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How to Detect BS?

July 3, 2009

In our everyday lives, we are bombarded with a lot of misinformation and nonsense from a variety of sources. Some of them are very close to us – family, friends etc, while others are authority figures in our society – reporters, doctors, astrologers, religious leaders and not least of all scientists. But how much of this information is true and how can we  know whether a person is spewing mindless nonsense or has a valid claim?

In this video from RichardDawkins Foundation, famous atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine Dr. Michael Shermer gives us a list of 10 questions that he wants us to ask ourselves before  lending credence to any claim. Even though we may not need to ask all 10 questions in order to determine whether a claim is false or not, it is a great starting point to investigate  lot of unscientific claims. I am sure if you ask these questions about the things you are told you will find that many of them don’t stand up to critical enquiry. Try it out on the next pseudo-scientific claim you hear of.



Here are the list of 10 questions we may need to ask ourselves before believing a source  [Link]

1. How reliable is the source of the claim?

2. Does this source often make similar claims?

3. Have the claims been verified by another source?

4. How does the claim fit with what we know about how the world works?

5. Has anyone gone out of the way to disprove the claim, or has only supportive evidence been sought?

6. Does the preponderance of evidence point to the claimant’s conclusion or to a different one?

7. Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of reason and tools of research, or have these been abandoned in favor of others that lead to the desired conclusion?

8. Is the claimant providing an explanation for the observed phenomena or merely denying the existing explanation?

9. If the claimant proffers a new explanation, does it account for as many phenomena as the old explanation did?

10. Do the claimant’s personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusions, or vice versa?

17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2009 11:11 am

    Ah!the questions sure are interesting!

    And though I think all of us already ask quite a efw of these questions in our own way…but I so want to ask these next time I hear some BS 🙂

    Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of reason and tools of research, or have these been abandoned in favor of others that lead to the desired conclusion?
    ya think?
    when do they ever listen to reason? or work acc to reason or think acc to reason?

    Just a few days back I heard this story from the maid about how there was some old woman going around in the city asking for pyaaz (onion) .
    When people gave it to her she put some spell on it and there would always be a death in the family in a few days…

    That she was a witch and yada yada..

    and that she was eventually ‘caught’ by the police…

    (strange how a witch with such ‘magical’ powers couldn’t evade the police 😀 )

    eeshh! cant tell you how many discussions happened with the maid over this


    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      July 4, 2009 10:28 am

      Thanks for sharing the story Indyeah. It sounds so familiar. So did you maid believe you? Could you convince her othewise?

      • July 6, 2009 12:50 am

        well…did succeed in planting a few doubts in her that even if she did change her mind I doubt she will tell me and accept defeat 😉

        • nitwitnastik permalink*
          July 6, 2009 1:36 pm

          That’s all you want to do. Plant doubt and reason in their minds and keep planting rational thoughts. So that the next time she hears such stuff, she will be less inclined to believe it.

  2. July 3, 2009 2:42 pm

    Good list!

    But someone as conceited as me would go with the number 5, first 😉


    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      July 4, 2009 10:29 am

      YOu could start anywhere Ketan, as long the questions are correct.:-D

  3. July 3, 2009 8:28 pm

    Brilliant! And very useful, as a quick guide.

    I think more people should be directed here when they come up with some of these claims.

  4. July 3, 2009 8:29 pm

    Lol love the post title 🙂

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      July 4, 2009 10:30 am

      Thanks IHM. Was just trying to be politically incorrect 😉

  5. July 4, 2009 6:32 am

    This video is a very useful tool kit.

    On your comment that Feynman was not as “in your face” as new age atheists are, I think its because he was so intellectual. He did not really care if others were as reasonable as him- it was part of his elite over edge. Quite honestly most people at that intellectual level have already seen the light of reason and reasoned out god and so on- and they are so different from the “common” man they do not see the need to be more forceful. (Of course PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are intellectuals too, just different ones).

    Do you get lots of spam from someone called “Inferno”?

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      July 4, 2009 10:32 am

      Yep, I agree with that. Btw, even though the id sounds familiar, I checked my comments list and couldn’t find inferno. Could be a troll?

      • July 5, 2009 12:13 pm

        I think so, have been getting some nasty comments, and one useful link. Linked and acknowledged, censored the nastty comments mercilessly( my blog my space etc etc)

  6. July 6, 2009 4:03 am

    this is the biggest BS, are people so stupid

  7. July 8, 2009 2:13 am

    LoL! Great title and good questions to put forward. 😆

    I personnally don’t believe in alot of that crap (any more) and end up having a lot of disagreements with my mum regarding it.

    LoL! Now i can use your questions to prove my point. 😀

  8. November 25, 2009 6:18 am

    hey dude!

    Great post. As much as I would like to not believe in all of this, its hard to ignore the weird inexplicable things that DO happen. What say?:)

    P.S: am new to the blogsosphere. And you do have a great gig going on here.

  9. rknaidu permalink
    May 3, 2012 6:59 pm

    Lot of crap on mind, body,Stars, Cow dung Theory. for Hollowood actors.

  10. Randomizer permalink
    December 22, 2014 12:13 pm

    There is a lot of BS that comes from the so called “rationalists”:

    Doubt does not mean no. It simply says, “I do not know, and I am prepared to know. I am ready to go as far as possible, but unless I myself come to know, how can I say yes?” Doubt is an open mind, without any prejudice. It is an inquiring approach.

    Negativity has already said no. It is not inquiry. It has come to a conclusion, the same way somebody has come to the conclusion to say yes. One man says God is; his statement is positive.

    The other says there is no God; his statement is negative. But both are sailing in the same boat, they are not different people. They have not inquired.

    Neither the theist has doubted nor the atheist has doubted; both have accepted borrowed knowledge.

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