As I am growing in my thinking I am becoming more aware at how easy it is to rationalize.

In the past I would look up on the internet for information that would support things that I am thinking is correct. Which is even worse cause these are not even my own observations. I will be looking for conclusions to support my own conclusions.

I did this the other day on SA Skeptics but nobody even bothered to call me out. Oh well, I guess I would have become even more defensive. It just irks me to have these kinds of blind spots.

So I was thinking perhaps some of you have some pointers to spot when a person is rationalizing. I think that you could look at logical fallacies but I suppose that the better you get at logic the more you will be able to fool yourself.

At the other end of the spectrum I think you can through the baby out with the dishwater and distrust all the conclusions you have made. Eg as most people on here knows I think there is an objective reality, I think this is self evident. To go out and look for all the evidence to the contratry would be foolish since this fits with the observations that I made out of life.

Any ideas, I do consider your thoughtful responses most valuable.

We all have biases. This is just how we are. However it is a good thing that you become aware that you have them and seek knowledge at all times to keep your beliefs in check.

I guess the only real advice is to keep a relatively open mind about new ideas, critique them, and only then decide if they have validity or not.

For some things this is easy: Alien lizard overlords controlling our minds from space.

For others it may be a weee bit more difficult: Neutrino’s moving faster than light.

However dude, when it comes to philosophy I am painfully aware of how murky it all can seem at times. Knowledge, logic, and evidence are the only way.

Alien lizard overlords controlling our minds from space.
Are you implying here that this is not true? :o

In A Demon-Haunted World Carl Sagan suggests that one should adopt what he calls a “baloney detection kit”. My kit differs a bit from his, because I wanted something more applicable to everyday life rather than science. Here are the ten sieves I use to separate the wheat from the chaff:

1. A claim must be verifiable. If it is impossible to verify the validity of a claim, that claim lacks merit. An even stronger measure is to insist that it must be potentially refutable. If the mechanism by which a claim can be refuted is absent, that claim lacks merit. Note that the claim is not rejected because it is false, but because its validity cannot be established.
2. The onus of proof is with the claimant. It cannot be expected from the denier to disprove a claim – such a scenario would result in all kinds of outrageous claims being accommodated.
3. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. The more a claim deviates from the norm, the more closely it should be scrutinized.
4. There must be a sensible mechanism. Where a logical mechanism is lacking, such as in power balance bands or homoeopathy, the claim is suspect.
5. Defer specialized assessments to experts. We cannot all be experts in everything and sometimes have to rely on experts.
6. Rely on empirical testing rather than anecdotes. This assists in eliminating coincidence and bias.
7. Occam’s razor. This implies that the explanation that makes the least assumptions is usually the correct one.
8. Beware of wishful thinking. Do no accept a position as true merely because the outcome is favourable. Likewise do not reject a position merely because the outcome is unfavourable.
9. Don’t nitpick. Consider all evidence equally, not just that which favours a specific outcome.
10. Debate. The purpose of debate should be to seek truth, not to score points.

I would like to see more baloney detection kits from other forum members.

Settling the question of whether someone is rationalising is actually quite straightforward once you are familiar with the pattern. Seek out the Tellybanana’s posts on this forum. They contain all of the classic symptoms: goalpost-shifting, tu quoque, red herrings, onus-of-proof reversals, slipperiness and evasion, cagey “answering” questions with tangential or irrelevant questions, distortions of fact, subversions of science, misdirection and redirection, garbled philosophy, and many more. In fact, one could fruitfully spend many edifying hours engaged in games of spot-the-fallacy.


The great Lizard wants me to answer “No”.

I think to rationalize is an integral part of the human condition - we all do it, and we will continue to do it, regardless. I think that ‘‘baloney detection kit’’ seems like a pretty sound way of weeding out the honest truth from the rationalized wish/opinion/whatever.


works for everything except quantum mechanics :smiley:

seriously, answer my question. If I ask you how power balance bands work, don’t say “holograms”. That is not an answer, that is a placeholder. The same mistake god botherers and apologists make. “God” is a non answer. It merely shifts the posts without actually answering anything.

I distrust “mysterious” on general principles. And even I am frequantly surprised by the bollocks I’ll take at face value before later re-contemplating it. Go figure.

I really like hermes’ list above though. I have come to embrace something very much like it.

Thank you! This is some awesome stuff. I really appreciate it, much more than you know.
I love the term ‘Tellybanana’s posts’. I will build more on my knowledge of science, logical fallacies.

Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit is an awesome skill to develop (if you don’t have a goldfish memory like I do. I keep forgetting the specifics :/). His “There’s a Dragon in my garage” analogy is one of my favourite examples of the more prevalent logical falacies people are prone to. Read Cosmos. It’s brilliant.

My personal method goes something like this:

1)First step back and try to understand what is being said as fully as I can. (Research it if I can.)
2)Then play Devil’s advocate with myself. (Sort out any kinks I come across. Try every line of attack I can think of, from both sides.)
3)Formulate a response. (Try to use established facts as much as I can - if possible. A sound argument needs a sound foundation.)
4)And then subject my response to steps 1 and 2 as a final check before putting it out there. (Repeat if necesary)

It takes longer than firing from the hip, but I’ve often caught myself making logical errors or screwing up facts because I was looking for a quick or easy answer or allowing my emotions to cloud my judgement. Oh, and of course never, ever, EVER, respond while I’m angry or because I’m angry. And be civil at all times (I’m not always very good with this one :P)

I wonder how much you’ll agree with the following. Busy reading The 4-hour body by Tim Ferris. Ben Goldacre did contribute a chapter. In the end it does suggest the following when looking at scientific studies.

I quote a summary from samsnyder.

"Separating Good Science from Bad Science:

• Focus on absolute changes rather than relative increases or decreases that are expressed as percentages.

• Ignore observational studies and instead pay attention to the results of randomized and controlled experiments.

• Be skeptical of studies that rely on self-reporting or surveys.

• Beware of studies where the funders have a vested interest in a certain outcome."

Looked up this book on wiki, sounds awesome just what I need. Will have to put this on my wishlist for santa. I will have to be very good though. :smiley: