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scheming daemons

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Baloney Detection Kit

Carl Sagan, in his brilliant book "The Demon Haunted World", provided a chapter called "The Baloney Detection Kit". Here is how you can sift through arguments to separate the "woo" from the reality :



- Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts

- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

- Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").

- Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

- Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.

- Quantify, wherever possible.

- If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.

- "Occam's razor" - if there are two hypothesis that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.

- Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, is is it testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?

Additional issues are:

- Conduct control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.

- Check for confounding factors - separate the variables.

Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric:

- Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.

- Argument from "authority".

- Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavourable" decision).

- Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).

- Special pleading (typically referring to god's will).

- Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).

- Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).

- Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).

- Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)

- Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not "proved").

- Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.

- Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of cause and effect.

- Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).

- Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the "other side" look worse than it really is).

- Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle ("why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?").

- Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).

- Confusion of correlation and causation.

- Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack..

- Suppressed evidence or half-truths.

- Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public"


The world misses Carl Sagan more than ever.
Posted by scheming daemons | Mon Jan 6, 2014, 08:06 AM (35 replies)

yes.. i am going to profile and speculate...

Which group of people thinks the Income Tax is unconstitutional and that April 15 is a day of infamy?

Today is Patriot Day in Massachusetts ... commemorating the first shots of the American Revolution in Lexington and Concord. Which group of people keeps saying that we need another American Revolution?

This week commemorates the siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and Ruby Ridge. Which group of people are commonly linked to those events and/or considers them exhibits of government run amok?

This week is the 18th anniversary of Oklahoma City.

This was a crude set of explosives, non suicide bombing, and didn't fit any of the profiles of Islamic terrorism.

Yes. I am profiling. Thats what the Dept of Homeland Security is doing right now too.

This has all the earmarks a Glenn Beck listening, freerepublic reading, anti-government political statement.

If it is not a freeper, whoever did it wanted to make it look like it was a freeper.


Occam's Razor says.... white militia.
Posted by scheming daemons | Mon Apr 15, 2013, 07:47 PM (31 replies)
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