Skeptic: Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science Skeptic: Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science

top navigation:

section banner graphic
Share this page with friends online. Subscribe | Donate | Watch Our Lectures | Shop Our Store

You Are Browsing Resources on the Topic of:
alternative medicine

Public Health & Skepticism

This course was taught at California State University, Los Angeles during the spring 2013 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

The course will emphasize principles of skeptical inquiry, scientific reasoning, and scientific evidence to prepare students to critically analyze promotional claims made in the health marketplace for products, services, and practices. The course is designed to help students distinguish health-related fact from fiction and to spot health-related schemes, scams, superstitions, sensationalism, fads, fallacies, frauds, bunk, and bunco. Students will engage in critical thinking as they discuss how consumers can get good value for their health-related financial expenditures.

Learning Outcomes

Students should be able to:

  1. Explain why consumer vigilance is important in the health marketplace and summarize the various problems consumers face in the health marketplace.
  2. Describe the scope of deception in the health marketplace, its significance as a population health problem, why people are vulnerable to it, and how consumers can avoid it.
  3. Describe relevant consumer protection laws and agencies and their limitations and how consumers can utilize consumer protection resources.
  4. Apply strategies for consumers to distinguish fact from fiction regarding health products, services, and practices.
  5. Identify trustworthy and untrustworthy sources of consumer health information.
  6. Describe the strengths and limitations of government regulation and industry self-regulation of advertising for health products and services.
  7. Explain considerations for consumer decision-making regarding selection, utilization, and avoidance of health-related products, services, and practitioners.
  8. Distinguish responsible from irresponsible practices, products, and services related to mental health, dental health, major chronic diseases, nutrition, weight control, physical fitness, skin care, aging, care of the dying, care of the bereaved, personal image enhancement, and human sexuality.
  9. Analyze the “complementary and alternative medicine” movement in terms of its common themes, scientific examination of its theories, its impact on the health marketplace, and its impact on the health of the public.
  10. Identify priorities and pitfalls for economical medical self-care and caring for one’s family.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(188 kb PDF)

Health & Skepticism

This course was taught at California State University, Los Angeles during the spring 2012 semester

Excerpt from Syllabus

An introduction to skeptical inquiry as a foundation for drawing sound conclusions about popular claims made about health-related lifestyle practices, practitioners, facilities, products, services, and information portals. Healthy skepticism emphasizes careful consideration of scientific evidence and knowledge, and human susceptibility to deception and misperception.

Learning Goals

Upon successful completion of this course, the students will be able to:

  • Discuss the major challenges, considerations, and science-based resources for distinguishing fact from fiction regarding information about health products, services, and practices promoted in the health marketplace.
  • Apply key concepts of skeptical inquiry and science-based health care to plan and conduct meaningful descriptive studies concerning the promotion of health products, services, practices, and/or information in the health marketplace.
  • Explain why testimonials regarding the effectiveness of health products, services, and practices are not trustworthy even when they are appealing.
  • Evaluate quackery as a public health problem and efforts to combat quackery.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(276 kb PDF)

Seminar: Science versus Pseudoscience

This course was taught at the University of Central Oklahoma during the fall 2011 semester

Excerpt from Syllabus

My goal for this course is to have each student leave with increased critical thinking and reasoning skills and the ability to apply those skills in his or her environment. Specifically, this course will teach students how to apply empirical, scientific modes of thinking in explaining the causes of various phenomena, from everyday human behavior to supposedly paranormal events. Students will become skilled in differentiating between scientific and pseudoscientific explanations of things such as psychic abilities, witchcraft, alien abduction, astrology, recovered memories, and the healing properties of various alternative medicines and techniques. In addition, students will come to understand the various ways in which we can be fooled, both by others and by ourselves, thanks to the way the human brain processes information.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(110 kb PDF)

Legends, Lore, & Lies

This book was required reading for the following course: “Composition” taught by Mark Gifford during the fall 2011 semester.

Legends, Lore, and Lies: A Skeptic's Stance (book cover)

Legends, Lore, and Lies: A Skeptic’s Stance presents intriguing readings in five sections–urban legends, alternative medicine, the media’s role in public gullibility, psychics and the paranormal, and pseudo science–to demonstrate the importance of critical examination and the differences between an opinion or assertion and a supported claim. Legends, Lore, and Lies offers a wealth of features, including: (1) Explorations of the powers and limits of skepticism in understanding topics like urban legends and pseudoscience that often are awarded uncritical acceptance in our culture. (2) An excellent explanation of skepticism, along with a number of tools that every reader can use to become a critical consumer of information. (3) A handful of “believers” point-of-view readings, which students are encouraged to examine with the tools they acquire throughout the text. (4) A variety of pedagogical tools including brief author biographies and questions preceding and following the readings that function as writing and discussion prompts. (5) End-of-chapter synthesis questions that provide writing suggestions for longer research and inquiry papers. —Amazon

BUY THIS BOOK
from Amazon

Paranormal Claims: A Critical Analysis

This book was required reading for Dr. Bryan Farha’s course, “Sociology of Belief” taught at Oklahoma City University during spring 2011.

