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So, you wanna be a skeptic? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Phil Plait   

If you read Swift, chances are you're skeptical about something. Maybe you think all psychics are frauds, or Jenny McCarthy is a massive health threat, or homeopathy is killing people who should be taking real medicine, or the 911 Truthers are full of it. I'm sure there's some form of bad thinking out there that sticks in your craw. And maybe, like me and many, many other folks, you've had enough.

Knowing that stuff, reading about it, is a whole lot different than getting off your keister and doing something about it. If you've got the itch, the need, the desire, the passion to get up and do something about all the nonsense facing the world, what can you do? What's the next step?

whatdoidonext

I'm glad you asked. Daniel Loxton, a long-time skeptical activist, gathered together a dozen other go-getters to create a guide for people who want to fight the good fight. Called "What Do I Do Next?" (PDF), it's chock full of advice to get you off your sofa and into the action. It has tons of great information for you, with details on how you can accomplish your goals. There's also an online Quick Reference Guide, a shorter version if you're impatient like me. The bulleted list has just the facts with quickie advice. There's also a Skeptical Activism page on Skeptics.com, and a forum where you can interact with other like-minded folks.

Let me ask you a question: who are your skeptical heroes? Randi? Genie Scott? Michael Shermer? Penn&Teller? Barbara Forrest?

Do you think these folks have always been giants in their field? No. They started off just like you and me. Intelligent, curious, reality-based people who, one day, had had enough. So they did something about it. That's what Robert Lancaster did. That's what Tim Farley did. That's what Rebecca Watson did.

They did something, and they're making a difference. So can you. Get involved.

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written by GODOFPIE, April 07, 2009
Excellent topic Phil. I am constantly inspired by the people that participate here at JREF and at sister organizations. We should all ask ourselves, "If not me, who? If not now, when?" I was so inspired that I started a skeptics group through www.meetup.com about 8 months ago and we are already up to 70 members. The demand is there. Now more than ever people are looking for a little rational thought in their lives.
It's easy and inexpensive. If there is not already a group in your area, I highly recommend starting one. I have found it to be quite rewarding.
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Uphill All The Way
written by Realitysage, April 07, 2009
Unfortunately the trouble with skeptics is that they're mostly preaching to the choir so to speak. For example, how many religious folks or woo believers attend TAM? I'm guessing not many. But I'm sure TAM is a very good place for like minded people to congregate and reinforce the notion that they're not alone in their reasonable worldview-even though the attendance numbers are probably miniscule as opposed to those who attend the multitude of psychic fairs. The ongoing problem is that the huge majority of people worldwide are content with using fuzzy logic and apparently live blissful lives devoid of any real critical thinking. Myth belief is a escape from reality which can be quite painful in the modern world. Sadly, that can be a dangerous thing besides being ignorant.
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written by Roo, April 08, 2009
What a great read that PRF was - full of sound, sensible advice. As well as the suggestions, the particular part I agreed with was the need for civil, intelligent debate, with no insults or word slanging. One thing that always struck me about Robert Lancaster's excellent StopSylvia.com is the quiet grace and dignity of his manner. Always polite, he offered Ms. Browne every opportunity to defend herself, didn't fire off foul-mouthed diatribes at her defenders, and presented all of the facts he received in a calm and non-sensational way. In doing this, he not only made his case so well, but he also made Ms. Browne and her cohorts look increasingly foolish and pathetic in their unwillingness to respond.

Skeptical action is certainly required worldwide, but it should be measured, clear and good-natured, however much provocation is hurled at us. There aren't too many arguments that are genuinely solved by shouting and name-calling.
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written by Roo, April 08, 2009
Oops, apologies - I meant "PDF", not "PDF"! Silly me. smilies/smiley.gif
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written by CasaRojo, April 08, 2009
The paranormal TV show forums could use a few more skeptical types. Paranormal State at aetv.com, Ghosthunters at scifi.com etc. Haunting Evidence and the Door To The Dead forums at trutv.com are about dead except for the occasional snakeoil salesmen. And this is something very easy to do. Don't forget that there are probably plenty of lurkers.
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written by cass, April 08, 2009
Help - I'm getting "this file is damaged and could not be repaired" when I try to view the full PDF. Am I missing something? (wouldn't be the first time...) Thanks.
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written by Squid, April 08, 2009
Herc... why would the U.S. goverment broadcast your thoughts to a city in Australia? Why not some place like Los Angeles or New York? Why a city outside of their borders?

What book? What question? Is it a different question everytime, and is it a different book?

What is a Truman?
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Answer to Uphill all the way
written by GODOFPIE, April 08, 2009
Because the task is difficult, we shouldn't try? Out of the 15 to 20 people that come to our monthly meeting, 3 are regular church attendees and 1 is a divinity student. We also have a paranormal claimant that has attended all but the first 2 meetings. We have already developed a media presence through our Friday the 13th event and my goal is to become a resource to the media and to the community at large involving all things dubious. Although you don't say it in your post I feel like you are implying that the skeptics club is a bit elite. Our "choir" is made up of everyone from pizza makers (me) to physics professors, and from Midas muffler shop managers to anthropologists. Unlike FSM, I can't take on the whole world, just my little corner of it. Is it better to cuss in the dark or light a match?
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Mr. Hercules
written by feralboy, April 08, 2009
Hercules!
He's just a great big phony
Hercules!
Nothing but cheese and baloney
Fighting for his life
With his rubber knife
With the strength of ten
Little paper men...
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Hazards...
written by T. S. Noel, April 08, 2009
Only problems I have with doing these things is, sadly, they do take resources. Right now, I am focusing on trying to find work, and for a technician, it is not easy. Supporting a family, also not easy.

So I ask of you, in a response, While we see christian churches "Helping people" find work(often the wrong work, mind), will we ever see this in the athiest and skeptical camps too?
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written by Willy K, April 08, 2009
Thanks Phil for the link. I'll read it this weekend.

No one has answered your question yet about their skeptical "hero."

Well, first off I don't have any "hero's," I'm uncomfortable with the term. To me it is too close to the "cult of personality" mindset. Nothing good ever seems to comes from that!

However....

The words/deeds of both Richard Feynman and George Carlin make me feel that there is some hope for the Human race. smilies/wink.gif
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@ Herc and the Unbelievers
written by Human Person Jr, April 08, 2009
I believe ya, my Herky buddy, since I've had scads of similar experiences. I've taken to making aluminum foil beanies over the last couple of years, and boy do they really do the trick! My alien- and U.S.-government-sponsored transmissions have been cut waaay down. Of course, I spray-paint 'em up really nice, for style, beforehand-like, so's I won't look ridic out in the noonday sun.

I don't know why so many skeptics are blind skeptics, and reject out of hand these very real experiences you're having. It's just orful, and I don't mean Orful Wright.

Listen up, you skeptics, particularly you who live down under. Do sump'n for my bud; investigate his claim and surprise us all. Find out which son of which god he is, while you're at it. We're breathless here in the states, waiting to learn.

Herc -- I seriously advise you to go to a medical doctor and tell her or him exactly what you've told us here. Ask that doctor if there is any medical condition that could explain your delusions. Best of luck to you, Herc, sincerely. You need help and it's not in the least funny.


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Who are your skeptical heroes?
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 08, 2009
James Randi, there can be no doubt about that. I realize that this may seem an inexpensive statement on the site of the organization he founded and that bears his name, but that does not make it less true.

I know, or rather "recognize" James Randi for longer than I can remember, but I remember having seen him criticizing Uri Geller on television. I didn't like him then. I thought he was shrill and oppositional and that his claims were unsubstantiated. In my opinion, the fact that he was able to duplicate Geller's by using magic tricks did not prove in any way that Geller was a fraud.

How wrong my opinion about James Randi was, is something I discovered much later. As a Belgian, born in the pre-PC and pre-Internet era, access to information was limited and what came through was highly filtered. Some cultural differences are important too. Belgians aren't quite as outspoken as North Americans and his tone of language was rather shocking, for that reason.

When I now revisit what James Randi said about Geller, I realize that he said exactly what I thought he should have said. My guess is that my wrong impression is the result of subtitling choices. Subtitles must, by their very nature, be incomplete. Since I did not know any English yet, they were also my only source of information.

In time, my opinion of James Randi mellowed, and the more I learned about him, the more admiration I had for him. James Randi is a scientist in his own right. He doesn't have a university degree that says he is, but that is completely irrelevant. Those who do not think so, should realize that scientific degrees can only be given when the science exists, not before. The very people responsible for creating a science have -almost by definition- no academic degree in it.

So many years later, an academic degree for James Randi would be an insult. He has built up a credibility by working hard and earnestly, not by learning and reproducing what some people in front of a blackboard told him and by memorizing textbooks, but by doing what was right, and combining an open mind and logical thinking with rigorous tests and verifications.

The fact that James Randi has been able to build a career in magic, and actually make a living out of it, is remarkable enough, but he has used his thusly obtained access to the media to inform the public about con-artists and quacks, disregarding the damage this could do to his career as a magician. We will never know how much misery he has prevented, and how many lives he has saved by doing this. That's where he differs with the likes of Benny Hinn.

Where Benny Hinn claims to have miraculously cured numberless people of deadly diseases and has never been able to provide a single reference to that effect, James Randi makes no claims. He doesn't run around boasting how many lives he has saved, or how much misery he has prevented, even though he can reasonably expect that number to be higher than 0. In this, he shows modesty, and also skeptic prudence: don't make claims you can't substantiate, the very rule con-artists must by definition violate.

James Randi is, to me, the father of skepticism and the originator of a way of thinking that is both rigorously scientific and accessible to all who are reasonably intelligent, not just science-degree collectors.

James Randi is my hero of skepticism.
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written by Caller X, April 08, 2009
One thing you could do is stop saying "woo". People who use that "word" sound like self-satisfied jerks. It's not a good sales-pitch.
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@ Bart
written by The_Practitioner, April 08, 2009
I agree with you that Randi has earned the distinguishment of being a scientist through action, save 1 point. Ironically it is the only problem I've ever had with the One Million Dollar Challenge (and most skeptic challenges in general). In practically every other scientific endeavor, before the results are related to the public, a report of the experiment, design, and its results, all undergo the process of peer-review, namely, that the experiment, in its entirety, is vetted, by fellow scientists in the field to check for methodological or statistical flaws, before the results are published, in the hopes of making sure that the data obtained does support what the authors claim it is supporting, before it is allowed into the journal of choice. Though Randi does consult with scientists and statisticians in the setting up of the protocols, not a single one of the tests done on claimants has been submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal for publication. My question is, why are these tests not treated like other scientific experiments, and reports submitted, for the vetting and publication process? It is possible that the scientists consulted could have gotten their calculations wrong, or failed to account for a variable, in designing the tests.

Not to mention, if the test claims passed peer-review and were published, of which I have no doubt most of them would, there would be a very large benefit.

The pseudo-scientists known as parapsychologists have for the past decade and a half claimed that there is plenty of replicable evidence for psi powers demonstrated by a process known as meta-analysis. The biggest problem with meta-analysis, in this case, is the possibility of a file-drawer effect/publication bias, where studies which obtain null results are not published, but those studies which obtain significant results, are. If the JREF submitted papers on all the tests done in the 10 odd years that the Challenge has been in existence, and they were published in a scientific journal, chances are, that would make up the file drawer which would nullify any newer significant results obtained by parapsychologists, meaning that their studies would be statistical flukes amongst chance data.

Anyway, besides that and the failing to control for experimenter expectancy effects (an effect where an experimenter can communicate the hypothesis to the test subject via body language and tone of voice, luckily Richard Wiseman is starting to control for this variable in his latest studies), I pretty well have no problem with Randi's previous work, and you're right, he is a scientist.

Note: This criticism about lack of peer-review is not leveled just at Randi, but at Mythbusters, and the other skeptic challenges as well. Publishing without peer-review is actually part of what has allowed pseudo-science to get such a hook on the public in the first place. The least the skeptic challenges and popular experimental shows can do is set a better example for how to properly review and publish data of experiments.
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Heroes
written by Roo, April 08, 2009
My original heroes are Penn and Teller. Years ago, I saw their TV show on Channel 4, thought they were great, and bought their "How to Play With Your Food" book (excellent, funny read). One chapter was devoted to how to fool your friends into thinking you can bend spoons. Teller was dressed as a Geller-alike and duly fooled Penn. Then at the end, Mr. Randi was in the last picture, pointing and laughing with Penn at Teller, and the captions said something like "make sure you tell your friends that this is a simple sleight-of-hand trick. Don't claim that you have mystical powers - you don't want Randi and us coming after you to crush you like an insignificant insect." This made me smile, and there was a small footnote on the page about James Randi, so I looked him up on the internet and a new skeptic was born! So my heroes are Penn and Teller, James Randi, Richard Wiseman and Derren Brown (his book, Tricks of the Mind, is a very interesting read). And, of course, Robert Lancaster.

As an aside, I suffered terribly from an attack of depression, from which I am just recovering after nine years of misery and despair. I know that, had I not read a lot of the sensible skeptical material which encouraged rational, logical thinking based on solid facts, I would not have made such a good recovery. To be able to sit down and rationally discount fears, negative and damaging emotions or feelings because they have no basis in fact or reality is wonderful, and were it not for the accounts of skeptics debunking mystic-mongers through exploration of basic, provable evidence, it would have been harder to learn how to apply such tactics to my everyday way of thinking. Plus which, the accounts of fraudulent psychics, etc., getting their comeuppance amuses me!

A big thank you to Mr. Randi, Penn and Teller and the others – the world would be a poorer (and more deluded) place without you.

Have a nice Easter weekend everyone. x
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written by BillyJoe, April 09, 2009
Actually, James Randi is not a scientist.
He does not conduct scientific experiments with his million dollar challenge.
Nor does he pretend to.

I'm not sure where anyone got that mistaken idea.

