Friday, August 28, 2015

The Art of Bull Fighting! Debunk It: How to Stay Sane in A World of Misinformation by John Grant

Call it bogosity, bulls&Xt, baloney, bunk, bullfeathers, or balderdash, anyone who ventures into the murky waters of public discourse these days, particularly into the fable-larded cable-land, internet medical guru-dom, the blogoshere, and social media, needs hip-high waders or the proverbial paddle to get through it all.

With all the clashing pseudo-data and truthiness-metered trivia from blowhards, bloviators, pocket-padders, and sometimes even genuine experts, how is a young person to begin to think about so-called controversial subjects like climate change, universal vaccination, end-of-the-world apocalypses, and for whom to vote in the next election?

John Grant's Debunk It!: How to Stay Sane in a World of Misinformation (Zest Books, 2015) takes on the fraught case of how we "think about the things we do think about."* In his chapters "Building Your Own Bullshitometer" and "On Weasel Words" he offers advice to both young adults and those of us who have logged some years since our debate team or college logic class on recognizing those obfuscations peddled by spinmeisters--quote mining, cherry picking, the argument from authority, anecdotal evidence, the straw man, false balance, the gods of the gap argument or most famously the science isn't settled line once favored by cigarette manufacturers to keep people cheerfully puffing (and sadly dying) for decades, as well as our own self-deluding beliefs powered by confirmation bias and motivated reasoning.

By way of example, Grant engages some of the famous delusions and misinformation mongers of time, pointing out that the pre-apocalyptic concept of "The Rapture" was only developed in 1842, by someone named John Darby, surprisingly late in the history of Christendom. And then there's the assertion that the Apollo moon landing was actually faked and filmed by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. Such beliefs as psychics leading seances, The Laetril "cancer cure," the end-of-the-world prediction in 2012, the admitted fraudulent data showing a relationship of the MMR vaccine with autism, and even the hyped Y2-K calamity logged double-digit positive poll numbers in their time. Without media hyper-attention, most of these bits of misinformation might not have gone viral, but the world we live in apparently requires a lot of examination of sources and quite a bit of critical thinking about the things we should think about.

Our survival and that of the planet requires serious thinking about the things we do think about, and this humorous and engaging book is a good how-to start. With John Grant's working title of "The Young Person's Guide to Bullshit," this can't-miss title is great recreational reading for budding skeptics as well as an outstanding addition to units on science, current events, or debate. "A must-have," says School Library Journal's starred review.

*At the Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan took the stand as his own expert witness on the Bible. When defense lawyer Clarence Darrow asked him if he believed passages on Creation in six twenty-four-hour days and the sun standing still in the sky, the exasperated Bryan said, "I do not think about things I don't think about." Darrow then asked, "But do you ever think about the things you do think about?"

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