Those of you who follow my Facebook exploits (which I’m pretty sure is everyone I’ve ever met, because I’m famous and important and influential and joking) will know that I like to fight battles. I’m a real believer in debunking misinformation, from the anti-vaccine movement to the immigrant bashing ideology perpetrated by our current Thatcherite government. I think education is the way to overcome most of our world issues, and can’t think of a better way to use social media than to share i
mages of cats educational material.
Self education is key to increasing understanding in many areas, especially politics. In my opinion, political education is relatively low in our culture, as that’s the easiest way for the top 1% to stay as the top 1% – keep the masses happy with shit TV and beer, and hope we never find out about the ride we are being taken on.
However, with self education – in all areas – it’s important to apply critical scepticism. It’s important to be able to see the facts from the false flags. My advice in this area is to analyse the source of the information; ask yourself whether there is a vested interest or opinion bias, is the information full of fallacies (see below), does it with fit with what you are certain are facts (are you certain the facts you are certain of are facts?). In the case of popular news, read it from as many different angles as possible, and come to your own conclusions.
Here’s a bold statement – don’t take your scepticism too far! Misplaced critical thinking has direct effects, evident in the anti-vaxxer communities’ drive to increase preventable deaths and diseases. Make sure you stay within the realms of rationality. Of course, I’m not argueing that you should take anything on blind faith, but I am argueing that you should consider the likelihood of your final opinion. A good example is the anti-climate ‘truther’ movement. This is different to the right-wing anti-climate movement, which just rejects anthropogenic climate change as false – mainly due to huge vested interests in oil companies, such as the case of Willie Soon. The ‘truther’ movement has taken it’s scepticism all the way through the thought process and out the other side; by searching for the money (seeing who benefits the most monetarily from an idea) it has decided that the environmental taxes imposed on companies is the biggest gain from climate change, and have come to the conclusion that it’s a huge government conspiracy. Now, applying a rationale to this, that would need the majority of scientists to be part of the cover up, and would negate the fact that four of the five richest companies in the world are oil and gas companies, who would surely want to decry climate change so that people keep using as much oil and gas as possible.
Anyway, on with the main point of this post. I want to create a list of awesome resources for educating yourself. I will be adding to this list as I find more interesting and legitimate resources – let me know of other information sources you use in the comments section below.
1. Another Angry Voice. The best blog on the internet. Tom Clark is a Yorkshire man who really understands complex political issues. Not only does he understand them, but he’s also great presenting them in accessible and understandable ways. His blogs are long, but some things have to be, especially when the concepts are complex.
2. Unlock Democracy. An campaign group that is fighting for an open and honest government, from the importance of transparency and caps in party funding donations, allowing a fair and democratic election process, to the openness of lobbying groups, so that we can know who is paying to influence key decisions. They have loads if useful information on the workings of westminster politics, and what we can do to make it better.
3. The Debunking Handbook. An amazing guide to debunking misinformation, download it and save it to your computer for free while you can. It’s a really valuable resource, as it provides useful ways to actually convince people of the truth, as oppose to just presenting them with the truth. This is a solid problem on issues where people are dead set in their ways, a fallacy called biased assimilation, meaning that presenting facts and arguing for hours can actually have the opposite to the desired informative effect. I should probably read this handbook again..
4. Information is Beautiful. We live in a world where the way information is presented often has a huge effect on how it is received. Information is beautiful displays scientific information in the form of super attractive info-graphics. One of my favourites is the rhetological fallacies graphic – it’s important to recognise cognitive fallacies in order to avoid both making them, and recognising when they are made by other people. I wish I could design graphics like this. If anyone wants to buy me a book, buy me their most recent release; Knowledge is Beautiful.
5. The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. A major player in the sceptic movement, this website produces an awesome podcast and great articles talking through the ridiculousness of common misconceptions, as well as interesting and up-to-date scientific news in an accessible form. They’ve also got a facebook page. Not only are the articles interesting, the comments on facebook are a great way of recognising and understanding fallacious arguements.
6. IFLScience. They used to fucking love science. They now post loads of rubbish half-science, having sadly bent to the will of the masses; jumping on to ‘big’ science news and publishing about it before it’s even been properly discussed – including 4 articles each debunking each other published within days of each other:
“Thanks To Reduced Solar Activity, We Could Be Heading For A Mini Ice Age In 2030”
“There Probably Won’t Be A “Mini Ice Age” In 15 Years”
“No, We Aren’t Heading Into A ‘Mini Ice Age’”
“The ‘Mini Ice Age’ Hoopla Is A Giant Failure Of Science Communication”.
You’re off the list, IFLScience.
6. An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments. Another great resource for understanding fallacious arguements, but this time through the medium of large-eyed sketched characters. In the spirit of open education, you can see and read the whole thing online. Another book I would like to own, if you’re feeling generous.
7. Existential Comics. Philosophy explained through cartoons involving philosophers. A great and funny way of explaining complex ideas. My favourite is the series on philosophers playing different board games.
8. Science Based Medicine. The aim of science based medicine is all in the name; it’s medicine based on facts. It’s all about seeing through the hypes of health fads, and breaking the veil of pseudoscience. Have questions or scepticism about the latest facebook claims regarding warm water and lemon juice curing cancer? Look to this site.
9. Neurologica Blog. Curated by producer of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe blog, this site always takes an in-depth look at current issues in science communication, science skepticism, and critical thinking. The articles are long, but often well researched and all encompassing on their respective topic.
10. Aeon Magazine. With a focus on science, philosophy and society, this online magazine provides an interesting range of articles that have a basis in facts, and critical, forward thinking philosophy. It originally caught my eye with a must read article looking back from the future to consider our current moral failings.
11. Pages to Stop Sharing From. This is a useful resource of all the bullshit on Facebook. This page, and the second edition, accurately summarise many increasingly common Facebook pages for their true worth; showing what they really represent based on their post content. You need to know the nonsense to recognise the truth.