Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Scientific Attitude: A "Baloney Detection Kit"

For the next few days in class, we will become increasingly familiar with the research methods used by psychologists. Thus, we will be talking a great deal about the scientific approach to answering research questions (which differs considerably from political, religious, or other methods of asking and answering questions). This will involve understanding what is meant by the phrase "scientific theory" and beginning to think with the skepticism of a scientist when presented with claims about human abilities and behavior.

The video below features an excellent description of this scientific "attitude" from famed skeptic Michael Shermer. He describes science as a "Baloney Detection Kit," and describes some general rules for thinking scientifically.

Some things to watch for:

  • His descriptive of our tendency to see patterns, especially illusory correlations

  • His specific mention of confirmation bias as a source of error

  • In point #3: the need for replication of research results

  • In point #9: a description of the nature of scientific theories...and how they are different from what most of us casually refer to as "theories"

My personal favorite quote: "You want a mind open enough to accept radical new ideas, but not so open that your brains fall out."

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