This original document was created for the purpose of providing a clear, easy-to-read guide about the “Skeptical” viewpoint as subscribed to by many who might call themselves Skeptics or critical thinkers. While it was mainly geared towards the media who are interested in providing a "skeptical" viewpoint to their stories, the goal was to explain the difference between practical Skepticism and those that say, “I’m skeptical.” It also clarifies the confusion about "skeptics" versus "denialists" and "truthers" as well as other misconceptions. It turned out to be a good, overall, explanatory piece that even the paranormal crowd appreciated.
In 2008, the Amaz!ng Meeting 6 took on the theme “I, Skeptic”, exploring the role skeptics play in the modern, digital age. In this video from our archives, JREF research fellow and creator of WhatsTheHarm.net Tim Farley discusses the tools available at the time for skeptics to more effectively spread our message online. Tim has refined and updated these practices over the years at his website SkepTools.com, but this video is still an important look at how far we've come and how much more work needs to be done.
You can check out JREF's other videos from The Amaz!ng Meetings, which have been viewed nearly 1.5 million times since we started making them available online for free, at YouTube.com/JamesRandiFoundation.
We often talk about the need to learn the process of science, rather than simply memorizing the things that science has discovered. In fact, “science literacy” is defined by most as a combined knowledge of process and information. Indeed, the national science education standards state that “A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it.”
Evaluating the quality of scientific information is not easy, especially in areas in which the methods are complex. In my own field of psychology, most undergraduates are terrified of the core requirements for the major: intermediate statistics and research methods. These are notoriously difficult courses, but without them it is nearly impossible to evaluate the quality of any study in the field.
So if college students have a tough time understanding the scientific method or how to use knowledge of it to properly evaluate claims, how can we expect middle school students to learn this?
The magician Karl Germain, a famous American stage performer at the turn of the 20th century, said that: “Conjuring is the only absolutely honest profession – the conjuror promises to deceive, and does.”
Germain nailed it. Once I use the word “magician,” I’m saying: I’m going to fool you. But that’s okay – it’s my job.
Whereas a self-proclaimed psychic who is aware of his own deceptions – and you can’t bend a spoon with sleight-of-hand without knowing that you are doing so – is being a dishonest liar. He’s lying about the fact that he’s lying. He’s saying: No, honest, I’m telling you the truth: It’s not a trick. I have supernatural powers.
Well I say: Screw that lying SOB and the unicorn he rode in on.