Paranormal Claims (book cover)

Published in April of 2007, this academic text features articles regarding paranormal, extraordinary, or fringe-science claims. It logically examines the claims of astrology; psychic ability; alternative medicine and health claims; after-death communication; cryptozoology; and faith healing, all from a skeptical perspective. Paranormal Claims is a compilation of some of the most eye-opening articles about pseudoscience and extraordinary claims that often reveal logical, scientific explanations, or an outright scam. These articles, steeped in skepticism, teach critical thinking when approaching courses in psychology, sociology, philosophy, education, or science. —Amazon

BUY THIS BOOK
from Amazon

Homeopathy & Critical Thinking

This is one of the assignments from Eric Remy’s course, “But is it Crazy Enough?” Students must review the materials (downloadable below) provided that describe the wonders of homeopathic medicine. Their job is to analyze the materials critically and find the (myriad) flaws.

FYS 141-3 Homeopathy assignment

During class, the instructor will present a paper, a poster and a talk on the wonders of homeopathic medicine.  Students should take these as examples of what they will need to do for their final project.  Students will then be allowed to ask as many pointed questions as possible about the assumptions, evidence, and reasoning of the paper/talk.

The paper will be available on Moodle. The job of the student is to read the paper and then develop a 1250 word (roughly) criticism of the paper.  Students won’t be able to counter all of the arguments: so they may want to coordinate with other class members to pick specific sections to work on in more depth.  (All work must be their own, however.)   They should look at the paper with a highly critical eye, since they’ll be creating something similar as well as doing this for other student papers. The following are questions students should address in their paper.

  • Is the hypothesis sound?
  • Does the reasoning make sense?
  • Do the experiments account for possible complicating factors?
  • Do the experimental results actually support the hypothesis?
  • Are negative experimental results also being reported?
  • Is the displayed evidence actually significant, either in a statistics or impact sense?
  • Does the hypothesis/evidence contradict what you already know about reality?
  • Are the conclusions inflated beyond the evidentiary support?
  • Do the references say what the paper claims?
  • Is the referenced data the same in my paper and the references?
  • Do the papers include other claims?
  • Do the references even exist?

The paper heavily references original source documents. Students should work with the library to get copies of these and read them carefully. 

Since the instructor will be promoting theory, students should ask other members of the faculty questions if they do not understand the material in the original documents.  They should be able to answer basic questions about the material and give students ideas of alternate explanations if they choose to disagree with the author (i.e. instructor).

Statistics questions: XXX
Chemistry questions: XXX
Physics/quantum mechanics questions: XXX
Philosophy questions: XXXX
Biology questions: XXX

Paper Found Here:
DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(395 kb PDF)

Poster Found Here:
DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(3.3 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Current Topics in Biology

This course was taught at Davis & Elkins College during the spring 2010 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course exposes students to ongoing biological research. Published articles from scientific magazines and peer-reviewed journals will be thoroughly analyzed and discussed. As part of the course, students will be invited to watch selected episodes of Penn & Teller’s Showtime TV series “Bullshit,” which exposes and debunks pseudoscientific claims and paranormal phenomena.

Learning Goals

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Interpret scientific data, as presented in the literature.
  • Determine whether authors’ conclusions are valid, based on the available data.
  • Suggest follow-up studies to address weaknesses in current research.
  • Recognize the difference between science and pseudoscience.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(194 kb PDF)

Weird Science

This course was taught at the University of Oregon during the fall 2010 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

Science is a powerful tool to understand and explain the natural world in which we all live. Because of its apparent success in so many areas of our everyday lives, there are many instances in which individuals or groups claim that certain strongly or emotionally held beliefs are “scientific” or are supported by “scientific” studies. Even some scientists may make unwarranted claims of scientific “truth” (e.g., Scientism). How can the public, often without specialized scientific training, distinguish between scientific and pseudo-scientific claims?

This course will attempt to teach how to separate reasonable and unreasonable claims by learning how science tackles difficult problems. The key is to be skeptical, but not too skeptical. Students will examine a number of beliefs, including paranormal effects, alternative medicine, creationism and intelligent design, recovered memory syndrome, pseudoscientific devices (e.g., dousing, free energy machines, fuel efficiency extenders, etc.) that all profess to be scientific, and try to explain the psychology behind this clearly human need to believe.

