Think more critically, learn to question everything, and don’t let your own brain trip you up.
The most effective antidote for bad thinking is good thinking. The best way to make con artists vanish is to see them. The best way to silence crazy claims is simply to listen to them with a sharp brain and then ask the right questions.
Respond to extraordinary claims in a way that is similar, in spirit at least, to how a scientist would investigate a new, exotic illness found in redwood trees or newly discovered microbial colonies in the bellybuttons of Latvian fishermen: observe, research, hypothesize (think up ideas), ask questions, experiment, and share your ideas and conclusions about it with sensible people. Rinse and repeat.
Thinking like a scientist is not that difficult
Young children can do it. Old people can do it. High-school dropouts can do it. It doesn’t require you to memorize the periodic table of elements or to understand quantum physics.
Thinking like a scientist in this context only means that you maintain a healthy level of curiosity and doubt. You aren’t afraid to ask questions and request evidence, and you don’t draw conclusions about things until you have very good reasons to do so. You also must be willing to change your mind if your conclusions turn out to be wrong.
The bad news is that the people with weird, unproven claims outnumber you. They may have popular opinion, tradition, and the always-attractive lure of lazy thinking on their side. You may think common sense, the laws of nature, and logic would constrain these people, but they rarely burden themselves with such concerns because theirs is the domain of the make-believe where rules are invented or discarded as desired. They might also cheat by appealing to emotion and tickling your soft underbelly. They might tell you that their way is warm, comforting, exciting, and meaningful while the skeptic’s world is cold, lonely, boring, and empty. Don’t believe such lifes.
Deciding to think like a scientist is the hard part
Doing it is fairly easy.
The mechanics are simple and straightforward: Proof comes before belief. Nothing is ever beyond question or revision. But don’t be fooled, this is a lifelong war and every day is a battle. Irrational thinkers and their crazy claims never go away. You can never declare victory and let down your guard because there are always more nearby who are looking for another mind to infect. Dismantle one of these brain-snatching beliefs with your skepticism, and ten more are ready and waiting to take its place. Annihilate one hollow claim with reason, and twenty more rise up.
The best you can do is hold them off in a siege that never ends. And through it all, you need to stay positive, to hold onto your humanity. You can’t allow yourself to become frustrated and bitter and begin to pull away from your fellow humans. That’s not good for you and not good for the world. Excluding the liars and con artists, people who belief in bad ideas are victims of bad thinking, that’s all. Despising them or giving up on them is not constructive.