Seriously. I mean you. Go get a copy.
One of the many brilliant things in The Demon-Haunted World is the Baloney Detection Kit. In a chapter titled The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, Sagan lays out an excellent set of rules for determining whether or not you're being hoodwinked by pseudoscience--luncheon meat masquerading as knowledge.
I am not and never will be as brilliant as Carl Sagan. However, he lived in a time when pseudoscience, and specifically conspiracy theories about science, were not nearly as endemic in the public discourse as they are today.
So I would modestly like to propose an update to the Baloney Detection Kit.
Here's the updated version:
- Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
- In science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
- Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained.
- Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.
- Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses.
- If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise).
- When faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well, choose the simpler.
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
- Do not continue to make arguments that have already been discredited.
- Do not trust a hypothesis that relies on a conspiracy to conceal the truth.
- Arguments that rely on anecdotal evidence or have not been subject to peer review are not reliable.
- While scientific consensus is not always correct, a hypothesis that contradicts the general consensus should be treated skeptically.
- Correlation does not imply causation.
- Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified.