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An intro to critical thinking,
 skepticism & quirkology



                             By @RuthEllison
                    For BarCamp Canberra #3
                         On 6th February 2010
Work at    Stamford Interactive



                             Live in Canberra

                                           Chocolate appreciator

                      Loves robots
                                                Loves gadgets


 I’m Ruth                User experience designer


  “I help make                             Skeptic-in-training
things easier to
       use”
Let me tell you a story about shampoo...

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stirwise/527796228/
A few years back, I
received a phone call
 from The Parents.
There’s this chemical Sodium lauryl
 sulfate (SLS)...
This substance is found in most
 shampoos...but the fact is that SLS
 is used to scrub garage floors, and it
 is very strong. It is also proven that it
 can cause cancer in the long run.
           Source: random emails from around the web
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brainware3000/22205084/
So I did
I replaced it with a special “safe and
   effective” product full of “wholesome,
   gentle, health-enhancing
   ingredients.”*




                         * Scam alert! Multi-level marketing alert!
A few months later and much
  moolah...
I’ve been had!
The Facts
             SLS is an irritant
             Is not carcinogenic




Sources: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/shampoo.asp; CIR publication. Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate. Journal of the American College of Toxicology. 1983 Vol. 2 (No. 7) pages 127-181.
QLD Environmental Health Unit: “SLS
              may possibly cause death...if you
              ingest approx 5-10kg of
              toothpaste”(containing 1% of SLS)




Sources: http://www.health.qld.gov.au/ph/documents/ehu/3368.pdf
Source of image:
http://www.colgate.com.au/Colgate/AU/OC/Products/Toothpastes/PDPContent/ColgateAdvancedWhitening/caw_r2_c1.jpg
A skeptic?
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spamily/2181824324/
Skepticism
                              Isn’t a set of beliefs
                              It’s a method, not a position1
                              It’s about critical thinking
                              Applying methods of science
                              Respecting good evidence



1 http://www.skeptic.com/about_us/index.html
Some famous skeptics


                                         Carl Sagan
       James Randi                                                 Richard Wiseman                                   Richard Dawkins




        Penn & Teller (who we got to
        meet in Vegas)
Image sources: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/image/9612/sagan_uc.gif , http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/0701-dawkins-jacket.jpg,
http://www.flickr.com/photos/balerini/2532483450/, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_4ify7vDXrDs/SyrDgTuZbcI/AAAAAAAAE_8/3BLte-9MsGY/s320/James+Randi.jpeg,
http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-09-12images/RWiseman.gif
What sparked my interest?
Lots of interesting psychological quirks
Watch the video of Richard Wiseman’s
 magic card trick (cool quirkology)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voA
  ntzB7EwE
Expectations shape our
experience of the world
Mmm, nom
nom nom.
What’s happening?
Part of being a
skeptic is
recognising and
compensating
for our biases
Some common cognitive biases
Loss aversion
            Imagine that your country is preparing for an
              outbreak of a disease which is expected to
              kill 600 people.
            Which vaccination schedule will you select?


            Program A which will save 200
            Program B which will save all 600 with
              probability 1/3

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion
Imagine that your country is preparing
                 for an outbreak of a disease which is
                 expected to kill 600 people.
               Which vaccination schedule will you
                select?
               Program A: which will allow 400
                people to die
               Program B: no one dies (1/3
                probability) or all 600 will die (2/3
                probability)

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion
Forer effect: the tendency to give high accuracy ratings to
  descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored
  specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to
  apply to a wide range of people source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

Barnum effect: a type of subjective validation in which a
  person finds personal meaning in statements that could apply to
  many people source: http://skepdic.com/barnum.html
Avoid biases by critically
 thinking about the issue
Consider totality of evidence
Ask questions, listen
 carefully
Want to learn more?
Listen:   The Skeptics Guide to the Universe
          Skeptoid
Read:     Australian Skeptics - www.skeptics.com.au
          www.skeptic.com
          www.snopes.com
          Whatstheharm.net
          Modern Skepticism http://www.slideshare.net/reedesau/modern-skepticism-bias-and-the-informed-consensus
          www.criticalthinking.org
          Skeptic’s Dictionary skepdic.com
          Quirkology by Richard Wiseman
Attend:   The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Sydney
          http://www.skeptics.com.au/latest/announcements/australian-skeptics-announce-tamaustralia2010/

Watch:    The People Watchers
          Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!
Here are additional readings
suggested by attendees of the
           session
• Richard Dawkins letter to his 10 year old daughter
  (how to warn your child about this irrational world)
  http://www.rationalresponders.com/richard_dawkins_letter_to_his_10_year_old_daughter_how_to_warn_your_child_about_this_irr
  ational_world



