Skepticism, Pseudoscience
and the Scientific Method

Instructor: Eric Carlson
Physics Department, Wake Forest University

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WEEK ONE: Introduction, The Scientific Method

  • Reading Assignment: Randi, Chapter 1 and Shermer, Prologue and Chapter 1
  • Online Ball Game Exercise: How are points governed/awarded?

WEEK TWO: Forming Multiple Hypotheses: Deception and Magicians

WEEK THREE: Designing an Experiment: Controls, Placebos, Blind, and Double-Blind Experiments

  • Reading Assignment:
    “The Placebo Effect,” by Walter A. Brown, Scientific American, January 1998, pp. 90-95.
    “The Mysterious Placebo,” by John Dodes, Skeptical Inquirer, Jan./Feb. 1997, pp. 44-45.
    “The Spin Doctors,” by Nicholas Wade, New York Times Magazine, Jan. 1, 1996, p. 16.
  • Homework Assignment: The Placebo Effect

WEEK FOUR: Gathering Data: Memory and Eyewitness Testimony

  • Reading Assignment:
    "Reflections in a Curved Mirror,” from Searching for Memory by Daniel L. Schechter.
    "Into the Air, Junior Birdmen!", from Flim-Flam, by James Randi, chapter 4 (pp. 55-92)
  • Homework Assignment: Alien Abduction Experiences

WEEK FIVE: Case Study: Aliens and Alien Abductions

  • Reading Assignment:
    Shermer, Chapter 6.
    "Autopsy or Fraud-topsy?" from Time magazine (handout)
  • Homework Assignment: Team Packet Presentations

WEEK SIX: Case Study: Lights in the Sky

WEEK SEVEN: Introduction to Statistics

WEEK EIGHT: Review, Midterm

WEEK NINE: Case Study: Horoscopes and Biorhythms

  • Reading Assignment:
    Huff, Chapters 1, 8, and 9.
  • Homework Assignment: Testing Astrology

WEEK TEN: More about Statistics

  • Reading Assignment:
    Shermer, chapters 4, 9, and 10,
    Randi, chapters 7
    * You may also find it helpful and to read Randi, chapter 13.
  • Homework Assignment: Testing ESP

WEEK ELEVEN: Interpreting the Data: Systematic Errors

WEEK TWELVE: Case Study: Ghosts and Near-Death Experiences

WEEK THIRTEEN: Case Study: Homeopathic Remedies

WEEK FOURTEEN: The Media and Pseudoscience

  • Reading Assignment:
    Shermer, chapters 3, 13 and 14
    "That's Entertainment - TV's UFO Coverup", from the Skeptical Inquirer.
  • Homework Assignment: Pseudoscience on Television

WEEK FIFTEEN: Ethical Issues in Pseudoscience




Required Text:

  • How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff
  • Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer
  • Flim-Flam by James Randi