Sunday, February 28, 2010

The rise of uncommon sense (and why that's a good thing)

From "The Mythbusters of Psychology" in eSkeptic

KARL POPPER WROTE: “SCIENCE MUST BEGIN WITH MYTHS and with the criticism of myths.” Popular psychology is a prolific source of myths. It has produced widely held beliefs that “everyone knows are true” but that are contradicted by psychological research. A new book does an excellent job of mythbusting: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and the late, great skeptic Barry L. Beyerstein ...

The authors start with a chapter explaining how myths and misconceptions arise.

1.Word of mouth. If we hear something repeated enough times, we tend to believe it.
2.Desire for easy answers and quick fixes.
3.Selective perception and memory. We remember our hits and forget our misses.
4.Inferring causation from correlation.
5.Post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning.
6.Exposure to a biased sample. Psychologists overestimate the difficulty of stopping smoking because they only see patients who come to them for help, not the many who stop on their own.
7.Reasoning by representativeness — evaluating the similarity between two things on the basis of superficial resemblance.
8.Misleading film and media portrayals.
9.Exaggeration of a kernel of truth.
10.Terminological confusion. Because of the etymology of the word schizophrenia, many people confuse it with multiple personality disorder.
The authors discuss our susceptibility to optical illusions and other cognitive illusions, our propensity to see patterns where they don’t exist, the unreliability of intuition, and the fact that common sense frequently misleads us. They characterize science as “uncommon sense” — it requires us to set aside our common sense preconceptions when evaluating evidence. They cover 50 myths in depth, explaining their origins, why people believe them, and what the published research has to say about the claims. Everything is meticulously documented with sources listed.

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