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Skeptic Summary #294

By The Staff
Posted on: 8/7/2010

Cancer, marriage, bad medicine, counter-intuitivity, bizarre 'truth', baloney detection and more!

Week ending August 07, 2010 (Vol 7, #29)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick week-in-review guide to the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

Forum Highlights:
Christopher Hitchens’ cancer - Less painful than the tortured logic in this thread.

Judge strikes down Prop 8 - With a bolt of lightning, no less.

Strategy Ideas for Skeptics - Stop listening to doctors?

Editor’s Choice: A most counter-intuitive feat! - Until you think about it really hard.

New Article This Week:
The Truth About The Bible And Evolution - We really don’t know.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” by Carl Sagan (from The Demon Haunted World) — From time to time I find it useful and inspiring to re-read this primer for skeptics. Many skeptics were introduced to skepticism by Carl Sagan through his prose, talks and special event shows like Cosmos.

With the “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” Sagan lays it out for us. The reasons why we should question, from the cacophony of ideas that we are bombarded with every day, those ideas that warrant our skepticism, and how to go about our questioning. In his own words:
In science we may start with experimental results, data, observations, measurements, “facts.” We invent, if we can, a rich array of possible explanations and systematically confront each explanation with the facts. In the course of their training, scientists are equipped with a baloney detection kit. The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

What’s in the kit? Tools for skeptical thinking.

What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and — especially important — to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.
This is a must-read for any new skeptic and a great article to visit if you are in need of a recharge or if you simply want to visit with an old friend. Perhaps the best friend skepticism ever had.

The most useful piece of learning for the uses of life is to unlearn what is untrue.
— Antisthenes

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: This week chat started off with medical musings focusing primarily on diabetes. One chatter was afraid to get themselves tested and wondered about their risk factors. Kil broke the rather glum gab with news that his music will be appearing in an independent film. The pay sucks (about the same as working for the SFN), but at least he’ll be in the credits. Also Ricky is on his way toward getting an Erdös number of five, though he still has to work on his Erdös–Bacon number. On the other hand, TerryWBerg had a small role in a movie with Tommy Lee Jones, making his Bacon number 2, but has yet to publish a scientific paper. After film and science, we moved on to the overturning of proposition 8 in California, which then degenerated into a rant on incest in the Bible. At the end of the night, chat focused pop culture, relationships and SFN blunders.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Distorting Darwin

Home Office figures for Sarah’s law — fact or fiction?

Incredible Journey of Self-Discovery? Or Skeptical Red Flag?

Jerry Coyne, then and now

Natural Cures

Pump Up the Vole-ume: Talking Oxytocin

South African reserve’s last rhino butchered for her horn

Topic of Cancer — Christopher Hitchens

What is the sweating professor trying to say?

What’s New by Bob Park

With David Copperfield

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.

Book of the Week:
A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, by Cordelia Fine.

“Many psychological studies show that on average, each of us believes we are above average compared with others — more ethical and capable, better drivers, better judges of character, and more attractive. Our weaknesses are, of course, irrelevant. Such self distortion protects our egos from harm, even when nothing could be further from the truth. Our brains are the trusted advisers we should never trust. This ‘distorting prism’ of self-knowledge is what Cordelia Fine, a psychologist at the Australian National University, calls our ‘vain brain.’ Fine documents the lengths to which a human brain will go to bias perceptions in the perceiver’s favor. When explaining to ourselves and others why something has gone well or badly, we attribute success to our own qualities, while shedding responsibility for failure. Our brains bias memory and reason, selectively editing truth to inflict less pain on our fragile selves. They also shield the ego from truth with ‘retroactive pessimism,’ insisting the odds were stacked inevitably toward doom. Alternatively, the brain of ‘self handicappers’ concocts non-threatening excuses for failure. Furthermore, our brains warp perceptions to match emotions. In the extreme, patients with Cotard delusion actually believe they are dead. So ‘pigheaded’ is the brain about protecting its perspective that it defends cherished positions regardless of data. The ‘secretive’ brain unconsciously directs our lives via silent neural equipment that creates the illusion of willfulness. ‘Never forget,’ Fine says, ‘that your unconscious is smarter than you, faster than you, and more powerful than you. It may even control you. You will never know all of its secrets.’ So what to do? Begin with self-awareness, Fine says, then manage the distortions as best one can. We owe it to ourselves ‘to lessen the harmful effects of the brain’s various shams,’ she adds, while admitting that applying this lesson to others is easier than to oneself. Ironically, one category of persons shows that it is possible to view life through a clearer lens. ‘Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even-handedly, and their predictions for the future are more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge,’ Fine asserts. ‘They are the clinically depressed.’ Case in point.”

— Scientific American

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  2. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  3. Funny FAILS
  4. The Supper
  5. ‘Zion Oil’ getting into hot water?
  6. Burning the Koran: how stupid is this?
  7. A most counter-intuitive feat!
  8. Strategy Ideas for Skeptics
  9. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  10. So it starts
  1. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  2. Evolving a Venom or Two
  3. Newton’s Third Law
  4. Paradigm Paralysis
  5. Kent Hovind is a Kwazy Kweationist
  6. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  7. Scientific Truth
  8. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  9. null
  10. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
There were 8,191 daily visitors this week.
Last Month’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  2. The Supper
  3. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  4. Funny FAILS
  5. Ken Ham: not even a very good liar
  6. NAACP: Klan with a tan
  7. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  8. So much for that Biblical pharmacy business model
  9. Governor reveals new AZ police uniform
  10. Documentary: 1983 ‘Moonwalk’ was staged
  11. Neti pots, sinus disease, and migraines
  12. Expelled for being a homophobe?
  13. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  14. ‘Zion Oil’ getting into hot water?
  15. DMV Senior Motorcyclist Handbook
  16. Nessie and Bigfoot and mermaids, oh please!
  17. Quote Mine warning propaganda poster
  18. The shallow end of the gene pool…
  19. Universe expansion
  20. Crabby Catholic curses, well, everything in sight
  1. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  2. Evolving a Venom or Two
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. Scientific Truth
  5. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  6. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  7. Cold Reading
  8. TAM5
  9. Preaching that Anti-Evolution Propaganda
  10. B17
  11. Come & Receive your Miracle: A Sunday Afternoon at a Robert Tilton Crusade
  12. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
  13. Miracle Thaw Tray
  14. The Fred Flintstone Hoax
  15. Scientists go on Faith
  16. Evolution is a Lie
  17. Newton’s Third Law
  18. Skeptic Summary #291
  19. Quantum Age Water
  20. The Polonium 218 Controversy
There were 47,464 daily visitors in July, 2010.

More issues of the Skeptic Summary can be found in our archive.

The Skeptic Summary is produced by the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, copyright 2008, all rights reserved.

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