Pocket worthyStories to fuel your mind. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. They will do so again in the future.
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By Maria Popova Carl Sagan November 9, —December 20, was many things — a cosmic sage , voracious reader , hopeless romantic , and brilliant philosopher.
If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. They will do so again in the future.
Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts. Spin more than one hypothesis. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations.
Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified.
Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof?
You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result. Just as important as learning these helpful tools, however, is unlearning and avoiding the most common pitfalls of common sense.
Reminding us of where society is most vulnerable to those, Sagan writes: In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do.
It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously argument from authority e. Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives appeal to ignorance — the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa e.
This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion — to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long?
And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly. But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa excluded middle, or false dichotomy — considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities e.
We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit? Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception ; confusion of correlation and causation e.
Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore — despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter — the latter causes the former straw man — caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack e. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?
Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world — not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.
The Demon-Haunted World is a timelessly fantastic read in its entirety, timelier than ever in a great many ways amidst our present media landscape of propaganda, pseudoscience, and various commercial motives.
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Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit – an Analysis
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". Quantify, wherever possible. If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work. 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?
The Baloney Detection Kit
Themes[ edit ] Sagan explains that science is not just a body of knowledge but is a way of thinking. Sagan shows how scientific thinking is both imaginative and disciplined, bringing humans to an understanding of how the universe is, rather than how they wish to perceive it. He says that science works much better than any other system because it has a "built-in error-correcting machine". Skeptical thinking allows people to construct , understand , reason , and recognize valid and invalid arguments. Wherever possible, there must be independent validation of the concepts whose truth should be proved. He states that reason and logic would succeed once the truth were known. Conclusions emerge from premises , and the acceptability of the premises should not be discounted or accepted because of bias.