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Your Preferences - Preliminary Results
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Zietsch's Response to PZ, Laden and Scicurious.
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This is a lie, she said.
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MSPaint is mightier than the Sword
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The Art of Indecision
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Skeptical Checklist 1.1
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The Skeptical Checklist 1.0
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Psychobabble goes live!
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My very own Natural Disaster
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Porn: A force of Mutual Benefits
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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

So I’ve taken the mind-map in the first ‘sceptical checklist’ and questionized it. For the most part its on a likert-type scale, where 1 = low and 7 = high. Now that it’s questionized it’s time to check how water-tight it is. In turning ideas into questions it has become apparent that it is very difficult to distinguish fact from fiction through introspection alone. At best one might be able to identify the processes we engage in that allow us to reach a conclusion, but even then our judgements will be coloured by the conclusions we’ve reached and a myriad other factors.

It seems that a scale of this nature, if it works, can only work on positive beliefs. That is, this scale may work for ‘Critical Thinking [on the validity of Homeopathy]’, but cannot work on ‘Critical Thinking [on the invalidity of Homeopathy]’. I can’t see how it would be possible to assess a negative belief (i.e. that something doesn’t exist / work).

As of writing this introduction I have not attempted to answer the questions, but only intuited how it works based on my process in constructing it. Here are my thoughts:


  • Some questions will be much better than others in separating craziness from saneness
  • Some basic convictions we hold are going to be indistinguishable from craziness
  • If there are questions that do differentiate the crazy from the sane, they need to be weighted accordingly.
  • I feel that the more discrete the belief the more likely it is that the scale can differentiate it (i.e. I can move objects with my mind vs. we are merely digital code in the matrix)
  • Some kookish beliefs are, by definition, insular and circular  such that it probably is not possible to introspect one’s way out of madness
  • Honestly is key, but most of the time we don’t (and probably can’t) be honest with ourselves.

In ‘testing’ the scale (I use the term very loosely) I admit I cannot know the mind / convictions of others. I’ll give it a shot though just to pick up the most glaring mistakes in the design.

So here’s the first run through. The crazy belief being test is ‘The Earth is Flat’ (click here for some batshit-crazy-ramblings); the non-crazy belief is ‘The Earth is Spherical[1], and the control belief is ‘Day follows Night follows Day’.


So in order to determine if works, or if any of these questions actually get to the heart of the matter, I’m going to dummy-run it. Sorry about the pictures... it seemed like the easiest way to port it across...



And the footnotes, incase I missed copying some of them...

[1] Yes, it’s not perfectly spherical. It’s close enough for my purposes, however.; [2] I suspect not, but I’m not sure; [3] Online, or IRL?; [4][4] Maps, Long distance travel; [5] Would it be ignorance? I’d call it delusional…; [6] I can’t imagine what they would be, so I can’t say they can’t coexist…; [7] Not really, I know that the world is spherical and to disprove it you would have to prove that it was not as all science tells us. So no, I don’t believe there is evidence to suggest; [8] I suppose if night did not follow day (over a given ~24 hour cycle) ; [9] Conspiracy theory… no evidence can exist to the contrary… and if it does, it’s faked.; [10] We’d need a new explanation for Gravity, just for starters…; [11] Then I’m crazy!

First thoughts on being a Kook: That was really difficult, and I suspect that even though I tried to be conservative, I missed a lot. I’m not sure if this exercise has value.

First thought on being a being a scientific-rationalist: Some of those questions were still challenging, and a likert-scale may not capture the full sense of reasoning and understanding behind them. This is an obstacle if I want the scale to  be 100% objective.

First thoughts on being a control: Some of those question are not entirely relevant, but then, it’s probably not possible that the can be given that it’s a conviction which is held in the most self-evident fashion. I would be blown away if someone disputed the truthfulness of the claim.


On tackling such a big topic (Flat Earth vs Spherical Earth) it appears that my suspicions were confirmed. There’s very little difference between accepting that the Earth is Spherical (which very few of us have actually tested or read about) and arguing that it is flat (who themselves cannot test, not in any meaningful way; seriously, read their forums on the ‘ice wall’… it can’t be tested because you’ll be killed!).

However, I’m not convinced there is not some early validity to the scale with something more manageably small – something like homeopathy, like 9/11 truther conspiracies, or the power of prayer.

I have an ex-work-colleague studying naturopathy, who I might ask to give me a hand with the scale. Doing so raises ethical questions, however. Fortunately I’m not at the mercy of an ethics board but that doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking hard about the implications for my own conduct and those of the potential participant.


For the record, here are the questions that most differentiated Kook from Sane:

How important is this conviction for you?

Would your peers challenge your conviction if they disagreed with you?

(However, the argument from popularity is weak. This question, I hope, gets to the heart  those with whom you associate…)

How likely are you to pay someone for a product / service regarding your belief?

But if we’re talking about Chiropractors vs. medicine, both are equally likely…

Is someone actively suppressing your conviction?

I think this one has legs.

How extensive are the implications of your conviction?

Though this may be specious

How extensive are the implications if you’re wrong

As above…


…and here are the questions that worked in the opposite direction (at least for a big belief such as this)

How likely are you to pay someone for service / product regarding your conviction?

I think this is an artefact of the nature of this ‘big belief’

Are you likely to seek out information regarding alternate beliefs?

… interesting…

How extensive are the implications if you’re wrong?

This may be due to me not necessarily understanding the mind-set of a flat-earther


Early conclusions are this scale is weak / next-to-useless; but I’m not willing to give up on it just yet, not until I can test it against an anti-vaxxer or chiropractor or someone similar. Any help would be appreciated (and recognized).

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