The danger of bad thinking

The danger of bad thinking

The danger of bad thinking

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Nov. 26 2006 11:11 PM

The danger of bad thinking

Every once in a very great while, a major American news outlet publishes an article that actually makes sense and is related to critical thinking.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


Good for them. Our inability-- or more precisely, our lack of cultivation for the ability -- to think clearly is crippling this country, and really the whole planet. In general, the media feed this crisis by concentrating on scary things that are very low probability. To be fair, they also constantly warn us about eating badly, driving badly, living badly, just being, well, bad, but that is something of a background hum against the shrill screams of talking heads trying to elevate our blood pressure over unlikely scenarios. As the article points out, no one in the US has died of bird flu, and yet we hear about it all the time. Sure, it's a threat, but not nearly as big of one as the regular flu.

More people die in a month in traffic accidents in the US than died on September 11, 2001 -- and more people die of smoking-related illnesses in three days. I think that's a fascinating thing to keep in mind, especially when you hear our government talking about that day.

An analogy: when I clear off my hard drive because it's filling up, I could sit down for hours and clear off every dumb 7kb text file I have, or I could delete a single 250 Mb video in three seconds.

That's perspective -- knowing what to concentrate on and what not to worry about so much. We need to keep that perspective, and carefully cultivate in kids. I know I am victim of distorted perspective myself, so I imagine it's worse in people not experienced in focusing a skeptical eye on things.

Even knowing about it is half the problem. Questioning your perspective is always good.

In fact, it's the irony of ignorance: if you know you're ignorant, you're on the road to curing it!