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Skepticism: The Next Generation PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Karen Stollznow   

Bryan_and_Baxter_-_Smoky_Hills_Library_talkThe crowd at the Smoky Hill library was probably expecting ghost stories; after all, the talk was titled: Paranormal Ghost Hunting. Instead, they received an introduction to critical thinking and the scientific method. Better yet, this outreach was to a room full of kids, teenagers and their parents. 

The talk was given by Bryan Bonner and Matthew Baxter, who presented “Investigating the Investigators” at TAM 9, a talk about their hoax of a paranormal group. (You may have seen the duo in the halls of the South Point casino, wearing black suits and alien-green fluorescent ties.)

Bryan and Baxter are currently giving lectures about science and the paranormal to groups at libraries in the greater Denver area. This is a series of talks aimed at teenagers, teaching them the basics of skepticism, in a fun, approachable and interactive way. Kids and youths are the future of skepticism, so 17-year-old Logan Baxter was also involved in the talk.

The audience underwent a suggestibility test and viewed some classic optical illusions to demonstrate that we can’t always trust our senses, and everyone can be fooled. They learned about an archaeological dig and a geological survey. They heard about the results of hands-on investigations, and how there are natural explanations for paranormal phenomena.

They also saw the results of investigations conducted by unskeptical groups. But it was encouraging to hear the skepticism in the audience’s questions and comments. When they were presented with examples of Electronic Voice Phenomena (supposed voices of the dead), one young boy exclaimed, “That sounds like nothing!” They showed excellent critical thinking skills when it came to analyzing examples of pareidolia and images of alleged ghosts.

Their questions also revealed the topics that we skeptics should be concerned about: Have you ever seen a ghost? How do you explain my psychic experiences? What ghost hunting tools do you use? Is Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files a good TV show to watch?

Bryan and Baxter shared their experiences with Fact or Faked, and how a producer of the show offered them $1500 to fake a video. I chronicled the story in my Naked Skeptic column. As the main source of education about paranormal claims for many people, these shows teach kids to think uncritically and encourage TV-trained paranormal investigators.

After being told that Ghost Hunters is also bad television, one young girl asked, “Is Ghost Adventures a good show to watch instead?” After being told, “No, it’s another unscientific show”, she replied to Baxter, “Well, you look like Zak Bagans!”

The talk probably won’t stop these people from watching these shows, but it will hopefully make them think critically about the claims and findings in the future.

But one young girl spent most of the talk in fear of every “ghost” photo and claim, until it was explained as natural, not supernatural. She ran to the door when the words “Demon Panda” flashed up on the presentation. Peering through her fingers, she saw that the ‘Demon Panda’ was just pareidolia, an office chair that looked like a face. She walked back to her chair saying to herself, “Oh, that’s cute! It’s not so scary!”

That’s the important take-away message from the talk and from skepticism in general. When we use critical thinking, rationale and science, we can better understand the way the world works. With skepticism, the world isn’t so scary.

 

 

Karen Stollznow is research fellow for the James Randi Educational Foundation.

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Seriously?
written by imageten, August 02, 2011
Does anyone know anyone who moderates over at australasianskeptics.info? Why don't they delete that thread he keeps linking to and at least make him re-type all his nonsense every time he wants to be an annoyance?
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Ad Hominem example
written by mariamyrback, August 02, 2011
I'd like to take the example below as a teaching opportunity. I know most of us already know this, but it never hurts to add a brief refresher or introduction for new people.

"karen - you are the exact opposite of a critical thinker - your attitude is that of worshiping those in power, no matter who they may be...."

This, ladies and gents, is a classic example of an Ad Hominem logical fallacy. From the Wiki: An ad hominem (Latin: "to the man"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to link the truth of a claim to a (supposed) negative characteristic or belief of the person advocating it.