BJ
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What To Do?
written by bosshog, April 09, 2009
I'm not sure there is much that can be done other than speak one's mind at every turn. It is my firm belief arrived at after decades of experience that the majority of the human race is indifferent to reality. What they want is drama - Good vs Evil, tight corners, desperate odds, hair's breadth escapes. The thought that devils and angels are fighting over him makes the average person feel extremely important and gives his life meaning and he is loathe to give that up for a simple pine box in a corner plot.
"Civil, intelligent debate, with no insults" is little more than preaching to the choir. The only effective tool is to make woo ridiculous and contemptible.
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These comments....
written by Human Person Jr, April 09, 2009
They humble and inspire me.

My number-one "hero" is Christopher Hitchens, because he debates the other side while looking like a hung-over hedgehog who had one too many PACKS of cigs the night before. LOL -- Seriously, I just am amazed by Hitchens. (My grandsons love him, too. They love Dawkins, too, but maybe a wee tad less.)

Thanks to all of you for the excellent comments.
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One Million Dollar Challenge and Peer Reviewed
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
The_Practitioner wrote:
Though Randi does consult with scientists and statisticians in the setting up of the protocols, not a single one of the tests done on claimants has been submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal for publication. My question is, why are these tests not treated like other scientific experiments, and reports submitted, for the vetting and publication process?


Although I agree in principle, there are two problems with this, a difficult one and a fundamental one.

The difficult one is that James Randi would have a hard time getting his results peer-reviewed and published in a respected scientific journal for two main reasons. First, it is hard to be peer-reviewed if one doesn't really have any peers. Randi is rather unique. The peer-reviewers would be nearly by definition have to be non-peers. Second, many would object, because he doesn't have an academic degree, and they don't like that.

There are three elements that would counteract this issue: while rather rare, it has been known to happen that "mere mortals" succeeded in publishing an article in a respected scientific journal. James Randi does have a number of supporters among the Credentialed Ones, and someone winning the million dollar prize would definitely be such great news that even the most reluctant scientific journals would feel they couldn't merely ignore it. It would be a lot more difficult if the test failed. A failed test isn't really newsworthy, except in rare cases.

Far more fundamental is this: a test has never been done. Nobody has ever made it past the preliminary test, which means that a proper test has never been done and there is simply no test to publish.
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written by CasaRojo, April 09, 2009
"My number-one "hero" is Christopher Hitchens, because he debates the other side while looking like a hung-over hedgehog who had one too many PACKS of cigs the night before. LOL --"

That's almost exactly how I've described Hitchens with the addition that he looks as though he had a cigarette during the debate/interview. I saw him yesterday afternoon on Hardball (I think) and he was looking a bit better.

My heroes? The typical non theists ones with one exception, Mother Teresa. I know I know... But I still appreciate her seemingly selflessness no matter how misguided. I don't know what her intentions really were of course but she seemed genuine to me. That quality is embodied within all my other heroes to some degree I'm sure.
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written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
BillyJoe wrote:

Actually, James Randi is not a scientist.
He does not conduct scientific experiments with his million dollar challenge.
Nor does he pretend to.

I'm not sure where anyone got that mistaken idea.

I disagree. James Randi *is* a scientist. He is just a scientist without an academic degree. Academic degrees are not required to be a scientist. Doing the work scientists do is, and that is what he does. Randi has an expertise, and he is careful enough to stay within the boundaries of that expertise. There is a reason why he asks credentialed and recognized academics to design and perform the tests under his guidance.
A test does not have to be called "scientific" to be just that. There is a lot of non-science going on that people interpret as scientific simply because the people doing it have academic degrees and call their own work scientific if when it isn't.

The million dollar challenge may divert attention from the main issue because of the money involved, but that doesn't make it unscientific. If someone would win the challenge, it would be a new revolution in science, potentially of the same level as Charles Darwin's evolution theory.


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written by CasaRojo, April 09, 2009
I hate it that we can't edit our comments. What I meant to say was that Hitchens looks as though he *WISHED* he had a cigarette during the debate/interview.
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Hate
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
CasaRojo wrote:
I hate it that we can't edit our comments. What I meant to say was that Hitchens looks as though he *WISHED* he had a cigarette during the debate/interview.

