The Baloney Detection Kit

If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. In an age of instant communication and sensationalism, it is extremely easy to fall for baloney (or as the French say, “bulls***”). “Cure For Cancer Found In Beetle!” “Man Raised From The Dead In Africa!” “Free $1 Million If You Sign Up Here!” “Woman Healed Of AIDS!” We’ve all seen the sensational claims…but when you get down to investigating the claims themselves, the sensationalism dissolves into quackery. Whether it’s miracle cures, faith healing or free money, the ability of humans to deceive themselves and others is matched by no other animal on Earth. Carl Sagan came up with a method of “detecting” falsehoods, hoaxes, scams, and flat-out b.s. with his Baloney Detection Kit. The “kit” consists of ten questions that determine if a specific claim is an evidence-supported theory or baloney…


  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

The next time you come across an out-of-this-world claim, ask yourself these 10 questions.

Michael Shermer made a video with the Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason And Science on Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit:


Did They Just Say “Satan?!” Um, No

I don’t get the obsession people have with backmasking (supposed “hidden” subliminal messages within many popular songs). The human brain is wired to find patterns. You can find the words “Satan,” “demon” and maybe even “donut” in a common nursery rhyme played backwards if you’re told what to look for.

It’s called Pareidolia and it happens when people find a pattern or meaning where one does not exist. This is why people “report” having seen the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich, a face on the surface of Mars and supernatural orbs and lights in poorly-developed photographs.

So, find any song you want and somehow find the song backwards. What one person hears as, say, “Satan,” another hears as gibberish. Then, when you know what to look for (like if the lyrics for the backwards track are on the screen), sure enough, you hear an “evil” message. It’s the same concept with constellations; there aren’t actually figures in the sky. The stars in the cosmos are randomly scattered. It’s humans who “find” shapes and see things that really aren’t there. It’s what we do

And if an artist has something to say or a statement to make, he or she is going to make it, not hide it in a song where it can only be discovered when played backwards.

Michael Shermer discussed the phenomenon at the 2006 TED Conference.


Comical Revision of Genesis

I doubt you’ve ever heard a creation story like this.

Enjoy Michael Shermer’s comical “revision” of the Genesis creation myth:

Genesis Revisited – A Scientific Creation Story

“In the beginning – specifically on October 23, 4004 B.C., at noon – out of quantum foam fluctuation God created the Big Bang, followed by cosmological inflation and an expanding universe. And darkness was upon the face of the deep, so He commanded hydrogen atoms (which He created from Quarks) to fuse and become helium atoms and in the process release energy in the form of light. And the light maker he called the sun, and the process he called fusion. And he saw the light was good because now He could see what he was doing, so he created Earth. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be lots of fusion light makers in the sky. Some of these fusion makers He grouped together into collections He called galaxies, and these appeared to be millions and even billions of light years from Earth, which would mean that they were created before the first creation in 4004 B.C. This was confusing, so God created tired light, and the creation story was preserved. And created He many wondrous splendors such as Red Giants, White Dwarfs, Quasars, Pulsars, Supernova, Worm Holes and even Black Holes out of which nothing can escape. But since God cannot be constrained by nothing, He created Hawking radiation through which information can escape from Black Holes. This made God even more tired than tired light, and the evening and morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the continents drift apart by plate tectonics. He decreed sea floor spreading would create zones of emergence, and He caused subduction zones to build mountains and cause earthquakes. In weak points in the crust God created volcanic islands, where the next day He would place organisms that were similar to but different from their relatives on the continents, so that still later created creatures called humans would mistake them for evolved descendants created by adaptive radiation. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

And God saw that the land was barren, so He created animals bearing their own kind, declaring Thou shalt not evolve into new species, and thy equilibrium shall not be punctuated. And God placed into the rocks, fossils that appeared older than 4004 B.C. that were similar to but different from living creatures. And the sequence resembled descent with modification. And the evening and morning were the fourth day.

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life, the fishes. And God created great whales whose skeletal structure and physiology were homologous with the land mammals he would create later that day. God then brought forth abundantly all creatures, great and small, declaring that microevolution was permitted, but not macroevolution. And God said, Natura non facit saltum – Nature shall not make leaps. And evening and morning were the fifth day.

And God created the pongidids and hominids with 98 percent genetic similarity, naming two of them Adam and Eve. In the book in which God explained how He did all this, in one chapter He said he creates Adam and Even together out of dust at the same time, but in another chapter He said He created Adam first, then later created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. This caused confusion in the valley of the shadow of doubt, so God created theologians to sort it out.

And in the ground placed He in abundance teeth, jaws, skulls, and pelvises of transitional fossils from pre-Adamite creatures. One chosen as his special creation He named Lucy, who could walk upright like a human but had a small brain like an ape. And God realized this too was confusing, so he created paleoanthropologists to figure it out.

Just as He was finishing up the loose ends of the creation God realized that Adam’s immediate descendants would not understand inflationary cosmology, global general relativity, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, paleontology, and evolutionary biology, so he created creation myths. But there were so many creation stories throughout the world God realized this too was confusing, so created He anthropologists and mythologists.

By now the valley of the shadow of doubt was overrunneth with skepticism, so God became angry, so angry that God lost His temper and cursed the first humans, telling them to go forth and multiply themselves (but not in those words). But the humans took God literally and now there are six billion of them. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.

By now God was tired, so He proclaimed, “Thank me it’s Friday,” and He made the weekend. It was a good idea.”


Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain” Out Now

Michael Shermer, skeptic extraordinaire, has a new book out called The Believing Brain: From Ghosts to Gods and Politics to Conspiracies. The book essentially takes a scientific look at why and how people form, accept and defend their beliefs (upbringing, popular culture, religion, etc.). I highly recommend it and leave you with a little Shermer lesson… 🙂