Help teach skepticism to non-skeptics!

Hi bloggites! Christina here.

I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve been organizing and giving skeptical workshops.  Most of the time the workshops are designed to be educational with skeptics as the target audience.

However, I’m working on a new one, Skepticism 101. This workshop will be aimed at non-skeptics. I plan to present it first in St. Louis for the Skeptical Society of St. Louis (I’m the vice-president there), probably in late February, and then take it on the road to other cities.

I need your help!

The admission price for skeptics will be to bring their non-skeptical friends. One, because I want to expose more people to skepticism/critical thinking, and two, because “Skepticism 101″ would probably be a pretty boring workshop to people who are already skeptics. I don’t even know why you’d want to go unless you could bring your non-skeptic friends.

My question: what would you want to see in a Skepticism 101 workshop, if you could take your family/friends to one? Do you have any cool ideas for hands-on activities? What concepts would you like to see presented and how?

I’ve already got the workshop mostly written, but am looking to make sure I didn’t miss any ideas. It will last about 2 hours.

Comment away, my minions! I will be forever thankful and will reward you with hugs.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

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  • Christina

    I know, how about a section on cognitive dissonance?

    *comments on her own post, whee!*

  • ash

    One problem, non-skeptical people don’t see themselves as non-skeptical. A hands on approach is the right way to go. Fool them somehow, then show them how you did it. Like J Randi’s astrology bit

    • Brad

      I definitely think this is an important part of the process, not necessarily to perform the same experiment, but something to illustrate that our brain sometimes comes to conclusions that aren’t ultimately supportable.

  • Gwynnyd

    And I’d call it “Critical Thinking” not “Skepticism” – people don’t want to be like them icky skeptics but learning to think critically might draw them in.

    • ash

      Right. Exactly. Wish I’d thought of that

  • rikitiki

    I agree with Gwynnyd: re-brand as “Critical Thinking 101″. I think that’d have a bigger draw. And definitely hands-on elements and maybe some real-life stories of folks who got bamboozled to show the real-world effects of not being skeptical enough. A good resource for that (I think) would be:

  • Salty

    I agree, talk about ‘critical thinking’. Discuss real-world applications of these skills, like impulse-control and credit scores. Talk about male circumcision. Talk about adults who have 22″ rims on their Escalades but still live with their parents.

    • faehnrich

      What’s there to be skeptical about having rims on an Escalade but still live with your parents? Being skeptical that they’re actually cool?

      • Salty

        … being a critical thinker about your personal financial situation. that’s what I was going for…..

  • faehnrich

    Things like Randi going after astrology in that video posted in a previous comment is good.

    I always wanted to do something like claim to these people that I had some charm that will totally improve their luck, and offer to sell it for $20. I mean, they’d more than make that up, right?

    Then tell them we could test it, have one person hold the charm and one not, then have the two people flip a coin to see who wins the most after several tosses. If still about 50/50, then looks like the charm didn’t work.

    Hopefully they can then translate this to things like those ionic/magnetic energy bracelets or prayer.

  • Gord

    Here is one concept many people struggle with: explaining away a lack of evidence is not the same thing as providing positive evidence. You say, ‘I see no evidence for your claim,’ and they respond, ‘Well, see, you *wouldn’t*, because .’ My usual example involves trying to convince somebody that there’s a pink elephant behind them. They never believe me (correctly) even after I’ve explained that it keeps darting behind the buffet table when they turn to look. Same with God and a variety of other phenomena… no evidence, but theologians will expend enormous effort explaining away the lack of evidence.

    • Gord

      There was supposed to be a ‘…’ after the ‘because’…

  • Ubi Dubium

    Teach about Confirmation Bias! That’s one of the most important ideas to get across. If you can get them to remember that, and that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” it will have been a great class.

    I did a class for teens this last summer called “Brain Glitches” where I talked about a different cognitive bias (“brain glitch”) each week. I used lots of pictures and YouTube videos.

    (If you email me, I’d be happy to share my powerpoint slides with you, in case any of them will help.)

    • Brad

      Ooo, I like “brain glitches” as a more approachable term than “cognitive biases”.

      Definitely agree that understanding our own “brain glitches” is a key aspect of critical thinking.

  • Donovanable

    I find that the main ‘tool’ of my skepticism is the ability to read a scientific study. If you can understand power and effect and arent afraid to go find the original source, you can educate yourself to an amazing degree. I’m thinking something along the lines of your post on effect size and statistical significance?

  • Allie

    You should use the gorilla study to show how unreliable eye witness is – you know, the one where you tell them to count how many times the basketballs bounce, and in the middle a gorilla runs though, but nobody remembers it because they’re all concentrating on the basketballs? One of my favorites.

  • Gordon

    Ok, how about every seat has a personality description in it, like the one Derren Brown used in his book Tricks of the Mind.

    And confirmation bias. I remember a lecture where we were shown a slide with cards and asked how we would test a rule – I think it was something like cards with yellow on one side have a star on the other.

  • hopeevey

    What a wonderful workshop idea!

    Making skepticism/critical thinking relevant to everyday life seems key. If one can see how they use skepticism already (investigating cars before buying, looking in the 5 year old’s room to check even when the 5 year old says, “It’s clean!”) one may be more open to expanding that to other topics.

    Hands-on and interactive activities are great. Folks do remember things more clearly if they hear, see, and use the information. Of course, saying “Do something!” is much easier than coming up with the something to do! Perhaps divide the room into two teams, read out a reason, and the team has one minute to decide what logical fallacy is in play, or if the reason/evidence is sound? Or a similar set up but identifying Cognitive Dissonances?

    I actually prefer Cognitive Dissonance to Brain Glitch. They’re not cases of the brain not working correctly, just not rationally. Then again, I do like my vocabulary words :)

  • Brad

    I think most people have already developed some skeptical skills in certain areas of their life, like when evaluating the claims of a TV commercial or infomercial.

    Maybe that’d be a good exercize to start: play a funny clip from a commercial with comically outrageous or highly dubious claims, and ask people to share how they would go about deciding whether to believe that commercial.