Here Be Dragons: An Introduction to Critical Thinking
Here Be Dragons is a 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. It is suitable for general audiences and is licensed for free distribution and public display.
Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.
Here Be Dragons is written and presented by Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid podcast, author of Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena, and Executive Producer of The Skeptologists.
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While he does touch on crtical thinking, he does so by making huge negative generalizations about health food products, new age beliefs and belief in ghosts and the paranormal. In doing so he is guilty of violating many of the basic principles he claims to be advocating. As I listened to him I found one falicy after another in his reasoning.
Other than the above tendency to make huge generalizations while defending without question the honesty of our government and pharmacuetical companies to name a few, he spent much of this DVD coasting down a very slippery slope as he hand picked examples, most of which weren't terribly convincing. He also repeatedly over-extended his premise, insinuating that by debunking one kind of product or belief, his logic applies to other similar products or beliefs. While he rails against products which are not medically sanctioned he shows video of many products that do have value, like fish oil and organic products.
When it comes to the paranormal, he spends quite a bit of time debunking stories of people who alledge near or after death contact from loved ones. He reduces these kind of encounters to an equation based on the likelihood of thinking of someone around the time of their death. But what about the content of these visits?? This reduction assumes that all of the encounters (imagined or otherwise) contained normal thoughts about the loved one that might have occured randomly. He ignores content completely.
Even when I agreed with him that a question was valid, I felt his analysis was incomplete. He just didn't address many of the questions that I would expect a good critical thinker to ask. Instead of exploring these subjects, he seemed emotionally attached to quickly dismissing them because they used one questionable form of evidence. There was no discussion whatsoever about attaining a balanced view.
Another thing he harps on is that the term "ancient" remedy does not give a product validity. Granted the term is overused, but if something really has been used for hundreds of years, like acupuncture, for instance, it is worth investigating and as medicine has learned, using. Again he tries to extend his pet examples much too far and the attitude is the above dismissal rather than inquiry.
As noted, his rants extend well beyond fringe products and his approach is "all or nothing". He groups Chiropractors together with Faith Healers as if both were equally useless. In the end the film is mostly about his personal dislikes, making it a prime example of what critical thinking isn't!
The video is aimed at school age children who are just becoming consumers but it will be of interest to all ages. The video has high production values and is hosted and produced by Brian Dunning. Dunning displays considerable charm and there is much understated humor. Especially valuable are the explanations of common logical fallacies and what constitutes a real clinical trial.
The video is available for free in many formats on Dunning's website. This is obviously a project near and dear to his heart.
Highly recommended, especially for teachers.
The film covers much of the same ground that Dunning's Skeptoid podcast does, but does so in an introductory way that will serve as a terrific introduction to critical thinking for all those unfamiliar with it. It stays away from most truly controversial topics, such as religion, and by doing so remains accessible to anyone, although never shying from discussing what is logical and sane, and what is rational and real.
It really is great. It's funny, it's on target, and it's the sort of thing you can give to all those people in your life who insist on viewing the world as a realm in which the superstitious and pseudoscientific is real. Plus, even long-time skeptics will find something new here--because there is a incredible amount to be discovered here--or they'll at least find themselves reminded of something that they had forgotten or neglected. I know I did.
The film features a good overview of logical fallacies, of popular myths and misconceptions, and of common ways our thinking can go wrong. I think it would also be excellent to show in philosophy, psychology, and science classes. Highly, highly recommended.
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