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The Fine Art of Baloney Detection


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I found this that may interest some by Carl Sagan from his The Demon-Haunted World:

1.  Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”

2.  Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points 
of view.

3.  Arguments from authority carry little weight—“authorities” have made mistakes in the past. 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.

4.  Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

5.  Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea.  
6.  Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.

7.  Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. 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.

8.  If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise)—not just most of them.

9.  Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.

10. 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.



Edited by StringJunky
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While this is very good info, I fear that in today's world the whole thing already falls apart in the first paragraph. Too often, multiple social media posts are considered independent validation of facts. Also, folks seem to be getting worse at reading longer texts, so even coming up with a single hypothesis is going to be incredibly challenging (unless it is shorter than a tweet).

Or maybe I am just getting old(er).

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@CharonY The method of determining the veracity of facts has changed: one must be conversant in Youtube and Twitter. The written word is so 'yesterday', even long-time posters here tend to present videos rather than papers or articles now. The written word as a medium for evidence seems to be going the way of the hieroglyph. What I don't get is video is so slooow to input... I thought the world was getting faster and less patient.


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Good list, as one might expect from the late great Mr Sagan.  Number four reminds me of the fallacy called "availability heuristic." Which is the tendency, when we form an hypothesis or an opinion or an interpretation of reality, to call upon what we have most recently heard or acquired in the way of information (rather than explore a broader range and timespan of data).  We humans have trouble taking the entire information space into account when we try to model reality.  

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Darwin, another late great rputed scientist, would opine that bullshit must confers some kinda survival advantage. Many animals e.g. the Australian Chlamydosaurus bluff i.e. bullshit their way out of tight spots! 

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