Footnotes for

how to be reasonable


1.     To learn more about the various biases that affect human reasoning their origins and effects I recommend Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris’ 2007 book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts. 

2.     What’s The Harm is a website that documents the negative consequences of lapses of critical thinking. 

3.     One of many conspiracy theories currently in vogue is the idea that airplanes are releasing clouds of chemicals into the sky, opinions vary on what the chemicals are, why they are being released or by whom.  The supposed ‘Chemtrails’ are actually clouds of condensed water vapour called Contrails. A good website explaining the science behind this conspiracy theory is Contrail Science.

4.     Slenderman is a character created by Eric Knudsen on the website Creepy Pasta, a place where people share horror fiction. For more background on Slenderman consult the website Know Your Meme. On May 31st 2014 in Wisconsin two teenage girls who professed belief in Slenderman attacked another girl apparently at Slenderman's behest more details in this Wikipedia article. For a detailed discussion of the ideas behind the Slenderman meme I recommend this episode of the podcast Monster Talk.

5.     The website Anti-Vaccine Body Count documents the number of people who have died of vaccine preventable illnesses since the start of the modern Anti-Vax movement in 2007 . At time of writing they have documented 9028 deaths. This article on the History of Vaccines blog provides an overview of the history of the anti-vax movement.

6.     The website What’s The Harm  has a list of people brave enough to share their stories of being defrauded or scammed publicly. Unfortunately many people feel ashamed of being duped by scam-artists and never come forward.

7.     The website What’s The Harm  has a list of some of the many people injured or killed by bad medical advice and ineffective or dangerous ‘alternative’ medicines.

8.     Intercessory prayer has been found to be ineffective in scientific studies, and could be counter-productive if used as a substitute for practical help. An overview of the literature is available on Wikipedia

9 & 10.     The Scientific Skepticism movement is a distributed community of people who attempt to understand the world using reason and evidence. Wikipedia offer a good overview of the movement. 

11. To learn more about the various biases that affect human reasoning their origins and effects I recommend Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris’ 2007 book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts. 

12. The scientific method is, simply put, a process of generating hypothesises, testing them and reaching conclusions. Wikipedia offers a good overview. 

13. Many modern medicines are synthesised from compounds originally found in nature, rainforests are particularly rich sources of medicinal compounds. This article from New Scientist discusses the many medicinal plants discovered in rainforests.

14. Genetically engineered drought resistant crops have the potential to save many lives in drought prone regions of the world. Genetic engineering of food crops has many other potential life saving applications such as fortifying wheat with vitamin D in areas where vitamin D deficiency is a major cause of infant blindness. For more information about GMO crops consult the website GMO Answers.

15 & 16. In his 2015 TEDx talk George Hrab outlines the values and achievements of the Skeptical Movement focusing on the desire to protect people from dangerous misinformation. 

17. Skeptic Magazine’s website suggests some ways to get involved in Skeptical activism. 

18 & 19. Once we have generated an answer to a question we are resistant to changing our mind or even reexamining the issue. This New Yorker article discusses the phenomena quoting a researcher who commented “Once formed… impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

20. Wikipedia maintains a list of cognitive biases, which is an interesting but humbling (and very long) read. 

21. Wikipedia maintains a list of logical fallacies. 

22. An overview of Confirmation Bias can be found on Wikipedia

23. To understand how Confirmation Bias affects our lives and interacts with other biases I recommend Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris’ 2007 book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts.

24. An overview of the Halo Effect can be found on Wikipedia

25. An overview of Ad Hominem arguments can be found on Wikipedia

26. If you’re still unsure about how the maths works out here’s a great YouTube video from Numberphile that explains ‘the Birthday Problem’. 

27. The blog The Odds Must be Crazy! Examines seemingly bizarre chance events by deconstructing the mathematical probabilities of events. 

28. An overview of the Identifiable Victim Effect can be found on Wikipedia.

29. This is a lowball estimate of animals killed by humans in the animal agriculture industry for more details consult this article from Thought Co. If you are interested in which charities are most effective at reducing animal suffering Animal Charity Evaluators have already done the hard work for you by analysing the efficacy of hundreds of charities working to help animals.

30. This is a lowball estimate for more details consult the World Health Organisation website. If you are interested in which charities are most effective at reducing himan suffering Give Well  have already done the hard work for you by analysing the efficacy of hundreds of charities.

