Sunday Morning Critical Thinking

Got your pancakes and coffee ready?  Or a croissant and some tea?  Perhaps just a warm Red Bull?  Good.  Now sit yourself down in front of some high quality entertainment via Mr Brian Dunning of Skeptoid fame.   Brian has recently put out Here Be Dragons: An Introduction to Critical Thinking.  Follow the link and you can check out this 40 minute video in a variety of formats.  I’ve only had a chance to watch the first five minutes so far, but I’m impressed with it already.

So go watch and then come back here to tell us what you think.  Does the video do its job of being an accessible introduction to critical thinking?


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. Go Brian! Unfortunately, I can’t see this as ending up in too many public school classrooms. The parade of products sold in local stores alone is enough to make your average school board member wary.

    I very much believe that skeptics need to make adding “critical thinking” to school curriculums a top priority. But to make it work, I’m not sure we can plan to puncture sacred cows directly in the classroom and expect to prevail in public schools. We just need to deliver the skeptical toolbox to kids: if we’ve done our job right, they’ll be equipped to do the puncturing themselves.

  2. I haven’t watched very far into this either, but about 2 minutes in he starts showing modern “dragons”, by which he means, or so I assume, that these are crackpot things. Among those things are fish and salmon oil and a yoga studio.

    It seems to me that fish oil (and especially salmon oil) is high in omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to be anti-oxidants. This is a good thing and is not crackpottery.

    While I’ve heard claims that yoga gives spiritual benefits, it’s also a very viable form of mild exercise. It does, in fact, tone the body. It’s not aerobic exercise, but not all exercise is.

    There’s also a picture of organic ketchup. I’m not an organic food person, but while organic food has not been shown to be any more or less healthy than non-organic food (why does that phrase sound oxymoronic to me?) it does represent a form of agriculture that is less damaging to the environment due to the lack of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

    I’m a skeptic and it turns out that I’m skeptical of some of his examples. Heh.

  3. A lot of those are things Brian has covered on his podcasts: it might help to go check out the editions on those topics he has to see if there’s more to his cases against them than he might explain in this short context.

  4. Okay, I just took a look at Brian’s site to see what he had to see about my objections. A) I couldn’t find anything about fish oil except for some user comments about it. (If you can find something, please let me know.) B) His objection to yoga is the how “energy” is used to explain its benefits. This I agree with completely. However, it is still a viable form of exercise. Exercise itself creates a sense of well being and has nothing to do with realignment of energies. C) Organic farming. Now this had a perspective I hadn’t considered before, namely the fact that organic farming requires more acreage and has its own bad environmental effects. Taken in this light, it’s not likely that organic farming is any more or less harmful than regular farming, just different. I cannot argue with this logic.

  5. I have watched the whole thing, and subsequently committed to emailing it to everyone I know, starting with my immediate family.

    This is the single most comprehensive, straight-forward, understandable explanation of skeptical thinking and its necessity I have ever seen.

    What I like most about it is that it is done in a way that is not offensive to non-skeptics or even people of faith.

    Brian pitches controversial elements of ‘belief’ not as ‘flat out wrong’ (though they may be), but rather as ‘non-relevant’. This lesson in itself has changed the way I will approach members of my family about their use of various woo-woo remedies.

    I think this film is brilliant, and recommend that everyone watch it.

  6. Just a quick note, if you are downloading this movie, do Brian a favor by using seeding it on BitTorrent. The more of us who do it, the faster and easier it will be for everyone to spread the word. Thanx!

  7. …By the way, Valbert, you hit the nail on the head: Organic farming has gained popularity because we all want food that is free of dangerous pesticides and other harmful chemicals, but it is far more expensive in every way; it takes more land, more labor, and careful handling. Once picked, ‘organic’ produce has a shorter shelf life, adding to the expense.

    A remarkable truth I learned as a salesman to the farming community: ‘Organic’ is a loose term that allows for the use of some chemicals and pesticides, and therefore is a laughingstock issue among farmers. They know that if you don’t spray that tomato with ‘something’, it will be eaten by an opportunistic creature before we do. Namely bacteria.

