2013 “The Year of Critical Thinking”by Don Lacey on Jan. 03, 2013, under Critical Thinking, Education, Faith, Freethought, Freethought Events, History, Logic, Materialism, Nature, Reason, Science, Skepticism
As stated in the last blog entry, this should be a very good year for Skeptics. The fact that we are still here is a clear indication that it is better to believe scientifically rather than superstitiously. While the failed end of the world prediction of the Maya calendar was one of the largest of the 2012 failed predictions, there were others. In politics, many of the pundits were wrong about the last election when they predicted that Michelle Bachmann would be the Republican candidate, Romney by a landslide, war with Iran before the election, the affordable healthcare bill would lose the mandate portion in the Supreme Court, and that Donald Trump would run for the presidency. Obviously, these predictions by pundits were a mixture of wild guesses, wishful thinking, and unvarnished opinion. In most cases, these predictions came from listening to a very limited source of information, the kind that seemed to reinforce their biases. Psychics on the other hand say that they get their information from supernatural sources not available to everyone. Yet they missed some pretty big events in 2012. They missed: Hurricane Sandy, the Aurora Shooting, the Newtown tragedy, the discovery of the Higgs Boson, and the death of Whitney Houston to name a few. It would be interesting to find out if there were any psychics on board the Costa Concordia that ran aground killing 15 people in the process. It is a shame that the CIA investigation into “Psi Warriors” was a failure because Director David Patraeus could have used some help avoiding his embarrassing situation. At the first part of the year, there are many web sites dedicating time to covering all the failed and successful predictions so I won’t go into great detail. However, the favored strategy is to make a lot of predictions on the hope that a few will actually come true. Apparently, we remember the hits and forget the misses because if we remembered all of the misses, we wouldn’t have so many playing the yearly game.
Skepticism and Critical Thinking go hand-in-hand while Skepticism and cynicism does not. Also, successful application of Skepticism doesn’t get the press that paranormal stories do. For example, many people heard about the news report on UFO sightings over Denver but few are familiar with the investigations done by Skeptics such as the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society. They demonstrated similar phenomenon that produced the UFO footage can be reproduced by placing insects close to a recording device. Of course the original footage could be of visiting extra-terrestrials but the simpler conclusion which requires the fewest outlandish assumptions is that there are insects flying over the dirt field directly in front of the camera. Since they are close to the lens, they would be out of focus. Since they are closer, their motions, such as acceleration and ability to change directions, would be exaggerated. The principle of selecting the explanations with the fewest assumptions is called Occam’s razor.
Skepticism is appealing to many and easier than ever now that information is easily available everywhere. Smart phones are participants in almost every discussion today and the result is that participants can get past faulty memories and biased opinions in order to improve the experience. The James Randi Education Foundation has been on the forefront of Skepticism for decades and would be a good place to start if one was serious about getting into Skepticism in a big way. They hold a convention not far from here in Las Vegas every year in the summer and it attracts many of the leaders in the Skeptical movement as well as 1500 or so participants but you don’t have to wait until July to benefit from the organization’s efforts. You can download a few teaching modules, participate in their discussion forums, or just read the daily blog called Swift (Swift, named for Jonathan Swift, is the JREF’s daily blog, featuring content from James Randi, the JREF staff, and other featured authors.)
Have a great Critical Thinking—Skeptical 2013!