LOL. I have the same problem. I sometimes solve it by writing in a text processor and then copy-pasting it, but it is a hassle, so I often don't, and that is -unfortunately- usually rather obvious.
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Christopher Hitchens
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
His use of language is often a bit crude, but since he is usually right, it is quite possible to simply ignore that. However, many people will not be able to ignore this type of language, and that is a pity. When he was talking about Jerry Falwell, he was using terms like "toad" to describe him. I object to that, since a toad is far too noble a creature to deserve being used as a descriptive term for someone like Jerry Falwell. Unfortunately, many people will fail to hear what Hitchens has to say about Falwell because they would interpret Hitchens' words as offensive.
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Mythbusters
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
The_Practitioner wrote:
Note: This criticism about lack of peer-review is not leveled just at Randi, but at Mythbusters, and the other skeptic challenges as well. Publishing without peer-review is actually part of what has allowed pseudo-science to get such a hook on the public in the first place. The least the skeptic challenges and popular experimental shows can do is set a better example for how to properly review and publish data of experiments.
I am afraid that I have a very hard time calling Mythbusters scientific, so I don't. I really liked their format during the first season. If they had made it just a little more rigorous, it would have been great. Since then, I have lost interest. Too many explosions, too superficial, and the myths, well, they seem to have gone down too. Making concrete gliders? Explosions at every corner? Polishing turds? Hallelujah! Not for me, I'm afraid. I feel that they are essentially Comedy Channel material, shown on the wrong channel. They may be important though, maybe they are making people think, who otherwise wouldn't. It's just not my cup of tea anymore, or maybe I am simply not getting it.
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written by BillyJoe, April 09, 2009
For those who think James Randi is a scientist doing science with his million dollar challenge, would they please point out a single study in a peer-reviewed journal where n=1.

I would be surprised if Mr. Randi would describe himself as a scientist doing science.

He borrows from science in the form of the double blind test but that in no way makes what he does science.

BJ
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Let's not forget THIS hero.
written by Nibla, April 09, 2009
A kudos to Phil Plait, who is not my single hero, but high on my list.

His book "Death from the skies" is my steady bedtime companion. Whenever I finish, I simply start from page 1. I had never realized the universe was such an awe-inspiring place, despite knowing the basics about its size, age and contents. The night sky will never be the same to me.

One way to combat magical thinking is by spreading facts, and the best way to spread facts is by making them fun to absorb. Phil showed himself a master at that art. Whenever I move his book to my bookcase, it will get an honorary place right next to "The Selfish Gene".
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Misconception
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
The million dollar challenge isn't about n=1. I suggest reading what James Randi wrote and listening to what he said. It is one challenge, but that one challenge contains enough repetitions to be statistically significant.

James Randi is not an idiot, nor is he a fool. He is not about to give away a major asset without reasonable certainty he is doing it for the right reason.

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Nibla
written by BillyJoe, April 09, 2009
Whenever I move his book to my bookcase, it will get an honorary place right next to "The Selfish Gene".

Have you also read "The Extended Phenotype"?
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The Extended Phenotype
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
I have read it. It is a marvellous book. The one sad thing is that Richard Dawkins will probably never get a Nobel prize for this book; because, as he said himself, it is doubtful that a scientific test could be designed to verify the hypothesis he defends in it.

At the same time though, there may be some hope in the ever improving technology to change genomes. While a hamster's nest will not miraculously change after changing its genome, it should be doable to see if hamsters (or other animals) will consistently build different nests after their genome has been changed.
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The Million Dollar Challenge is Definitely Scientific
written by Jason Patterson, April 09, 2009
The idea that the challenge is not scientific or that the work that JREF (and Randi, by association) does regarding it is not science is absurd. The basic nature of science is testing hypotheses. In each of the preliminary challenges, the hypothesis has been that the subject had paranormal powers (which individually have varied, of course) and in each case, that hypothesis was proven false. Additionally, the setup of most of the preliminaries do not include a single test of the power.

Is it practical to expect that all of these tests be published individually in peer-reviewed literature? In any real case I can imagine, the journal would either be centered around belief in the paranormal (yes, these folks can have peer-reviewed literature as well) and would refuse to publish the article or would assume that the results would be negative from the start. It would be preaching to the choir, essentially.

A more useful paper might combine the results of the many many preliminaries that have been run and attempt to make inferences from the results into the psychology of paranormal belief (particularly that of the 'empowered') with peer-review as the intent or as popular literature in a mainstream publication. Getting a popular article of this nature published in the Skeptical Inquirer would accomplish little (again, preaching to the choir) though I certainly would be happy to read it.

Perhaps more importantly for the purposes of answering the question of whether the challenges are scientific is a better understanding of what science is. Science is not double-blind tests and peer-reviewed publication. These are tools that scientists can (sometimes) use to great effect, but they are certainly not necessary. Some areas of science (astronomy, for instance) do not lend themselves to experimentation even, and peer-review is a worthwhile action, but it, in and of itself, does not add or detract from the truth of an argument or result of an experiment. Science is about acquiring a better understanding of our world by asking and answering questions. The Million Dollar Challenge definitely does this and thus qualifies.
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My (anti) Hero
written by Jason Patterson, April 09, 2009
I think that my skeptical hero has to be myself. I really don't have a hero in the skeptical world, though I certainly admire the work that many of them do. I suspect that my skeptical background is similar to many of you in that regard. I was not raised in a skeptical environment or brought around to skepticism later in life by the compelling arguments of a Randi or Schermer.

