Should You Do Your Own Research?


The above is a humorous look at the mantra, “do your own research,” held by many anti-vaxxers, Q-Anoners, and conspiracy theorists of various stripes. Here is a more serious look at the issue:

Now, this doesn’t mean the experts are never wrong but regarding especially the natural sciences, the experts are exponentially more likely to be right than non-experts. Simply put watching a YouTube video is no substitute for a lifetime of study. In fact, in a half-hour video you can make a case for almost any idea, no matter how absurd.

Remember too that a 5-minute clip isn’t enough to reveal say the depth of, for example, Dr. Fauci’s knowledge of epidemiology/biology/chemistry/biochemistry/molecular biology/genetics/pandemics and more vs. the complete ignorance of the subject by his detractors. (I apologize for subjecting my readers to the person questioning Dr. Fauci in the clip above. Rand Paul is a horrific human being.) The expert understands the subject a thousand levels deep whereas the talking head spouts nonsense for some perceived personal gain.

This all reminds me of a student years ago who thought the fact that the existence today of monkeys was some kind of disproof of biological evolution. First I pointed out that he was mistaken in his belief that humans descended from monkeys (we share a common ancestor with them.) I also pointed out that evolutionary biology is understood in great detail at the molecular level and is confirmed daily in laboratories around the world.

Finally, I asked him to think about what the reaction would be to his claim that the biology department at the university. Would one biologist say to the other “Hey Joe, did you know that monkeys exist?” And his colleague would respond “I forgot that there were monkeys so there goes 150 of biological research. I’m surprised no one thought of this before!”

Still I tried not to make fun of the student. I told him that I had been taken in by many absurd things before I developed my critical thinking skills. For example the ridiculous ideas of Erich von Daniken’s “ancient astronaut” books back in the early 1970s.

Undoubtedly, there is a lot more to say about critical thinking and I’ve written about it many times on this blog. But if you want to learn to think well a good path would embark on a demanding curriculum in the mathematical and natural sciences along with a few classes in critical thinking and symbolic logic in the philosophy department. I’m not saying this is the only way to do this but it is a proven way. Remember too that learning how to think well, while having its own rewards, is a difficult task. As Spinoza said,

If the way which, as I have shown, leads hither seems very difficult, it can nevertheless be found. It must indeed be difficult, since it is so seldom discovered; for if salvation lay ready to hand and could be discovered without great labor, how could it be possible that it should be neglected almost by everybody? But all noble things are as difficult as they are rare.

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The inspiration for this post came from a essay on a great blog “The Weekly Sift.”

For those interested, here is a sampling of some of the things I’ve written on critical thinking.

The Basics of Critical Thinking

Psychological Impediments to Good Thinking

The Basics of Critical Thinking Part 1: You Don’t Always Have A Right To Your Opinion

The Basics of Critical Thinking Part 2: Who Should I Believe?

The Basics of Critical Thinking Part 3: But I Just Believe!

The Basics of Critical Thinking Part 4: Deceptive Language

The Basics of Critical Thinking Part 5: More Crimes Against Logic

A Graph of Cognitive Biases

What is Fallibilism?

Nerds, Science, Politics, and the Future

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4 thoughts on “Should You Do Your Own Research?

  1. Thank you for your article!

    “in a half-hour video you can make a case for almost any idea, no matter how absurd.”

    Especially if the expert can never make (or care to make) a response video, and thus counter-argue. Any of them would tear the silly “arguments” to shreds.

    I remember the lecturer in a video course I had, called “The Art Of Debate”, saying that with conspiracy theorists and the like, “you really have to roll up your sleeves “. Not because the arguments are smart or clever, mind you….

    Can you imagine? “I’d like to know more about black holes, so I’ll just ignore what Stephen Hawking said and wrote about them, all his life, and I’ll do my own research.”.

    What a stupid world. Then again, most philosophers said that most people are dumb: Wittgenstein, Russell, Schopenhauer, Epictetus, the list goes on.

    I am heading over to your articles about critical thinking. Not just thinking, but how to think, is so interesting. Thank you! I wish you a great day.

  2. If you produced a video stating that Helen Keller assassinated JFK, there’d be viewers who would believe it.

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