Professor Gary Jason, PhD | TUTORIAL – Critical Thinking in News and Entertainment Media

TUTORIAL – Critical Thinking in News and Entertainment Media

You may be surprised to learn about the many times in popular culture that informal fallacies and critical thinking more broadly have been used to fuel humor….starting with Alice in Wonderland-which, remember, was written by the eminent mathematical logician Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) – and going forward to our own day.  His is not surprising, given that the study of fallacies has been considered an important part of a liberal education for millennia.

Here, then, are some links to more humorous treatments of the fallacies.
àIn books:

  • Alice in Wonderland/Lewis Carroll:
  1. Lewis Carroll has a North American fan club with a nice website….
  2. Naturally, he has a British fan club with a website
  3. He also designed a logic game
  4. Here is a book on Alice in Wonderland as a logical text…
  5. Two scholars have written a paper suggesting that Carroll’s book be used as a template for teaching logic to young students…
  • Logic puzzles are often included in standardized tests such as the LSAT. The eminent symbolic logician Raymond Smullyan has written some popular and entertaining puzzle books:
  1. The Godelian Puzzle Book
  2. What is the Name of this Book?
  3. The Lady or the Tiger
  4. The Riddle of Scheherazade
  5. Alice in Puzzle-Land

àIn TV (and radio)-in order of the chapters in my text:

Logical basics (chapters 1-5):

  • The concept of an argument
  1. Monty Python’s sketch on the argument clinic-clip

Fallacies of language (chapter 6):

  • Circular argument/begging the question/loaded language
  1. Seinfeld clip


  • Equivocation
  1. The great comedians Abbot and Costello had a classic Vaudeville routine, called “Who’s on First”, an extended take-off on Lewis Carroll’s use of “Nobody” as a name,  which they performed for years on radio, and later TV… clip
  2. Wikipedia has a nice discussion of the use of ambiguity in other, earlier comedy routines…
  3. Jimmy Fallon, Billy Crystal, and Jerry Seinfeld did a remake of the Abbot/Costello routine not long back…clip

Relevancy (chapter 8):

  • Ignoring the issue
  1. Family Guy clip

Consistency (replacement chapter 9):

  • Cognitive dissonance theory
  1. Penn and Teller on conspiracy theories clip

**Warning: Penn and Teller episodes often contain profanity and nudity….

Observation, memory and testimony (chapter 11):

  • False memory syndrome
  1. Elizabeth Loftus “lost in the mall” experiment clip
  2. Loftus interview about her work clip
  3. A BBC report on the use of altered pictures to implant false memories clip
  • The problems with eyewitness testimony
  1. CBS 60 Minutes on errors in eyewitness testimony part I
  2. CBS 60 Minutes on errors in eyewitness testimony part II

Generalization and instantiation (chapter 12):

Analogy (chapter 13):

Causal inference (chapter 14):

  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc/false cause
  1. The Big Bang Theory clip
  2. The West Wing clip
  3. Cartoon clip
  • Vaccination
  1. Penn and Teller on the dread fear of vaccinations and autism clip

Decision theory (chapter 16):

Sales trickery (chapter 17):

  • Interview with persuasion guru Robert Cialdini on NPR clip
  • On the authority mechanism:
  1. Interview with Stanley Milgram regarding his early 1960s famous experiment clip
  2. BBC recreation of the classic Milgram experiment clip
  • Deceitful sales pitches
  1. Penn and Teller episode on multi-level marketing/pyramid schemes clip
  2. Frontline story on Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme clip
  3. CNN report on Madoff clip
  4. Religious pitches/affinity scams TV expose clip….
  5. Affinity scams/religious pitch part I of Canadian TV expose clip
  6. Part II of the Canadian TV expose clip
  7. Part III of the Canadian TV expose clip
  8. A “Wayne’s World” spoof of subliminal/product endorsement ads clip
  • Political trickery (chapter 18):
  • Science vs. pseudoscience (chapter 19):