A Field Guide to Bullshit

Actually, that’s not quite the title of the book. It’s really Believing Bullshit: How not to get sucked into an intellectual black hole”.

Apparently it’s just been published both here and in the UK and there is an interview with the author on-line at New Scientist (which is somewhere between Scientific American and Science, but British). The link to the interview is here.  In the article is even a link to a popular article about an experiment that tested whether real or fake plastic crystals would produce ‘sensations’ in unsuspecting folks who were holding them and who thought they were holding valuable crystals.  I won’t tell you what the results were.

A few paragraphs from the interview:

Q: You describe your new book, Believing Bullshit, as a guide to avoid getting sucked into “intellectual black holes”. What are they?
A: Intellectual black holes are belief systems that draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves of claptrap. Belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, alien abductions – these are examples of intellectual black holes. As you approach them, you need to be on your guard because if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again.


You should be suspicious when people pile up anecdotes in favour of their pet theory, or when they practise the art of pseudo-profundity – uttering seemingly profound statements which are in fact trite or nonsensical. They often mix in references to scientific theory to sound authoritative.

Q: Why does it matter if we believe absurd things?

A: It can cause no great harm. But the dangers are obvious when people join extreme cults or use alternative medicines to treat serious diseases. I am particularly concerned by psychological manipulation. For charlatans, the difficulty with using reason to persuade is that it’s a double-edged sword: your opponent may show you are the one who is mistaken. That’s a risk many so-called “educators” aren’t prepared to take. If you try using reason to persuade adults the Earth’s core is made of cheese, you will struggle. But take a group of kids, apply isolation, control, repetition, emotional manipulation – the tools of brainwashing – and there’s a good chance many will eventually accept what you say.

Published in: on June 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. alternative medicine is a great alternative to traditional medicine. I think the two really complement each other. ..

    Look at the most current piece of writing at our blog


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