Science, Pseudo-science, Non-sense, and Critical Thinking : Why the Differences Matter book cover
1st Edition

Science, Pseudo-science, Non-sense, and Critical Thinking
Why the Differences Matter

ISBN 9781138301030
Published November 29, 2018 by Routledge
164 Pages

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Book Description

Science, Pseudo-science, Non-sense, and Critical Thinking shines an unforgiving light on popular and lucrative ‘miraculous’ practices that promise to offer answers during times of trouble. Throughout the book, the authors unfold the fallacies underlying these practices, as well as consumers’ need and desire to believe in them.

Adopting a scientific approach, the book critically evaluates research into cold-reading practices, such as those that claim to be able to communicate with the afterlife or posess supernatural powers, before considering a range of pseudo-sciences including graphology and polygraph interrogation, exposing the pretensions of these practices in a clear and logical fashion. The book seeks to encourage critical thinking throughout, asking whether there is any scientific evidence to support these practitioners’ abilities to supply us with reliable answers, and discussing the various factors that comprise the psychological mechanism of belief.

Written in a fluent and accessible style, Science, Pseudo-science, Non-sense, and Critical Thinking is aimed at interested professionals and the public at large.

Table of Contents





Chapter One

You Have Great Unfulfilled Potential: Cold (Psychic) Reading

What is Cold Reading?

Tarot Cards

Cold Reading and Psychological Science

How does it Work?

Why does it Work?

How Much Does it Cost?



Chapter Two

"They Love you and you know that": Astrology

An Overview of Astrology

Astrology and Science



Chapter Three

Show me your handwriting and I’ll tell you who you are: Graphology

Science and Pseudo-Science

History of Graphology

The Use of Graphology

Is Handwriting Truly a Mirror of our Personality?

The Validity of Graphology



Chapter Four

Pinocchio’s Nose: The Truth behind the Lie-Detector

Oops, an Innocent Man has been condemned to Life Imprisonment

Lying, Honesty and the Desire to Tell them Apart

The Truth will out: A Brief History of the Polygraph

The Relevant/Irrelevant Question Test (R/I)

The Control (Comparison) Question Test (CQT)

The Direct Lie Test (DLT)

The Concealed Information Test (CIT)

The CQT versus the CIT – where is the Scientific Basis?

Accuracy of the CQT versus the CIT

The Use of the Polygraph in Screening and Classification Processes

The Use of the Integrity Test as an Alternative to the CQT




Chapter Five

"Since Man Cannot Live without Miracles, he will Provide Himself with Miracles of his Own Making": The belief in Practices based on Cold Reading, Mysticism, and Pseudo-Science

The Need to Believe

Abuse of the need to believe

Popular Beliefs

Bias in Human Judgment

The Clients’ Belief

The Burden of Doubt and Incertitude

The Need to Remove Personal Responsibility

The Influence of the Barnum Effect

Bias for Positive Evidence

Social and Cultural Influences (Conformity)

Shifting the Burden of Proof

The Practitioners’ Belief

The Confirmation Bias

Illusory Validity


A Final Word

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Gershon Ben-Shakhar is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a leading expert in the psychophysiological detection of deception.

 Marianna Barr studied English and Comparative Literature. She has written and translated poetry as well as translated numerous theoretical books, essays, and short stories.


"In our post-modern era in which the distinction between truth and fiction is increasingly blurred and practices offering quick solutions are more popular than ever, Science, Pseudo-science, Non-sense, and Critical Thinking is a must read. In accessible and often humorous language, Barr and Ben-Shakhar debunk practices based on mysticism and pseudoscience, offer illuminating insights into our beliefs, and demonstrate the promise of critical thinking. Reading this book was sheer pleasure. I will recommend it to all my students because critical thinking is important not just for science, it is important for our everyday life." - Ram Frost, Professor of Psychology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel