Tag Archives: essay

The Fine Art of Baloney Detection

I was listening to an excellent lecture on Aristotle and Socrates: How Does One Live The Good Life? From 36 Books That Changed The World (Chapter 8). I quite agree with how Aristotle describes the nobility required of politicians: he opines that politicians should take an oath, almost as sacred as a Hippocratic oath, to remain fair and mete out justice. 

We are in the throes of another election season. A season necessarily filled with promises, policies, initiatives, and a fair amount of fluff.  There are no initiation courses for politicians. No training. No solid requirements or certifications to do the job. The various forms of media are especially active during this season, amplifying their candidate’s voice. 

There have been disturbing trends towards dictatorship in the past few years in our dear country. We have grown used to being lied to, we are more divided than ever before, and the versions of the truth fluctuate wildly depending on which network or newspaper reports it, it is increasingly hard to determine what the truth is. 

Just a simple search for ‘Media Bias Charts 2020’ is enough to drive home the point:

These problems have always been there. 2000 years ago, the world’s greatest democracy of the times, modern-day Italy, then the Roman Empire, witnessed turmoil that resulted in the decline of democracy. Things took a slower time to do so 2000 years ago, but with accelerated advances in technology linking us faster than ever to ‘breaking news’ and social media amplifiers for everyone, the waters have become noisier and murkier.

Several times in the past few years, I have gone back to reading a fine essay, The Baloney Detection Kit, written by eminent physicist, Carl Sagan. We have been living in a state of dubiety (The state or quality of being doubtful; uncertainty). 

The essay starts off by empathizing with the human condition. Why are we, as humans, willing to believe in things whether or not there is any sober evidence for it? 

It isn’t unheard of to believe in things supernatural, or falling for false advertising campaigns with exaggerated claims, or believing models wearing Doctor’s coats, or blindly believing religious zealots who spout hypotheses with confidence. As human beings, we have been doing this for centuries, and in most probability will continue to fall for some sort of questionable practices. 

As long as there are those who are willing to take advantage of the vulnerable with little or no consequence, these will persist.

While we enjoy the occasional myth or fib, it is important to know the difference. For an adult to attack Harry Potter for instilling witchcraft is worrisome for this very reason. As part of growing up, we want children to outgrow the myth of Santa Claus. Knowing to distinguish fantasies from reality is a necessary tool for survival. 

Which brings us to why we must have a version of Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit for us to use. 

It has been a saddening realization to find that Science has not been embraced when it is needed the most. I was reading a book on the greatest inventions of mankind in the past 2000 years. It is a book collating the answers from philosophers, researchers, and professors from various fields. One of the answers given was the framework of Science. I couldn’t agree more. The ability to think, weigh, design experiments with control and test groups, and sift empirical evidence has resulted in the very least at :

  • Saving millions of lives, that in previous generations, succumbed to the disease.
  • Figuring out how to feed a planet that grew from 1 billion to over 7 billion within a generation.

For those who would prefer a straight jump to the Baloney Detection Kit, here it is quoted from the essay:

  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Arguments from authority carry little weight—“authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  • Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.*
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  • Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  • If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise)—not just most of them.
  • Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  • Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable, are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle—an electron, say—in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

As we move towards an election season amidst the Covid outbreak, economic hardship, and so much more, I hope we can keep reminding ourselves of the Baloney Detection Kit and apply it for ourselves.


Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

America Runs on Diversity: GUAA Winner

Being the child of immigrants colors your experience in the Land of the Free. From navigating between different cultures to confronting whitewashing and racism, teenagers used the ‘Growing Up Asian in America‘ contest to pay tribute to their cultural roots. Read fourth grader Ella Dattamajumdar’s essay, America Runs On Diversity, where she discusses the inextricable relationship between America and its immigrant communities. This essay has been paired with, artwork contest winner, America Is Not Complete Without Us, created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

America runs on Dunkin’ is the punchline of one of my favorite foods, but I say that America runs on Diversity. It takes all sorts to make this world, whether it’s doughnuts, dal, dumplings or daikon! Cuisines of the world bring us together. Not just cuisines but diverse perspectives too. I believe that everybody should have a voice because one word can change the world. Everyone has their own opinion or unique perspective, if famous people didn’t speak up they would have never achieved great things and become who they are today.

For example, if Asian American, Jerry Yang did not put his ideas to action we would never have Yahoo. For my essay I am using Google and Microsoft Word which are headed by Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella. I admire Senator Kamala Harris who was raised by an Indian American mother. They are so many successful Asian Americans who have made America proud. I find Nina Davuluri who is the first Asian American woman to win Miss America very inspiring. At the Miss America contest talent round she performed a Bollywood dance. A lot of people were upset and said hurtful comments when she won Miss America as she looked different compared to the past winners.

I feel that being American is a state of mind, it is based on a common set of values and beliefs and not based on how we look, the color of our skin, what we eat, how we speak or where our grandparents come from. Just look around the Silicon Valley — every time I drive around with my family we are always debating what to eat — Biryani, Pho Soup, Sushi, Pad Thai, Tacos, or Steak. We need all kinds of nutrients to nourish our brains whether it is food or diverse perspectives. I dream of being an Asian American leader who is proud of her heritage and can make America proud because America truly runs on diversity.


Image: The artwork, entitled, America Is Not Complete Without Us, was created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

Essay: American Runs on Diversity was written by fourth-grader Ella Dattamajumdar

In Time of COVID-19: A Video Essay Contest

Ding Ding TV (Silicon Valley Innovation Channel and Voice of Asian Americans) together with its valued partners and sponsors is promoting a Video Essay Contest to tell the Humanistic Stories of the current pandemic. In a matter of months, COVID-19 has spread to every corner of our world causing deaths, wreaking havoc to our bodies, our well being, our health care and economic systems.

Purpose of the “In time of COVID-19” Video Essay Contest:

Every calamity carries its own humanistic stories. We believe that the current pandemic has generated a treasure trove of interesting stories about humanity in all its spectrums. Stories about greed, selfishness and scapegoating on the one side, but also stories about generosity, heroism, kindness and outstanding services to fellow human beings on the other.

This “Fighting COVID-19” Video Essay Contest is open to all independent journalists, ethnic media, event organizers and civic organization contestants. Contestants are required to submit in English a video of less than one minute in length to be accompanied by a written essay of less than 600 words. The theme should focus on the uplifting and inspirational stories relating to the current pandemic. Submissions are accepted immediately and opened until May 30, 2020.

A diverse Panel of Judges will select:
1st Prize (1 winner: $3,000), 2nd Prize (2 winners: $1,500 each), 3rd Prize (3 winners: $1,000 each). People’s Choice (1 winner: $1000).
Contestants should submit a video to be accompanied by an Essay. The video has to be less than one minute in MP4, the essay need to be less than 600 words. All contents should be in English.
Submit your presentation to contest@dingdingtv.com

More Information visit: http://www.dingdingtv.com/?p=57035&fbclid=IwAR34B9ntMlOcqKhxFOvINhD1vS3e0HFUZEb77Gl5KSB723rLQueVDp4coE8