Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

October 7, 2012

Lee Ward: 10/07/2012 — Believe it or not, there’s a day for honoring skeptics

ASHLAND — When you’re skeptical, you soon get the reputation for being a curmudgeon.

In case you don’t know what a curmudgeon is, it’s a bad-tempered, cantankerous person.

Those considered cynics can celebrate their nature on International Skeptics Day, which is celebrated on Oct. 13. Or Jan. 13, depending on whom you believe, or if you believe anyone who claims there is an International Skeptics Day.

No kidding, an Internet search told me there is such a thing. If you can believe what you read on the Internet, that is.

My family has never been known for being skeptics, but everyone tends to have doubts about something.

My grandmother never believed men walked on the moon. Of course, such a thing could be faked easily. In today’s movie world, such events are conjured all the time. When men really did walk on the moon, you couldn’t have proven it by me: the footage was so grainy and bad, I couldn’t have made out what was happening if I hadn’t known.

People who don’t believe man walked on the moon — and Grandma wasn’t the only one — have been the target of jeers and jokes, but the truth is those people deserve some respect. Society needs its skeptics.

Journalism is based on skepticism. Reporters aren’t supposed to accept what sources give them and run to the office to publish a story. Reporters are expected to ask questions about the information they’re given and see if they can find a flaw in it before they turn their stories in to editors, who aren’t supposed to read it and pass it on; editors are meant to question reporters about the details of the story, making sure they have asked the right questions and communicated the information clearly so readers can have a fair, accurate and complete assessment of the topic. Readers need a fair, accurate and complete accounting of events so they can know how their tax money is spent. It helps keep public officials operating on the up and up and it helps readers — who are consumers — make safe decisions that are right for them.

Sometimes, being skeptical can make you look like a jerk.

When a friend or relative tells me about what I consider a hare-brained scheme (and sometimes what is a good idea) they’re considering, I question them, what editors call “shooting holes” in the idea. I’m not trying to be mean; I’m questioning every angle, every possibility, trying to consider what might go wrong and what is wrong with the scenario. I do it for their protection and I do it because, as a journalist, I’m programmed to be skeptical.

I’m not sure what day International Skeptics Day is, but I’m going to value skepticism every day.

LEE WARD can be reached at lward@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2661.

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