula Feeder says, wait just a second, buster. Could it be that vegetarians lead healthier lives in general? Even taking it for granted that the obvious things were controlled for – exercise, body weight, etc., there are some things that make me wonder. Could it be that those who have the economic privilege to choose a more restrictive, expensive diet live in better conditions overall? Or that we most likely also care about things like organic cleaning products, alternative medicine, etc…?

It doesn’t stop there. I’ve gotten so fed up with politicians and advocacy groups – most of whom have over-simplified their issues du jour in a multitude of understandable but still unfortunate ways – sticking their noses into my business, that I’ve recently had to start practicing apathy in order to protect my own sanity. I used to be a responsible, involved citizen. I used to care about issues. Now, I pretty much just care about my own family, my own friends, and a few key issues like animal rights, gay rights, and womens’ rights (but even my dedication to the latter has been marred by my disappointment in how my own gender turns on each other at the drop of a bott- err, hat) and the rest of it just fades into the talking-head-filled ether.

I can’t say I was happier before I became so apathetic, exactly. But it can make you dizzy, after awhile, all this second-guessing and skepticism. I encourage people to approach news more critically, but I fear that leads to approaching life more critically… and do I really want to wish that on anyone?

I searched for quotes on cynicism or skepticism, to try and end this rambling, esoteric, election-night post on a poetic note, but everything I found was negative and depressing. But then I found one that brought me back to the main point of this blog – and I think it imparts what I am trying to accomplish, even at the risk of being an apathetic, cynical loser.

“Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism.” – David Suzuki

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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14 thoughts on “I think, therefore I am (skeptical)

  1. I fear your reasons for apathy are much nobler than the ones I just copped to in my latest post. I think, honestly, besides the fact that I'm just not as interested in redistricting as I should be, most of my reluctance to jump into the political fray is my almost paralyzing fear of conflict.

    It's easy enough online (or, it should be) but even then I find myself losing sleep over a heated comment section debate.

    So, I'm kind of where you are: my family, my friends, and a few issues, but mostly gay rights.

    I don't know, man. I just don't know.

  2. oversimplification is so frustrating. I think it extends to so many areas as well. my mom died about a year ago of cancer and it was SHOCKING to me how many ignoramusus actually thought it was helpful (?) or reasonable (?) to try to explain that her cancer was simply her fault without having ANY idea of the obscurity, type, prognosis, or treatment of her disease. It really depressed me to have those conversations with people.

    that said, you're really truly doing important work here, which I feel is inspirational.

  3. I'm right there with you. I have so many friends who are so unbelievably passionate about all sorts of causes. Me? Just can't do it anymore.
    My family, my friends, my faith, common decency and courtesy. That's about it for me.

  4. Here's a quote that would apply:

    “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” -Voltaire

    Human beings just want to feel like they “know” something. “Knowing” is pretty much impossible when it comes to a lot of things, but it's a lot more complicated to have a conversation about something if you don't act like everything is black and white all of the time.

    And, unfortunately, many human beings don't really like “complicated”, either.

  5. Don't be hard on yourself for being a skeptic! I'm a psych major and every text book for every class that had anything to do with science / medical / or psychological issues opened the first chapter with a lesson on critical thinking skills. The first critical thinking skill? Skepticism.

    It's so much better to learn something for yourself than to blindly accept something as fact!

    Mary@ another-mommy-blogger.blogspot.com

  6. I understand the deliberate apathy…It's too overwhelming to be passionate about everything or even about anything apart from immediate concerns. It's too consuming. At the moment, my job is not stable, and I've been consumed with worry about how I'm going to feed my family and keep a roof over their heads if I can't find work.

    I've been so consumed with that, that I completely ignored the election and didn't vote because I had no idea (aside from Governor, wasn't completely out of it) who was running and why. That's pretty apathetic, and I believe people should take their rights to vote seriously.

    Anyway, I think it's ok if busy people limit their passion to one or a few subjects, since it's pretty easy to get burnt out.

  7. It may be frustrating, but if everyone was more critical of the information they were presented with, the world would be a much better place.

    And, the sort of political apathy that may come along with it isn't guaranteed. For many, critical thinking leads to greater political involvement.

  8. Welcome to the skeptical movement! I think most skeptics tend to focus their activism on one or two areas, the community as a whole tries to debunk psuedoscience and claims of the supernatural. I think that you are more than doing your part, FFF is the only resource I have found with a counterside to the breastfeeding movement, thank you for being so skeptical!

  9. I'm also finding myself more skeptical because of my bottle feeding. I think, well, if I bought into that, and it turns out that's not really all that true, what else do I believe that maybe isn't all it cracked up to be. I'm even questioning organic food… which I never thought would be possible.

  10. Could it be that those who have the economic privilege to choose a more restrictive, expensive diet live in better conditions overall?

    Word. I know I'm picking one very small thing here, but when people make all these thinks between diets and health, I feel like that gets ignored a lot.

  11. Welcome to the dark side my friend. Being a skeptic does come with it's share of curses. I'll take them happily however, as using reason, science and logic far outweighs the alternative.

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