Assignment Outline

The seminar will consist of several components designed to stimulate critical thinking through class discussion and essay writing with 10 writing assignments in the first half of the class. There will be assigned reading from several books and one or two videos to be viewed in class. There will be a midterm essay style exam with 10 questions covering the material from the first half of the class.

Subsequently the class will be arbitrarily divided into a number of pro and con groups to examine, present and discuss several specific pseudo-scientific topics in detail (to be determined by the instructor with suggestions from the class). These topics will be presented by the students as an 8–10 minute formal oral presentation in the second half of the class. A final 5–8 page paper based on the student presentations and subsequent discussions will complete the course

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(161 kb PDF)

Sociology of Belief

This course was taught at Oklahoma City University during the spring 2011 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This critical thinking course interprets extraordinary claims using reason, logic, and skeptical analysis in drawing conclusions. Fringe science, pseudoscientific, and bogus health claims will be evaluated based on available evidence. Health claims, fortune- telling (astrology, psychic predictions, palm reading), alternative medicine, sensory illusions such as magic, faith healing, clairvoyance, telepathy, the lunar effect, and psycho-kinesis will be some of the topics likely covered. The role of the media in covering and reporting such claims will be explored. The course will focus on drawing plausible and logical conclusions based on evaluation of existing evidence. Assignments will include weekly quizzes, class discussions, and a formal project/presentation.

Learning Goals
  1. Have a basic knowledge of critical thinking, skeptical thought, and the scientific method.
  2. Discriminate between sound vs. faulty logic in descriptions and observations of pseudoscientific claims.
  3. Demonstrate how to conduct research and/or investigate anomalistic phenomena via a positive working relationship with a team of students.
  4. Evaluate skeptical knowledge of unexplained phenomena, its claim(s), or a central skeptical figure.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(194 kb PDF)

But Is It Crazy Enough?

This course was taught at Gettysburg College during the fall 2011 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course will explore a number of controversial theories in a variety of different, and hopefully fun, ways. It will be somewhat different than most science courses students may have taken up until this point: it will be far more interactive and experimental. Students won’t have any tests; they will have papers, oral presentations, posters, speeches and other activities instead, and run large portions of the course themselves. Students will also have to be a bit more creative than they may be used to in class. They may even find themselves singing through part of it!

By the end of the course, students should have an appreciation for how science is used to sort truth from fiction and what it takes to settle a debate in science. They will also better understand the reason why correct theories may be rejected for decades before being accepted, while others have been proved as false as possible within the realm of science.

Learning goals
  1. Understand the scientific process and how theories are developed and tested over time.
  2. Understand how scientific discoveries can affect culture and society, and how society can react to the presentation of controversial scientific ideas.
  3. Understand how ideas are presented within academia, how peer review works and how to effectively use speeches, written papers, academic posters, Powerpoint and other visual aids to present an argument.
  4. Understand research tools, databases and other academic resources.
  5. Be better able to uncover deception in an argument ranging from shading the truth to outright fabrication.
  6. Understand how a scientific theory can be used politically to justify multiple points of view.
  7. Be better able to evaluate popular magazine, newspaper and internet articles discussing controversial ideas.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(130 kb PDF)

get eSkeptic
our free newsletter

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic is our free email newsletter, delivered once a week. In it, you’ll receive: fascinating articles, announcements, podcasts, book reviews, and more…


Popular Articles
on skeptic.com

Here are the articles that people have been sharing over the last few days.

Carbon Comic

Carbon Comic (by Kyle Sanders)

Carbon Comic, which appears in Skeptic magazine, is created by Kyle Sanders: a pilot and founder of Little Rock, Arkansas’ Skeptics in The Pub. He is also a cartoonist who authors Carbon Dating: a skeptical comic strip about science, pseudoscience, and relationships. It can be found at carboncomic.com.

Help the
Skeptics Society
at no cost to you!

Planning on shopping at Amazon? By clicking on our Amazon affiliate link, which will open the Amazon Store in your Internet browser, the Skeptics Society will receive a small commission on your purchase. Your prices for all products remain the same, yet you’ll provide essential financial support for the work of the nonprofit Skeptics Society.

amazon.com

See our affiliate links page for Amazon.ca, Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble links.

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

Reality Check

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future

The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Topics include: chiropractic, the placebo effect, homeopathy, acupuncture, and the questionable benefits of organic food, detoxification, and ‘natural’ remedies.

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

Copyright © 1992–2014 Skeptic and its contributors. For general enquiries regarding the Skeptics Society or Skeptic magazine, email skepticssociety@skeptic.com or call 1-626-794-3119. Website-related matters: webmaster@skeptic.com. Enquiries about online store orders: orders@skeptic.com. To update your subscription address: subscriptions@skeptic.com. See our Contact Information page for more details. This website uses Google Analytics, Google AdWords, and AddThis tracking software.