50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True
© 2011 Guy Harrison
“Just because it’s vivid, detailed, and expressed with confidence and emotion…doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Chances are you know someone who harbors what you know to be irrational beliefs, and chances are they hold the same opinion about you. It isn’t easy to stay sober with a monkey brain trying to impose order on the chaos of life, sometimes mesmerizing itself with its own fiction. 50 Popular Beliefs consists of an introduction, fifty brief essays debunking various icons of culture from ghosts to horoscopes, and a conclusion. Those who count themselves skeptics already will find no surprises, and should not anticipate anything that will add greatly to their own knowledge, like The Demon Haunted World or Why People Believe Weird Things. This is straightforward debunking, along with some information on how we are so easy to fool — especially when we’re fooling ourselves. The ideal audience is people who regard themselves as well-informed and appropriately skeptical, but who are exposed to some ideas so often that they’re wanting confirmation that yes, horoscopes really are BS.
While many of the essays address areas of constant skeptic scorn — astrology, homeopathy, ancient aliens, Area 51, Holocaust denial — Guy Harrison also covers matters that aren’t low-hanging fruit, like the value of television and the dimensions of race. He explores race as a concept, then some stereotypes about it in regards to sports and intelligence. The pieces have a strong personal flavor, as Harrison uses his own experiences to try to understand those of others, and he attempts to experiment directly when he can. For instance, in the chapter on psychics he successfully cold-reads someone, and in the chapter on faith healing he attends a Benny Hinn performance. The pieces are sometimes too short to do their topic service, which I think will expose them to “what about” rebuttals as believers present similar convictions from a slightly different angle Not every article has the same length, however; Harrison is partcularly passionate about the veracity of the Moon landings and that essays goes on for a bit rebutting the various arguments for their being a fraud.
The most valuable part of 50 Beliefs, personally, are its resources for extended reading. I saw more than a few titles in here which I’d either long forgotten about or had never heard of at all. Harrison has written more in this genre, but I’m more interested in Brian Dunning’s new book dissecting conspiracies or The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe’s October release of a book using their name.