Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Skeptic's Dictionary

The Skeptic's Dictionary. This is a very nice Web site which was also recently published as a good reference book. I have been reading both the web site and the book and have enjoyed both very much. It takes a skeptics approach to a variety of topics including bigfoot, UFO's, Noah's Ark, ghosts, dreams, etc. It also covers a few topics that are usually not addressed by skeptics such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

The Skeptic's Dictionary cherry picks the evidence for the most part and only reports studies that prove the skeptical point of view or reports articles which are easy to use straw man arguments against when the author believes something that the site/book author does not. Despite this, the articles are well written and make sense.

A good information literacy/critical thinking assignment could allow students to examine a topic from the Skeptic's Dictionary site. For example, the teacher/librarians could have the students read the entry on Myers-Briggs. Then the instructor could pass out a scholarly article from a good journal which makes the case for Myers-Briggs. The students could then discuss the differences and draw their own conclusions. I think this would help students develop skills required for critical thinking and information literacy.

From the site:

The Skeptic’s Dictionary provides definitions, arguments, and essays on subjects supernatural, occult, paranormal, and pseudoscientific. I use the term “occult” to refer to any and all of these subjects. The reader is forewarned that The Skeptic’s Dictionary does not try to present a balanced account of occult subjects. If anything, this book is a Davidian counterbalance to the Goliath of occult literature. I hope that an occasional missile hits its mark. Unlike David, however, I have little faith, and do not believe Goliath can be slain. Skeptics can give him a few bumps and bruises, but our words will never be lethal. Goliath cannot be taken down by evidence and arguments. However, many of the spectators may be swayed by our performance and recognize Goliath for what he often is: a false messiah. It is especially for the younger spectators that this book is written. I hope to expose Goliath’s weaknesses so that the reader will question his strength and doubt his promises.

Another purpose of The Skeptic’s Dictionary is to provide references to the best skeptical materials on whatever topic is covered. So, for example, if that pesky psychology teacher won’t let up about “auras” or “chi” being inexplicable occult phenomena, you can consult your Skeptic’s Dictionary and become pesky yourself with more than a general skepticism. You may not change your teacher’s mind, but you may take away some of his power over you.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary is aimed at four distinct audiences: the open-minded seeker, who makes no commitment to or disavowal of occult claims; the soft skeptic, who is more prone to doubt than to believe; the hardened skeptic, who has strong disbelief about all things occult; and the believing doubter, who is prone to believe but has some doubts. The one group this book is not aimed at is the “true believer” in the occult. If you have no skepticism in you, this book is not for you.

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