There are three tools essential to the skeptic. These tools; however, are not restricted in their usage. They are to be applied whenever you hear someone make a claim.
- Burden of Evidence/Proof – Where is the claimant’s proof? What is evidence is there for the claim they made? When you read something and somebody says “This just happened!” Don’t believe it so readily. First find the source or evidence of this claim. People say things all the time to try to swindle you of money or recruit you to their cause. Don’t fall for their ruses and almost-subtle lies. Investigate everything you hear, see, or read; for falsehood is an even greater sin than ignorance.
- Occam’s Razor – ‘It’s vain to do more with what can be done with fewer’. If a natural explanation exists for a phenomenon, then there is not point in having a paranormal explanation. Don’t needlessly overcomplicate matters. The simplest explanation is usually the right one. It’s saying, “what’s the more likely explanation for the priest’s daughter getting pregnant, a satanic demon possessing her or she just fooled around with some boy behind her dad’s back?”
- Sagan’s Balance – Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A wise person proportions belief to evidence. Something very trivial and mundane may not need much evidence to be believed, but an outrageous claim needs very, very convincing evidence, to the point of impossibility, for things such as UFOs.
Many claims are made by various people, organizations, and entities. Many of them can be attributed to human error and folly. Even worse, some make fraudulent and dishonest claims to advance their goal or earn a cheap buck. At the outset, be judicious. Do not attribute to malice what can be attributed to folly as the adage goes.
Always keep that in the back of your mind, then investigate the background of the claimant, who finances him? What biases might this claimant have, especially towards his claim and what he is arguing for? Does he stand to profit if his claims prevails? How much does he stand to profit? This can be applied to anything, in scientific studies for example, see which scientists performed the study and from where did they get their financial patronage. Does the patron stand to gain based on the results of the study? If so then that is reason to assume that perhaps the scientists were biased in making their conclusion, looking at the scientific investigation with a confirmation bias that would result in the benefit of the patron, and ultimately, the scientists themselves. What about a salesman claiming his products are the best; are his products really the best or is he just saying that to sell? To summarize rather succinctly, beware of people’s motives.