Science: Critical thinking for Dummies
Book Review of Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense, by Michael Shermeris.
The Anomalist (www.anomalist.com)
- Reprinted with permission of the authors and The
A Column by Jim Richardson and Allen Richardson.
The Anomalist (www.anomalist.com) - Reprinted with permission of the authors and The Anomalist.
Here is Michael Shermer's "Boundary
Detection Kit" from his
1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
2. Does this source often make similar claims?
3. Have the claims been verified by another source?
4. How does this fit in 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 claimants conclusion, or a different one?
7. Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of reason and tools of research, or have these been abandoned in favor of others which 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 proffered a new explanation, does it account for as many phenomena as the old explanation?
10. Do the claimants personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusions, or vice versa?
big bang cosmology .9
plate tectonics .9
neurophysiology of brain functions.8
punc eq .7
sociobiology/ evolutionary pysch .5
chaos and complexity theory .4
intelligence and intelligence testing .3
holocaust revisionism .1
remote viewing .1
bible code .1
big foot .1
freudian psychoanalytic theory.1
recovered memories .1
science--in the borderlands between normal science and nonscience:
theories of consciousness .5
grand theories of economics (objectivism, socialism, etc) .5
omega point theory .1
also has a chapter about the Piltdown Man and the self-correcting nature
of science. Surely we could drive a bus through the holes in this little
For instance, is it just us or are all of Shermer's very own beliefs given the highest ratings? It must be very convenient for Shermer to have his own beliefs be so expertly derived that they are virtually beyond question at .9. Has this mechanistically-minded arch-skeptic actually followed his own advice and attempted to disprove his own beliefs, or is he just taking things like "Big Bang Cosmology" on faith? Anyone even passingly familiar with critiques of the Big Bang theory would surely hesitate to assign it a .9. We're thinking it's even in the wrong category altogether--surely it belongs in the "borderlands" with other goofy, ýmathţ-turbatory stuff like "superstrings." Witness also the continued resistance to such innocuous ideas like acupuncture, so long ago demystified by
The placing of UFOs in the non-scientific category clearly indicates the assumptions and presuppositions that Shermer saddles the term with. Presumably he is referring to the "nuts-and-bolts" UFO hypothesis, which has all but been displaced by the earth-lights explanation of UFO phenomena in most serious modern UFO research (recently bolstered even further by the latest research on ball lightning and black auroras). This side of the UFO question ranks higher than the Big Bang if you ask us.
Shermer sums up: ". . .Piltdown is a painful reminder of the fact that intelligence and education is no prophylactic against fraud and flimflam. In Piltdown we saw some of the most highly decorated and respected scientists in the world taken in by someone who was at most an amateur hoaxer. It shows that humans are pattern-seeking, storytelling animals, who seek and find patterns that fit a meaningful story. Once the story is found and a story developed around that pattern, additional confirming evidence is sought, and disconfirming evidence (or clues of a hoax) are ignored.
It is a
testimony to the confirmation bias, one of the most
explanatory models of cognitive psychologists who study flaws in critical
thinking, and Piltdown shows that scientists--even world-class scientists--are
not immune. It is one thing to wonder why people believe weird
things, it is quite another. . . to understand why smart people believe
weird things. One answer is that the belief engine that drives our perceptions
is so powerful that. . .it is almost impossible to step
outside one's culture to shed the belief baggage
that comes with residence in
a community of believers, to filter knowledge through the belief engine in
order to see the evidence for what it really is--whether that be truth or
NDERF is Copyrighted. Copyright1999 by Dr. Jeffrey & Jody Long