Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit.
November 11, 2002 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit. Yeah, seems pretty faultless to me.
posted by Pretty_Generic (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Good Sagan info, but the source?
posted by hama7 at 6:07 PM on November 11, 2002


It's apparently from his book The Demon-Haunted World (Random House, 1995); a fuller version, with the exact citation, is given here.
posted by languagehat at 6:30 PM on November 11, 2002


Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").

How's about a second source for these rules, please? Why's Sagan such an authority? (I know. That was too easy.)
posted by raysmj at 6:31 PM on November 11, 2002


I read the book a few years ago. You got the sense that Sagan thought science is a candle blowing in the wind in a dark, demon-haunted world of ignorance, superstition and charlatans. It is indeed scary how some portray the scientific principles as examples of close-mindedness.
posted by Triplanetary at 6:43 PM on November 11, 2002


Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World should be required reading in every high school. I don't know much about him as an actual scientist, but he had an amazing ability to explain things to the layperson. In this case explaining the scientific method and providing tools to armour ones mind against outrageous claims.
posted by substrate at 6:49 PM on November 11, 2002


Good post. However, iIf these rules were followed on the Internet, the universe would collapse.
posted by GriffX at 7:02 PM on November 11, 2002


Raysmj: Sagan is not an authority. His word is not the gospel truth and only carries as much weight as the evidence that supports them.
posted by disgruntled at 7:29 PM on November 11, 2002


"Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience. Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

- the Buddha, one of the earliest known skeptics.
posted by homunculus at 8:35 PM on November 11, 2002 [3 favorites]


disgruntled: I know. It was a joke, and a lame one, but still . . . If the site cats don't want to encourage the worship of authority, then the site should show more evidence as to why these rules are on target, or point to people who can. (Part of learning research methods, say, is learning why quantification is important. You just can't say, "Use it whenever possible." Why?) Also, they could try taking Sagan's name off the site masthead.
posted by raysmj at 8:39 PM on November 11, 2002


Well, OK There was this little tidbit: Read the book! Never mind. Still, the big name at the top is a little ridiculous. It uses his name for a reason - the late Mr. Sagan is popular, and respected, as well as well-known for his well-knownness. If it was Joe Bob's Baloney Detector, no one would care.
posted by raysmj at 8:55 PM on November 11, 2002


You got the sense that Sagan thought science is a candle blowing in the wind in a dark, demon-haunted world of ignorance, superstition and charlatans.

Sounds about right to me.
posted by rushmc at 8:59 PM on November 11, 2002


Nah, science has a secure foothold in the world at this point, simply because it serves commerce. As long as science remains profitable there's nothing that can stop it from growing and growing.
posted by Hildago at 9:03 PM on November 11, 2002


I supect the distinction between science as a product-spinner for commercial interests to exploit and science as a way of approaching knowledge and belief is a distinction that Mr Sagan might have drawn here, Hildago.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:01 AM on November 12, 2002


...and unfortunately the latter is anything but secure in today's world, is my point, I suppose.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:01 AM on November 12, 2002


raysmj: Regrettably there is no system for judging whether systems for judging whether facts are true are true. And so on. MetaFilter. (A pancake for anyone who gets that.)

Deciding on the scientific method is like deciding on bait to use when fishing - through trial and error you have to find what gathers the most truth-fish. There is no absolute truth in the universe, so the scientific method provides the best approximation we can find. Everything on the list can be derived from that magical thing called common sense which tells us that one and one is two even in the face of an 'authority' telling us otherwise.

MetaFilter - Gathering The Most Truth-Fish.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:43 AM on November 12, 2002


homunculus links to the Kalama Sutra - I always thought that was sex positions for squid.

Seriously though, you have massively increased my respect for the Buddha.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:12 AM on November 12, 2002


science has a secure foothold in the world at this point, simply because it serves commerce.

I think you're thinking of technology more than science.
posted by rushmc at 6:27 AM on November 12, 2002


PG, you might find Karen Armstrong's biography of the Buddha interesting.
posted by homunculus at 12:37 PM on November 12, 2002


"Occam's razor" - if there are two hypothesis that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.

You know, I'm glad the word choose is in here... sometimes I find Occam's Razor rather useless as a touchstone for truth. Often "simplicity" seems like a value judgement.

And then there's things like Hyperbolic vs. Euclidian geometry....

I realize that when you're talking about theories and disciplines like geometry, you're not usually talking so much about what's true as what's useful (which is "truer" -- polar or rectangular coordinates? Neither... they're both equally true, probably isomorphic, and useful in different circumstances). Occam's razor is an excellent tool in that regard. And now that we've hypothesized possible geometries, we can go about testing as best we can which ones seem to apply to the universe in which we live (now, at least). The point remains, though, that for just about any set of facts, it would seem that there are an infinite number of possibile hypothoses which can fit the facts, and "simplicity" (again, a value judgement, so even it means anything at all...) seems to have little relevancy to validity.

"For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong" (Mencken, I believe...)
posted by namespan at 12:54 PM on November 12, 2002


I think you're thinking of technology more than science.


rushmc, where does technology come from?

the point about science being encouraged for economic interests is addressed by Sagan in the book.....

he is (was) opposed to funding reasearch for a specific purpose(mainly to generate inventions that generate revenues) and claims that most of the greatest inventions are a result of accidents from curiosity and not due to directed research (Maxwell's name comes up in this context).....
posted by nish01 at 2:29 PM on November 12, 2002


these are the new posting guidelines , right ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:34 PM on November 12, 2002


rushmc, where does technology come from?

Engineers, frequently.
posted by rushmc at 4:38 PM on November 12, 2002


* Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not "proved")

Best. Example. Ever.
posted by zekinskia at 4:41 PM on November 12, 2002


To clarify rushmc's point: science is a methodology that often leads to technology; if you define growth of science as growth of technology then yes, thanks to capitalism (and put whatever connotation you want on that phrase), it looks like science will grow for some time. But if you define growth of science as more and more widespread belief in the validity of science, things look shakey. More people watch Crossing Over than Nova.
posted by Tlogmer at 5:14 PM on November 12, 2002


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