Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid blog/podcast has made a spiffy little movie (40 min) as a primer for critical thinking:
It’s got some nice visuals, but I let it play in the background and just listened to it while I worked. It’s a little rough (for example, there are several pronunciation gaffes and one section early on where you just see a montage of products of pseudo-science for like two full minutes. It gets the point across that we’re surrounded and innundated with pseudo-science we don’t even think twice about, but it gets a little tedious to watch. But, get past it and it gets a lot better!) …in general it’s a fine film with great advice and information!
I don’t want to spoil it too much, but a general rundown: Early on he discusses how “natural” does not equal better nor even healthy! Poison ivy, toadstools, e. coli are all natural. Also, be skeptical of anything that advertises it’s based on “ancient wisdom”! Ancient wisdom also gave us slavery, blood letting, spontaneous generation, the idea that bathing is evil….
Some of the best, vital, and misunderstood topics include the issue of large numbers and probability (about 20 minutes in). For example, even with strict conditions, it’s a statistical certainty that a significant number of people will think of a person at the same moment they die. It’s a statistical issue, not one of psychic ability.
About 24 minutes in he discusses the matter of “clinical studies have shown” is a marketing phrase with no meaning behind it, and explains what goes into a good research study.
The section on homeopathy is, as always, absolutely hilarious!
Then about 29 minutes in he gets to discussing why smart people believe weird things. Believing in pseudo-science has nothing to do with intelligence or education, and in fact doing so is just human. But at the end he does a good job explaining why it’s ultimately harmful to believe in what would appear to be harmless fallacies and pseudo-sciences. An important part!
He offers some books that he considers vital for a critical thinker’s reading list:
- Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I couldn’t agree more! It’s extremely easy to read, entertaining, direct, and very positive and hopeful narrative.
- James Randi’s Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. A much more scathing look at both tricksters and cons, and innocent pseudo-science beliefs and why it’s so easy for anyone to fall for them.
- Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yeah, I was surprised too. But once he explained it, it makes perfect sense. Twain has always been a clever and witty critic of superstition and naive thinking. Hidden in this adventure down the Mississippi River is an observant critique of fallacious beliefs that’s no less perceptive and valid today than it was then.
- And of course his own Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena.