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Skeptic websites useful for secondary classrooms

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To be listed here a website must (1) be critical, (2) include the paranormal, and (3) be suitable for secondary schools. The sites (N=42) are listed in rough order of utility, the most useful first, under four headings:

1. Sites with books, videos, DVDs, podcasts on the paranormal.
2. Sites with skeptical articles on the paranormal.
3. Sites for teachers planning a course in critical thinking.
4. Sites of passing interest. Some are beyond secondary level.

1. Sites listing books, videos, DVDs, podcasts

Online encyclopedias and dictionaries A skeptic dictionary site by Robert Todd Carroll, a professor of philosophy at Sacramento City College. Over 500 essays on strange beliefs from abracadabra to zombies, and how to think critically about them. Most essays have references and further reading. Some include responses from readers and Todd's replies. Regularly updated. Especially useful are the entries on how our eyes and ears can deceive us, for example hidden persuaders (under H), magical thinking (under M), and subjective validation (under S). Probably the best and most readable site for secondary students looking for facts on the paranormal, and where to proceed next. The same material is available in book form, see Books and Magazines. James Randi Educational Foundation. On home page, at top left under Navigation, click Media > Encyclopedia to see James Randi's online Encyclopaedia of Frauds, Hoaxes and the Supernatural with over 700 entries from Abaris to Zombie. Most of the material is also available in book form, see Books and Magazines. The online version includes corrections sent in by readers, more entries, more illustrations, and more humour. Both versions are very easy to read. There are no references or further reading other than a brief bibliography, which makes the Encyclopedia less of a resource than the above Skeptic Dictionary, but it does cover many more people and events. It is also enlivened by Randi's dry wit, for example "[X] is an ideal new age notion in that it cannot be examined, proved, or disproved". A huge but unhelpful and frustrating list. Click Cross References for an A-Z list of thousands of topics from Asa! to Zoroastrianism based on a remarkable 35,000 cross references to books, magazines, and websites. To see all entries listed under say A, ignore the A-Z display (which seems not to work), and just enter any popular A item such as Aliens into the search box. Clicking on Search then produces a long list of clickable A entries without descriptions, which is unhelpful. When clicked most entries take you to Amazon, which is again unhelpful -- experts with access to large university libraries could conceivably cope with an avalanche of online references whose content is not online, but not secondary students unfamiliar with the field. You are better off trying to locate information via the other sites above, or via Google or Google Scholar.

Book lists
See Books and Magazines on this website for recommended titles that each cover a wide range of paranormal topics, and thus provide a broad skeptical resource for secondary schools. If you want to know what other skeptic books are available, what they cost, and what they contain, the following sites will help.

Alternatively, try which for popular skeptic books will also include contributed reviews, whose views are usually polarised into unspeakably bad if by believers and rather good if by skeptics. Provided you know the title, Google can usually find a book review and, if you click on Images, a picture of the cover. On home page click on The Skeptics Shop > Books, a shop associated with Carroll's Skeptical Dictionary. Lists over 50 recommended titles with brief descriptions, all linked to Amazon for online purchase. Includes the shop of the Skeptic Society. On home page click Shop Skeptic > Order Books for a list of topics (skepticism, science, science history, pseudoscience, religion, social forces, pseudohistory, for children) with a total of about recommended 45 titles with descriptions ranging from a few lines to a few paragraphs. All titles can be ordered online. Prices are typically around $US20. Run by CSI (formerly CSICOP) in Amherst NY specifically to help teachers promote critical thinking in the classroom. On home page click Bookshelves to see lists of recommended books under 8 headings -- skepticism for young readers (N=8, ages mostly 9-12), critical thinking for young readers (N=6), skepticism in general (N=30, an excellent selection), critical thinking in general (N=17), activity books for young readers (N=9), reference books (N=72, mostly on single topics eg Easter Island, none on the paranormal), books for parents (N=5), books for educators (N=5). None of the titles have descriptions, so you are left none the wiser. However, clicking a title takes you to Amazon where you can find the price and any contributed reviews. James Randi Educational Foundation. On home page, at top left under Navigation, click JREF Store > Books for a listing of about 20 recommended titles, 6 of them by James Randi. All titles can be ordered online. A German bookshop (pages are in English) listing over 400 skeptic books and periodicals sorted A-Z by author with prices in euros. Can also sort by year. Few titles are more recent than 2002. The advantage of this site is that clicking on More against a title takes you direct to reviews in English. Searches Australia or the world for that secondhand book you want (it needs title and author). Impressively fast and comprehensive. Searches online US booksellers for the best price, new and used.

CDs, videos and DVDs On home page click The Skeptics Shop > Videos to list nearly 20 recommended skeptical videos including a few films such as Leap of Faith (which stars Steve Martin and is about a fake evangelist). On home page click Shop Skeptic > Order Entertainment to list about 5 CDs, and click Order DVDs to list about 10 DVDs such as Penn and Teller. Over 12 years the Skeptic Society has presented 140 lectures by some of the most distinguished experts in the world. Most are available on video and audio cassette, many now on CD and DVD. Click Order Caltech Lectures to list available lectures under 8 headings (annual conferences, skepticism, science, science history, pseudoscience, religion, social forces, pseudohistory) with a total of over 60 titles. All items can be ordered online. The site also lists skeptic appearances on YouTube. On home page, at top left under Navigation, click JREF Store > DVD/videos to list about 10 videos/DVDs, mostly of JREF annual conventions, and 3 audio CDs. All items can be ordered online. Australian Skeptics offer 7 DVDs for sale of which 4 are on water divining. You can order a video ($10) or DVD ($20) of the Skeptics Water Divining Tests, an excellent documentary not available elsewhere of large-scale tests in Australia. No diviner was successful in a test that all agreed beforehand was fair. After learning the results, all had different excuses for failure. Lists four video clips. The one on Uri Geller (which Geller tried to ban) did not work in November 2007 but is also available from the same page as an article containing freeze-frame images showing exactly how Geller bends cutlery by trickery. Offers a DVD "Surprising Studies of Visual Awareness, Vol 1+2 Combo (2008)" that is a fun introduction to the nature of sense perception and misperception. Includes the famous "door" and "basketball/gorilla" videos and some of the most striking visual illusions ever produced. Less fun is the price ($390 plus shipping and handling).

Podcasts Lists nine of the best podcast sources in skepticism ready for you to tune in.

Podcast is short for iPod broadcasting. Most podcasts are radio broadcasts but some are video recordings. If your computer has the ability to receive podcasts, then hearing and sometimes seeing the leading players in skepticism and science are just a click away. Skeptical podcasts bring you many hours of challenging interviews, features, and commentary on the paranormal, pseudoscience, science, and alternative medicine, most from overseas, and all for free.

2. Sites with skeptical articles on the paranormal

Articles on skeptic sites are generally grouped by topic, and only some will be on the paranormal (the rest can be on science, religion, etc). Article quality can vary from superficial to scholarly. Abstracts or descriptions are often non-existent, so finding something useful can be time-consuming. Be aware that essays-for-sale sites exist whose essays or "term papers" are offered at prices of $US50-100 each. Avoid these scams. There are better essays available for free from the sites below. About 200 articles under 13 headings, each with an attractive graphic. About half are on the paranormal. Articles are listed by clickable title with a description, so browsing is easy. Site is based in Denmark and contains mostly European material, which makes a useful change from American sites. Award-winning site of Michael Shermer and the Skeptic Society in Altadena CA. On home page click Reading Room to list 8 topics (debates, skepticism, science, science history, pseudoscience, religion, social forces, pseudohistory) with a total of about 150 articles, often book reviews, of which nearly 20 are on pseudoscience. Articles are listed by clickable title with a description. Site includes details of a 16-page Baloney Detection Kit designed to improve critical thinking skills, price $US5.00 plus postage. About 600 articles under 18 headings including 8 on UFOs, 16 on conspiracy theories, 40 on pseudohistory and pseudoscience eg von Daniken, 22 on illusions eg cognitive dissonance, 16 on New Age eg astrology, 21 on the paranormal, 18 on pseudoscience. Articles are listed by clickable title without a description. Click the title to see the article. Most articles link to related topics on site, a few have references for further reading. Since the articles are generated collectively by contributors, they tend to be comprehensive, but due to contributor bias they may not be entirely reliable. Australian Skeptics in Sydney NSW. Online articles from the Skeptic were discontinued after all back issues became available on a searchable CD, for details see Books and Magazines. Website of Indian Skeptics, the guru busters. They have a 100,000 Rupee prize for demonstration of paranormal abilities. Can statues drink milk? Can gurus really perform miracles? Is Sai Baba genuine or a fraud? Find out here. Articles can be under headings different from those you expect, but not a problem -- website is not large and has fast downloads. Association for Skeptical Investigation (founded by Rupert Sheldrake). User-friendly site is rather more pro-paranormal than other skeptic sites, for example its associates include believers in Uri Geller, and it is openly skeptical of established skeptics, dismissing them as "dogmatic" (the compliment would doubtless be returned). Site is divided into five topics -- investigating skeptics, includes biographies of leading skeptics; controversies, eg extraterrestrials; open-minded research, includes biographies of leading players; scientific objectivity including fraud; resources including 7 links illustrating the good guys and bad guys in skepticism, and booklists for 13 authors sympathetic to the site's aims eg Rupert Sheldrake (such authors seldom appear in skeptic booklists). Each topic has about half a dozen articles nicely presented, most with abstracts. A good place for biographies and for finding what skeptics are supposedly not telling you, but tough going for readers unfamiliar with the territory. Online index to all articles in Skeptical Inquirer, the world-famous quarterly skeptic magazine published by the Committe for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP) based in Amherst NY. The magazine began in 1977 and the issues now occupy nearly one shelf-metre. Only some articles (total about 500) are online but most have references. The online coverage is good from 1996, moderate from 1991 (typically 5 per issue), and infrequent before 1991. The index can be searched for words in titles. All entries allow you to "buy this issue now". Price is $6.25 per issue before 1995 (when it was 4 issues a year) otherwise $US5.00 per issue (6 issues a year). Site also has a full list of the mailing and email addresses of skeptic organisations worldwide. Your guide to health fraud, quackery, and intelligent health decisions. Loads of articles on health-related frauds, myths, fads and fallacies, arranged under 37 topics from acupuncture and homeopathy to questionable books and weight control products. Articles often contain information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere. More user-friendly than most other skeptic sites. Over 65 articles on the scientific exploration of astrology, all with two levels of abstract and a separate fast-find index. Lists over 1500 scholarly astrology-related articles, and surveys hundreds of test results, most of them not available on any other site. Also contains hard-to-find results of tests in related areas such as palmistry and graphology. The article "Case for and against astrology" is a model of informed and impartial assessment.

To find a particular article on the web Just enter author, title, or keyword.
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3. Sites for planning a course in critical thinking

Critical thinking is more than clarifying ideas, recognising invalid arguments, and drawing Venn diagrams. It requires a knowledge of the many biasses that affect our judgement, a willingness to look impartially at all positions including those we disagree with, and a willingness to admit that we might be wrong. Some teachers avoid going this far because they don't want students asking questions that might upset political correctness. The rest can read on. Run by CSI (formerly CSICOP) in Amherst NY specifically to help teachers promote critical thinking in the classroom. On home page click Educational Resource Area to see "Science vs the Paranormal: An Instructional Kit" for teachers planning a course at elementary or secondary level. Covers what the paranormal is, extent of belief in it, the need for skepticism, suggested class discussions and assignments, and recommended books. However, it has not been updated since at least 2005, and there is no indication that it has actually been used. On home page click Reference Materials to see the titles of 15 dated articles (none later than 1995) that look at ways of reducing paranormal beliefs, of which 5 involve teaching a course in critical thinking. The titles have neither annotations nor links. Also listed are 18 syllabuses that have been used at US univerities, but none are relevant to secondary schools. On home page click Bookshelves to see lists of recommended books, see same site under Book lists. The site also has a quarterly online newsletter, but no issues have appeared since late 2005. A collection of links related to a January 2007 JREF workshop on getting critical thinking into the classroom. Most are at university level, but the two online teacher's guides by Diane Swanson give suggested activities for students aged 9-12. Although linked to her two books, the activities can be applied with little modification to any secondary classroom. Fooling students into not fooling themselves is a 4000-word essay by Dr Raymond hall about teaching critical thinking at California State University at Fresno. The author notes that the various explanations for why people believe weird things all boil down to their inability to identify reliable evidence. His approach is applicable to all levels and is based on showing students how easily they can be fooled (which then secures their interest) in four key areas: (1) Subjective validation, where students rate what is supposedly their own horoscope but is actually the same fake due to Forer. (2) Probability, where teams of studemts toss coins and discover that strings of heads are much more common than believed. (3) Expectation bias, where they discuss a candle they are given whose wick (unknown to them) is black by felt pen and not by burning. (4) Confirmation bias, using Wason's four-card test to show how the bias applies even when they have no vested interest in the outcome. Critical thinking mini-lessons gives 13 brief lessons (eg induction, fallacies, control groups, false dichotomy) at university level, of which one is the next item. A concise 18-page practical guide to critical thinking by Greg Haskins based on the writings of Robert Carroll. Includes four excellent tables useful at secondary level that summarise with examples four basic hindrances to critical thinking, namely human biasses eg confirmation bias, use of language eg ambiguity, faulty logic or perception eg begging the question, and psychological or sociological pitfalls eg emotional appeals. Hundreds of links on critical thinking that can keep you busy for hours. The categories are confusingly many, the annotations are often too brief to be really helpful, and the material tends to be well beyond secondary level. Nevertheless an excellent single starting point. This page can be hard to find if you go direct to the home page Readable description of Philosophy for Children, an international educational programme taught in 30 countires and in 16 languages. Philosophy, the parent discipline of critical thinking, includes creative thinking, fairness, responsibility to others, and ethics. The guiding theme of P4C is children working together to generate and then answer their own questions about issues they have chosen. The children learn how to think, how to communicate, and how to work with others. If you thought philosophy was only about Plato, think again.

4. Sites of passing interest

There are hundreds of sites that are relevant to critical thinking and the paranormal. But only a minority have something different and worthwhile to offer. Here is a handful in A-Z order. Some are well beyond secondary school level. Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Excellent well-presented list of resources (books, articles, websites) for countering weird claims related to astronomy. Full marks for user-friendliness. Website of British philosophers aimed at fighting fashionable nonsense such as the idea that truth is unimportant. Named after ideas wrongly seen as so inconsequential that their discussion would be like breaking a butterfly upon a wheel. Don't miss their Fashionable Dictionary ("Evidence: best ignored in case it conflicts with our ideas") and Woolly-Thinking Rhetoric ("Be careful not to be explicit, otherwise your errors will be obvious"). Site is full of comments, articles, and links of interest for older critical thinkers. Devoted to exposing "Cranks, crackpots, kooks and loons on the net". On home page click Contents to list 147 A-Z topics from alien abductions to zero point energy, each with the number of entries (typically 10 or more). Gives websites with descriptions and a rating (anticrank, cranky, crankier, crankiest, fringe, illucid, links, newsgroup, parody). James Randi's million dollar challenge. Pass a mutually-agreed test to win $US1 million. Since 1997 there have been over 400 attempts, none of them successful, mostly because the applicant could not devise a preliminary test. The FAQ show how extremely fair the $1m challenge is, how the $1m really does exist, and how most would-be challengers have no idea of what even a simple test entails. On 1 April 2007 the rules were modified to limit applicants to those whose powers have been mentioned in the media and are supported by written testimony from an academic. Site is run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. There doesn't have to be a sucker born every minute, and you don't have to be the next one. Many interesting real-life stories plus advice on how to avoid losing your money to a trickster. Online CSICOP museum of the paranormal from the archives of ace skeptic investigator Joe Nickell, mostly old photos. Descriptive text (white on pale blue) is informative but hard to read. Attractive site devoted to urban legends listed under 45 headings. Nostradamus did not predict the WTC or space shuttle disasters. Heard a story too good to be true? Check it out here. Netherlands Foundation for Information on the Social Consequences of Occult Tendencies. Lots of skeptic links to each of 96 paranormal topics such as astrology and Sai Baba. Site is available in English, German and Dutch. An example of how you can be overwhelmed by it all. Henri Broch, University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis. The word zetetic means skeptical seeker. Bibliography of about 1000 books and articles on paranormal topics. Titles without descriptions are listed by author or subject. Most of the English ones can be found on other sites, but here is a good opportunity to practice your French. Under Zetetic? on the home page is an account with many graphs, of French research showing that belief in the paranormal increases (not a misprint) with education and decreases with age. A shorter version in English is available if you can find a page with a clickable English.

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