The concern expressed in this chapter is that the tone of much of what we read and hear can compromise one's risk tolerance through treating humans as perpetual victims, consuming foodstuffs that are out to kill them. It then explores ways in which our desire to think carefully and critically can be thwarted, or at least complicated, by factors mostly beyond our control. Motivated reasoning describes a substructure or foundation underlying our confirmation bias, with which one develop background rationalizations to justify holding their beliefs, even in the face of strong contrary evidence and argument. Sensationalist stories gain traction via our confirmation bias, and our cognitive dissonance, not being able to reconcile the complicated version of events with the sensationalist one results in the backfire effect, in which people double down on existing beliefs.
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This chapter offers guidance and advice to get one started down the road to becoming a critical thinker about anything they encounter. As Daniel Dennett, Bill Nye, and others point out in a statement released by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), skeptics and “deniers” are not the same thing, in that "AIDS deniers" typically refer to people who are “hyperskeptical” rather than skeptics, they distrust the standard narrative that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS and engage in pseudoscientific reasoning to support their denialist positions. The chapter provides some of the fundamental components of critical thinking namely extraordinary claims, falsifiability, Occam’s razor or parsimony, ruling out rival hypotheses, recognizing fallacies and separating induction from deduction. Understanding the principles of critical thinking is an essential foundation for making rational decisions, and the basic principles are easy enough to remember and implement when possible.
This chapter examines the claims and evidence for a variety of treatments that fall under the umbrella term of “complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)” used to treat physical and mental health problems. Evidence-based treatments (EBTs), Non-EBTs, Poorly studied treatments (PSTs) are three types of treatments, each with varying levels of evidence for its use or nonuse. A placebo can refer to any type of sham or inactive medical treatment or procedure. Most susceptible to the placebo effect appear to be pain, depression, asthma, sleep problems, and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition to the placebo effect, a particularly frequent way that bias can creep into our decision making about health care is something called regression to the mean (RTM). In blinded studies, the trial participants are divided into two groups: active treatment and placebo control. Many CAM practitioner groups have successfully lobbied to obtain governmental licensure and regulation.
Science focuses on testable claims and hypotheses, whereas religion focuses on individual beliefs. This chapter provides a few examples of how religious beliefs can impact whether one engages in scientific skepticism or not, trusting empirical evidence to guide beliefs or relying on personal anecdotes. The "science and religion" movement emphasizes dialogue and contact, saying that science and religion should work with each other, rather than be at odds or studying different areas. Although many see the Galileo Galilei story as emblematic of the inherent and intractable conflict between science and religion, the truth is more complex. There are many religiously influenced groups that actively oppose the teaching of evolution in schools, or want to supplement it by teaching theistic creation as a scientifically valid alternative called "intelligent design". Scientist-public gap tend to cluster around subjects in which one's religion and culture heavily influence beliefs and when subjects are more tangible.
The capacity to change our minds, or to approach issues in a way that gives us the best chance of reaching the most justified conclusion, is one that needs nurturing and exercising. This chapter explores why people need critical-thinking skills. We can benefit from learning how to think things through, or reminding ourselves of the ways in which we let ourselves down in our sincere efforts to do so. It's true that the Internet and social media in particular, can overwhelm our best intentions and efforts. Claims made in domains such as morality or aesthetics are capable of being less or more justified just as claims in science are, even if we can't reach the same level of confidence regarding their truth. Relativism also takes away our opportunities to inspire other people to be responsible about what they believe.
Focusing on animals whose current existence is not supported by evidence, whether those are extinct or legendary animals, cryptozoologists purport to try to demystify these mystery creatures using rigorous examination and evaluation. However, when looked at through a critical-thinking lens, cryptozoology is more an extension of our species’ long obsession with the dangerous and unknown, updated for the modern era, and less a scientific endeavor. Cryptozoology is a modern invention since, prior to the 1900s, the discovery of large creatures undocumented by science was a relatively frequent event. This chapter focuses on some of the more popular cryptids, the support for and against their existence, and compares the careful methods and types of evidence used by scientists to those most often relied on by cryptozoologists. A brief review of the often-presented evidence in support of Nessie and Mokele-Mbembe shows similarities with that found for the existence of Bigfoot.
Based on public opinion polls, a substantial number of people worldwide don’t only think about aliens, but think they exist and have visited our planet. The aliens are defeated not by man, but by nature: they are killed by exposure to Earth’s bacteria. The War of the Worlds was massively more popular in helping the image of “aliens” become ensconced in our cultural consciousness. The story of Betty and Barney Hill is both an archetypal story of an otherworldly encounter and the prototypical story of an alien abduction. One of the popular television programs on the History Channel is Ancient Aliens, which purports to use archaeological and historical analyses to demonstrate how human culture and development has been extensively shaped by contact with extraterrestrials. The claims of governmental conspiracies over a crashed unidentified flying objects (UFO) and ancient visitation from aliens have both been thoroughly examined and found wanting.
This chapter discusses some of the reasons why one cannot blindly trust their own brain and proves that doubt is not just a good thing, but a necessary thing. It focuses on how humans naturally misperceive and misevaluate the data they are exposed to, especially in the case of ambiguous information. The chapter addresses the concept of bounded rationality, which describes how our pattern-recognition abilities and motivation to find reasons for events that occur in the world around us yields multiple benefits for our species, evolutionarily speaking, while resulting in particular problems with evaluating information. It examines how using mental shortcuts can be more cognitively efficient, but again results in bias when presented with new or inconsistent information. The chapter describes some of the well-researched and common biases/heuristics people encounter as humans: confirmation bias; belief perseverance; hindsight bias; representativeness heuristic; availability heuristic; and anchoring and adjustment heuristics.
This chapter focuses on some of the more commonly utilized complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) that are purported to cure various physical health problems. It explores some of the history and background of the treatments then delves into what the research says about their effectiveness for various problems. The chapter covers chiropractic manipulations of the spine, which are often used not only for neck and back problems, but a myriad of physical ailments. It describes the ancient art of acupuncture, in which needles stuck into our skin in specific locations reportedly help to increase health. The chapter talks about the pills and remedies of homeopathy, and reviews vitamins and herbal supplements. Acupuncture is a Non-evidence-based treatment (non-EBT) for any and all conditions. To maintain patient trust, choice and safety, the Government should not endorse the use of placebo treatments, including homeopathy.
The rise of the Spiritualism movement in the United States, England, and elsewhere during the mid-1800s gave host to a massive increase in the number of individuals who claimed extraordinary psychic powers, particularly the ability to speak to the spirits of the dead. The Journal of Parapsychology began publication in 1937, followed by the international Parapsychological Association in 1957. Bem's major contribution to parapsychology and psi research would come in 2011, when he published an article detailing nine original experiments that he had conducted to test for the presence of precognitive powers. Proper controls can prevent others from fooling us, which has been an all too frequent occurrence for those claiming to have psychic abilities. Cold reading and hot reading tools exploit many of the natural biases of the human mind, require no supernatural powers, and can be learned by anyone. Cold reading is a deceptive psychological strategy.