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Skeptic Presents: The Con Academy

Volume 1: Advertising the Con Academy

This is the first video in a series featuring Michael Shermer and Brian Dalton (aka: Mr. Deity). The mission of these videos is to promote critical thinking through the use of humor, wit, and satire.

In this faux commercial for The Con Academy you’ll see how psychics count on the confirmation bias to convince people that their powers are real when, in fact, they are just remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. We also demonstrate how psychic “organizations” con people by taking their money for services that are not real.

—Michael Shermer

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If you would like to support The Con Academy Videos, please make a tax-deductible donation to the Skeptics Society. With your support, we hope to produce these instructional, educational, and entertaining videos regularly throughout the year for free viewing and use by everyone everywhere to spread the message of the power of science and skepticism to make the world a saner, safer place.

CREDITS: Special thanks to David Cowan, Daniel Mendez, and Jim Robinson for their support in launching this new series of Skeptic videos.

Written and Produced by: Brian Keith Dalton, Pat Linse, Michael Shermer. Featuring: Michael Shermer, Brian Keith Dalton, John Rael, Jen Brown, Matt David, Eduard Pastor, Emery Emery, and Wendy Hughes. Production assistance: Eduard Pastor, Matt David, and John Rael. Shot, Edited, and Directed by: Brian Keith Dalton. Special thanks to: Russell Friedman and everyone at the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, CA. Music by: Videoblocks.com and Final Cut Production music. Shot on Panasonic AF100, Gh2, and Gh3 cameras. The Con Academy is not, in any way, affiliated with The Khan Academy.

The Better Angels of our Nature:
Why Violence has Declined

This book was required reading for the following course: “Evolution, Economics, and the Brain” taught by Michael Shermer during the spring 2011 and 2012 semesters.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (book cover)

Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’s existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This groundbreaking book continues Pinker’s exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives- the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind’s inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society. —Amazon

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The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal

This book was required reading for Martin Bridgstock’s course, “Skepticism, Science, & the Paranormal” taught at Griffith University.

The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal (book cover)

Can a human being really spontaneously burst into flames? Just how deadly is the Bermuda Triangle? And what’s the real story behind all those alien abductions? The answers to these and many other questions lie within the covers of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal. Guaranteed to liven up any dinner party, this delightful, highly readable book offers color photographs and scientific case-by-case explanations for twenty-seven phenomena that appear to defy known science, including ghosts and poltergeists, the predictions of Nostradamus, and yogic levitation, among many others. Speaking directly to the reader, and always with respect for those who believe, Kelly gives us a bite-size, nonacademic approach to debunking hugely popular superstitions and mysteries. Did you know that you, too, can bend spoons and read minds? This book will show you how. —Publisher

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Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy

This book was required reading for Thomas Holtz & John Merck’s course, “Science & Global Change Colloquium” taught at the University of Maryland during fall 2011.

Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy (book cover)

Knowledge of the basic ideas and principles of science is fundamental to cultural literacy. But most books on science are often too obscure or too specialized to do the general reader much good.

Science Matters is a rare exception-a science book for the general reader that is informative enough to be a popular textbook for introductory courses in high school and college, and yet well-written enough to appeal to general readers uncomfortable with scientific jargon and complicated mathematics. And now, revised and expanded for the first time in nearly two decades, it is up-to-date, so that readers can enjoy Hazen and Trefil’s refreshingly accessible explanations of the most recent developments in science, from particle physics to biotechnology. —Amazon

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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

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Scientific Perspective: Why We Believe

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation begins by correlating high levels of religious belief with high levels of scientific illiteracy in the United States. Based largely on J. Anderson Thomson’s book, Why We Believe in Gods, this presentation looks at the ways in which religious belief piggybacks on cognitive functions evolved for satisfying other purposes (social cognition) using examples from Thomson’s book.

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(85 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Scientific Perspectives: Evolution vs. Creationism

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation begins by addressing mainstream misperceptions and fears regarding Evolution. Eugenie C. Scott’s “Three Pillars” of criticism leveled at the scientific theory of evolution are discussed. The landmark Dover ruling is examined before we experience more adventures with the Texas School Board. The presentation concludes with a brief film on the 1925 Scopes Trial from the PBS documentary God in America.

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(94 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and Other Delusions:
Just Say No!

In this talk, Dr. Peter Boghossian argues that faith-based processes are unreliable and unlikely to lead one to the truth. Since our goal as knowers is to have more true beliefs than false ones, faith, as a process for getting to the truth, should be abandoned in favor of other, more reliable processes. The talk was followed by a question and answer session from the audience. This presentation, sponsored by the Freethinkers of Portland State University and published by philosophynews.com, was given by Dr. Peter Boghossian of Portland State University on January 27, 2012.

Paranormal Beliefs & Education

Does higher education systemically reduce belief? What do we know about this so far? This PowerPoint was used for an in-class presentation (in TEDTalk format) to discuss the correlation between higher education and belief in the paranormal. The presentation was created by Anondah Saide for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, “Evolution, Economics & the Brain” taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2011 semester.

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(30 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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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.

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

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

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