Here Be Dragons

June 13, 2008 By: erik Category: Religion, Stuff I Found, Videos 474 views

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This video needs to be shown to every science classroom all over the world. Please pass this along to as many people as you can, especially if they are teachers.

Here Be Dragons is a free 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. It is suitable for general audiences and is licensed for free distribution and public display.

Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.

You can download the HD version of the video here. Or just watch it on Google Video below:

  • I’m going to watch this as soon as I get home today.

  • Paul

    Excellent! Thanks for sharing.

  • I really enjoyed this a lot. It reminded me of some of the Penn and Teller Bulls**t episodes.

  • Very, very, very good. Thanks for this.

  • I only had time to watch a bit, but the host seems like a tremendous douchebag. I suspect that the film’s “toolbox” is kind of like a skill set for recognizing and understanding the dangers of cheeseburgers, and appreciation for the dietary benefits offered by vegetarian living. People who are already vegetarians say “yay”, and everyone else says “40 minutes? Seriously?”

    That’s kind of a harsh comment (and I apologize if the host is like your brother or something), but I’m fairly pessimistic about whether spoiling a fool’s fool party leaves anyone better off.

    To relate this to another post, I ended up not posting a similar comment in response to the statement here to the effect that atheists have far superior critical thinking skills than theists. While I agree, I think it’s like saying “short people have a far easier time ducking under things than tall people”. That is, I don’t think it’s a statement with any great inferential value. Foolish people fall for foolish bullshit, and clever people fall for clever bullshit. I guess I don’t see why as a general matter one is to be preferred over the other.

    I highlight “as a general matter” because, of course, the devil is always in the pudding.

  • So, aquariumdrinker, I’m a little confused by your comment. Let me see if I understand your viewpoint. It sounds like you’re against films like this because they accomplish nothing. You think it will entertain people like me and the other commenters because we like to laugh condescendingly at the idiots of the world, but that it won’t ever convince anyone that already believes in ghosts to rethink their position. To use the current misused insult of the times, you dislike this video because you think it’s “elitist”. Have I got that right? If I’m wrong, please correct me and ignore the next paragraph.

    What a terrible attitude! What’s the point of any education at all, then? We should just let the ignorant writhe around in their ignorance? Don’t you think that we should at least try to help people avoid spending money on sugar pills when they can be taking real medicine? The makers and fans of this video aren’t laughing at the ignorant people, we want to help educate them to improve not only their lives, but society in general. This kind of thinking doesn’t just apply to purchasing harmless (to all but the person forgoing real treatment) voodoo sham products. It applies to detecting bullshit from politicians as well. And that affects us all.

    And I agree that the host isn’t the most charismatic gentleman to ever stand in front of a camera, but I admire his efforts.

  • The laughing and condescension you describe are not in my comment. People see value in things that reflect their values, so the rationalist will think a video espousing rationalism is a good idea. No laughing or condescension necessary.

    DonÂ’t you think that we should at least try to help people avoid spending money on sugar pills when they can be taking real medicine?” I think we do – governments make manufacturers of snake oil put “this isn’t effective” labels on their products, we license doctors and pharmacists so that you can tell them apart from quacks, and we oversee (or at least review) clinical trials so we know what works and what doesn’t. My government can and should do more of things 1 and 3. How does telling a person that he’s wrong about that psychic connection with his uncle fit into this initiative?

    We should just let the ignorant writhe around in their ignorance?” I’d turn that around — in the absence of any other reason to enlighten someone, why would you try to take her ignorance from her? Most ignorance does no harm, but much of it gives some comfort. If it makes it easier to get through a bad day to think that there’s a magic man in sky who lovesyouverymuch, how is it a help to convince a believer otherwise? Who benefits when you interrupt someone to correct their pluralization of hippopotamus?

    To be clear: there are a lot of good reasons to correct peoples’ misapprehensions. I just think that the fact that there is a misapprehension in the first place is not a reason it itself.

    What’s the point of any education at all?” I think there is still some value left in eduction even if you can’t promote rationalism (as separate from teaching its tools). It’s not like you would chuck out the whole of secondary eduction if you were allowed to teach algebra, geometry, trig, calc, formal logic, biology, psychology, chemistry and physics, but you were forbidden to tell students that these tools would be a better place to start when making decisions than, say, the Bible. If a student is given access to these tools but still decides to believe in ghosts or an afterlife, it’s not like that student’s education was a total loss. (To be clear one more time: I’m not suggesting the banning of rationalism promotion in schools — I did quite a bit of it myself while teaching algebra and geometry — just saying that even in an extreme case where it was banned, there would still be value in education.)

    Ok, so: I wouldn’t call rationalism evangelists elitists, because I don’t think of rationalists as an elite. But I also don’t think that rationalism protects its adherents from the doctrinaire belief that “the world would be much better off if everyone were more like me.” It probably wouldn’t be. Take suicide bombers, for example, who are often cited by rationalists as evidence of the evils of religion. It is easy to point out suicide bombers as people who do terrible things in the name of religion. It’s another thing entirely to show that, in the absence of religion, similarly situated people would not be suicide bombers and attribute their behavior to some other motive. As a matter of fact, it’s not even clear to me that suicide bombings are necessarily irrational.

  • Paul

    You wrote: “in the absence of any other reason to enlighten someone, why would you try to take her ignorance from her?”