31. Effective Altruism is a movement devoted to identifying the most effective charities (that save the most amount of lives, or alleviate the most suffering, for the least amount of money) and encouraging people to donate to them. The Effective Altruism website explains the movement and how to get involved. 

32. An overview of the Appeal to Nature argument can be found on Wikipedia

33. Our tendency towards group-think has been documented extensively. Wikipedia offers an overview with reference to the scientific literature. 

34. The allure of Anecdotal Evidence is explained in this Wikipedia article. 

35. The Bigfoot breeding population would have to be huge to sustain the species existence. In the SGU Science News blog Evan Bernstein discuss the discrepancy between a large population of primates living in North America and the complete lack of physical evidence of their existence. 

36. Wikipedia maintains a list of cognitive biases, which is an interesting but humbling (and very long) read. 

37. An overview of Immunity Bias also known as the Bias Blind Spot can be found on Wikipedia

38.  The Skeptic community is not always perfect at this, but do encourage respectful dialogue on controversial or sensitive topics.

39. When you are emotionally invested in an idea your resistance to changing your mind is heightened. For more on the effect of emotions on reasoning consult Wikipedia

40 & 41. When you are financially invested in an idea or your identity is invested in an idea your resistance to changing your mind is heightened. This is an example of post hoc rationalisation; we justify our decisions and refuse to see their flaws especially when acknowledging our mistake will lose us money or make us look foolish. For more on post-hoc rationalisation I recommend Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris’ 2007 book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts. 

42. Falsifiability is a concept popularised by the philosopher Karl Popper in his 1959 book The Logic of Scientific Discovery to distinguish scientific from unscientific claims. 

43. The allure of Anecdotal Evidence is explained in this Wikipedia article. 

44. Wikipedia is not considered a reliable source for academic research, but in comic books there are no rules! But seriously, although you shouldn’t rely entirely on Wikipedia it has become an excellent resource. This Wired article gives a brief history of Wikipedia and its increasing reliability. 

45. If you are interested in checking the validity of the conclusions of an individual study it can be useful to search for related studies conducted by experts in the field or, even better, to find a meta-study that collates data from multiple studies. Science Mag provides a useful layperson’s guide for assessing scientific studies. 

46. When you are invested in an idea you are more likely to succumb to biases and other lapses in reasoning. To learn more about the various biases that affect human reasoning their origins and effects I recommend Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris’ 2007 book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts.

47. For an overview of how to judge scientific data and which sources to trust I recommend Steven Novella’s 10 lecture course Your Deceptive Mind available on Audible and through The Great Courses.

48. Occam’s razor or the ‘Principle of Parsimony’ is explained in this Wikipedia article.

49. This article from Tech Republic is a useful guide on how to use internet searches effectively. Skeptical activist Tamar Wilner provides an exhaustive list of resources for navigating online on her website.

50. Science Mag provides a useful layperson’s guide for accessing scientific studies. 

51. Science is slow, and we like it that way. This allows any new idea to be rigorously tested before it becomes accepted knowledge. Live Science has a good article about this process. 

52. If you are interested in checking the validity of the conclusions of an individual study it can be useful to search for related studies conducted by experts in the field or, even better, to find a meta-study that collates data from multiple studies. Science Mag provides a useful layperson’s guide for accessing scientific studies. 

53.  Some bad studies ‘cherry pick’ data from their findings to support a certain conclusion. To avoid being mislead look out for gaps in data collection and be wary of graphs which only visualise part of the data collected. Science Mag provides a useful layperson’s guide for accessing scientific studies. 

54. In his great blog Science or Not? Graham Coghill provides guidance on reading science journalism with a skeptical eye. 

55. Strange, there doesn’t seem to be a footnote fifty-five!

56. Wikipedia maintains a list of cognitive biases, which is an interesting but humbling (and very long) read. 

57. Unfortunately there are many people who prey on our lapses in critical thinking. Some of the most unpleasant characters are those who knowingly sell ineffective or dangerous alternative medicine and those who deliberately inflict emotional and financial harm by claiming to provide supernatural services. Many of the stories of victims of these people are documented on the website What’s The Harm

58. Wikipedia maintains a list of cognitive biases, which is an interesting but humbling (and very long) read. 

59. More details on what gross/fascinating stuff goes on inside a chrysalis can be found in this Scientific American article. 

60. This quote comes from the first episode of Carl Sagan’s amazing 1980 science television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

61. Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is considered a key text for many skeptics.