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freshman foundation and general education

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.

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(188 kb PDF)

Skeptic Presents: You Can’t Handle the Truther

We are pleased to present the third in our series of videos that promote science and critical thinking through the use of humor, wit, and satire. In this video, You Can’t Handle the Truther, CIA Agents plot the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. If you missed our first two videos, check them out: The Con Academy and B.Y.T.H Busters: The Secret Law of Attraction.

Help Us Make More Videos

If you would like to show your support, please make a tax-deductible donation to the Skeptics Society by clicking the button below. 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 series of Skeptic videos.

Written and Produced by: Brian Keith Dalton, Michael Shermer, Pat Linse. Directed, lensed, and edited by: Brian Keith Dalton. Executive Producers: David Cowan, Daniel Mendez, Jim Robinson. Starring: Sean Douglas, Amy Rohren, Michael Shermer, Brian Keith Dalton. Production Assistants: Matthew David, Gediminas Schuppenhauer, Pat Linse. Music by: Videoblocks.com and Brian Keith Dalton. Additional Video from: Videoblocks.com. Shot on: a Canon C100

Skeptics Presents: B.Y.T.H. Busters
(The Secret Law of Attraction)

We are pleased to present the second in a series of videos that promote science and critical thinking through the use of humor, wit, and satire. In this video, B.Y.T.H. Busters: The Secret Law of Attraction, Adam Average and Jamie Imtheman put the “Law of Attraction” to the test. If you missed our first video, The Con Academy, watch it now!

Help Us Make More Videos

If you would like to show your support, please make a tax-deductible donation to the Skeptics Society by clicking the button below. 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, Michael Shermer, Pat Linse. Directed, lensed, and edited by: Brian Keith Dalton. Executive Producers: David Cowan, Daniel Mendez, Jim Robinson. Featuring: Brian Keith Dalton, Michael Shermer, Gingi Yee, Beyla Burke, Tom Vilot. Production Assistants: Eduard Pastor, Gediminas Schuppenhauer. Music by: Videoblocks.com and Final Cut Pro Production music. Additional Video by: Videoblocks.com. Shot on: Panasonic AF100, Gh2, and Gh3 cameras.

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.

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.

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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(118 kb PDF)

Critical & Scientific Thinking
in the High School Classroom

In the following post, a high school science teacher outlines the way in which he promotes critical thinking in the classroom through teaching his students about 6 common mistakes in our thinking.

Excerpt from Outline

In my classroom, I utilize many non‐fiction science books published for general audiences. I refer to many more as part of my presentations and even have a “book of the week” that relates to our lessons in some way. There is, however, one book that stands out. I use the entire book and my lesson was actually built around the text. The book is Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking by Thomas Kida.

As part of the first unit in both of my high‐school science classes, Environmental Science and Chemistry, I cover the scientific method. This is a subject that students have covered extensively. They are usually juniors and seniors (with an occasional sophomore or freshman) so they know by heart the ʺstepsʺ of the method, but they do not truly know what it means to think like a scientist. They are not used to dealing with the common thought processes that scientists strive to overcome. Using Kida’s book as a basis, I present the topic in the form of a quiz, having the students fill out an answer sheet for the test.

The lesson is a PowerPoint presentation with additional material over two days, covering three fallacies each day. For each of the six fallacies of thought presented by Kida, I start with quiz questions designed to illustrate the fallacy.

Download Paper/Outline:
DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(192 kb PDF)

Download Michael Dean’s PowerPoint:
DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(1.7 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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.

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(276 kb PDF)

Pseudoscience & the Paranormal

This book was required reading for “Why We Believe Weird Things: Science and Pseudoscience in Psychology” taught by Dr. Jeffrey Brookings and for “Parapsychology & the Occult” taught by Dr. Terence Hines.

Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (book cover)

Popular culture fills the mind with a steady diet of fantasy, from tales of UFO landings and alien abductions, haunted houses, and communication with the dead to claims of miraculous cures by spiritual healers and breakthrough treatments in ‘alternative’ medicine. The paranormal – and the pseudoscience that attempts to validate it – is so ubiquitous that many people lose sight of the distinction between the real and the imaginary, and some never learn to make the distinction in the first place. In this updated and expanded edition of “Pseudoscience and the Paranormal”, the most comprehensive and up-to-date work of its kind, psychologist and neuroscientist Terence Hines explores the question of evidence for the paranormal and delves beyond it to one that is even more puzzling: Why do people continue to believe in the reality of the supernatural despite overwhelming evidence that it does not exist? Devoting separate chapters to psychics, life after death, parapsychology, astrology, UFOs, faith healing, alternative medicine, and many other topics, Hines examines the empirical evidence supporting these popular paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. New to this edition are extended sections on psychoanalysis and pseudopsychologies, especially recovered memory therapy, satanic ritual abuse, and facilitated communication. Also included are new chapters on ‘alternative’ medicine and environmental pseudoscience. Critiquing the whole range of current paranormal claims, this carefully researched, thorough review of pseudoscience and the paranormal in contemporary life shows readers how to carefully evaluate such claims in terms of scientific evidence. This scholarly yet readable volume is an invaluable reference work for students and general readers alike. —Amazon

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from Amazon

Baloney Detection Kit

This book was required reading for the following course: “Critical Thinking: Reason & Evidence” taught by Pete Boghossian.

Baloney Detection Kit (book cover)

This 16-page booklet is designed to hone your critical thinking skills. It includes suggestions on what questions to ask, what traps to avoid, specific examples of how the scientific method is used to test pseudoscience and paranormal claims, and a how-to guide for developing a class in critical thinking.

Plus, you’ll also find: (1) Sagan’s Ten Tools for Baloney Detection and Shermer’s Ten Questions For Baloney Detection. (2) How Thinking Goes Wrong: The 25 Fallacies of Thinking Problems in Scientific Thinking. (3) Eight Sample Syllabi: How to Teach a Course in Science & Pseudoscience. (4) The Most Recommended Skeptical Books. (5) Science and Skepticism: Science, Scientific Method and Skepticism — How They Contribute to Rational and Critical Thinking. —Skeptic

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from Shop Skeptic

Critical Thinking Crash Course

This audio recording is from a public lecture given by Dr. Peter Boghossian of Portland State University on May 11th, 2012 at the Intel Campus in Hillsboro, Oregon. Video recording of this event was prohibited.

Feel free to check out some of the other course materials Dr. Boghossian has submitted for the following courses he teaches: (1) Critical Thinking: Reason & Evidence, (2) Atheism, (3) Science Versus Pseudoscience, and (4) Knowledge, Value & Rationality.

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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from Amazon

Science & Global Change Colloquium

This course was taught at the University of Maryland during the fall 2011 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

What is Science, and how is it distinguished from other aspects of human thought? Physicist Richard Feynman famously said “Science is what we do to keep from lying to ourselves”: words that get to the heart of the scientific enterprise. In an age when the activities of human society and technology can greatly affect Earth’s systems for decades, centuries, and even millennia to come, we must be able to evaluate the merits of ideas as they relate to the actual natural world, independent of our personal, political, or philosophical preconceptions. In this semester, students will learn the basic intellectual “tool kit” of the scientific enterprise. They will discuss how Science differs from other fields of human endeavor, with a particular emphasis on distinguishing scientific ideas from pseudoscientific thinking. Students will also discuss the influence of our understanding (and often misunderstanding) of Science upon contemporary society. In this course we examine real cases of Science gone bad, and the effect (good and bad) of popular portrayals of Science and scientists has on the public. We begin exploring the details of the origin, use, and effects of the energy resources which we use to run our world.

Learning Goals

By the end of the semester, every student should be able to:

  • Accurately employ understanding of logical fallacies and critical thinking skills in evaluating truth claims.
  • Effectively distinguish between scientific and non-scientific approaches to the understanding of the natural world.
  • Identify the major energy resources used in modern society.
  • Write webpages using html code, upload them to a University server, and maintain their personal website.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(117 kb PDF)

Skepticism, Science, & the Paranormal

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

Excerpt from Syllabus

Paranormal beliefs are important, widespread and yet rarely studied. The analysis of those beliefs is both valuable in itself and useful in developing critical and analytical skills. Since both skepticism and the paranormal are defined in relation to science, and are often strongly influenced by science, some elucidation of the nature of science and of its position in society is required. Modern skepticism the science-inspired study of paranormal claims relates both to science and to the paranormal, and seeks to influence media coverage of these issues.

