23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2009
Noam Chomsky famously said that citizens in a democracy ought to equip themselves with a course in intellectual self-defense, so not to be duped by politicians, the media, corporate interests and assorted demagogues. Normand Baillargeon's book does exactly that in a marvelously accessible fashion, managing to engage the reader while teaching the basics of critical thinking, from logical fallacies to ways of critically reading the news. Despite its brevity, the volume manages to cover basic numeracy and to provide enough understanding of statistics to add invaluably to readers' arsenal of intellectual self-defense weaponry. This and similar books should be a must read for anyone interested in playing a constructive part in the democratic discourse, or simply in avoiding to be made a fool by people who wield bad arguments and deploy questionable data. I will use it as reading material for an introductory level course in critical reasoning this coming Fall.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2008
This book is, among other things, a good place to turn after hearing one too many faulty or misleading arguments, or after being attacked by someone who is incapable of taking in new information. The author lists and exposes various categories of faulty reasoning and dishonest arguments such as circular logic, bait and switch, and false dilemma. There are some good reminders here for most of us to sharpen our own thinking.
Another reviewer here has a complaint that I can't completely follow but seems to revolve around the book's author recommending a publication known for strongly anti-Zionist views and which supposedly is unfairly biased toward tyrants, though it's unclear how these two things are connected. (The Zionist issue appears specifically in the back and forth comments section.) At any rate, the reviewer obviously believes that Counterpunch magazine or website should not be recommended and that they contain biased articles in which the actions of tyrants and monsters are forgiven, covered up or endorsed. I would invite any reader who thinks they have the strength to brave such a place to go there, read, cross check information, find out for themselves.
I feel lucky that I was brought up to understand that nothing is automatic and nothing is assumed. I don't think you can say "motherhood is good" or "families are good" without explaining yourself and logically defending that point of view with specificity. If you try you quickly find that these statements are only partly true--or only true under certain conditions. Black and white thinking is illogical and ultimately insane.
The facts speak for themselves, and Zionism or the governments of Syria or Cuba, as distinct examples, all in fact appear to be good for some people but not particularly good for others. As with motherhood and families, one must examine the evidence and the situation at hand and sort it all out.
This book probably deserves 5 stars. I did wish there were a bit more. Perhaps some of the topics could have had additional examples from modern political discourse, from different sides of the same question or issue, even though that might further antagonize someone with a belief system that would admit no serious questioning.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2010
One of the illuminating things that you discover when you study statistics and logic formally is that peoples' arguments are based on poor reasoning and/or dodgy math (particularly dodgy statistics). This is especially true of much of the arguments of so-called opinion-leaders that are communicated via the media. I suspect that, if you're reading this review, you already have a sense of this as an issue. The great thing about a book like this one is that it can give you the intellectual tools to unpack these arguments to identify their fatal flaws.
Part One of the book describes "some indispensable tools for critical thinking" which is really a discussion about how words themselves can be used to try to manipulate you into thinking one way or another about a subject without you realising it.
Part One then goes on to explain the basic construction of a logically valid argument and why some arguments are invalid purely by their construction (regardless of the merit of the issue being argued for). This is followed by an explanation of the common fallacies in argumentation and is great stuff because the author explains most of these fallacies very well.
After this, Part One deals with math (specifically probability, statistics and graphs, etc) and how it can be used to manipulate people. That said, let me rush to add that this isn't a math textbook so it's not heavy-duty. However, there is enough to give you a grasp of some of the basic issues that will help you to develop a healthy scepticism of the reported results of opinion polls and quasi-scientific research.
Part Two of the book is possibly more challenging. Not because the theory is difficult (actually, most of the theory is relatively straight-forward) but because it uses the latest research into human perception, memory and judgement to challenge what you think you see and hear. And, if it does, you'll certainly be more sceptical about what other people tell you that they saw and heard. In the end, you'll find that people just can't be trusted - Not because they're liars but because they're oh so human.
