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Watch Dr. Kevin Dutton for free online,
broadcast live from Caltech!

New Admission Policy and Prices

Please note there are important policy and pricing changes for this season of lectures at Caltech. Please review these changes now.

SINCE 1992, the Skeptics Society has sponsored the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech: a monthly lecture series at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA. Most lectures are available for purchase in audio & video formats. Watch several of our lectures for free online. Our next lecture is…

Dr. Kevin Dutton (photo by Robert Paul Williams)
The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 2 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall

University of Oxford research psychologist Dr. Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry. Dutton argues that there are “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.

Watch the Live Broadcast
(Sun., Oct. 28th @ 2pm Pacific)

Followed by…

  1. Dr. SEAN M. CARROLL
    The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson
    Leads Us to the Edge of a New World

    Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 2 pm
    Baxter Lecture Hall

Read about the rest of
this season’s lectures

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New in the Skeptic Reading Room

The Decline and (Probable) Fall
of the Scientology Empire!

by Jim Lippard

Jim Lippard reviews two books: Janet Reitman’s book Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, ISBN 978-0618883028) and Hugh Urban’s The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion (Princeton University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0691146089). This article was published in Skeptic magazine 17.1 in 2011. Read the complete article for free on skeptic.com!

Read the article


About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, Mike Moran reviews Brad Warner’s book Hardcore Zen Strikes Again (Cooperative Press, 2012, ISBN: 978-1937513078). Mike Moran is a Baltimore-based comedian, writer and musician. He performs standup comedy and improv acting with the Baltimore Improv Group, as well as co-hosts The Digression Sessions Podcast. Moran also writes a humor column for Patch North Baltimore and plays bass with local bands Polaroid Rage, Bronx on Benzedrine and Tremendous Athlete.

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The Not-So-Skeptical Buddhist

a book review by Mike Moran

Brad Warner does not promise you enlightenment. He will not be opening your mind to any kind of psychic third eye. Want to find out from whom you have been reincarnated? Don’t ask Brad. His writings won’t even put you in that kind of blissful relaxed state other Zen books seem costum designed for.

For this Ohioan punk rocker, monster movie enthusiast and Soto Zen Priest, Buddhism is a simple “philosophy of action” done for the goal of achieving real world joy and existential clarity. His writings are an immensely readable mix of blunt honesty and down to Earth light-heartedness that make the admittedly boring practice of Zazen (sitting still) surprisingly alluring. Brad’s humorous Zen-tinged anecdotes and alternative pop culture references will appeal especially to ageing Generation Xers with the troublesome duality of skeptical minds and spiritual needs. You might say Brad Warner is the Chuck Klosterman of sitting quietly in the lotus position.

Brad’s latest offering, Hardcore Zen Strikes Again, is a collection of his first attempts at Buddhist writings, many from decade old (or more) blog posts. Somewhat different in tone than his last few releases where he focused more on the application of Zen to specific areas of life (sex, divorce, death in the family), Hardcore Zen Strikes Again has a refreshingly back-to-basics feel, reminding old readers and enlightening new ones on the hows and whys of Brad’s preferred brand of Buddhism called Zen Soto, a Buddhist sect based primarily around the 13th century teachings of Dogen Zengi.

The Buddhism vs. religion theme is prominent in Hardcore Zen Strikes Again; no big surprise, as much of the content originates from the years following 9/11. Early 2000s Brad is quick to make the distinction in the first chapter declaring “Religion is what got us into this mess (9/11 and the subsequent war) and I want no part of it” and, on page 70, “it’s stupid to go against science.” Though statements like these are fulfilling enough for the incredulous Buddhist, they also serve to highlight Brad’s oft-reiterated point: that Zen is all about making the best of reality and not to, as Brad points out in the chapter on Past Life Regression, “promote a dreamy fantasy state that distracts us from seeing what our life is right now.”

