Baloney Detection Kit

The Demon-Haunted World

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Warning signs that suggest deception. Based on the book by Carl SaganThe Demon Haunted World“. The following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

  • 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, it is 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 “unfavorable” 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.
  • 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”

2 thoughts on “Baloney Detection Kit”

  1. What a great blog! Thanks for putting all these info out there. A (changing) pair of missionary sisters’ been dropping in on me for lunch once a week while trying to get me to baptize into the church. I was never interested, but thought I’d give them fair audience… Really don’t think much of the often quoted Moroni 10:3-5 at all. Seems they’ll interpret any outcome to mean the same thing (that the BoM and the LDS church is true), even if I pray and read the book and feel nothing they’ll still claim the same and then blame the lack of result on me not wanting badly enough to believe. Well, why the heck should I even want to believe in some book some deluded con man thought up and tried to pass off as god’s to begin with. And what would my want or don’t want have anything to do with something being true… If it’s true then it is true regardless of whether I’d want to believe in it or not.

    It’s been fun getting to see what Mormons are like and what their church atmosphere’s like (I’ve been to church with them twice plus a fireside). I even watched the General Conference broadcast last weekend. There is no way I’m converting into this bunch, tho. What I find hard to understand is how these college educated girls could buy such a doctrine so absolutely enough to volunteer for a mission (they aren’t as pressured into like the boys are). 😦 They want me to baptize on Oct 18th. I think I’ll say no before then, then perhaps as you say they’ll drop me like a hot potato. 🙂 But at least I’ll still be a thinking potato instead of an obey-the-prophet spud, ay?

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