Do I think that there is anything wrong with the book? Well, yes - There are a few minor problems (but none that would stop me from buying the book). First, the author can be a little patronising at times (especially in Part One). I doubt that he feels superior necessarily. I just don't think he realises that his audience is reading the book because they're already clever enough to have a sense that something is wrong and they've come to book because they want to do something about it.
Second, I'm not sure whether it's the fault of the author or the translator but, unless you know the definition of words like coda, dissemble, utilitarian, etc, you'll need to keep a dictionary close by (though mostly for Part One of the book, Part Two is much better in this regard).
Third, although the author's examples are valid, some can be a little silly. For example, one that he uses throughout the book involves the New York Police Department and a rather silly brand of "billy club" (which I presume is a baton). Couldn't he think of a more inclusive example?!
on November 20, 2014
this is a great book and I appreciate that Normand does not go off on a rant for or against a religious system. He may have his own personal opinions, but refrains from being preachy. This book is a gold mine of tools to discern sloppy thinking and the very many ways that we mere mortals are duped and deceived by appeals and arguments. His examples are well stated and I do hope he writes a sequel in the same vein.
Many such books tend to 'bash' Christians, but he has refrained from this emphasis.
Others are so indifferent to any objective truth that their efforts seem to be on designing a persuasive argument regardless of the merit or honesty behind it.
One of my 'keeper' books to be used again and again.
on July 13, 2015
all though some of the reading and explanations got to be a bit meticulous ... over all this is a great read for our modern times and political climate... this book could almost be summed up in the famous Sherlock Holmes phrase "Make your Theories to fit Facts and not your Facts fit Theories"... Going into a a depth of study on Critical thinking I for one have not endeavored to enter into in times past this book really does give one some basic tools where by one can make better every day examinations of the evidence of events and ideas presented before them on a daily basis... I highly recommend this book to all... it definitely is a must read...
3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2011
I can't believe the words frame and framing are nowhere to be found in this book. It is a well known fact in cognitive science that framing of the issues is the main way in which people's are manipulated in our society.
8 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2012
"Critical thinking" is a philosophy course that I did not take in college. A college professor recently told me that it is a course in basic logic and skepticism, and I thought it sounded terrific. I asked him to recommend a book on it, and he recommended "A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense", by Normand Baillargeon.
I found most of this book to be OK. I've been in Skeptics societies for over 20 years, and am a subscriber to "Skeptic" magazine, so most of what was in book was not new to me, though I felt it was good stuff.
But in Chapter 5 "The Media" Baillargeon goes completely off the rails. Firstly he says the whole news media is owned by only a few entities. To back this up, he gives a chart copied from Mother Jones that is too zoomed out to read (at least on my iPad) and leaves it at that. I can believe that the major newspapers and TV news channels are owned by a few entities, but there are so many magazines, small newspapers, and especially websites and blogs, that I have trouble believing that they are centrally controlled. More evidence to back this up is needed.
Throughout this chapter, Baillargeon complains exclusively about conservative bias in the media. The perception of liberal bias in the mainstream media long preceded the founding of Fox News, and indeed Fox News was a reaction to that perception. Baillargeon does not refute this claim, he never even acknowledges that anyone makes such a claim. It is well known that most people employed in the field of journalism are more liberal than the population at large.
Baillargeon talks about "5 filters" on the media. Regarding the 5th filter, he says "Herman and Chomsky call the fifth and final filter anticommunism. In fact it refers more broadly to the media's hostility to any perspective that is left, socialist, progressive, etc.".
I'm not sure what he means by such a claim. When he says "left", my question is "How left does he mean?". I think of moderate liberal views as "left", and "progressive", and I perceive the mainstream media (for example The New York Times, Newsweek, CNN, or CBS) to be extremely friendly to such views. While I think such media are hostile to leftist extremists, leftist extremists are hostile to most of society, so that's not surprising. Furthermore, tens of millions of innocent people were murdered through execution or agricultural incompetence during peacetime under the extreme leftist governments of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, so it's no more unreasonable for anyone to be hostile to extreme leftists than it is for them to be hostile to Nazis. Hostility to the extreme left can be defended as a matter of learning from history rather than as a form of "bias" or a "filter on the media".