    FYI: Hydroponically grown tomatoes are the best of both worlds, requiring less space, and fewer chemicals, to produce superior fruit.

  8. Really cool video!
    Bad, I would love to see a critical thinking class in public schools too, however I really think that just giving kids the tools to critically think is not enough. Through my experience critical thinking takes time and practice. I think to really make an impact we should go for a series of critical thinking classes (example: critical thinking 101) each class building on one another. Of course this is easier said than done.

  9. Cassie:

    Critical thinking SHOULD be taught in schools if subjects are taught correctly. It should be taught in literature, music, history and science classes. Each of these involve thinking about the subject at hand and coming to conclusions about it. It also makes the subject more enjoyable for the future. Sadly, there are students who are resistant to learning how to think critically because of laziness and there are all too many teachers who simply not doing this for a variety of reasons.

  10. Vbalbert:

    I couldn’t agree more. And I understand how lazy high school students can be since I am in high school. I think that the lacks of critical thinking skills are not only do due to inadequate school systems but poor parenting as well as in schools. Some parents will be authoritative with young adults and give the teens simple answers like then yes, no or maybe to questions that need to be discussed further. This might give the kid a mindset that treats complicated decisions as if it were a matter of black and white or yes and no. Which is obviously a problem when the teen becomes an adult and is forced to make his/her own decisions since nothing is ever black and white.

  11. I’m sorry to say I don’t rate this video. I love what he’s trying to do, but ‘preachy’ is never palatable to the general public. And…well frankly it looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Openly showing commercial logos, branding and phone numbers…ouch.

    We’ll see if it takes off but it ticks many of the ‘no-no’ boxes for internet videos unfortunately.

  12. Heh, Vbalbert, you totally beat meto the punch! Those were the three things that stuck out to me, too. I thought that fish oil was recommended by MDs for cholesterol control? As for yoga, I HATE when they talk about prana this and chakra that and “cleansing breath”…that’s why it’s been really hard for meto find a yoga place without some woo-woo hippy-dippy instructor. However, the actual exercise and low-impact-ness and flexibility-fying are great (at least in the kind that doesn’t focus on breathing – I almost passed out at a beginning class of that style!)

    As for organic food – it seems pretty obvious just by flavor that “organic” is better than “conventional” (I’m only talking flavor here). But instead of relying on expensive organic megafarms, people need to get their victory gardens on. I have heard the claim that organic stuff has more nutrients, and would need to see some evidence of that. I am 100% sure, though,that filling up a cow horn full of dung and burying it on the autumnal equinox, then exhuming it on the vernal will not yield mega-powerful (you know, energy-laden) fertilizer. But tons of pesticides aren’t so hot either.

  13. On teaching critical thinking- I think it should be a part of every class, too, and starting at an early age. It’s amazing how resistant older students can be to *applying* knowledge rather than regurgitating it if that’s all they’ve been exposed to.

    Teek- The labels made me wonder, too, but I put that aside a bit easily. I’ve been subjected to some supplements pushing lately and it’s made me a little too willing to mock such things.

  14. vbalbert:

    Brian discussed antioxidants in his show about superfruit juice: “Monavie and Other Superfruit Juices”. This is not in the context of fatty acids and fish, but since you brought those things up in terms of their antioxidant properties, I think this episode might be worth consideration in order to understand his argument. Unfortunately the link is not working for me right now to confirm what exactly he covers in the episode, but I hope it is helpful.

  15. Critical Thinking is taught in the UK as an AS Level & A-Level and is rapidly increasing in popularity (especially as Universities increasingly ‘like’ candidates to have critical thinking skills, what a shock), something like a 50% increase year on year (from a very small base)

    But on the other hand, RE is still quite a popular A-Level so its not all good news

  16. I actually helped out with the production of this video (I shot the person-on-the-street interviews–those people are all my friends). I think the deal with yoga or fish oil is not that they don’t do anything–they do–but that proponents make excessive claims about chakras and energy, or healing everything from hangnails to cancer. Hey, chiropractors DO make your back feel better. They just can’t improve liver function or cardiac arrythmias.

    The best thing to say about Brian Dunning is that he NEVER makes an ad hominem attack. How many other skeptics can say that?

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