Sense, Nonsense & Logic


We are swamped with information daily. There are many new and exciting discoveries and theories being proposed all the time, many of them in fields with which one may not be intimately familiar. There are also a lot of conmen, fraud artists and 'silly buggers' making more or less outrageous claims. There are some industries which stand to lose out if some claims of modern science are born out. I am thinking here of folks like the tobacco industry. There is a full time business in some countries now discrediting environmental claims. Then there is the fun stuff, like Corporations are inventing people to rubbish their opponents on the internet. A segment of the public relations industry is is going full tilt trying to disprove and deny the reality of global warming. Recent studies have shown that as many as 85% of drug studies reported in major medical journals do not disclose the author's potential conflicts of interest. The traditional media have been swamped by business interests. Newspapers are pages of advertising with a snippet of news. Journalism has been largely superseded by propaganda. The net is no different.

With all these sources clamouring for your attention and all these factors tending towards distortion and misrepresentation, a person needs a well developed tool kit -- a Crap Detector(TM), to distinguish the malarkey. To this end, a few Skeptical Thinking sites may be inspirational and it may be helpful to know some of the latest Skeptical News.

A couple of related pages may also be of use:

Shermer's Boundary Detection Kit

In his book The Borderlands of Science, Michael Shermer provides a 10 point Boundary Detection Kit to help differentiate between Science, Semi-Science and Nonsense in claims of scientific validity. You may find it useful.

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Has the source often made similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by another source?
  4. How does this fit with what we know about the world and how it works?
  5. Has anyone, including and especially the claimant, gone out of the way to disprove the claim, or has only confirmatory evidence been sought?
  6. In the absence of clearly defined proof, does the preponderance of evidence converge to the claimant's conclusion, or a different one?
  7. Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of reason and tools of research, or have those been abandoned in favour of others that lead to the desired conclusion?
  8. Has the claimant provided a different explanation for the observed phenomena, or is it strictly a process of denying the existing explanation?
  9. If the claimant has proferred a new explanation, does it account for as many phenomena as the old explanation?
  10. Do the claimant's personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusion, or vice versa?

In his book The Demon Haunted World , Carl Sagan has provided another, similar but longer Baloney Detection kit. This sort of tool kit is useful, but ultimately it is up to the individual to develop critical thinking skills. Here are a few other sites which may be of some use in this endeavour.

Skeptical Thinking, Baloney Detection Sites

The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense meets nonsense

The Demon-Haunted World

Back to Index

Last modified November 30, 2013