Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: What to Ask Before Believing

Ear­li­er this week The New York Times pub­lished an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion between philoso­pher Michael Lynch and physi­cist Alan Sokal on epis­temic first prin­ci­ples, or, as Lynch put it in an ear­li­er essay, the “Rea­sons for Rea­son.” To illus­trate the prac­ti­cal advan­tage of obser­va­tion and induc­tive rea­son­ing in the for­ma­tion of beliefs, Sokal quotes a pas­sage from James Robert Brown’s Who Rules in Sci­ence?:

Cer­tain rea­son­ing pat­terns tend to pro­mote sur­vival; oth­ers don’t. If Og rea­soned: “In the past tigers have reg­u­lar­ly eat­en peo­ple, but I’m sure this one will be quite friend­ly,” then very like­ly Og is not your ances­tor.

Beliefs are impor­tant. How we form them can have pro­found con­se­quences for our own lives and–especially in a democracy–for the lives of the peo­ple around us. In this 15-minute video from the Richard Dawkins Foun­da­tion, Skep­tic mag­a­zine founder and edi­tor Michael Sher­mer gives prac­ti­cal advice on how to sep­a­rate sense from non­sense when form­ing beliefs. The next time some­one tries to con­vince you of a tiger’s friend­li­ness, do your­self a favor and take heed of what Sher­mer has to say.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.