This spirit of realism and what-Buddhism-is-not, pervades the majority of Hardcore Zen Strikes Again. The book goes on to address most of the other usual suspects you would want to talk to a hip, plainspoken, Buddhist about. Some great quotes (that you would never find in other books in the Buddhist section) are dropped along the way:

On enlightenment: “The only real enlightenment is to realize you’re a complete phony.”

On reincarnation: “We die all the time. Every moment of everyday we die. Look at a picture of yourself when you were ten years old. Where is that person now?”

And On the “All is One” thing: “It takes a great deal of effort to sustain the illusion that you are something eternally separate from the rest of the universe.”

Hardcore Zen Strikes Again takes a sudden and awkward shift in tone in its final three chapters. Brad delves uncharacteristically into new agey pseudoscience in the chapter “The Whole Vegetarian Thing,” declaring that things like “meat makes a person feel more aggressive (because when animals are slaughtered they) tense up and…This highly agitated state is passed on to the person who eats the meat.” He even concedes hypocrisy for his vegetarianism as “cabbage, potatoes, and carrots are alive too…and there is considerable evidence that they have a kind of primitive survival instinct. Mmm-Hmm. The not-so-skeptical Buddhist appears here as well I’m afraid.

Chapter 15 feels off putting for different reasons as Brad discusses his views on writing, eventually veering off the subject of Buddhism completely. Though his tips will be enjoyable for writers (like me), most readers will find them as pointless as the final chapter that (and Brad acknowledges this) goes completely off course for a Zen-less discussion of the monster movie industry. Brad is a good enough writer to pull off non-Buddhist writings but these last three destinations aren’t exactly what was promised in the brochure.

“I find some of my early writings uncomfortable to read” admits modern-day Brad in the introduction to Hardcore Zen Strikes Again as, in keeping in the realism spirit of reincarnation merely being the natural changing in personality over the course of a life time, Brad critiques his younger self’s writings throughout the book.

Despite his misgivings and a questionable third act, 2012 Brad Warner can relax. If Hardcore Zen Strikes Again feels like a collection of old demo songs—as he suggests on page 59—it is still as engaging as any studio album, and is just a fine a place as any for new readers outside of Brad’s established fan base to jump into his catalog. END


The Soul of Science, and Skeptic Swag…
cover The Soul of Science
by Michael Shermer

In this pocket mini-book, Michael Shermer asks, “Can we find spiritual meaning and purpose in a scientific worldview?” Spirituality is a way of being in the world, a sense of one’s place in the cosmos, a relationship to that which extends beyond ourselves. There are many sources of spirituality; religion may be the most common, but it is by no means the only. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality. Science does this in spades. (NOTE: This is a pocket mini-book. 3.5 x 5.5 inches, 35 pages.)

Order the 35 page pocket mini-book

Order the abridged
audio presentation on CD
(read by Michael Shermer)

cover Skeptic Lapel Pin
by The Skeptics Society

This tie-tack style metal pin has gold-colored SKEPTIC lettering with a contrasting black background. It’s a great size for a lapel or tie — about 25mm × 6mm (1″ × .25″). It comes in a classy little plastic box suitable for gift-giving. (Note: image not shown actual size.)

Order the Skeptic pin

cover Unisex Flex Fleece Zip Hoodies
by AMERICAN APPAREL

A fitted, sporty unisex zip hoodie in luxurious Flex Fleece fabric: a unique 50/50 cotton/poly blend that offers warmth without being overly bulky. Pre-washed for minimal shrinkage. Contrasting white finished polyester drawcord, metal zipper. Kangaroo pocket. (Note: American Apparel is designed to fit snugly. If you are not familiar with how American Apparel fits, refer to the sizing chart below before placing your order.)

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cover Skeptic Bumper Sticker (11.5″ × 3″)
by The Skeptics Society

Designed to withstand the elements, these self-adhesive bumper stickers, made from the highest quality weather resistant and laminated vinyl, are ideal for use on vehicles, windows, refrigerators, school lockers and binders, or just about anywhere you want to stick them.
DIMENSIONS: 11.5″ wide × 3″ high.

Order the Skeptic Bumper Sticker

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Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

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The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

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 can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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!

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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.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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