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Carl Sagan, Logical Fallacies, Dragon in my Garage, and his Baloney Detection Kit conversation

by Mountain Computers Inc., Publication Date: Sunday, December 12, 2021
View Count: 1939, Keywords: Carl Sagan, Baloney Detection Kit, Dragon in my Garage, Logical Fallacies, Hashtags: #CarlSagan #BaloneyDetectionKit #DragoninmyGarage #LogicalFallacies

From a thread on green software to Carl Sagan to the baloney detection kit, and found the following very interesting, I am going to do a long quote to preserve the value of this information (See REF). This is an amazing read and I hope wikipedia does not take down the original, so for fair use and reference, see below.
The dragon in the garage to the logical fallacies; please consider these some deep concepts and I totally appreciate it. His wife's confirmation on the source of baloney detection kit is precious.
I took the time to read and consume it all and now wanted to share.
more to come...
REF: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Demon-Haunted_World
REF: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billions_and_Billions   -- preceded by the above is how I got there and here
begin long quote


Sagan explains that science is not just a body of knowledge, but is a way of thinking. Sagan shows how scientific thinking is both imaginative and disciplined, bringing humans to an understanding of how the universe is, rather than how they wish to perceive it. He says that science works much better than any other system because it has a "built-in error-correcting machine".[2]: 27  Superstition and pseudoscience get in the way of the ability of many laypersons to appreciate the beauty and benefits of science. Skeptical thinking allows people to construct, understand, reason, and recognize valid and invalid arguments. Wherever possible, there must be independent validation of the concepts whose truth should be proved. He states that reason and logic would succeed once the truth were known. Conclusions emerge from premises, and the acceptability of the premises should not be discounted or accepted because of bias.

Dragon in my garage

As an example of skeptical thinking, Sagan offers a story concerning a fire-breathing dragon who lives in his garage. When he persuades a rational, open-minded visitor to meet the dragon, the visitor remarks that they are unable to see the creature. Sagan replies that he "neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon". The visitor suggests spreading flour on the floor so that the creature's footprints might be seen, which Sagan says is a good idea, "but this dragon floats in the air". When the visitor considers using an infrared camera to view the creature's invisible fire, Sagan explains that her fire is heatless. He continues to counter every proposed physical test with a reason why the test will not work.

Sagan concludes by asking: "Now what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true."

Continuing with concepts relevant to the 'dragon in my garage' story, Sagan writes about a patient of John Mack who claimed to have scars on her body which were from encounters with aliens. Sagan writes that if the patient is asked what her scars look like, she is unable to show them because, unfortunately, they are located in the private areas of her body.

Baloney detection kit

Sagan presents a set of tools for skeptical thinking that he calls the "baloney detection kit".[3][4]: 210 [5] Skeptical thinking consists both of constructing a reasoned argument and recognizing a fallacious or fraudulent one. In order to identify a fallacious argument, Sagan suggests employing such tools as independent confirmation of facts, debate, development of different hypotheses, quantification, the use of Occam's razor, and the possibility of falsification. Sagan's "baloney detection kit" also provides tools for detecting "the most common fallacies of logic and rhetoric", such as argument from authority and statistics of small numbers. Through these tools, Sagan argues the benefits of a critical mind and the self-correcting nature of science can take place.

Sagan provides a total of nine tools in this kit.

  1. There must be confirmation of the facts given when possible.
  2. Encourage debate on the evidence from all points of view.
  3. Realize that an argument from authority is not always reliable. Sagan supports this by telling us that 'authorities" have made mistakes in the past and they will again in the future.
  4. Consider more than one hypothesis. Sagan adds to this by telling us that we must think of the argument from all angles and think all the ways it can be explained or disproved. The hypothesis that then still hasn't been disproved has a much higher chance of being correct.
  5. Try your best to not purely stick to a hypothesis that is your own and become biased. Sagan tells us to compare our own hypothesis with others to see if we can find reasons to reject our own hypothesis.
  6. Quantify. Sagan tells us that if whatever we are trying to explain has numerical value or quantitative data related to it, then we'll be much more able to compete against other hypotheses.
  7. If there is a chain of argument, every link in that chain must be correct.
  8. The use of Occam's razor, which tells us to choose the hypothesis that is simpler and requires the least amount of assumptions.
  9. Ask if a given hypothesis can be falsified. Sagan tells us that if a hypothesis cannot be tested or falsified then it is not worth considering.

Sagan suggests that with the use of this "baloney detection kit" it is easier to critically think and find the truth.

Logical fallacies

There is a second part to the kit that Sagan gives us. This consists of twenty different logical fallacies that one must not commit when offering up a new claim.

  1. Ad hominem. An arguer attacks the opposing arguer and not the actual argument.
  2. Argument from authority. Someone expects another to immediately believe that a person of authority or higher knowledge is correct.
  3. Argument from adverse consequences. Someone says that something must be done a certain way or else there will be adverse consequences.
  4. Appeal to ignorance. One argues a claim in that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa.
  5. Special pleading. An arguer responds to a deeply complex or rhetorical question or statement by, usually, saying "oh you don't understand how so and so works".
  6. Begging the question. An arguer assumes the answer and makes a claim such as, this happened because of that, or, this needs to happen in order for that to happen.
  7. Observational selection. Someone talks about how great something is by explaining all of the positive aspects of it while purposely not mentioning any of the negative aspects.
  8. Statistics of small numbers. Someone argues something by giving the statistics in small numbers, which isn't very reliable.
  9. Misunderstanding of the nature of statistics. Someone misinterprets statistics given to them.
  10. Fallacy of inconsistency. An arguer is very inconsistent in their claims.
  11. Non sequitur. This is Latin for "it doesn't follow". A claim is made that doesn't make much sense, such as "Our nation will prevail because God is great".
  12. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Latin for "it happened after, so it was caused by." An arguer claims that something happened because of a past event when really it probably didn't.
  13. Meaningless question. Someone asks a question that has no real meaning or doesn't add to the argument at all.
  14. The excluded middle. An arguer only considers or mentions the two opposite extremes of the conversation and excludes the aspects in between the two extremes.

Sagan provides a skeptical analysis of several examples of what he refers to as superstition, fraud, and pseudoscience such as witches, UFOs, ESP, and faith healing. He is critical of organized religion.[citation needed]

In a 2020 interview for Skeptical Inquirer, when Sagan's wife Ann Druyan was asked about the origin of the phrase "baloney detection kit", she said that

It didn't really come from Carl. It actually came from a friend of mine named Arthur Felberbaum who died about forty years ago. He and Carl and I once sat down for dinner together. His politics were very left wing, so Carl and Arthur and I were trying to find common ground so that we could have a really good dinner together. And at one point, Arthur said, "Carl, it's just that I dream that every one of us would have a baloney detection kit in our head." And that's where that idea came from.[3]


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