The Skeptic's Toolbox 2014

Using Model Cases to Deal with Dubious Claims

Big Ideas/Think, Education & Learning

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Effective skeptical thinking relies, in part, on applying knowledge of previous cases to cope with current problems.

An adequate skeptic’s toolbox requires a stock of exemplary cases, each of which provides important lessons for dealing with dubious claims. These model cases must be correctly analyzed and their import should be clear.

Cases that have been badly evaluated or misunderstood can muddle your approach to new claims.

Our plan is to have teams of participants apply lessons derived from classic and model cases discussed by the faculty to other cases that bear some similarity to one or more of these models.

Faculty Contributions

James Alcock: Three Model Cases of Pseudoscience

N-Rays, Cold Fusion, Schmidt’s PK research.

Lindsay Beyerstein: Models of Journalistic Misinformation and Hoaxes

Not so long ago, we got our news about the world from our local newspaper and from three broadcast networks. Now we have been catapulted into an age of 24/7 newscasts, social media, podcasts, tweets, etc. This abundance of information, whatever its advantages, has exacerbated the spread of misinformation about such matters as climate change, vaccination, health and medical issues, science, etc. It has affected every aspect of our lives. Analysis of some classic cases from the past may provide some models for coping with the current flood of misinformation.

Harriet Hall: Lessons from Some Classic Medical Cases

An assortment of medical cases, each pointing to a useful lesson.

Ray Hyman: Two Model Cases: One Positive and One Negative

Oskar Pfungst’s investigation of Clever Hans (a positive case) applied to the case of Lady Wonder.

Russel Targ’s remote viewing experiment with Pat Price (a negative case)

Loren Pankratz: Going Back to the Ancient Greek Oracles for Lessons on Coping with Dubious Claims

How an eighteenth century French scientist used the Oracle as a negative example for coping with the belief in witchcraft of his day.