I Am Therefore I Think
A Skeptic's Manifesto
On the opening page of his splendid little book To Know a Fly, biologist Vincent Dethier makes this humorous observation about how children grow up to be scientists: "Although small children have taboos against stepping on ants because such actions are said to bring on rain, there has never seemed to be a taboo against pulling off the legs or wings of flies. Most children eventually outgrow this behavior. Those who do not either come to a bad end or become biologists" (1962, p. 2). In their early years, children are knowledge junkies, questioning everything in their purview, though exhibiting little skepticism. Most never learn to distinguish between skepticism and credulity. It took me a long time.
In 1979, unable to land a full-time teaching job, I found work as a writer for a cycling magazine. The first day on the job, I was sent to a press conference held in honor of a man named John Marino who had just ridden his bicycle across America in a record 13 days, 1 hour, 20 minutes. When I asked him how he did it, John told me about special vegetarian diets, megavitamin therapy, fasting, colonics, mud baths, iridology, cytotoxic blood testing, Rolfing, acupressure and acupuncture, chiropractic and massage therapy, negative ions, pyramid power, and a host of weird things with which I was unfamiliar. Being a fairly inquisitive fellow, when I took up cycling as a serious sport I thought I would try these things to see for myself whether they worked. I once fasted for a week on nothing but a strange mixture of water, cayenne pepper, garlic, and lemon. At the end of
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