Recently, at a dinner party I attended, I was, again, severely concerned about how easily people believe whatever nonsense they are told, or any ridiculous claim they read via those annoying email forwards, that have become a sad hobby for certain people with too much free time.

So today, I was sort of venting my frustration with my friend Joshua McGee who presented me with this excellent piece that he wrote on the subject, so, after asking for the author’s permission, I am cross-posting his entry here for your delight:

Mental Hygiene Tips

Before you believe something, and definitely before you pass it on, perform these steps:

1.  Type it into Snopes.  Has Barbara already done the research for you and shown it to be inaccurate?  She’s pretty good at that stuff, and it’s her full-time job.

2.  If there are quantifiable elements, punch the figures into a calculator.  Do the numbers check out?

3.  Does the claim violate what are generally accepted as fundamental ways the physical universe works?  If so, ask how much of human knowledge, research, and understanding would have to be overturned.  If it’s “a great deal”, consider whether it’s more likely that the claim is untrue.

4.  Would the claim’s truth or falsehood have any easily-observable effects?  If so, are they happening?  For instance, if people could psychically predict cards, would casinos still be in business?  If any newspaper psychics could foresee the future, how did all of them miss the 9/11 attacks?

5.  Consider if the claim immediately benefits the claimant.  If so, be on your guard.

These are all before you even have to start wondering whether someone’s personal testimony is reliable, whether data was collected rigorously, whether testing procedures were adequate, etc. — even before you worry about whether the people in the story actually exist or not.

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