Score One for the New Media, Not So Sure About Hamburgers

What me rot?

You can use your critical thinking skills to analyze a broad amount of information. You can take this critical analysis one step further and conduct simple experiments to gather your own evidence. No, really. I mean YOU!

Because that is exactly what blogger J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, at the food blog Serious Eats did. Not [...]

The Galileo Principle and Scientific Consensus

If you believe something that no one else does, you may be a spiritual descendant of this Renaissance gentleman! Or you could be nuttier than peanut butter...

When arguing with those who preach non-scientific views on subjects where my education is limited, I tend to invoke the consensus of scientific opinion.  I believe my reasoning for this is sound.  I tend to trust in the process of science.  I know that it is in the interests of scientists to be able to prove conclusively why something is or is not true, and that it’s in the interests of their colleagues to disprove what the initial scientist is saying.  Using the process of science, ideas are stringently vetted through the entire community, and if a new idea manages to make its way through that process, we can be reasonably certain that idea is an accurate reflection of reality.  The counter I receive tends to be the Galileo Principle, that Galileo was hounded on all sides by those who believed his ideas on cosmology were wrong, even though he was eventually vindicated for his heliocentric cosmos.  How do we reconcile the appeal to scientific consensus with the possibility of Galileos? … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

For the next in the series on faulty logic, we have:

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

It’s a natural tendency for people to make connections between events. “When I do this, that happens.”

When I touch something hot, I get burned.
When I don’t water my house plants, they die.
When I eat that kind of mushroom, I get sick. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Appeal to Popularity

It’s been too long since I’ve written an installment of the series on faulty logic. It’s time to continue it, with…

Appeal to Popularity

There was a time when pretty much everyone thought that the Earth was flat. There was a time when anyone who thought about it was sure the sun went around the Earth. Come to mention it, there was a time when that was widely attributed to its having a ride on Apollo’s chariot. These were popular ideas.

But an idea’s popularity doesn’t make it right; it only makes it popular. … continue reading this entry.

Strong inference and the distinction between soft and hard science, part II

(This is a two-part commentary reposted from Rationally Speaking that I thought would be of interest to Gotham Skeptic readers, the second part will post later this week.)

Continuing our discussion of Platt’s classical paper on “strong inference” and, more broadly, the difference between soft and hard science, another reason for the difference between these two types of science mentioned but left unexamined by Platt is the relative complexity of the subject matters of different scientific disciplines. It seems to me trivially true that particle physics does in fact deal with the simplest objects in the entire universe: atoms and their constituents. At the opposite extreme, biology takes on the most complex things known to humanity: organisms made of billions of cells, and ecosystems whose properties are affected by tens of thousands of variables. In the middle we have a range of sciences dealing with the relatively simple (chemistry) or the slightly more complex (astronomy, geology), roughly on a continuum that parallels the popular perception of the divide between hard and soft disciplines. That is, a reasonable argument can in fact be made that, so to speak, physicists have been successful because they had it easy. This is of course by no means an attempt to downplay the spectacular progress of physics or chemistry, just to put it in a more reasonable perspective: if you are studying simple phenomena, are given loads of money to do it, and you are able to attract the brightest minds because they think that what you do is really cool, it would be astounding if you had not made dazzling progress! … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Appeal to Authority

Continuing the series on faulty logic, today we’ll look at:

Appeal to Authority

In our society, we hold various people up as authority figures, those we’re inclined to pay attention to. It’s not always clear why we have some folks on that list, really. Political leaders, such as presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, senators, and governors are obvious. Educators and other academics — professors, scientists, and the like — also make sense. I’m never sure why actors and sports figures are there, but they do seem to be. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: False Dichotomy

It’s time for number two in a series of posts on faulty logic. Today’s fallacy:

False Dichotomy

We like things to be black or white, tall or short, here or there. We like to consider two sides to every story.

Unfortunately, there aren’t always two sides. Sometimes there’s only one; more often, there are multitudes. Many facets on the stone. Nooks and crannies in abundance. Things are usually not either black or white, but multicolored. As it’s hard to argue a case with so many variations, we tend to narrow the scope, and argue one side against another.

The trouble comes because we tend to define the two sides in a lopsided manner, revealing our biases and mischaracterizing one side or the other. If you’re not “pro-life”, what are you? Anti-life? Of course not: it’s a false dichotomy. … continue reading this entry.

Faulty logic: Confirmation Bias

In “On being a skeptic”, I said that skeptics look at evidence and make rational judgments based on the evidence:

We don’t say, “Bullshit!”, and we don’t say, “It’s a scientist saying it, so it must be true.” We look at the evidence.

Even the most hardened skeptic is susceptible to confirmation bias. We might think, “that traffic light is always red,” even when we know it is programmed to change at regular intervals.I note that non-skeptics — or those who style themselves as a different kind of skeptic — also put forth “evidence” and claim support from it. But their evidence turns out to be faulty, and, often, the fault is in their reliance on one of more logical fallacies. They’re using faulty logic, which is generating faulty evidence, which is supporting… not any judgment they might make from what they see, but what they’ve already determined they want to believe.

I thought I’d have a look, in a series of posts, at some of the common logical fallacies. I’ll start with the one that’s perhaps the hardest for us to avoid, one that most of us have to work hard not to fall into ourselves.

Confirmation Bias

Simply put, confirmation bias is seeing what you want or expect to see, and ignoring what contradicts it. … continue reading this entry.

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