Skeptics Say, ‘Do Your Own Research.’ It’s Not That Simple

Skeptics Say, ‘Do Your Own Research.’ It’s Not That Simple.

By Nathan Ballantyne and David Dunning

Dr. Ballantyne is a philosopher who studies how to improve judgment. Dr. Dunning is a social psychologist who studies misbelief.

You get free access to this NY Times article


Enjoyed the article, and I see myself making many of the errors mentioned especially in subjects i know a little about. I often have a simplistic understanding of whatever is being discussed, which leads me to make unwarranted conclusions. Perhaps something similar is seen by the medical community as a whole with Covid, as it seems we have not learned enough to really know what the medical and epidemiological future will bring.


That would be David Dunning of the Dunning-Kruger effect, I suspect. Oh, pretty much explicitly in the article.


Me, too–that is really evident in being a primary care doc. I try to regurgitate things I’ve learned, but as they say, it’s really experience and time spent in the study that give a good insight. I often get impostor syndrome! You know what they say–primary care docs know less and less about more and more, till they know nothing about everything; and specialists learn more and more about less and less, till they know everything about nothing!
I constantly have to ask people to go to CDC, infectious disease docs, pulmonologists, etc for the right information.


My reaction to the article… “difficult issue.” Like it says, “it’s not that simple” – either way!

We also don’t want people to simply believe someone because they claim to be an expert.

The not so simple part is that in doing your own research, making mistakes is par for the course. You will. It is like when you do math. Getting good at it doesn’t mean not making mistakes but making them faster – i.e. finding the mistakes faster and correcting them.

The solution to this problem with doing your own research is keep doing research – to check your answers, their reliability, and their coherence/consistency. You don’t just get an answer and stop, you keep checking it. And when someone raises a question about the conclusion you have made, then you research that also.


And furthermore - if most of the experts who make their living in the relevant field have a different answer than you - to ask why, and seek understanding why the people who know more than you do about it arrive at a different conclusion.


Yes. The biggest problem I see is culling through Google for ‘experts’ and studies that support that support what they already believe for reasons they don’t much examine. Research needs to be a different enterprise from debate.


Yeah - don’t even get me started on ‘debate’! To me, real debate is when thoughtful opponents read each others stuff and take time to research and provide their own best rebuttal / response to it. Then instead of learning which of A or B is the wittiest or quickest or best prepared or least forgetful - or even the smartest (all of which is exactly 0% useful or relevant to anything about reality), one instead can be treated to the best presentation that both sides have to offer. Which is … you know … relevant and useful!

If all we google up is the side we favor and we never pursue the best from what we oppose, then that’s on us. And too many of us are guilty of that too often I’m sure. That said, it could be that “one side” (e.g. flat earthism) is such a dead argument that there is no “best side” to pursue and whatever you see of it is guaranteed to be pretty wacky. According to many of us here, YECism may suffer a bit on that score.


For most, “Doing your own research” is simply noodling around on the internet. And confirmation bias can be a big factor. If your new “expert” is selling ivermectin and essential oil cures on his/her website, that might be a clue.


True. I see stuff posted with click-bait type headlines that I and am sure the posters never read the articles, and for sure never went to the source material the (usual) science class dropout wrote about, as often the source material doesn’t even support the point the poster wants to make.
These days, I seldom take the time to do it, but when a plausible but uncomfortable point is made, doing just that, looking at the source material and evaluating its validity, is the first thing we should do in “doing our research.”

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Definitely can identify with this:

For D.Y.O.R. enthusiasts, one lesson to take away from all of this might be: Don’t do your own research, because you are probably not competent to do it.

Is that our message? Not necessarily. For one thing, that is precisely the kind of advice that advocates of D.Y.O.R. are primed to reject. In a society where conflicts between so-called elites and their critics are so pronounced, appealing to the superiority of experts can trigger distrust.

I’ve made some people really angry this way. It is the truth, that most people who DYOR, have nowhere near enough basic competence to even begin understanding or critiquing some topic, but how do I help convince people of that… without making some of my fellow Christians start cursing me out (literally)?


The internet is the most powerful research tool ever invented. At least as far as getting to information faster. Sometimes that also means getting the wrong information with lightning speed – both disinformation and outdated information. And then there is wading through a flood of information you don’t want.

I have been a teacher most of my life and I find myself curious about how the internet has impacted the way teachers teach. I have a hard time imagining a class without a textbook but some teachers are moving in that direction. The teacher’s role has been gradually changing from being a source of information to that of challenging students to think and with the internet being a sea of information most people live in, that change in the teacher’s role is greater than ever.


It’s also full of bad information. There are better research databases out there, e.g. Academic Search Premier. Our librarians have access to other academic research databases.

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Instead of DYOR, I would encourage people to LTB (Learn the Basics). For example, if you are skeptical of climate change then learn how the greenhouse effect works, why some gases are called greenhouse gases, and what Earth’s climatic history looks like, and why. If you are skeptical about the basic safety of mRNA vaccines, then learn the basics of how DNA gives rise to proteins (transcription/translation), basic viral replication, and the basic features of the human genome (did you know that 8% of your genome came from viruses?).

For some people, DYOR can mean “find people that agree with me”. A bit of self-skepticism would also go a long way.


True skeptics are doing real research. Which takes real brains and real hard work.


Except that the information on basics is produced by evil brainwashed/conspiring morons :roll_eyes:, so it may not work so well for convincing some people.

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Conspiracy Theorist: I don’t believe in Theory X because the “scientist experts” are conspiring to sell us lies.
Random Joe: Why do you say that, Conspiracy Theorist?
Conspiracy Theorist: Well Random Joe, I learned from this guy on Facebook that Theory X is all wrong, and there’s tons of evidence disproving it.
Random Joe: Why do you believe this guy on Facebook?
Conspiracy Theorist: He’s a scientific expert!


… who just happens to agree with me. Smart guy!


The essence of confirmation bias!

Exactly. And it also takes time and money, unlike noodling around on the internet.

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