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skeptic - reaching out to young people

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  • eric krieg
    People, If you have ideas for the CSICOP effort to reach out to young people, please contact Amanda Chesworth: a.human@mindspring.com The following is from the
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2001

      If you have ideas for the CSICOP effort to reach out to young
      people, please contact Amanda Chesworth:

      The following is from the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking
      publication, Phactum - the August 2001 issue. It was written by
      Eric Krieg with editing by Greg Lester. It may be reposted anywhere
      if attributed:

      I recently took advantage of the annual "Career and
      Interest Day" at my younger daughter's middle school.
      It is when they invite parents or friends of the
      school to give presentations to students on a variety
      of interesting topics. The guests generate the topics,
      and the students get to sign up for whatever classes
      that they find interesting. Of course, I thought it
      was a good time to introduce these kids to the power
      of skepticism. I was not the only PhACT-related guest,
      by the way, our former speaker, Anna Forbes, also
      signed up and spoke on the topic of fighting AIDS.

      I presented my topic as the "Secrets of the
      Paranormal" and carefully worded the description so as
      not to betray my own inclination on the subject.
      According to my daughter, the novelty value must have
      been high, because she had talked to at least ten kids
      who had signed up for it but could not make it in.

      As the kids entered, I had an assistant quickly select
      and groom a girl among them to be Psychic Girl.
      Psychic Girl enabled me to conduct a quick overview of
      the common belief that people can read minds. We
      selected audience members to announce a random page
      number from a science textbook while Psychic Girl
      would concentrate and recite sentences from the page.
      Then, after hearing the volunteer’s name, she would
      recite their home phone number and address. The trick?
      My cell phone, carefully concealed under her hair,
      gave voice to Psychic Girl via my wife. They learned
      that an accomplice with a copy of the science book and
      the student registry may well have been more useful
      than telepathy.

      Another quick demonstration was of sensing human
      energy fields. After a good woo-woo talk on the
      wonders of Touch Therapy (TT), I had volunteers come
      up and put their hand behind their back. After about 8
      samples of a simple "OK, is my hand above yours or
      not?" test, the usefulness of TT was more apparent.

      I then selected a volunteer to use dowsing sticks to
      determine which of 10 numbered up-side down cups hid
      either a small plastic vial of birdseed or water. I
      was impressed how quickly the 6th through 8th graders
      seemed to grasp the concept of what results were to be
      expected by random chance.

      Despite that skeptical lesson, it was easy to dazzle
      the kids with a good astrology test nipped from The
      Amazing Randi’s NOVA special. It involves handing our
      astrological reports to each member of the classroom
      based on their month. What I did not tell them was
      that they each received the exact same reading, which
      contained many vague good-for-everyone readings like,
      "You have a good sense of humor but you are sometimes
      worried about what people think of you."

      When asked how close the readings were, they all
      seemed to offer the same assessment, mostly along the
      lines of "Wow, this sounds like me!"

      A roomful of snickers followed the announcement that
      they were all the same. The kids agreed that if were
      there something to astrology, one would naturally
      expect to isolate predictive value with tests. They
      were interested to hear how astrologers rarely bother
      to admit that all such tests come up with negative

      Another attention getting stunt was announcing that I
      was prepared to go to my bank that same day and bring
      back $10,000 for the first person who could read
      serial numbers one at a time that I was concentrating
      on from a dollar bill.

      But the most an enthusiastic response came from the
      question and answer time. As you can imagine, they hit
      all the popular targets: "What about ghosts?" "Do we
      know how pyramids were made?" "How to you explain the
      moving flag on the moon hoax show?" "Do you think
      there are aliens?"

      I had plenty of time to draw a distinction between
      knee jerk nay saying and true scientific skepticism as
      well as to explain how disingenuous money grubbing
      media frequently stoop to promulgating misinformation
      to make a buck.

      There was also time for another choice bit of Randi
      schtick: I quizzed them on the dangers of drug
      overdose and poured out a complete vial of drugs from
      a sealed container of medicine into my hand. I quickly
      chugged them down and asked if anyone would have a
      rational explanation in the event that I would not
      shortly topple over. I then explained that this was a
      homeopathic medicine, which brought up the whole
      concept of homeopathy and how it was unlikely that I
      had consumed even a single molecule of medication.

      If I learned one thing it was that, in a world of
      short attention spans, showmanship can be a plus.
      Opening children’s minds to skepticism is rewarding,
      but the ultimate reward was when my daughter told me
      how some of the kids said it was "pretty cool."

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