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Book Review

Baloney underlies all propaganda whether secular, economic, moral, or religious. Peace is unlikely to come as long as baloney clouds issues, underlies advertising media, spews from the central office, or is handed down by governors of whatever stripe. As long as dogma masquerades as science, justice, and truth, peace will remain mired in the swamp of baloney.

The following finds inspiration in the book by Carl Sagan: The Demon Haunted World, from which we quote liberally.

Means for testing and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments

  • Confirm facts independently. If that is not possible, view them as provisional.
  • Require substantive dialogue on the evidence from all points of view. Involve experts.
  • Recognize that arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities", at most there are experts).
  • Develop as many hypotheses as possible don't simply run with the first or favorite idea.
  • Do not get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours. This is the "self-enamor trap."
  • Quantify all information, wherever possible. Use accurate, reproducible measurements.
  • If there is a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work.
  • Occam's razor, if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.
  • Is the idea testable? Can others duplicate the experiment or observation and get the same result?
  • Conduct control experiments when people are involved, use "double blind" experiments where neither the person taking measurements nor the person being measured is aware of who is the test and who is the control subject.
  • Check for confounding and nested factors, separate the variables; understand which variables are dependent and which are independent.
  • Look for the root cause(s) for any given result; do not accept mere correlation as being cause and effect without other evidence that it is so.
  • Learn and apply inferential statistical tests to determine which effects are probable against the background noise (residual). Remember, statistical technique cannot prove anything; proof lies in the realms of math and/or science.

Some Fallacies of Logic and Rhetoric

  • Accepting anecdotes masquerading as truth.
  • Accepting half-truths, selective revelation of facts.
  • Ad hominem, attacking the arguer and not the argument.
  • Argument from "authority" is usually fallacious. This one is especially treacherous. Secular authority is often contaminated by conflict of interest. Religious authority is authoritarian by nature. We are too often socialized to accept both.
  • Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavorable" decision). Instead, search for the positive consequences and look at the balance.
  • Appeal to ignorance, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  • Begging the question, assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased.
  • Biased thinking--allowing emotions to overrule judgment.
  • Caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.
  • Confusion of correlation and causation, events that correlate may be unrelated to each other, neither is cause nor effect; each may be caused by a third event each relies on in different ways.
  • Excluded middle;, considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities, making the "other side" look worse than it really is or that two positions differ when in fact they do not.
  • Inconsistency, e.g. accepting military expenditures based on worst-case unknown projections -vs- rejecting scientific projections on environmental dangers because they are not "proved".
  • Observational selection, counting the hits and forgetting the misses. Anecdotes, even "case studies", can be in this category.
  • Meaningless question, "what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" If either supposition is true, the other cannot be.
  • Misunderstanding the nature of statistics, e.g. President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!
  • 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; accepting anecdote as law.
  • Short-term -vs- long-term, a subset of excluded middle, "why pursue fundamental science when we have such a huge budget deficit?"
  • Slippery slope, another subset of excluded middle, unwarranted extrapolation of the effects, "give an inch and they will take a mile."
  • Special pleading, typically referring to the will of authority (including God), with no evidence or logic supporting that authority.
  • Statistics of small numbers, drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes. Using inferential statistics will avoid this trap.
  • Suppressed evidence, hiding information in the Enron and analogous modes.
  • 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." For further example, right-wing Republicans coined the phrase "compassionate conservatism" to provide cover for their religious and plutocratic goals. It sounds great until you look at their record. There is little compassion to be found, unless you are rich.

Baloney such as the foregoing equates to propaganda of the
worst type.

Critical thinking allowed chemistry to arise out of the ashes of alchemy. Critical thinking gave us modern transportation, communications, and medicine. Critical thinking propelled Western societies ahead of their Eastern counterparts in virtually every way.

Critical thinking expressed is the hallmark of freedom and progress by society. It can also drive and enable individuals to change. And it is protected by the First Amendment.

See Critical Thinking for more. See Solutions for how critical thinking can make progress toward peace.

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