Another one — along with Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer — I thought was bullshit long before anyone else seemed to catch on to the scent. I don’t know exactly how I tell — reading scientific papers with their (justified) hedging and uncertainty, versus the stone certainty of people like Diamond helps immunize one from being duped, even if not an expert in the field.
As I am an expert in no field nor do I wish to be (it limits creativity and flexibility enormously), having reliable heuristics for judging validity and relevance is important.
There was a post on Making Light recently about how everyone has a superpower. If I had to list one, I’d say it is being able to look at a massive amount of data (whether a book, some numbers, it really doesn’t matter) and say, “That doesn’t look right.” Often without being able to articulate why. And then being right about that incorrectness at far better than the rate of chance.
Diamond, Lehrer and Gladwell immediately set off that detector in me, with Lehrer making it go off like the foghorn of a steamer ship.