is abstracted from "Why People Believe Weird Things", written by Michael
Shermer. Reading this book is highly recommended. Particularly, chapter
3 of Shermer is recommended here. It provides an excellent outline
of fallacies in thinking.
evidence is not useful.
All an anecdote tells you is what happened in one case. It tells
you nothing about the general population and you cannot draw any general
conclusions from it. You must have well-designed and controlled experiments
to get enough data to reach real conclusions.
need more than scientific language.
Words and phrases must have precise operational definitions. All hypotheses
must be testable.
claims need evidence.
Extravagant claims require a lot of evidence. The boldness of a claim
does not make it true. A far-out claim will not be accepted until it
has been successfully tested many times. The bulk of evidence must support
(heretical) claims can be wrong.
Surely the Wright brothers got laughs concerning their attempt to fly.
Alfred Wegener was scorned when he proposed that Earth's continents
actually move around. These ideas survive because they stood the test.
The Wright brothers' airplane actually flew, and a mass of evidence
has shown that Wegener was right. But - there is a large number of other
radical claims that did not withstand the tests and have been forgotten.
is the burden of proof?
Who must prove what? The person making an extravagant claim must prove,
via experiments and evidence, that the new claim is actually more valid
than current ideas. The new hypotheses must make better predictions
and successfully explain more phenomena better than current theory.
The current experts and not obligated to prove that their idea
are not necessarily real.
You have almost certainly heard some wonderful story and later wondered
if could really be true. Large numbers of such stories fall into the
category of "urban legends," meaning that they never really happened.
It is wise to take these stories as amusing fiction until you can find
some confirmation of them.
does NOT mean not explainable.
The fact that you have never seen or cannot explain some phenomenon
does NOT mean that it must be some unexplained supernatural thing.
It would be quite arrogant to assume that you know everything.
for rationalization of failures.
Pseudoscience cannot tolerate failures; they will be rationalized or
explained away in some manner. True science must accept negative results
as part of the search for the truth.
out for "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" reasoning.
If event B follows event A, that does NOT prove that A caused
B. Event B could follow A purely by chance. You must have well-designed
and controlled experiments to show that B always follows A. A single
occurrence is not sufficient.
Beware of coincidence.
Truly random behavior can produce some interesting coincidences. Causal
relationships do not always exist. Some interesting combination of events
may be nothing more than chance. The fact that you have never heard
of it before may mean simply that the probability of it is very low
and you don't expect to see it often.
Check the misses as well as the hits.
Is the thing you are looking at really representative of its population?
If one prediction of a "psychic" appears to be correct, how many others
were not correct? We tend to remember the hits and forget the misses.
this is intended to say that there are no problems in real scientific
What you see is often influenced by what you expect to see. Observations
will be interpreted according to current knowledge, which can obscure
important implications of the observations.
change the observed quantity.
The classic example of this is found in the measurement of the motion
or position of a subatomic particle. The process of measuring perturbs
The basic idea here is this: that which your instruments cannot detect
does not exist. Spectacular advances in knowledge often occur when detection
capabilities improve so that previously unseen things or phenomena can
also see full course syllabus at: http://www.inquiringminds.org/education/syllabus-cotton-scalise.html