Skeptical professor tracks paranormal

Friday, April 04 @ 09:45:11 PST
Topic: 2. Paranormal News

Bob Carroll always knew he was a skeptic. His skepticism started when he was young, with a disbelief in Santa Claus, and it has led the professor of philosophy to spend more than three decades studying the psychology of deception and self-deception, questioning most things supernatural and paranormal and explaining the principles of sound logical reasoning to others.

In 1994, he began publishing a Web site for the doubting Thomases of the world to use as a hub to educate themselves about a wide variety of hoaxes, quackery and pseudoscientific phenomena that can take advantage of a human's trusting nature.

"The site grew out of my other site, the Skeptic's Dictionary (, which was designed to provide skeptical articles and references on topics dealing with the paranormal, the supernatural, the pseudoscientific or the occult."

Word from the Webwise: With a crystal ball containing the apparition of Harry Houdini — a great ghost buster, magician and skeptic — highlighted on its front page, the site presents a fairly common three-column format that beckons visitors to put on their thinking caps and enter a world of deductive disciplines.

Before getting to the voluminous Skeptic's Dictionary, visitors should check out sections such as Mass Media Funk for Mr. Carroll's take on current events (including the debate among paleontologists as to the origins of flying creatures); Too Good to Be True, to read about Internet business opportunities of a pseudoscientific nature (who wouldn't want the Inset Fuel Stabilizer in these energy-expensive times); and Skeptical Essays, including a report from the paranormal trenches by skeptic James Randi.

The site acts as both a place for Mr. Carroll to express his well-researched views and a portal containing loads of links from around the world. I especially enjoyed a report from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal ( on the alien-abduction mythos and Milton Rothman's essay on scientific illiteracy in the press (

Now on to the dictionary, which features more than 400 entries, is available in seven languages and can be accessed through either handy drop-down menus or a simple alphabetical index.

This "Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions" covers everything from alchemy to cosmobiology to magnet therapy to zombies. Each entry is accompanied by a "further reading" area at the bottom and plenty of links to back up Mr. Carroll's explanations.

He also has created a "What's Hot" list to point visitors to what folks are looking at in his dictionary. Not surprisingly, entries on Nostradamus, feng shui, telekinesis and the Bermuda Triangle top the most-perused list.

This information-packed, simple-to-load site requires no plug-ins and will work with any browser capable of handling drop-down menu coding.

Don't miss: Mr. Carroll tackles 65 suburban myths, found under the main site. Some of these oddities are ones that I actually have spouted on a few occasions, including that humans use just 10 percent of their brains, an egg will balance on its end at the equinox, and sugar causes hyperactivity in children. Additionally, beauties such as the curse on the Kennedy family, the existence of Men in Black and claims that NASA faked the moon landings get the skeptical treatment.

Comprehension level: Mr. Carroll says he had no particular age group in mind when he created the site, but it probably is too difficult for visitors who can't read at least at the 10th-grade level.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

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The Skeptic's Refuge

Site address:

Creator: Robert T. Carroll, who publishes the site, is a professor at Sacramento City College in California who teaches logic and critical reasoning, philosophy of law, the history of modern philosophy and a general introductory course in philosophy.

Creator quotable: "I was a skeptic about some things when I was a child," Mr. Carroll says, "but I guess I gradually became skeptical about most things supernatural and paranormal over the years as I investigated many subjects and found the evidence and arguments for the supernatural and paranormal to be lacking and the arguments and evidence for naturalistic explanations to be stronger and more persuasive.

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