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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 23, 2011
50 popular beliefs that people think are true by Guy P. Harrison

"50 popular beliefs that people think are true" is a fascinating book about skepticism and critical thinking applied to fifty popular beliefs. In a true open-minded and respectful manner, Guy Harrison takes us on a wonderful journey of applying the best current evidence to popular beliefs. This 458-page book is broken out by the following eight sections: Magical Thinking, Out There, Science and Reason, Strange Healings, Lure of the Gods, Bizarre Beings, Weird Places, and Dreaming of the End.

Positives:
1. As accessible a book as you will find and written in an elegant and engaging conversational tone. A fun, page turner of a book to read.
2. A well-researched book evidenced by the number of books referenced and comprehensive bibliography.
3. Excellent format! Each chapter begins with an appropriate quote or two about the popular belief and ends with a "Go Deeper" section of further reading.
4. A respectful and sympathetic tone used throughout. Mr. Harrison treats his topics with utmost respect and care. He's one of the few authors that can take on "sensitive" topics in a considerate manner. A rare quality indeed.
5. Fascinating topics! There is something for everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The book covers a great and diverse selection of popular beliefs. Bravo!
6. The ability to express his thoughts in a logical and lucid manner. It's such a treat to read a book in which the author makes clear and succinct points.
7. Thought-provoking quotes and comments. "Being a skeptic means being honest and mature enough to seek answers that are based on evidence and logic rather than hopes and dreams."
8. A great defender of science and logic. The author does a great job of providing meaningful statistics and illustrations to back his points. Furthermore, he relies on subject matter experts to provide the best current evidence.
9. Some key concepts introduced that really helps understand why we believe. How we really see for instance and how our memories work. Great stuff.
10. The author makes it very clear what we know versus what we do not know. A good job of keeping things in perspective.
11. How cold readings work and an amusing tale that illustrates the points.
12. Wisdom and knowledge throughout. Everyone will have their favorite chapters, I enjoyed those that taught me knew things and are helping me change my perspective. The chapters involving intelligence and race were a pleasant surprise to me.
13. Chapters and concepts involving the supernatural are always a personal favorite and the author doesn't disappoint. Miracles, angels, souls, spirits...oh my.
14. This is an engaging book because the author's innate curious personality comes through so genuinely. There are many popular beliefs that the author himself would love to be true and hasn't completely ruled out. As an example the chapters on Aliens and UFOs. Absolutely love the self-deprecating humor and love for the awe of the unknown.
15. Pseudoscience placed in its proper place but done so as mentioned before with respect. Surprisingly but necessary, the author also does so with science.
16. The author provides a great point about global warming.
17. Guy Harrison's background is so vast and interesting that he is able to talk about topics from a firsthand perspective such as television news. Insightful takes on journalism and science.
18. A refreshing look at conspiracies. I'm a better person for having read it.
19. Great takes on alternative medicine, homeopathy, and faith healing. Benny Hinn...
20. Topics on religion are very interesting and even more so because the author is able to talk about all the main religions and not just Christianity which adds depth to the conversation.
21. Creationism and evolution, and even more interesting potential future debates.
22. Prophecies. The chapter on Nostradamus is fascinating and there is a separate one on worldwide prophecies, good stuff.
23. An interesting look at prayers.
24. Archaeology and what we don't know with conviction.
25. Bizarre beings like Bigfoot were fun chapters to read.
26. Loved the chapter on the Bermuda Triangle.
27. The Mayans and 2012 so topical and a great water-cooler topic for months to come and Mr. Harrison provides the insight.
28. The book "ends" with a bang. No really...many examples of how it will end.

Negatives:
1. Having to wait for the Kindle version. I couldn't wait so I purchased the book instead. No big deal.
2. Because this book is so ambitious and covers fifty popular beliefs; some chapters may not have the depth that some readers would have liked but the author did a wonderful job of providing further reading material.

In summary, I absolutely loved this book! It's one of the reasons why I enjoy reading so much. This is one of those few books available that everyone can enjoy. You can jump to your favorite topics if you desire or read it straight through. Either way you will at the very least respect the author's approach or best, enjoy it as thoroughly as I have. This is a book about skepticism that is fun to read, thought-provoking while never being unintelligible. Don't hesitate to get it! I highly recommend it!