Instead it was disbelief in and, frankly, disgust with the credulous environment in which I was raised that led me to my current worldview. I can remember thinking as a small child what silly stories Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were, and I definitely remember the trouble I got into for asking the 'wrong' questions in Sunday school as a little kid. (What happened to all the people who died before Jesus? What happens to babies or mentally disabled people when they die? that sort of thing, with followups about the need to repent or burn in Hell. My butt hurt so bad...)

As an upbringing, it was enough to set me firmly on the road to bitter atheism, and it's only been through some serious reflection and effort on my part that I have come to be able to interact positively and skeptically when presented with true believers.
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The Million Dollar Challenge is Definitely Scientific written by Jason Patterson, April 09, 2009
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
Well said, Jason. I agree completely.
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Jason
written by CasaRojo, April 09, 2009
"As an upbringing, it was enough to set me firmly on the road to bitter atheism, and it's only been through some serious reflection and effort on my part that I have come to be able to interact positively and skeptically when presented with true believers."

I'm still working on that one. I believe that I am progressing.

"My butt hurt so bad..."

You were brought up Catholic?

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My (anti) Hero written by Jason Patterson
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
My situation was not that much different. I was raised in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, a very Catholic region of Europe at the time, and to make it even worse, my father was a failed Trappist monk who deeply regretted that he had to leave the order for health reasons. I was raised in Catholic schools, one of which was a Jesuit school. Their Christian charity didn't seem to be applicable to me and they did all they could to make my life miserable, an endeavour in which they were eminently successful. I was eventually "invited" to leave and ended up in a -still quite Catholic- francophone art school.

I also couldn't believe the nonsense I was being taught about the Bible, although I had a period during which I really wanted to discover the paranormal and the religious. I practiced transcendental meditation, tried to materialize ghosts with incense and hypnosis. Although I was initially rather taken by TM, because it was a very cultured group (they loved Baroque music), I quickly noticed quite a few things that didn't make sense, and I stopped going.

In art school, I had a teacher who had become a member of a local Pentecostal group, something that was really frowned upon in Catholic Belgium, and had to be kept more or less secret. He invited me along, and I quite enjoyed it, although I was less than impressed with their "speaking in tongues"... until I moved to Brugge (Bruges in French) of the country again and joined another group where the "truth" wasn't quite the same anymore. Thanks to those inconsistencies, my rationality had once again the upper hand, and I stopped the nonsense. I guess that the fact that my parents called me the Antichrist, and treated me accordingly, was not entirely foreign to that.

During my time at university I (indirectly) met a skeptic or two, but they were so vocal and arrogant that I returned to my paranormal interests, because they seemed more emotionally afraid of the paranormal than they were knowledgeable about it. After having done some additional experiments with pyramids and Kirlian photography (a dangerous endeavour as I had the displeasure to discover), I decided that I had done my best, discovered nothing, and that it was now up to the "paranormalists" to come up with some genuine evidence, evidence I am still waiting for, now 30 years later.
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You were brought up Catholic?
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 09, 2009
I think his knees would have hurt if that was the case ^_^
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written by CasaRojo, April 09, 2009
Them too.
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JP
written by BillyJoe, April 09, 2009
If you really think a test for the million dollar prize is science then try to get it published in a science journal. Best of luck.

In each of the preliminary challenges, the hypothesis has been that the subject had paranormal powers...in each case, that hypothesis was proven false

False. All it means is that this particular person failed to demonstrate that he had this particular paranormal power on this particular occasion. No more.

It sounds more like a medical diagnosis: Does this patient have illness X. Perform test for illness X. Result negative. Conclusion: The patient does not have illness X.

BJ
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written by BillyJoe, April 09, 2009
until I moved to Brugge (Bruges in French)

Ah, so it wasn't a mistake.

(I asked you once whether the spelling of Brugge was a mistake. I had just seen a movie called "In Bruges" - great movie even with subtitles)

BJ
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written by Herc, April 09, 2009
The Truman is Jim Carrey's character in the movie The Truman Show.
He spends his whole life being spied on by a company.

OK, here's the deal. I am willing to put my money where my mouth is.
I will fly 2 or 3 skeptics, the bigger the better over to Australia and back
to witness the mind reading and broadcasting satellite. Your only obligation
is to publicly declare whether or not I am being followed by a satellite.

Any nominees?

Herc
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written by Skemono, April 09, 2009
I will fly 2 or 3 skeptics, the bigger the better over to Australia and back
to witness the mind reading and broadcasting satellite. Your only obligation
is to publicly declare whether or not I am being followed by a satellite.

