Baloney Detector

How well does a belief that you currently subscribe to hold up under these 10 questions?

  • Do I have any actual evidence for the thing I say I believe, and what is the extent and quality of that evidence?
  • If I don’t have direct physical evidence or data that support my belief, do I at least have other good reasons—deductive or inductive—for believing what I say I do?
  • Given the quantity and quality of the evidence and reasons available to me at this time, how strongly should I actually hold my belief?
  • Is my belief coherent with my background knowledge (the things I think I already know about the universe and how it works)?
  • Have I actively sought out disconfirming evidence and arguments against my belief?
  • Have I weighed alternative beliefs or explanations about this matter, and really come to the best belief and explanation on offer?
  • What framing or spell-casting associations, stories, metaphors, or analogies have I been telling myself in support of this belief which, on closer inspection, might be misleading me, making it difficult to think clearly about the matter at hand?
  • What role is desire—desire of any sort—playing in my conclusion?
  • What blind spots might I potentially have about this belief, and what might be causing them?
  • Are there forces at work that are fogging my ability to objectively, patiently, and clearly focus on this matter (time pressures, illness, electronic distractions, noises, decorum, lack of sleep, envy, guilt, paranoia, strong-willed influencers, emotional blackmailers, authority figures, temperamental inclinations either to optimism or pessimism, fear, etc)?

Is there a crucial and non-redundant question that I might have missed?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Baloney Detector

  1. Iain McMahon says:

    Hey Santi, did you mean to have two similar posts? “Bullshit” vs “Baloney”? I’ll comment on Baloney because this is paying homage to Carl Sagan, my hero. 🙂

    Those are all some very good questions. I can honestly say that, with respect to religion, I am clear on all charges. Or, at least, I have tried very hard to the best of my ability to be clear on all charges.

    • santitafarella says:

      Well, I figured that some people wouldn’t click on the harsher title, and so made a softer title as well (for the bad language sensitive).

      I find it amusing that atheists like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, and Carl Sagan, in their public statements, will almost never cuss, in some way upholding a religious sensibility concerning its naughtiness.

      Of course, there are good rhetorical reasons not to do so, as well as evolutinary biology reasons (an instinctive repugnance of shit, the triggering of certain parts of the brain when you use a word like fuck, etc). But, still.

      —Santi : )

      • Iain McMahon says:

        That’s true and there is probably, as you say, some good rhetorical reasons for doing that. In the same way that movies and games with a lower rating are accessible to a wider audience, an intellectual that doesn’t swear will probably be more palatable to more readers/listeners.

        Also, in an academic setting swearing isn’t really acceptable and I know that Sagan and Dawkins bridge the “popular” and the academic circles.

      • santitafarella says:

        Well, it’s still curious, don’t you think, that Dawkins et. al. will broach other academic cultural conventions (general politeness toward opponents, not indulging in ad hominem, not speaking ill of specific religions or sects, etc), but not the cussing one?


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