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A Short Course in Intellectual Self-defense: Find Your Inner Chomsky [Paperback]

Normand Baillargeon
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Feb 2008
What is the relationship between democracy and critical thinking? What must a citizen in a democracy know to make the word democracy meaningful? In A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense, historian and educator Normand Baillargeon provides readers with the tools to see through the spin and jargon of everyday politics and news reporting in order to decide for themselves what is at stake and how to ask the necessary questions to protect themselves from the manipulations of the government and the media. Whether the issue be the call to what we’re told will be a bloodless war, the "debate" around Intelligent Design, or the meaning of a military expenditure, Baillargeon teaches readers to evaluate information and sort fact from official and media spin.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press,U.S.; 1st English-language Ed edition (2 Feb 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583227652
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583227657
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 783,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction that does what it promises 31 Jan 2009
Format:Paperback
Written for the interested adult rather than a school textbook. It is well written and straightforward to read.

It has enjoyable case histories throughout the book - that have sent me trawling the web on interesting searches.

Recommended.

Also try Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - which explains the other side of the coin - how to influence people.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and not excesively complicated 9 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback
The author shows the most common logical fallacies people use, basic data analysis, the way people use language to con others... He should, however, be careful about stating that the media have a right-wing (anti-socialist) bias because although in Canada or in the US they may, in other parts of the world it is a different matter.

Recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential book for concearned thinkers 10 July 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book after seeing the author in the film encerclement, which is about neoliberalism. I enjoyed his contribution, so looked him up andwas immediately intrigued by the title. The book is written with humour, but seriouss intent. We are so often misled by disingenuous advetising an political speaking. This book will help to cut through the bs. My 16yr old daughter read it and was also impressed.
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chomsky would be proud 31 May 2009
By Massimo Pigliucci - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Noam Chomsky famously said that citizens in a democracy ought to equip themselves with a course in intellectual self-defense, so not to be duped by politicians, the media, corporate interests and assorted demagogues. Normand Baillargeon's book does exactly that in a marvelously accessible fashion, managing to engage the reader while teaching the basics of critical thinking, from logical fallacies to ways of critically reading the news. Despite its brevity, the volume manages to cover basic numeracy and to provide enough understanding of statistics to add invaluably to readers' arsenal of intellectual self-defense weaponry. This and similar books should be a must read for anyone interested in playing a constructive part in the democratic discourse, or simply in avoiding to be made a fool by people who wield bad arguments and deploy questionable data. I will use it as reading material for an introductory level course in critical reasoning this coming Fall.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars critical thinking 2 Nov 2008
By David DN - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is, among other things, a good place to turn after hearing one too many faulty or misleading arguments, or after being attacked by someone who is incapable of taking in new information. The author lists and exposes various categories of faulty reasoning and dishonest arguments such as circular logic, bait and switch, and false dilemma. There are some good reminders here for most of us to sharpen our own thinking.

Another reviewer here has a complaint that I can't completely follow but seems to revolve around the book's author recommending a publication known for strongly anti-Zionist views and which supposedly is unfairly biased toward tyrants, though it's unclear how these two things are connected. (The Zionist issue appears specifically in the back and forth comments section.) At any rate, the reviewer obviously believes that Counterpunch magazine or website should not be recommended and that they contain biased articles in which the actions of tyrants and monsters are forgiven, covered up or endorsed. I would invite any reader who thinks they have the strength to brave such a place to go there, read, cross check information, find out for themselves.

I feel lucky that I was brought up to understand that nothing is automatic and nothing is assumed. I don't think you can say "motherhood is good" or "families are good" without explaining yourself and logically defending that point of view with specificity. If you try you quickly find that these statements are only partly true--or only true under certain conditions. Black and white thinking is illogical and ultimately insane.

The facts speak for themselves, and Zionism or the governments of Syria or Cuba, as distinct examples, all in fact appear to be good for some people but not particularly good for others. As with motherhood and families, one must examine the evidence and the situation at hand and sort it all out.

This book probably deserves 5 stars. I did wish there were a bit more. Perhaps some of the topics could have had additional examples from modern political discourse, from different sides of the same question or issue, even though that might further antagonize someone with a belief system that would admit no serious questioning.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that everyone should read 6 April 2010
By Bazza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One of the illuminating things that you discover when you study statistics and logic formally is that peoples' arguments are based on poor reasoning and/or dodgy math (particularly dodgy statistics). This is especially true of much of the arguments of so-called opinion-leaders that are communicated via the media. I suspect that, if you're reading this review, you already have a sense of this as an issue. The great thing about a book like this one is that it can give you the intellectual tools to unpack these arguments to identify their fatal flaws.

Part One of the book describes "some indispensable tools for critical thinking" which is really a discussion about how words themselves can be used to try to manipulate you into thinking one way or another about a subject without you realising it.

Part One then goes on to explain the basic construction of a logically valid argument and why some arguments are invalid purely by their construction (regardless of the merit of the issue being argued for). This is followed by an explanation of the common fallacies in argumentation and is great stuff because the author explains most of these fallacies very well.

After this, Part One deals with math (specifically probability, statistics and graphs, etc) and how it can be used to manipulate people. That said, let me rush to add that this isn't a math textbook so it's not heavy-duty. However, there is enough to give you a grasp of some of the basic issues that will help you to develop a healthy scepticism of the reported results of opinion polls and quasi-scientific research.

Part Two of the book is possibly more challenging. Not because the theory is difficult (actually, most of the theory is relatively straight-forward) but because it uses the latest research into human perception, memory and judgement to challenge what you think you see and hear. And, if it does, you'll certainly be more sceptical about what other people tell you that they saw and heard. In the end, you'll find that people just can't be trusted - Not because they're liars but because they're oh so human.

Do I think that there is anything wrong with the book? Well, yes - There are a few minor problems (but none that would stop me from buying the book). First, the author can be a little patronising at times (especially in Part One). I doubt that he feels superior necessarily. I just don't think he realises that his audience is reading the book because they're already clever enough to have a sense that something is wrong and they've come to book because they want to do something about it.

Second, I'm not sure whether it's the fault of the author or the translator but, unless you know the definition of words like coda, dissemble, utilitarian, etc, you'll need to keep a dictionary close by (though mostly for Part One of the book, Part Two is much better in this regard).

Third, although the author's examples are valid, some can be a little silly. For example, one that he uses throughout the book involves the New York Police Department and a rather silly brand of "billy club" (which I presume is a baton). Couldn't he think of a more inclusive example?!
3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Framing? 18 Feb 2011
By Aritza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I can't believe the words frame and framing are nowhere to be found in this book. It is a well known fact in cognitive science that framing of the issues is the main way in which people's are manipulated in our society.
0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Condition 17 Oct 2011
By Isabelle Books - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
First time ordering anything online. Ordered used book from this user however it was recieved better then in an "Acceptable" condition, no problems with Shipment , would definatley buy books online again.
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