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

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evolution and/or creationism

The Perks of Paranoia

Myths. Conspiracy Theories. Illusory Correlation. Do these things have an evolutionary basis in common? What type of thinking enables conspiracy theorists to correlate ideas that in truth have nothing to do with each other? In his book, The Believing Brain, Michael Shermer refers to these types of thinking as patternicity — finding meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.

In this video project by Christopher Griffin, a senior Graphic Design student at the California College of the Arts (San Francisco), these pattern-seeking ideas are visually illustrated, as if diving head-first into the mind of a true believer.

This project was designed in Adobe After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D, with assets built in Adobe Illustrator.

Science, Theory & Paradigm Shifts 2

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Science Skepticism & Weird Behavior.”

SCIENCE, THEORY, AND PARADIGM SHIFTS

There are three lectures in this series, they are intended to educate students about the nature of science and the power of natural explanations. This is accomplished through the concept of the Paradigm Shift. The discussion begins with non-scientific views of nature and then follows the development of scientific views and how/why they changed over many hundreds of years. This post concerns the second lecture in the series.

Examples of paradigm shifts covered in the lecture series include:

  1. the shift from supernatural to nature interpretations of comets.
  2. the shift from astrology (Ptolemaic) to astronomy (Copernican revolution).
  3. the development of Copernican cosmology to a synthesis called Newtonian physics.
  4. the shift from Newtonian physics into Relativity Theory.

Lecture 2 – PARADIGM SHIFT 2

This lecture introduces the concept of scientific paradigm shifts, the concept of empiricism, the concept of anomalies and the concept of synthesis. These concepts are discussed in the context of a paradigm shift called the Copernican and the Newtonian Revolutions.

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Lecture 1 – PARADIGM SHIFT 1
You can find the first lecture in the series here.

Lecture 3 – PARADIGM SHIFT 3
You can find the third lecture in the series here.

The Moral Arc of Science

This course was taught at Chapman University during the spring 2013 semester as an undergraduate course.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course addresses the evolutionary origins of morality, the developmental psychology of moral emotions, the historical course of moral development throughout the history of civilization, and the forces that have bent the arc of the moral universe toward truth, justice, freedom, and prosperity.

Students will look at how the arc of the moral universe bends toward truth, justice, freedom, and prosperity thanks to science the type of thinking that involves reason, rationality, empiricism, and skepticism. The Scientific Revolution led by Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton was so world-changing that thinkers in other fields consciously aimed at revolutionizing the social, political, and economic worlds using the same methods of science. This led to the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, which in turn created the modern secular world of democracies, rights, justice, and liberty.

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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?

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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.

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The Greatest Show on Earth:
The Evidence for Evolution

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 Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (book cover)

Richard Dawkins transformed our view of God in his blockbuster, The God Delusion, which sold more than 2 million copies in English alone. He revolutionized the way we see natural selection in the seminal bestseller The Selfish Gene. Now, he launches a fierce counterattack against proponents of “Intelligent Design” in his latest New York Times bestseller, The Greatest Show on Earth. “Intelligent Design” is being taught in our schools; educators are being asked to “teach the controversy” behind evolutionary theory. There is no controversy. Dawkins sifts through rich layers of scientific evidence—from living examples of natural selection to clues in the fossil record; from natural clocks that mark the vast epochs wherein evolution ran its course to the intricacies of developing embryos; from plate tectonics to molecular genetics—to make the airtight case that, “we find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming and flourishing tree of life and it is no accident, but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random selection.” His unjaded passion for the natural world turns what might have been a negative argument, exposing the absurdities of the creationist position, into a positive offering to the reader: nothing less than a master’s vision of life, in all its splendor. —Amazon

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Richard Dawkins gave a lecture on this book at the California Institute of Technology.
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Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind

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.

Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind (book cover)

Beginning with a historical introduction, the text logically progresses by discussing adaptive problems humans face and ends with a chapter showing how the new field of evolutionary psychology encompasses all branches of psychology. Each chapter is alive with the subjects that most occupy our minds: sex, mating, getting along, getting ahead, friends, enemies, and social hierarchies. Why is child abuse 40 times more prevalent among step-families than biologically intact families? Why, according to one study, did 75% of men but 0% of women consent to have sex with a complete stranger? Buss explores these intriguing quandaries with his vision of psychology in the new millennium as a new science of the mind. Anyone with an interest in the biological facets of human psychology will find this a fascinating read. —GoodReads

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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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Why We Believe in God(s):
A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith

This book was required reading for Dr. Innes Mitchell’s course, “Perspectives on Atheism” taught at St. Edwards University during spring 2012.

Why We Believe in God (book cover)

In this groundbreaking work, J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., with Clare Aukofer, offers a succinct yet comprehensive study of how and why the human mind generates religious belief. Dr. Thomson, a highly regarded psychiatrist known for his studies of suicide terrorism, investigates the components and causes of religious belief in the same way any scientist would investigate the movement of astronomical bodies or the evolution of life over time, that is, as a purely natural phenomenon. Providing compelling evidence from cognitive psychology and the neurosciences, he presents an easily accessible and exceptionally convincing case that god(s) were created by man, not vice versa. With this volume, Dr. Thomson establishes himself as a must-read thinker and leading voice on the primacy of reason and science over superstition and religion.—Amazon

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Brain Glitches: Cognitive Biases

These resources are from a Summer Youth Program for High School Students titled, “Brain Glitches” and taught by Diane Graft. You can find in-class exercises for this summer course here.

Our brain is the best tool we have for understanding the world, but our mental software has bugs. We have a better chance of sorting out the truth from the baloney if we understand the ways in which our brain works. The PowerPoints provided here are used to discuss many topics with students, including:

  • Confirmation Bias
  • Agency Detection and False Positives
  • Anchoring Bias and the Decoy Effect
  • Memory Failures/Filling in the Gaps
  • Placebo Effect
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy
  • Backfire Effect
  • Probability
  • Type 1 & Type 2 Errors

Anchoring Bias PowerPoint Found Here:
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Confirmation Bias PowerPoint Found Here:
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(1.8 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Memory PowerPoint Found Here:
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(622 kb Powerpoint Presentation)

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