A logical argument contains evidence to back up a claim. That evidence must come from a credible source. A credible source is someone or something that provides ample verifiable and factual evidence. So asserting that Ms. Stolznow's article is invalid because she supposedly "worships power" is a logical fallacy.
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Seriously...again
written by imageten, August 02, 2011
Nice post mariamyrback. My only wonder here is who this person is trying to convince with these posts? I know that addressing this stuff at all is futile and probably counter productive, but it has just gotten so annoying lately. I quite enjoy reading the articles here, and can't help but notice how distracting this stuff is in the comments. A differing opinion here is not the issue, but rather having to endure an endless stream of insanity from the tin foil hat brigade. And usually, when someone is weird and paranoid, at least their arguments are somewhat based in reality. 911 "truthers" are an example of this...even though their argument is totally absurd, at least 911 did happen. This person provides nothing constructive, even for what I reason to be their argument. I use that would loosely here.

So what's the point here I guess is all I'm asking. How many people that read these articles have been convinced of anything by this guy other than there are people with problems greater than our own? To the poster of these ridiculous ramblings, I implore you to tone it down a little bit, and try to join a reasonable discussion on a forum somewhere. You will be surprised how people will engage in a meaningful discussion with you when you slow it down and stop calling people pigs. If you really want to convince someone of something, you will do well to remember the old adage that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

To the person who moderates these comments: Thank you for your efforts. It doesn't look like you ever have a moments peace.
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...
written by SirScottyG, August 02, 2011
Get the kids thinking critically early in life and they won't turn out like divin3034 (it sure smells like david mabus)
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Quite interesting scepticism shown by the teens
written by Vardanian, August 02, 2011
Hmmm.... I guess many people want to gain somewhat of a meaningful (or as people say epic) explanation to their fears or beliefs. which in a way does explain why many people in the presentation did not want to believe the truth when it was presented to them so simply and blandly. For example as much as I want to believe that waking up with a sense of fear at night may be explained by something paranormal, I also know that it is likely that a deeply rooted irrational fear of the dark may play a part in this as in childhood I had an overactive imagination about it.
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written by Dumb All Over, August 02, 2011
divin seems to be someone named David Mabus which, in turn, may be someone named Dennis Markuze.
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Unwarranted Criticism / Warranted Flattery...
written by SheldonHelms, August 02, 2011
Karen Stollznow does NOT worship powerful people (as at least one troll has claimed). She worships GOOD LOOKING people...like me. And I do the same, which is why I worship HER in return. smilies/grin.gif

In all seriousness, though, let's not give those flinging ad hominem attacks more attention than they deserve. This article doesn't even include the "powerful people" that the troll referred to. It refers to an EXPERIENCE in which an audience is encouraged to think critically, as well as a heartwarming example of a young person learning to see things more logically. Nothing to criticize here, kids. Nothing at all.
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Dumb All Over & imageten
written by mariamyrback, August 02, 2011
Thank you smilies/smiley.gif I'm the one who moderates. And no, I don't get much peace. I'm on the back end of this site about four times a day getting rid of what I fondly refer to as Mabus Spam. The reason I left that initial post up is that, even though it was an obvious ad hominem, it didn't violate any of the blog rules. I probably won't let something like that pass again, but it seemed like a good teaching opportunity. Mabus may not learn anything from it, but someone else might.

A number of us suspect that our notorious spammer (Dave Mabus aka David Marzuke) has unmedicated mental issues based on the things his links (that I am constantly deleting for the benefit of the reader) lead to and the fact that he has threatened to kill a number of prominent atheists and skeptics, myself included. He posts those links on every popular skeptic and atheist website so the JREF is not the only one that has to contend with him.
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written by Willy K, August 02, 2011
Last year I decided to watch an episode of Ghost Hunters because of the subject of the episode. It took place aboard the USS Lexington. I'm a WWII history buff, so even thought I don't have the slightest belief in the supernatural, ghosts included, I can enjoy a good "ghost story" as entertainment. Also I was expecting them to tell something about the men who fought and died on that ship. I was doubly disappointed! Not only did they give short shrift to the sailors stories, their "investigation" was ludicrously done. Walking into room after room and shouting "Are there any ghosts here?" was excruciatingly boring!

So my ratings are as follows:
1 - Historical value - 3 out of 10
2 - Production value - 1 out of 10
3 - Entertainment value - 0 out of 10

How anybody could watch this crap every week boggles my brain! smilies/cry.gif
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