Carl Sagan's "Baloney Detector Kit."

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Carl Sagan presented a "Baloney Detection Kit" in The Demon Haunted World. Page numbers below are from the first edition of the book.

Sagan's Positive Precepts

1. "Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts" (210).

2. "Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view" (210).

3. "Spin more than one hypothesis" (210).

4. "Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis because it's yours" (210).

5. "Quantify" (211).

6. "If there's a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise)--not just most of them" (211).

7. "Occam's Razor: This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler" (211).

8. "Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified" (211).

9. "Control experiments are essential" (211).

10. "Variables must be separated" (211).

Errors to be Avoided

1. "Ad hominem--...attacking the arguer and not the argument" (212).

2. "Argument from authority" (212).

3. "Argument from adverse consequences" (212).

4. "Appeal to ignorance--the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true and vice versa" (213).

5. "Special pleading" (213). Sagan does not define this fallacy. He just gives examples of it. Here is a good description: "Applying standards, principles, and/or rules to other people or circumstances, while making oneself or certain circumstances exempt from the same critical criteria, without providing adequate justification. Special pleading is often a result of strong emotional beliefs that interfere with reason.[1]

6. "Begging the question, also called assuming the answer" (213).

7. "Observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses" (213-14).

8. "Statistics of small numbers" (214).

9. "Misunderstanding the nature of statistics" (214).

10. "Inconsistency" (214).

11. "Non sequitur--Latin for 'it doesn't follow'" (214).

12. "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc"--Latin for, 'It happened after, so it was caused by'" (215).

13. "Meaningless question" (215).

14. "Excluded middle, or false dichotomy--considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities" (215).

15. "Short-term vs. long term" (215).

16. "Slippery slope" (215).

17. "Confusion of correlation and causation" (215).

18. "Straw man--caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack" (215).

19. "Suppressed evidence, or half-truths" (216).

20. "Weasel words" (216).


  1. Logically Fallacious.