Saturday 6 March 2010

“Great job on the others, but you got us all wrong!”

I once read a book in which the author set out to debunk various different popular movements and ideas by showing what was wrong with them (in some cases exposing pseudoscientific concepts or demonstrating basic misrepresentation and dishonesty, for example). Each chapter was about a different movement or idea. What struck me particularly was something he mentioned in his introduction: After the first edition of the book was published, he got a lot of comments from readers about what a good job he had done of exposing the errors of different groups. Very often, such praise was accompanied by a comment to the effect that “in the case of our group, though, you’ve got your facts wrong”...

Realistically, a popular author or journalist is not likely to be the world’s greatest authority on about twenty different movements or ideas simultaneously – and nobody would seriously expect him to be. So a few (or a lot of) factual details in the book could well have been incomplete or simply inaccurate. But what worries me more is the danger lurking hidden within the seemingly innocuous endorsement “You did a great job on the others!” – namely, the evident tendency, which I also recognise in myself, to accept uncritically statements and assertions that support or fit in with our own beliefs and ideas.

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