    When my state (NC) voted in a lottery like so many others, it made me less proud of my legislature (perhaps a new low), but I didn’t really mind, since taxing the mathematically impaired theoretically lowers my taxes. Now, however, I am frightened by the lack of critical thinking which does or may affect my life. My leaders are likely to pray for help, which to me isn’t admirable leadership. My local school board does not allow Kite Runner to be read in the local high school. My community has designated every person who has signed up with the military as a “hero”. I hate to think of my future being decided by a local jury.

    Please – remove irrationality by whatever means possible.

  • My anti-spam word is “LEFTY”.

    Paul, I think that rational people can disagree about the benefit balance of a state lottery (though I tend to agree with you). I don’t know what’s up with the Kite Runner thing, but there are entirely rational reasons for politicians to be seen praying and for people to call all soldiers “hero”. I’ve met NC legislators on both sides of the aisle, and even the evil ones are fairly sharp. Just because people don’t share your social or political goals doesn’t mean they’re irrational, or that teaching them more about critical thinking will make them more tolerable.

  • Dang, I apologize for that last line, which is awfully condescending. What I wanted it to do was to highlight the distinction to be made between “rational” and “good”, but instead it just revealed that I’m kind of a jerk. And now my anti-spam word is “dung”.

  • …there are entirely rational reasons for politicians to be seen praying and for people to call all soldiers “hero”.

    Sure. This is rational for leaders to do specifically because of the irrationality of the electorate. A politician that didn’t say, “My prayers are with the families of the victims,” would quickly be noticed and politically castigated. But what terrifies Paul and myself is that some of them might not be doing it just for show. The current POTUS, for example, probably actually thinks mumbling words to himself will have a magical effect on the world at large. The only way to fix this is to attempt to shift the rationality balance of the electorate towards thought and action and away from prayer to the point that such statements cease to be acceptable.

    If it makes it easier to get through a bad day to think that thereÂ’s a magic man in sky who lovesyouverymuch, how is it a help to convince a believer otherwise?

    It depends on the relationship one has with Magic Man Who Lovesyouverymuch. If A) “the world hates me, my boss hates me, my lover’s mean to me…but at least I have you, MMWL!”, then the belief is actively hindering the believer from solving the problem. If B) “C’mon, MMWL, give me the strength to stand up to my boss and not let her treat me like that. With MMWL by my side, I can fix my life!”, then the belief might actually be helping. But it’s my estimation that the vast majority of relationships with MMWL are like the former. And it’s not too hard to argue that a non-believer would tend towards the “Well, I’ve gotta fix this myself. I need a plan!” B strategy.

    So I think that it is a help in the long run to abolish even the comforting beliefs, encouraging people to seek real solutions like the help of friends that actually exist.

    As a matter of fact, itÂ’s not even clear to me that suicide bombings are necessarily irrational.

    Sure. All brave soldiers are forms of suicide bombers, willing to give their own lives to kill as many of the enemy as possible, sacrificing for the good of their nation. It’s not irrational, and is even seen in other species because it makes Darwinian sense for preserving your gene pool. However I suspect that most Islamic suicide bombers these days are doing it for irrational reasons.

    Dang, I apologize for that last line, which is awfully condescending.

    I’ve read that line several times and don’t see it as condescending. Where someone falls on the left-to-right political spectrum is mostly independent of their critical thinking skills.

  • Fair points, all. I think I can put a couple of pins in our points of disagreement.
    I doubt that people (Republicans included) will act significantly differently in a culture that requires people to justify their actions with logic rather than religion. The hawks on the left (the atheists among them included), for example, had no trouble explaining why we needed to invade Iraq without reference to any god. And milquetoasts will still be milquetoasts, whether they lean on the idea of God or the greater good.
    Sort of a corollary of the first point, there is a point at which the costs of the crusade to eliminate ignorance exceed any benefit gained.
    One other thought — what do you do with very good people who attribute their goodness to their godliness? (Think Mother Theresa, Bishop Tutu or MLK, Jr.)

  • No, we actually agree about the political stuff. The only problem that religion causes in US politics is in the poor dupes that vote Republican (which is obviously the wrong choice if you’re poor) because they want an overtly religious leader. The Republican position is very, very logical if you’re rich and lack empathy for everyone else.

    I’m certain that people can be good without godliness, and I see no reason to associate causality between the two just because they are sometimes correlated. The good moral pieces of religion are available to us without religion. As for the Mother Theresa Myth, well… Try a “mother theresa hitchens” google search.

  • Hitchens is really who I was thinking about when I made my earlier comment about atheists among the hawkish left.

    On causality, that’s fairly central to my point. I don’t think there is much causality at all, if any. And that cuts both ways. I believe that people are easily led, or cowardly, or independent, or good or bad not because of their capacity (or lack of capacity) for rational thinking, but because of other (largely irrational) factors. We could (and someday should!) discuss our thoughts about the essence of consciousness, but the short version for me is that I don’t think that most people know themselves, or have the level of control over themselves, that they think they do. That goes for me, too.

  • Paul

    I am not actually interested in attempting to make people more tolerable, or even more rational. Some of my best friends are logically challenged. I don’t mind when others hire a fung shui expert, engage in natural detoxification, spend hundreds on sugar pills, or buy lottery tickets. As this video says – “Debunking is only necessary when pseudoscience stands in the way of progress, and then it is critical.” The best example of this that I can think of is the blow to American science education that has been struck by people espousing “intelligent design”. Can a rational person disagree with me as to the accuracy of Darwin’s “theory”? Certainly, but the important question to ask is “will America, in the future, be better off or worse off if pseudoscientific theories are given the same weight in the curriculum as scientific theories?”

    I doubt if this video is likely to affect many adults. Its value lies in its power to open a mind wider only before it has already closed.