Stop being so scared of being wrong

August 3, 2011 · Posted in Activism, Arguments About Arguments · 5 Comments 

There are several things in the world I feel quite strongly about, and consequently can’t keep my mouth shut when I think someone is very wrong about them. In that regard the last few weeks have been pretty intense online. There has been a lot of talk in Finnish internet circles about gay marriages (thanks to our new minister of interior being a fundamentalist Christian), gun laws and gun control (thanks to the atrocity in Norway), gender and sexual politics (thanks to a journalist saying school shootings and the Norway incident happened because young guys can’t get enough sex) and I even got one totally random anti-vaccination nut thrown in.

Although I feel strongly about these subjects, I’m usually not on the extreme ends of the opinions. I’m not interested in being right, I strive for rational discussions aimed for a functional solution. This is often a very thankless point of view: usually you find yourself slogging through the gray area, doing dull stuff like researching the issue, and being shouted at by the pundits of both extremes who can’t be arsed to even check their sources. Usually these people operate under the mistake that their personal matters of taste, personal beliefs and philosophies, or other unexamined opinions should be on equal level with researched arguments. “I think gays are disgusting, they should stay in the closet.” “Well I certainly don’t see the appeal or sense in shooting sports, so they are of no value.” etc.

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A Short Introduction to Critical Thinking

December 4, 2009 · Posted in Activism, Arguments About Arguments, Science! · 2 Comments 

I’m fairly active in certain kinds of net conversations, which usually have to do with more or less controversial subjects. What really bugs me is the fact that most people have no damn clue about how to separate their own personal tastes and beliefs from facts or scientific evidence, never mind understanding the difference between anecdotal evidence and research. Hearing that someone’s cousin got better after dabbling with homeopathy (never mind the official medication he was on at the same time…) is stronger proof that homeopathy works than actual scientific results that say it works only on placebo-levels because it happened to someone I know, and so on and so forth.

This morning I ran into a YouTube video which I think everybody should watch before they open their mouth about any controversial issue, be it the climate change, evolution, theological questions or whatever. The first thing some people may notice is the name Richard Dawkins and something about sceptics and disregard the video as anti-religion propaganda, but no – that’s not the deal with this video. (I personally am neither an atheist nor a member of sceptics, although I share lots of views with the latter.) This is just a simple introduction to how to think about things clearly, without letting your own expectations and beliefs drive your thinking.

To summarise, here are the points eveybody should go through when faced with a claim that feels controversial:

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

This set of questions is explained a bit better on the video, which is well worth watching.