The course aims to elucidate the nature of the three terms in the title and, through the lectures and the seminars, to enable the students to evaluate paranormal claims in skeptical terms. Both the seminars and the take-home exam encourage students to apply skeptical concepts to the paranormal, and to arrive at their own conclusions. The multiple choice examination encourages broad comprehension of key concepts.

Learning Goals

After successfully completing this course students should be able to:

  1. Understand the nature of skepticism, science and the paranormal and their places in western societies, as shown in an ability to outline their key attributes.
  2. Understand the intellectual tools of modern skepticism, their ethical dimensions and their applicability to paranormal claims, as shown by an ability to outline these and instance their application to specific cases.
  3. Have the ability to apply skeptical criteria to selected paranormal and related claims.
  4. Have the capacity to present the results of analysis in well-structured and logical form.

DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE
(283 kb PDF)

Skepticism & the Scientific Worldview

This course was taught at Francis Marion University during the fall 2010 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the methods of science, and especially its foundational philosophy of scientific skepticism. Students will learn the techniques for detecting pseudoscience; to examine pseudoscientific claims with skeptical thought; and to explore the limits and biases of personal experience. As a class, we discuss the value of a skeptical approach to human experience in general. The class is designed to be reading- and discussion-based. There will be weekly assignments from the texts, web pages, blogs, podcasts, and/or in-class videos.

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(609 kb PDF)

The Scientific Method: Critical & Creative Thinking

This course was taught at Southern Methodist University.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course will provide students with an understanding of the scientific method sufficient to detect pseudoscience in its many guises: paranormal phenomena, free-energy devices, alternative medicine, intelligent design creationism, and many others. Students will learn to think critically and to question outlandish claims, hype, and outright BS. Students’ writing will improve and they will be able to distinguish credible sources of information from nonsense; students will become intelligent consumers of information. Students should expect to do a lot of reading, writing, and, most of all, thinking.

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(377 kb PDF)

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)

Understanding Science & Pseudoscience Through Composition

This course was taught at the University of Texas at San Antonio during the fall 2011 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

By the end of this semester, students will come away from this course with a greater understanding of scientific thinking, and begin to see the need for skepticism in society. In his essay “Intellect,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please—you can never have both. Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates.” Emerson recognizes that the search for truth might reveal uncomfortable facts for the truth-seeker, but we should take Emerson’s words to heart. An intellectual will rarely trade truth for simple peace of mind, and as students of argument, neither should we.

Through the course of the semester, students will use three textbooks to help strengthen and develop their writing in a variety of ways. First, students must recall and strengthen the conventions of previous college level writing, which includes but is not limited to studying and adopting MLA format, following the rules of grammar and mechanics, and by understanding and practicing writing different types of essays.

Finally, by constantly writing and revising their work, students will enhance their acumen for constructing effective arguments and rhetorical strategies and become comfortable with expressing themselves with the written word. By studying the various rhetorical strategies for crafting effective arguments, students will strive to find the perfect balance between truth-seeking and persuasion, which will not only allow them to grow as writers, but to grow as intellectuals as well. Writing is a recursive endeavor and must be treated like any other activity or skill. The more one practices writing the better writer one will become.

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(293 kb PDF)

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.

Why Darwin Matters

Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the Battle
for Science and Religion

Evolution happened, and the theory describing it is one of the most well-founded in all of science. Then why do half of all Americans reject it? There are religious and political reasons, and in Why Darwin Matters, historian of science and bestselling author Dr. Michael Shermer diffuses these fears by examining what evolution really is, how we know it happened, and how to test it. Dr. Shermer then discusses what science is through a brief history of the evolution-creation controversy—from the Scopes’ Monkey Trial of 1925 through the creationism trials of the 1960s and 1970s, to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of 1987, to the Intelligent Design controversies of the 1990s and 2000s—demonstrating clearly how and why creationism and Intelligent Design theory are not science. Dr. Shermer builds a powerful case for evolution as the theory that most closely parallels the Christian model of human nature and the conservative model of free market economics. Dr. Shermer was once an evangelical Christian and a creationist, and is now one of the best-known public intellectuals defending evolutionary theory, so Why Darwin Matters provides readers with an insiders’ guide to the evolution-creation debate, in which he shows why creationism and Intelligent Design are not only bad science, they are bad theology, and why science should be embraced by people of all beliefs.

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(267 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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