Any nominees?

I would, but I'm only 5'5"; I don't know if that's big enough.
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written by BillyJoe, April 09, 2009
I would, but I'm only 5'5";

Hey, join the club, you and me both, and Randi as well, though Randi may have shrunk an inch or two over the years.

BJ
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Ah, so it wasn't a mistake.
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 10, 2009
No it wasn't. If anything, Bruges is a mistake, not Brugge. Bruges is simply the French way of pronouncing and writing a Flemish name ^_^

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written by Roo, April 10, 2009
I will fly 2 or 3 skeptics, the bigger the better over to Australia and back to witness the mind reading and broadcasting satellite. Your only obligation is to publicly declare whether or not I am being followed by a satellite.

Can I come? I'm short and sweet, but very open minded. AND I used to know Christopher Hitchens' son - a really lovely, sensible, decent guy. Plus, I'm an actress, therefore used to public speaking. I promise to be impartial...

Oh, and by the way, when I was REALLY ill and in hospital, there was a guy in my therapy group who was certain he was being followed everywhere by the government and the military. It was sad, although refreshing to meet someone who was more messed up psychologically than me. Don't worry - I daresay he's ok now. And I'm sure that one day, you (Herc) might be too.
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written by BillyJoe, April 10, 2009
No it wasn't. If anything, Bruges is a mistake, not Brugge. Bruges is simply the French way of pronouncing and writing a Flemish name ^_^

Yeah but...have you seen the movie?
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written by Herc, April 10, 2009
Thanks for the offer Roo. If it goes ahead then you're in.
I'll know more in a couple weeks.

For the second witness, someone who's published some skeptical writing,
a member of Randi's team / writers etc.

Herc
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written by JasonPatterson, April 10, 2009
JP
written by BillyJoe, April 09, 2009

If you really think a test for the million dollar prize is science then try to get it published in a science journal. Best of luck.


Again, getting published in a journal of science is not what makes something scientific. You're simply demonstrating again that you don't understand what science is. For example, if I want to figure out why I can't grow grass in a part of my yard, I can use science to get an answer. I might test various grass seeds, soil amendments, light conditions, etc. Getting this published in a peer-reviewed journal would be nigh impossible, but that would not make the process of answering my question any less scientific.

Additionally, it seems very likely that a thoughtful paper on this material could get published in a scientific journal.


False. All it means is that this particular person failed to demonstrate that he had this particular paranormal power on this particular occasion. No more.

It sounds more like a medical diagnosis: Does this patient have illness X. Perform test for illness X. Result negative. Conclusion: The patient does not have illness X.

BJ


Conceded on the first point. Perhaps a better hypothesis would be: The subject has paranormal powers that are demonstrable under agreed upon conditions. Again, the hypothesis has always been shown to be false. If you don't like this ("But they only tested the person one time!") please tell me how many times they would have to test any individual before it magically became a scientific process.

I have no problem with your comparison of my statement (or the challenge, I'm not entirely certain which you were aiming it at) to a medical diagnosis. Modern allopathic medicine is based in science after all. I'm not really sure where you were going with this...
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written by BillyJoe, April 10, 2009
....just that James Randi doesn't claim to be a scientist and he doesn't claim to be doing science. And he is correct. Sure he borrowed the idea of a double-blind test from science to ensure he doesn't get fleeced.

Yes, evidence-based medicine is based in science, but medical practitioners are not doing science. Patients come to them to be tested because they believe they have some pathology and do not want to die if they can help it. Similarly, people come to Randi because they believe they have a paranormal power and they want to help themselves to the million bucks. Only difference is that Doctors often find what they're looking for, but Randi never does.

BTW, those doctors would curse you for using that homeopathic designation - allopathic medicine - for what they do. (But, then again, some object to the term "evidence-based medicine" as well.)

BJ
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written by BillyJoe, April 10, 2009
please tell me how many times they would have to test any individual before it magically became a scientific process.

They would have to test many individuals. N=50 seems to be a minimum requirement, with 25 active and 25 controls with less than 25% drop out rate.
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Science
written by JasonPatterson, April 11, 2009
So any test that doesn't involve at least 50 subjects including 25 control subjects with 12 or fewer dropouts isn't science? Again, you have a very poor idea of what science is. You seem to be associating the common mechanisms by which science is done professionally with the thing itself. I would suggest that before you go on with this line of argument that you try to read about what science actually is. Here is a nice simple definition from the American Physical Society:
http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/99_6.cfm

Whether Randi identifies himself as a scientist or what he does as science or not means little in regard to whether he is actually doing science. My example of a bare spot on the lawn does not require me to say that I am a scientist nor to identify my thought process as science, and yet that's still what it is. Interestingly enough, though Randi does claim to not be a scientist, he also clearly has said that he uses the protocols of science whenever he can.

