A recent rash of quackish claims about COVID-19 makes Carl Sagan‘s “Baloney Detection Kit” newly relevant. Sagan — best known for Cosmos: A Personal Voyage –the most widely viewed PBS series in the world — wrote, in 1995 “The Demon Haunted World” — a spirited defense of the scientific method — that included the Kit.
The Baloney’s Detector’s purpose is to identify false or fraudulent arguments by asking 10 questions. The results of such questions can then be used to plot the probability that the claimant’s claim is factual.
In 2009, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science paid homage to Sagan in the video above, narrated by Skeptic Magazine’s Michael Shermer.
Do claimants “play by the rules of science?” Do their claims “fit with the way we know the world works?” Do their theories account for as much as the old ones? Do personal beliefs drive their claims? Asking these questions of any claimant can go a long way toward the separation of science from pseudoscience.
Sagan’s brilliant life was cut short by a rare cancer; he died at just 62. But his books, and “The Baloney Detection Kit” — provide useful tools at a time when the blithe acceptance of false scientific claims may endanger public health.
Also useful is a page maintained by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science with input from the Foundation’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. It notes that “a crisis on the scale of the coronavirus pandemic brings with it an unprecedented deluge of falsehoods, unfounded rumor and speculation, and snake oil profiteering.”
This flow of COVID-fueled B.S., Nature.com’s Timothy Caulfield observes, would be comical if lives were not at stake. “Cow urine, bleach and cocaine have all been recommended as COVID-19 cures — all guff,” Caulfield writes. “The pandemic has been cast as a leaked bioweapon, a byproduct of 5G wireless technology and a political hoax — all poppycock. And countless wellness gurus and alternative-medicine practitioners have pushed unproven potions, pills and practices as ways to ‘boost’ the immune system.”
Intended to serve as a means to “inoculate the public” against COVID-related misinformation, the Dawkins Foundation’s COVID-19 page can be accessed here: https://centerforinquiry.org/coronavirus/