2032) Skeptical scrutiny is not only a toolkit for rooting out bunkum and cruelty that prey on those least able to protect themselves and most in need of our compassion, people offered little other hope. It is also a timely reminder that mass rallies, radio and television, the print media, electronic marketing, and mail-order technology permit other kinds of lies to be injected into the body politic - to take advantage of the frustrated, the unwary, and the defenseless in a society riddled with political ills that are being treated ineffectively if at all.
Baloney, bamboozles, careless thinking, flimflam, and wishes disguised as facts are not restricted to parlor magic and ambiguous advice on matters of the heart. Unfortunately, they ripple through mainstream political, social, religious, and economic issues in every nation.
Carl Sagan The Demon-Haunted World (1995)
2033) Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with not without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principle that they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which in order to be consistent with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument.
Ethan Allen quoted by Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World (1995)
2034) Keeping an open mind is a virtue - but, as the space engineer James Oberg once said, not so open that your brains fall out. Of course we must be willing to change our minds when warranted by new evidence. But the evidence must be strong. Not all claims to knowledge have equal merit.
Carl Sagan The Demon-Haunted World (1995)
2035) A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. The doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms, that it was idle to suppose that she would not come safely home from this trip. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all those unhappy families that were leaving their fatherlands to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched the departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.
What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts [...]
William K. Clifford The Ethics of Belief (1874) quoted by Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World (1995)
2036) [M]ost scientists feel it's not their job to expose pseudoscientific bamboozles - much less, passionately held self-deceptions. They tend not to be very good at it either. Scientists are used to struggling with Nature, who may surrender her secrets reluctantly but who fights fair. Often they are unprepared for those unscrupulous pratictioners of the "paranormal" who play by different rules. Magicians, on the other hand, are in the deception business. They practice one of the many occupations - such as acting, advertising, bureaucratic religion, and politics - where what a naive observer might misunderstand as lying is socially condoned as in the service of a higher good.
Carl Sagan The Demon-Haunted World (1995)
2037) In science we may start with experimental results, data, observations, measurements, "facts." We invent, if we can, a rich array of possible explanations and systematically confront each explanation with the facts. In the course of their training, scientists are equipped with a baloney detection kit. The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you're so inclines, if you don't want to buy baloney even when it's reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there's a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.
What's in the kit? Tools for skeptical thinking.
What skeptical thinking comes down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and -especially important - to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether the premise is true.
Among the tools:
Whenever possible there must be independent confirmation of the "facts."
Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all sides.
Arguments from authority carry little weight - "authorities" have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
Spin more than one hypothesis. If there's something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among the "multiple working hypotheses," has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy. [...] [Footnote: This is a problem that affects jury trials. Retrospective studies show that some jurors make up their minds very early - perhaps during opening arguments - and then retain the evidence that seems to support their initial impressions and reject the contrary evidence. The method of alternative working hypotheses is not running their heads.]
Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours. It's only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. Se if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don't, others will.
Quantify. If whatever it is you're explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you'll be better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truth to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding *them* is more challenging.
If there's a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work(including the premise) - not just most of them.
Occam's Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle - an electron, say - in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
[...] In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us to recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions. Among these fallacies are:
ad hominem - Latin for "to the man," attacking the arguer and not the argument [...]
Knowing the existence of such logical and rhetorical fallacies rounds out our toolkit. Like all tools, baloney detection kit can be misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world - not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.
Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began). As of today, there are 385 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.