Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Video: Here Be Dragons

Brian Dunning, host of the skeptical podcast Skeptoid, has produced a pretty darn impressive short (~40min) movie that introduces skepticism and critical thinking called Here Be Dragons. While it is clear that the movie was not filmed or produced by a professional, it’s very good for something made in an amateur’s spare time and, besides, the content makes up for the film’s lack of polish. Dunning starts off by defining, then illustrating, pseudoscience, and then goes on to explain common fallacies and biases, why even smart people fall for nonsense and then ties everything together nicely with examples and illustrations. I especially liked his explanation of the randomized clinical trial, it’s by far to best short summary I’ve ever come across. Overall, I’d say it’s an excellent introduction to skepticism, Dunning gets nearly everything right (see below for a few examples of where I think he gets it wrong) and, while I doubt any experienced thinker will learn much that’s new, it’s still worth watching and certainly a good tool for proselytization.

A few nitpicks: (1) Dunning includes St. John’s wort as an example of pseudoscience when there is pretty good evidence it is effective as a treatment of mild to moderate depression. While some herbal advocates clearly go beyond the evidence with respect to St. John’s wort (and other herbs), skeptics should do better: the evidence must always rule. (2) Dunning in one scene endorses a deeply na├»ve view of history, vaguely referring to a 500 year period of the “Medieval Dark Ages” when there was absolutely no progress in science or scholarship. The idea that the Middle Ages was a period of Darkness is mostly mythical; Dunning would do well to familiarize himself with proper academic histories of the period.

The film has been released under a Creative Commons license, and is embedded below. High quality versions can be downloaded here.

5 comments:

  1. Any recommendations, therefore, for histories of the middle ages?

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  2. I read a few way back, maybe 5 or 6 years ago. Titles elude me...

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  3. Then of course this is entertaining given his little focus on Omega 3:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080709161922.htm

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  4. To make the link more accessible, this is entertaining, given his focus on Omega 3s.

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  5. Dunning's point wrt to Omega-3 is that supplementation has not been shown to be effective, even if eating foods rich in Omega-3 is. Check out the FAQ on the movie's website...

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