Further suggestions: "50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God" by the same author, "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as TruthsThe Believing Brain..." and "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time" by Michael Shermer, "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries" by Benjamin Radford, "The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life" by Jesse Bering, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne, "Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists..." by Dan Barker, "Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment" Phil Zuckerman, "The Faith Healers" by James Randi, "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" by John W. Loftus, "Caveman Logic: The Persistence of Primitive Thinking in a Modern World" by Hank Davis, "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us" by Victor J. Stenger, "The Blind Spot" by William Byers, "Paranormality" Richard Wiseman, "Storms of My Grandchildren" by James Hansen, "Braintrust" by Patricia S. Churchland, "The Panic Virus" by Seth Mnookin, "Science Under Siege" by Kendrick Frazier, "Superstition" by Robert Park and "Science and Nonbelief" by Taner Edis.
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on December 28, 2011
Spoiler alert: If you believe in some of the beliefs discussed in this book you may not think the book as a whole merits reading, let alone buying. However, the topics discussed ranged from "Creationism" to "Area 51 is where they keep aliens", "Ghosts are Real and They Live in Haunted Houses', and "Astrology is Scientific" are varied and wide. So it is possible that one might believe (or is neutral about) some views expressed by Harrison but agree with Harrison on the rest. Even though he wrote from the sceptic's viewpoint, he does not disparage religious beliefs. He wrote in "My God is the Real One": "One ought to be aware of and respect , to a point, the emotional attachment many people have to their belief in the existence of a god or gods. But it only makes sense to try and ensure that something taken so seriously by so many people is actually valid in the first place. This is not, or should not be, a question for the skeptics alone. Don't believers also want to know if their gods actually exist or not?"

If the reader is inclined to believe in the topics discussed (the previous reviewer has helpfully set out a detailed list) he might wish to give this book a solitary star. I gave it five stars because I agree with virtually all the author's views. I had hitherto been ignorant about how scientific homeopathy is; Harrison described homeopathy as a failed method of alternative medicine. The ingredients used are so diluted that they have no effect whatsoever, and consequently, homeopathy has, at best, only a placebo effect. He traced the origins of homeopathic medicine and discussed what goes on in modern practices and why they are futile exercises.

The second reason this book deserves a five-star rating is that the author was able to describe and discuss the topics clearly and briefly so that it takes no more than 15 minutes to read each topic. Thirdly, he recommended further readings at the end of each chapter. The suggestions may not all be the most authoritative sources, but they appeared to be relevant and probably useful sources, as I have read many of the books suggested. For example, Under the chapter "Creationism is true and evolution is not", Harrison recommended 24 books including "The Ancestor's Tale" by Richard Dawkins - which might be reason enough for some to think Harrison's book unreadable.

Harrison begins each chapter with a quotation. Some sounded authoritative and some are humorous, for example, in "Television News Gives Me an Accurate View of the World" he quoted Arthur C Clarke: "Whom the gods would destroy, they first give teleivison.' In "I believe in Miracles" Harrison quoted Aristotle, "It is likely that unlikely things should happen", to commence his discussion of miracles.
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on January 23, 2012
Guy Harrison's new book is a fun read about what people believe to be true. Whether talking about religion, UFO'S, Bigfoot, or the so-called faked Moon landings, Guy pulls back the veil of secrecy to expose things for what they really are.

Hard evidence along with reason and logic is what drives this book's main ideas. Some beliefs can be explained quite simply, without the need for magic, pseudoscience, superstition or a conspiracy being involved. Without evidence, people tend to fill in the gaps with thoughts or ideas that fit a person's belief in whatever subject is at hand. Confirmation bias, which is counting the hits, and forgetting the misses is a contributing factor in this thought process. Sometimes, like the author says, it's ok to say you don't know. That does not mean something unusual or strange is going on.

Some of my favorite chapters include conspiracy theories, religion, and the Bermuda Triangle. I found myself rather amazed at some beliefs I have never heard of before.

The style in which the book presents itself is not mean spirited or a put down in any way. But after reading this gem of a book, you'll find yourself asking the question, "Did I really believe in this stuff"?? Also enjoyed the "GO DEEPER" at end of each chapter for further reading on each subject.

