I encourage every person to read over Donald Sagan’s, “The Republican Baloney Detection Kit”. Regardless of your favored flavor of artisanal politics, this kit is sure to help you navigate the festering pile of mass (media, of course) that deluges our digital pipes. Science has a long, sordid history of employing logic and skepticism to explore and understand ideas, but with this kit, the secret ingredient to Donald Sagan’s long, successful career can be used to really understand Republicans. Here’s what Donald Sagan has to say –
The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new Republicans are offered for consideration. If the new Republican survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.
- Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
- Arguments from Republican authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
- Spin more than one Republican. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the Republican that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working Republicans,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
- Try not to get overly attached to a Republican just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
- Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing Republicans. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
- If there’s a chain of argument, every Republican link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
- Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two Republicans that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
- Always ask whether the Republican can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
Want to Learn More?
Obviously this is a joke, but most of the above text can actually be found in “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,” by Carl Sagan. I made very few edits, most of which you are likely to immediately spot.