This is a clip from the Authors@Google series where he basically says that he isn't a scientist and then goes on to explain how, if it is possible, he examines the world in a scientific fashion. That makes what he is doing science and certainly by any broad sense of what a scientist is, that would make him one as well... The bit that I'm referring to is 7 minutes in. The entire show is worth watching.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTPj9VlNzQ0
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Yeah but...have you seen the movie?
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, April 11, 2009
No, I haven't. I very nearly did, but it didn't work out. I have heard it was a good movie.
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Jason
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
That makes what he is doing science and certainly by any broad sense of what a scientist is, that would make him one as well...

If you are happy with your broad sense of what science is who am I to argue. I have a more constrained sense of what doing science means. And I agree with James Randi that he is not a scientist and doesn't do science though, as I've already said, and as Randi himself says in that clip, he certainly uses scientific protocols.

I guess we're going to have to be happy to agree to disagree about whether to use the broad or constrained defintions.

But I'll just say that what Randi does is in no way contained within the definition of science in the reference you provided from the American Physical Society:

Science is the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the universe and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.

The success and credibility of science are anchored in the willingness of scientists to:

- Expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others. This requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials.
- Abandon or modify previously accepted conclusions when confronted with more complete or reliable experimental or observational evidence.

Adherence to these principles provides a mechanism for self-correction that is the foundation of the credibility of science.

regards,
BillyJoe
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written by CasaRojo, April 12, 2009
Because I take my garbage, put in a garbage can and transport it to the curb, does that make me a garbage man? Probably not, but I sometimes do the work of a garbage man and I do that work pretty well. I am indeed talented in that area of expertise. Mr. Randi is an extremely talented magician that seemingly cares deeply that people are not taken advantage of by snake oil salesmen. He uses various means to expose these people as frauds including the scientific method. Mr. Randi is a unique individual that is very very good at what he does. I think it is difficult to apply a typical label to him.
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written by Chakolate, April 12, 2009
I think one of the most important things that skeptics can do today is to run for the local school board. Those boards attract the wingnuts a lot, people with agendas who are relentless in trying to get pseudoscience into the schools. We have to be just as relentless.

Often there simply aren't enough moderates to vote for, so that it's impossible to fill all the slots even with moderates, let alone with skeptics. I think skeptics would be much more welcome than they think they would be.
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Scientists
written by JasonPatterson, April 13, 2009
I don't think that your comparison is valid Casarojo, though I understand what you are getting at. I would certainly agree doing science does not necessarily make one a professional scientist (just as picking up a knocked over garbage can doesn't make me have the occupation of 'garbage man'), but again, that doesn't mean that the actions are not science.

Would you call someone who sings in a choir a singer, even though he or she does not do so professionally? Of course. If I build a table, would it be fair to call me a carpenter? I think so, though I would certainly qualify myself as an amateur. Would it be fair, without the negative social associations that come along with the title garbage man, to say that someone who picks up litter along the highway is one, though as a volunteer? Sure. Would I call Randi (or anyone else who regularly uses the methodology of science to examine the world) a scientist? Yes, I would.

Though I definitely can see the sense in agreeing to disagree, BillyJoe, I have to say that there is a clear connection between what Randi is doing and what the definition of science that I provided describe. We'll probably have to agree to disagree on that as well...
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To Jason
written by CasaRojo, April 13, 2009
I suppose that my point is, and I realize that I didn't make it clear, is that I don't understand what the debate is about. IOW what difference does it make if Mr. Randi is labeled 'scientist' or not and who would it make a difference to? IMHO it's immaterial. Please forgive me for not understanding why this debate is taking place. And if you can help me to understand, by all means, please do.
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Words losing all meaning...
written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009
Sometimes the broad application of a word results in that word losing all meaning.

Would you call someone who sings in a choir a singer, even though he or she does not do so professionally?

If he is in the "choir of hard knocks" and cannot actually sing very well, if he still a singer.
If she only sings in the shower is she still a singer.
If someone sings along with the commercials is that person still a singer.

If I build a table, would it be fair to call me a carpenter? I think so...

If you have done this only once in your life are you still a carpenter.
If I knock up a makeshift table out of odds and ends in about an hour or so am I a carpenter.

BJ

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written by Steel Rat, April 14, 2009
Sorry, BJ, but it seems like you're splitting hairs. You don't have to be a scientist to practice science or use the Scientific Method. you apparently do have to be one to publish in Journals of Backslapping.
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written by BillyJoe, April 14, 2009
Hey, but if you don't grant me my definition, I'm gonna lose this one. smilies/angry.gif
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