Would also recommend JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think about Claims of Conspiracy and The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths
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on March 16, 2012
In the war on stupidity, this book is a great tool to introduce young minds into the fold of a reality-based community. A bit repetitive at points, but the humor and insights make up for that. The "Go Deeper" suggestions for further reading on each topic are a great resource.
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VINE VOICEon April 9, 2012
If you have an interest in countering the nonsense that so pervades today's half-baked, blog-soaked, conspiracy-ridden popular culture, this clearly written book is a very helpful tool. You don't have to be a scientist to debunk astrology, birtherism, creationism, Bigfoot, or Atlantis, of course, since there is no real evidence for any of them. However, this volume not only lays out case after case against the paranoid and the supernatural; it also sheds light on the fearful, wishful, ignorant thinking that contributes to such delusions and fantasies.

From alien abduction and Area 51 to faith healing and homeopathy, from ghosts and witches to holocaust denial and doomsday predictions, "50 Popular Beliefs" examines facts that undermine the ideas of superstitious New Agers and religious fanatics, of conspiracy theorists and casual racists. Each of the 50 entries is thoroughly annotated and indexed and ends with a bibliography for further research, enabling readers to replace myth, magic, and mystery with refreshing reality.

Just as important as the preponderance of his evidence, the author's words show respect and compassion for those with whom he profoundly disagrees. "My goal," Harrison writes, "is not to win arguments or take away anyone's fun, happiness, or contentment." He wishes to give readers an understanding of and appreciation for the power of skepticism, a toolkit to confront the weird, kooky ideas that spread wildly in the age of the Internet. "The way I see it," he explains, "promoting reason and skepticism is a moral issue. It's about caring for your fellow humans."

I have a great deal of admiration for Guy Harrison's idealism. But he has to acknowledge that being skeptical gets us only so far. The desire to believe things for which there is no empirical data is an essential element in human nature. Overcoming it is very hard indeed, the job of a psychologist as much as a scientist. The certainty true believers feel is so comforting and inspiring that they cling to it like a life preserver, making it a passionate part of their identities. They belong to a very special group that has either seen the truth or seen through a plot to conceal it. Yet their ignorance of science and technology and probability and history bothers them not a bit.

If you've decided that attempting to rescue the misguided and misinformed is a worthwhile pursuit, that skepticism will help them to, in the words of the author, "lead safer, happier, and more productive lives," then this is the book for you. Yet you need to understand what you're in for. People will attack you for questioning their odd, baseless assertions. Many suffer from reductive, illogical, or emotional thought processes and thus typically refuse to listen to opposing evidence, no matter how well-founded or well-reasoned. Having already made up their minds, they will accept any supportive anecdote as proof of their ideas and reject any contradictory observations as deceptive or manufactured.

It's certainly easiest to smile, nod politely, and move away slowly when confronted by such people. Why should you waste time and effort in a vain attempt at converting them into rational thinkers? Perhaps the best motive is preventing them from infecting others who are prone to gullibility, especially when they are family or friends. But recognize your limits. You might be able to persuade such benighted individuals of the folly of their views on one particular issue, but because they lack critical thinking skills, they're likely to fall for the next bit of hocus-pocus or mumbo-jumbo they see or hear. You may simply have to shake your head, practice a form of triage, and leave it to more selfless souls to battle for reason. Hand them this book and wish them well.
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on March 5, 2013
This book is written in short, easy to digest chapters. The tone is informative but not technical. It's a good book for people who like to think about and question some of the beliefs we may have grown up with or have recently been exposed to, but aren't sure where to start. I like the friendly, conversational narrative. I learned a little (homeopathy is making a comeback in North America? Even my dog knows it's just water!) and re-learned a little too. I successfully made it all the way through university without truly understanding the basis of some of my cherished beliefs, and it's because of books like these that I've been able to critically examine them. Thank you Guy Harrison!
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on August 25, 2013
This book - I'm reading the Kindle version and it's working well - is a good one for the person who has heard of various supernatural events such as alien abductions, Area 51, ghosts, speaking to the dead, etc., and is not sure if they are true or not. The author gives many stories and examples of such events and clearly explains why they are not to be believed. The author is very rational and understandable. If you have a scientific bent, you will mostly affirm what you already know.