• Skeptical Sundays to be held shortly in Canberra,
  organised by @lozz

• Skeptics in the Pub, held in Sydney on the first
  Thursday every month                                check out www.skeptics.com.au
Ruth Ellison
                 Email:                  me@ruthellison.com

                 Web:                      www.ruthellison.com

                                         @RuthEllison



                 Find this presentation at www.slideshare.net/ruthellison




Image sources: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vernhart/1574355646/ , http://randaclay.com/freebies/free-twitter-graphics/

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An intro to critical thinking, skepticism & quirkology

  • 1.
  • 2. An intro to critical thinking, skepticism & quirkology By @RuthEllison For BarCamp Canberra #3 On 6th February 2010
  • 3. Work at Stamford Interactive Live in Canberra Chocolate appreciator Loves robots Loves gadgets I’m Ruth User experience designer “I help make Skeptic-in-training things easier to use”
  • 4. Let me tell you a story about shampoo... Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stirwise/527796228/
  • 5. A few years back, I received a phone call from The Parents.
  • 6. There’s this chemical Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)...
  • 7. This substance is found in most shampoos...but the fact is that SLS is used to scrub garage floors, and it is very strong. It is also proven that it can cause cancer in the long run. Source: random emails from around the web
  • 10. I replaced it with a special “safe and effective” product full of “wholesome, gentle, health-enhancing ingredients.”* * Scam alert! Multi-level marketing alert!
  • 11. A few months later and much moolah...
  • 13. The Facts SLS is an irritant Is not carcinogenic Sources: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/shampoo.asp; CIR publication. Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate. Journal of the American College of Toxicology. 1983 Vol. 2 (No. 7) pages 127-181.
  • 14. QLD Environmental Health Unit: “SLS may possibly cause death...if you ingest approx 5-10kg of toothpaste”(containing 1% of SLS) Sources: http://www.health.qld.gov.au/ph/documents/ehu/3368.pdf
  • 17. Skepticism Isn’t a set of beliefs It’s a method, not a position1 It’s about critical thinking Applying methods of science Respecting good evidence 1 http://www.skeptic.com/about_us/index.html
  • 18. Some famous skeptics Carl Sagan James Randi Richard Wiseman Richard Dawkins Penn & Teller (who we got to meet in Vegas) Image sources: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/image/9612/sagan_uc.gif , http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/0701-dawkins-jacket.jpg, http://www.flickr.com/photos/balerini/2532483450/, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_4ify7vDXrDs/SyrDgTuZbcI/AAAAAAAAE_8/3BLte-9MsGY/s320/James+Randi.jpeg, http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-09-12images/RWiseman.gif
  • 19. What sparked my interest? Lots of interesting psychological quirks
  • 20. Watch the video of Richard Wiseman’s magic card trick (cool quirkology) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voA ntzB7EwE
  • 24. Part of being a skeptic is recognising and compensating for our biases
  • 26. Loss aversion Imagine that your country is preparing for an outbreak of a disease which is expected to kill 600 people. Which vaccination schedule will you select? Program A which will save 200 Program B which will save all 600 with probability 1/3 Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion
  • 27. Imagine that your country is preparing for an outbreak of a disease which is expected to kill 600 people. Which vaccination schedule will you select? Program A: which will allow 400 people to die Program B: no one dies (1/3 probability) or all 600 will die (2/3 probability) Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion
  • 28. Forer effect: the tendency to give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases Barnum effect: a type of subjective validation in which a person finds personal meaning in statements that could apply to many people source: http://skepdic.com/barnum.html
  • 29. Avoid biases by critically thinking about the issue Consider totality of evidence Ask questions, listen carefully
  • 30. Want to learn more? Listen: The Skeptics Guide to the Universe Skeptoid Read: Australian Skeptics - www.skeptics.com.au www.skeptic.com www.snopes.com Whatstheharm.net Modern Skepticism http://www.slideshare.net/reedesau/modern-skepticism-bias-and-the-informed-consensus www.criticalthinking.org Skeptic’s Dictionary skepdic.com Quirkology by Richard Wiseman Attend: The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Sydney http://www.skeptics.com.au/latest/announcements/australian-skeptics-announce-tamaustralia2010/ Watch: The People Watchers Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!
  • 31. Here are additional readings suggested by attendees of the session • Richard Dawkins letter to his 10 year old daughter (how to warn your child about this irrational world) http://www.rationalresponders.com/richard_dawkins_letter_to_his_10_year_old_daughter_how_to_warn_your_child_about_this_irr ational_world • Skeptical Sundays to be held shortly in Canberra, organised by @lozz • Skeptics in the Pub, held in Sydney on the first Thursday every month check out www.skeptics.com.au
  • 32. Ruth Ellison Email: me@ruthellison.com Web: www.ruthellison.com @RuthEllison Find this presentation at www.slideshare.net/ruthellison Image sources: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vernhart/1574355646/ , http://randaclay.com/freebies/free-twitter-graphics/