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

top navigation:

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

You Are Browsing Resources on the Topic of:
esp and psi

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

Help Us Make More Videos Like This

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.

Popular Archeology: Myths & Mysteries

This course was taught at the University of Texas at El Paso during the spring 2013 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course is designed to introduce students to a variety of critical thinking skills and to encourage them to practice those skills in the context of evaluating popular claims, especially extraordinary claims about topics relevant to anthropology and archeology. It is intended for students who are attracted to the interesting topics identified with anthropology in the popular media, but the level of instruction assumes no prior experience in anthropology. Students will learn about the methods used to interpret the physical traces of behavior, and how to distinguish scientific arguments from pseudoscience and non-science. Lectures, readings and class exercises will examine a variety of non-scientific explanations for past and present events, such as UFOs and ancient astronauts, Bigfoot, pyramid power, Atlantis, creationism and intelligent design, the Book of Mormon, dowsing, climate change denial, and psychic archeology.

Does Bigfoot roam the mountains of Oregon, and do his cousins hang out in the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico? Are they shape-shifters, or do they use wormholes to travel the time-space continuum? Are extraterrestrial aliens like the ones who crashed in Roswell, New Mexico silvers or greens? Is there really an exotic blood-sucking animal called chupacabra killing livestock in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico, or is it just a hairless raccoon? Should we believe Senator James Inhofe when he says that global climate change is a hoax? Is cell phone use harmful to your health? Do the Power Balance bracelets worn by Drew Brees and Kobe Bryant provide any real scientific advantage to athletes? Are modern humans related to ancient prehistoric peoples, or were we created in modern form? Is there reliable evidence to support the claims that psychics can reveal details about the past or make valid predictions about the future? Was planet earth really visited by ancient astronauts, and did they teach Egyptians how to build the pyramids? How can we know the answers to such questions? In fact, how can we know the truth about any claim? We are bombarded by information and claims all the time, and it is vitally important, now more than ever, that we be able to distinguish valid information and warranted conclusions from those that are not. How can we do this, especially when the claims involve events that occurred in the prehistoric past, were not witnessed by humans, or were not documented in written records?

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(4 MB PDF)

The Rhetoric of Extraordinary Claims

This course was taught at the California State University, Northridge during the fall 2010 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

One of the characteristics of contemporary American popular discourse is a marked increase in irrationalism. Belief in the paranormal, pseudoscience, and millenialism is perhaps more prevalent than at any other time in the history of Western Civilization. This course seeks to test these beliefs through the application of rhetorical analysis and critical thinking to discourse advancing extraordinary claims.

Learning Goals

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

  1. Identify extraordinary claims in popular discourse.
  2. Identify the types of appeals, including forms of reasoning and evidence, used to advance extraordinary claims in popular discourse.
  3. Assess the strength of rhetoric advancing extraordinary claims.
  4. Prepare critical analyses and refutations of rhetoric advancing extraordinary claims.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(118 kb PDF)

How to Think About Weird Things:
Critical Thinking for a New Age

This book was required reading for the following courses: (1) “Science, Skepticism & Weird Behavior” taught by Bryan Lovelace, (2) “Skepticism & the Scientific Worldview” taught by Travis Knowles, (3) “Skepticism, Science & the Paranormal” taught by Martin Brigdstock, and (4) “The Scientific Method: Critical & Creative Thinking” taught by Stephen Sekula et al.

How to Think about Weird Things (book cover)

This brief text helps students to think critically, using examples from the weird claims and beliefs that abound in our culture to demonstrate the sound evaluation of any claim. It explains step-by-step how to sort through reasons, evaluate evidence, and tell when a claim (no matter how strange) is likely to be true. The emphasis is neither on debunking nor on advocating specific assertions, but on explaining principles of critical thinking that enable readers to evaluate claims for themselves. The authors focus on types of logical arguments and proofs, making How to Think about Weird Things a versatile supplement for logic, critical thinking, philosophy of science, or any other science appreciation courses.—Amazon

James Randi calls this textbook, “the most powerful, comprehensive, and readable collections of examples, explanations and caveats that I could have ever hoped for.” A library must!—Skeptic

BUY THIS BOOK
from Amazon

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)

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.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(30 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Do you have ESP?

Have you ever felt like you knew what someone was going to say before they said it? Or that you had a feeling that the phone was going to ring and it did? Have you had a “psychic” tell you something about yourself that s/he couldn’t know without reading your mind? Have you ever thought you had a “sixth sense”? What explains this? Many have experienced one or more of these events, described them as extraordinary, and attributed them to extrasensory perception (ESP). In this exercise you can take your students through the process of finding out (scientifically) whether or not they, or someone they know, has ESP. Designed for grades 9–12. This in-class exercise was created by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and it answers questions such as: (1) What is ESP? (2) How I you test it? and (3) What is the history of this research?

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(643 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.

Browse by Topic

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.