To support the idea that certain viewpoints are "censored" from the media, he gives the example of the head of a congressional committee that I had not heard of, who had a financial conflict of interest with his participation in the committee. If I had seen the committee talked about on the front page of the papers many times, I might be surprised not to hear of that conflict of interest, but it wasn't that important a committee. Furthermore, the press never tired of talking about Dick Cheney's connection with Haliburton, or Hank Paulson's connection with Goldman-Sachs, or in the old days, Charles Shultz's connection with Bechtel.
He goes on to list a website called "Project Censored" that lists stories that the authors of the website feel didn't get adequate press attention. Again, I didn't find these stories that earth-shaking.
Baillargeon goes on to give a lot of advice about how to deal with the media in a "critically-thinking" fashion, but he never in the whole chapter gives a crucial piece of advice (and probably one he does not follow): make sure you read from sources across the political spectrum, including sources with which you disagree.
He finishes the chapter with a list of recommended news sources. For one thing, if the whole media are controlled by an evil conspiracy, doesn't that also go for these recommended sources? For another thing, while he mentions a few purely skeptical publications, pretty much all of the political publications he mentions are left-leaning.
Overall, I would recommend against this book as an introduction to critical thinking, since the author demonstrates such an appalling lack of critical thinking when we get to the final chapter.
I am reminded of the one philosophy course I took in college. We read Descartes, Locke, and Hume, during which the professor treated the authors with healthy skepticism and the class was interesting. Then, the last author we read was Marx, and suddenly all the healthy skepticism completely disappeared, replaced by extreme reverence. I was really disappointed in the teacher.
0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2011
First time ordering anything online. Ordered used book from this user however it was recieved better then in an "Acceptable" condition, no problems with Shipment , would definatley buy books online again.
20 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2008
Should we citizens defend ourselves intellectually from misleading and dishonest material (including deceptive arguments, biased reporting, and even "urban legends") that we get bombarded with from supposedly authoritative sources? Of course. And I am all in favor of getting advice on how to do this from books. As a matter of fact, this is one such book that deals with the topic. Much of what it says makes sense.
However, I do not recommend this book.
It is not simply a question of disagreeing with the politics of the author. I would not hesitate to recommend technical work on science or engineering by people of all political persuasions. But I am concerned that we have before us a work that fails to take its own advice. It does not oppose some rather arbitrary and manipulative propaganda in favor of powerful tyrants. In short, rather than responding to power by speaking truth, which is what one would hope, it speaks power to truth.
Some of the manipulation we see is indeed by powerful people, who often mislead us in a variety of ways, including appeals to religion. And we need to be wary of that. But so does the author of this book. After all, he cites as good sources not just a few "human rights" organizations with what I consider dubious records, but Counterpunch magazine. This magazine definitely shows gratuitous sympathy for some tyrannical, misleading, intolerant and dishonest religious fanatics who attack human rights. Again, if the author said he liked Counterpunch elsewhere, I might overlook all this. But he said so right in the book, and I can't ignore that in a review.
Just how did Normand Baillargeon make such a horrible strategic and moral error? I am not at all sure. But I think that very reasonable suspicion of monotheists can lead one to join attacks on monotheists, even when those attacks are by far more unreasonable and fanatical monotheists. I think Baillargeon simply failed to take his own advice and was manipulated and controlled. Perhaps I am wrong, and he did all this on purpose, and is trying to be a manipulator and controller.
Yes, books on this topic are indeed useful. But I want to see one that uses Counterpunch as a ghastly example of what not to do, and shows why not, rather than as an example of what to do.