Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Critical Thinking

Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Series

I found a new favorite podcast. Skeptoid is a debunking website by a guy named Brian Dunning.

Once a week he does a fascinating fifteen minute podcast that skeptically examines something in popular culture. He produced an excellent 40 minute video called "Here be Dragons" on how to examine things.

It's terrific.

I showed it to my Addiction class last night before doing a lecture on the causes of addiction. I wanted them to know what it means to use the scientific method and what real research was.

The video looks at psychics, vitamins, new age medical treatment and conspiracies.

Dunning does a scene where he argues with himself about 9/11. One voice says things like:

"What about the fact that no steel building ever collapsed/"

"What about building seven collapsing and housing the SEC?"

"What about George Bush's brother being a landlord for one of the WTC floors"

etc, etc, etc

Dunning answers all of the questions by countering with "Who flew the planes?"

His point was that everything else is a red herring. That when you looked at it there were a dozen or so guys who hijacked these planes and crashed them. There's no evidence for anything else.

My class revolted. They argued about new age science, defended acupuncture and generally said that you couldn't trust any research.

Dunning says people like conspiracies, easy answers and magic.

I know I do. I now know my college class does even more.

But could it be that the FDA, the CIA, the military and the government in general conspires against us? If they do what's their motivation or reasoning?

Watch the video when you get a chance.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Conspiracy theories are always interesting, aren't they...and usually more interesting than the actual truth! Thanks for sharing this story with us. I'll check out the video.

Beth Groundwater said...

And people often have "conspiracy theories" about how authors become successful. That they're an overnight sensation because they knew someone, or slept with someone, or learned the secret handshake. That their brilliant manuscript came out that way on the first draft and no one could match their innate literary talent, so why try? That if you self-publish your unedited manuscript on Amazon, buyers will somehow find it and buy it in the thousands (the "if you build it, they will come" theory). The truth, that writing is hard work, that rewriting is what makes a manuscript publishable, that rejections are part of the process, and that there's no secret handshake, isn't as much fun to believe as the conspiracies.

Vicki Doudera said...

Why do we enjoy conspiracies so much? Urban legends? maybe it is because so much of life is unmysterious and yet our souls crave mystery... GOOD NEWS FOR US MIDNIGHT INKERS!

Keith Raffel said...

Thanks, Tom. I've found that when there is a choice between stupidity and conspiracy as the explanation, it's the former 99% of the time.

BTW here's the link to YouTube for Here Be Dragons:

Alice Loweecey said...

Eons ago, I briefly worked for The Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Sounds like much of a muchness with Skeptoid. Fascinating to read and listen to, and I'm always up for more critical thinking and debate. Thanks for the links.