Between Your Ears #05: “Critical Thinking: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear”

Main Topic: In this episode, I talk all about things to watch out for while getting information from the media. While the topic could be (and has been) debated upon for hours and hours, I give four simple tips to help you weed out the facts among the fiction.

1. Correlation does not equal causation – “Children who play violent video games tend to be more violent. Therefore, violent video games make kids violent.” Well, NO, that’s not necessarily true. There is a correlation, but there are many different factors at play. Maybe the kid is playing violent video games because his parents don’t take an interest in what is doing, which also causes him to be violent. When you jump to assumptions, you’re making connections that you aren’t backed up by the evidence.

2. Watch out for statistics: “Since implementing cancer screenings, we have seen an enormous decrease in the percentage of people who die following a cancer diagnosis.” This all seems well and good until you actually look at the facts. The number of people who die of cancer hadn’t decreased at all, you were only increasing the total number of people you were looking at. Before Screenings: 50/100 = 50% died After Screenings: 50/1000 = 5% died Here, the same number of people died both before and after! The only reason the percentage decreased was because you included people who weren’t going to die of cancer anyways. Another example for statistics in a more subtle way: Recently, there was a study linking the consumption of diet soda with increased risk for stroke. However, in many articles that reported on the subject, they didn’t give any specifics about the data that were collected. If that’s all you hear, you need to dig deeper. What if the following were true? Didn’t drink diet soda: 1/10000 = 0.01% risk of stroke Drink diet soda: 2/10000 = 0.02% risk of stroke Technically, you could say that drinking diet soda DOUBLES the risk of having a stroke, even though the chance goes from 0.01% to 0.02%.

3. Where is your information coming from? – If the information you receive is getting you to buy something, you may want to take what they say with a grain of salt. One of the biggest weapons business people use is “science talk.” Perfect example: The “Trust Spray,” Oxytocin Surprise, surprise, it doesn’t work. What they didn’t tell you is that oxytocin has a three minute-half life in the blood (within 15 minutes of absorption into the bloodstream, 15mL of this stuff would become 0.46 mL). They also failed to tell you that oxytocin does not cross the blood-brain barrier! It is produced in your brain, but if you introduce it into your body via oral, intravenous, or inhalation, it won’t even reach your brain. If you simply trusted their “science talk,” you would have been played for a fool.

4. The nature of the media beast – We need to understand that the media is much more prone to talking about things that make good headlines. If its not exciting, riveting, or scary, news organizations are less inclined to give the story precious air time. Their priority isn’t giving a continuous picture of the scientific community; they’re on the lookout for a big story. If you educate yourself on the issue, and don’t just accept things as you hear them, you will be less likely to accept misinformation. Remember that game of telephone. It’s hard to understand and stay on top of things if you don’t take responsibility for learning these sorts of things for yourself. E:MAIL: No e-mail or voicemail this week. I’m excited for your feedback, so PLEASE e-mail or call in. I’m not limited to specific myths either. Any topic or question about psychology & neuroscience is worthy of discussion. Pick: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Get it, or any other audiobook, and support the show, by visiting

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  • Oxytocin Trust Spray Debunked [Link]
  • Bad Science Website [Link]
  • Unproven Prostate Cancer Screening More Popular Than Valuable Colon Test [Link]
  • Diet Soda & Stroke Risk [Link]
  • Ben Goldacre YouTube Video (Coarse Language Warning)

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