Six Basic Mistakes You Make in Reviewing

 It took me a while to get around to reading it, but I’ve just munched through Thomas Kida’s ‘Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The Six Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking.’ Its been getting high praise from the higher-ups in the American Skeptical Movement and I believe it even got a good review in the Fortean Times.  It’s good, but good as in ‘It’s okay but not great.’ Certainly, if you are going to read an accessible book on Critical Thinking you can’t go wrong. It’s a bit breathless in places and there’s a certain inconsistency in his treatment of the weird and wacky. Interestingly enough Kida doesn’t really go into any depth about the problems with appeals to authority because, I think, he can’t. The book rests upon the credentials of people whose expertise he does not explicate. Kahneman, Travesky and Gilvovich are cited ad nauseam and whilst I know how good their work is there is nothing in Kida to tell you that these people are on the cutting edge of the psychological work in ratonality. Had he talked more about appeals to authority it could have made his work more difficult because he relies on authorities for glib statements all the time, but the conscientious reader will notice the lack and think long hard thoughts about it. It has a few niggling errors; he mischaracterises Gossip and Rumour as linear transmission of propositions rather than as complex interchanges, for an example, but, then again, some of the material in the book is so fresh and new, such as the nice, long critique of the thesis in Economics that agents in the market are rational and how playing the stockmarket rather than investing in index funds is irrational. (He also keeps coming back to the invasion of Iraq as a case study in how thinking goes wrong, which will piss off a large number of readers and also date the book in a few years time. It’s also a very American book with long examples to do with baseball and basketball (including some strange terminology issues; in some sections he refers to African-Americans and in others he refers to Blacks) which made it hard to concerntrate, being quite anti-sport…)   Still, the book has given me a number of new tricks to try and pull on my students and it’s also been useful in sorting out what a provisional book of my own should take in and what it would develop. I may well use a section of it as a quick-and-easy primer for my Med School students but I’m not likely to be recommending the text to people any time soon. Then again, I’m in my disillusionment stage of the being a Sceptic and what I really want is to read another book like ‘The Sceptical Occultist,’ which is a fun read and, whilst it has faults galore, works through issues rather than presents them as solved before the reader even turned the page.