Thanks to the Internet (and in this particular case, Google Video), certain programs can be watched worldwide within a short time of their original broadcast. One such program is the UK Channel 4 series Enemies of Reason.

Hosted by the semi-famous biologist Richard Dawkins (likely subject of a future post), the 2-part series deals with various forms of superstitious thinking still prevalent in modern society.  Part 1 deals with alternative medicine and placebo effects; part 2 deals with astrology, spiritualism, and the war between science and irrationality.  You can check it out at the URLs below:

The Irrational Health Service
Slaves to Superstition

I greatly admire Dawkins' tireless struggle against the leftover stupidity that is part of our transition from ape-like hominids to (hopefully) more enlightened beings.  And, although slow-paced and watered down for general audiences, the series had some interesting bits regarding the biological origins of superstition and the possible superiority of fake treatments for delivering placebo effects.  But, while watching, I felt very aware of identical limitations to those present in Dawkins' prior Channel 4 series, Root of all Evil.  Namely, that these videos might raise some overall awareness but will not significantly change anyone's opinion.

Most likely, believers will, figuratively speaking, ignore the message by shooting the messenger.  No one likes to admit that their beliefs are completely bogus, so any cognitive dissonance provoked by Dawkins' antagonistic and frontal style is likely to be dismissed as arrogance and close-mindedness.  Arguably, it's also a lost cause to expect that people with deeply ingrained irrational behaviors will be swayed by purely rational arguments.  You've got to use other tactics.

So what's a better strategy towards converting the irrational hordes?  It probably lies with borrowing a page or two from successful marketing playbooks.  Leading people to critical thinking using reverse psychology, hinting, and incentives is likely to get better results than in-your-face confrontation.  Adding some showbiz flair, charm, and humor can't possibly hurt either.  In a future post, I'll highlight a TV series which I consider to be the most effective and successful attempt so far at debunking popular irrational beliefs.  And no, I'm not talking about Mythbusters which, although fun to watch, doesn't tackle the really important stuff.

Posted on Sunday, September 30, 2007
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Comments on this post

# re: Enemies of Reason

I'm a big fan of Dawkins and his work. I've been meaning to read his book "The God Delusion" but I have not gotten to it yet. I have recently read 2 books that might interest Dawkins fans, "God is Not Great" and "The Atheist Manifesto" I would recommend both of them. They both cover similar ground but there is enough material unique to both of them that I think they are both worth a quick read.
Left by Ben on Nov 12, 2007 5:52 PM

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