The only complaint I have is that the author spends several pages from chapter to chapter explaining his credentials. He comes to the book eminently qualified, but his experience would be better placed at the beginning of the book prior to the 50 chapters of explanations.
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VINE VOICEon July 16, 2015
“50 popular beliefs that people think are true” is an overview and a discussion of 50 beliefs that people often hold, but for which there is very little evidence and sometimes strong contrary evidence. The author, Guy P. Harrison has researched a selection of 50 beliefs that are relatively popular and yet irrational. Each of the 50 popular beliefs has its own chapter. Well, some chapters, for example, “Many Prophecies has come to pass”, and “Most Conspiracy Theories are True”, are summaries of several examples.

The book is 458 pages long and it is divided into eight sections; “Magical Thinking”, “Out There”, “Science and Reason”, “Strange Healings”, “Lure of the Gods”, “Bizarre Beings”, Weird Places”, and “Dreaming of the End”. Examples of chapters are; “A Psychic Read my Mind”, “Nostradamus Saw It All Coming”, “NASA Faked the Moon Landing”, “Global Warming Is a Political Issue and Nothing More”, “Astrology is Scientific”, “Alternative Medicine Is Better”, “Homeopathy Really Works, and No Side Effects”, “No Vaccines for My Baby”, “Creationism is True and Evolution is Not”, “A TV Preacher Needs My Money”, “Bigfoot Lives and Cryptozoology Is Real Science”, etc. A long list of scientists and skeptics helped the author research and gather material for the book and Dr. Phil Plait an Astronomer wrote the foreword of the book.

I should add that the author is certainly not the kind of person who dismisses everything that seems odd, and he certainly does not hold that “scientists are always right”. On the contrary, he has a chapter dedicated to that kind of naiveté as well. His point is that you should examine the evidence for and against and make a rational choice. It is just that so many people underestimate, or are unaware of existing scientific evidence, and other good evidence, while clinging to anecdotal evidence, cultural beliefs, wishful thinking, and bad evidence.

Some of the irrational beliefs discussed in the book are held by most people in the US. He provides percentages in many cases. In some cases there is no good evidence for the belief, for example, the belief in Big Foot. In other cases the irrational belief is plain idiotic, not only because the so called evidence for it is nonsensical or worthless, but because the evidence against the belief is overwhelming and/or conclusive. An example of this is the “NASA Faked the Moon Landing conspiracy theory”.

In general irrational beliefs are potentially dangerous but in some cases the irrational belief can be especially dangerous. An example of this is the faulty belief that vaccines cause autism. There are also irrational beliefs that are both idiotic and dangerous, for example, “The Holocaust Never Happened”. The 50 topics he chose are certainly not all equal in that regard. I wish the author had made more of an effort distinguishing between relatively benign believes such as belief in reincarnation and angels and truly lunatic and/or dangerous beliefs. Fully examining 50 beliefs in 458 pages is also very difficult, which means that the book lacks some depth. Another minor complaint I have is that the book is very much focused on irrational beliefs common in the United States, and the types of irrational beliefs people hold tend to vary around the world. A few international examples of irrational beliefs that are not common in the US would have been nice too. Comparing the so called evidence for Big Foot with that of Swedish Vitter folk (tiny hidden people) could have been illuminating.

Irrational beliefs are quite common and we probably all hold at least some irrational beliefs. If you find one of your beliefs examined in this book you don’t have to instantly through it out based on one book but at least honestly consider the arguments and the evidence. In general we should all examine our beliefs and question them, and this book could be a great tool for doing that. Unfortunately I believe that many people will still have a very hard time honestly examining their own beliefs and this book may only anger them. They want to confirm their own beliefs not question them. The fact that the author clearly is an atheist/agnostic may also give many people in the US an excuse for dismissing it. However, this is an interesting, entertaining, well written and needed book so I recommend this book to everyone.
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on August 1, 2012
This book is some 400 pages in length and is a pleasant read. The author's clear writing style and his ability to examine objectively, injecting an occasional dash of humor, is much appreciated. Additionally, Mr. Harrison never sounds as though he was standing on a soap box while writing this book. All in all, as I suggested in my 'title', "50 Popular Beliefs" is a worthwhile read.
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on December 13, 2013
I wanted to gain a better understanding of the world around me and the people around me ,so I sampled or bought many books on this subject this one included, after weeks of reading and learning one author clearly stood out from the rest , while most other books seem to beat and bash people and there beliefs , Guy did not , in fact he used understanding and respect as a way to teach people , in all my experiences that is the only way to teach or learn , I will be reading and enjoying other books by Guy p . Harrison
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