Practical skepticism means applying critical thinking, not just adopting political stances or expressing outrage without merit. Opposition to GMO (genetically modified organisms) is an excellent example of massive inefficiency caused by scientific illiteracy and misinformation. Here is a piece by Dr. Steven Novella:
I sometimes think of scientific skepticism as a method of waste reduction and improved efficiency. As an individual, a family, a society, a government, and indeed a civilization, we are best served if our time and energy were spent in an efficient manner pursuing appropriate goals. It pains me, for example, to think of researchers who spend an entire career pursuing a fiction. When you think about how much time and money is wasted because of ideology, stubbornness, or simple ignorance it can be depressing.
Part of the problem is that the choices we face are increasingly complex, and we really don’t have the infrastructure necessary to collectively make good decisions. Politics is overwhelmed with ideology and perverse incentives, people are overwhelmed with misinformation and advertising, the public is largely scientific illiterate, the media generally does not do a good job of informing the public, and the default mode is to make decisions for emotional and ideological rather than rational reasons.
There are many examples just from the pages of this blog – billions wasted on useless supplements, disease outbreaks caused by antivaxxers, companies dedicated to producing free-energy devices, and ideological opposition to anything “unnatural,” to name just a few. The latter is interesting because it demonstrates how passionate people who mean well can be easily diverted by sloppy thinking.
Read more: NeuroLogica Blog » Missing the Point and Wasting Resources