From Abracadabra to Zombies
What is The Skeptic's Dictionary?
The Skeptic's Dictionary - A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions by Robert Todd Carroll (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2003).
Featuring nearly 400 definitions, arguments, and essays on occult topics ranging from acupuncture to zombies, The Skeptic’s Dictionary is a lively, commonsense trove of detailed information on all things supernatural, paranormal, and pseudoscientific.
It covers such categories as alternative medicine; cryptozoology; extraterrestrials and UFOs; frauds and hoaxes; junk science; New Age energy; the paranormal, and the psychic. Also covered are dozens of topics in logic and perception and science and philosophy that help explain the appeal and popularity of occult beliefs, as well as guide the reader to think critically about them.
The Skeptic's Dictionary provides references to the best skeptical literature. Serious researchers into occult subjects will appreciate the bibliography, which lists more than 750 sources. The book also has a Name Index, a virtual who's who of advocates and critics of occultism.
I note in the introduction to the book:
The Skeptic’s Dictionary does not try to present a balanced account of occult subjects. If anything, this book is a Davidian counterbalance to the Goliath of occult literature.
The Skeptic’s Dictionary provides references to the best skeptical materials on the topics covered. It does not try to present the occultist's arguments and evidence.
The book is based on, but not identical to, the website of the same name. All entries in the book have been rewritten. Many have been substantially revised. The voice and tone of the book is more uniform and generally less strident than the web version. I have tried to maintain the humor of the website entries without resorting to ridicule or sarcasm, but for some people it would be dishonest to use euphemisms for lie, incompetence, or fraud to describe them or their work. During the editing process I removed thirty-seven entries from the book. A list of the entries not in the book can be found in The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 30.
The book has been translated into Estonian, Russian, Japanese, Korean, and (soon) Spanish.
The book grew out of the website. After my own unsuccessful attempt to find a publisher, a fortuitous inquiry from literary agent Ted Weinstein and the support of Jeff Golick at Wiley & Sons led to the eventual publication of the book in 2003.
The website was introduced in 1994 with about a dozen articles on logic and pseudoscience. I began writing these materials shortly after I began teaching my first logic and critical thinking course in 1975 when I used Howard Kahane's Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric - The Use of Reason in Everyday Life (Wadsworth Publishing) as a textbook. This very popular text is still in print more than twenty-five years later and is now in its 9th edition. By 1994 I had written my own critical thinking text (Becoming a Critical Thinker), which includes a chapter on Science and Pseudoscience. In 1994 I took several free courses on the Internet, e-mail, html, creating web pages, etc., offered by the Davis Community Network. The Skeptic's Dictionary was originally an experiment to see what I could create for the Internet that would expand on what I was doing in my critical thinking classes. Almost immediately after launching the website I began receiving e-mail, some vehemently condemning me for daring to challenge sacred beliefs and some encouraging me to expand my repertoire to include articles on topics beyond logic and pseudoscience. Ten years and thousands of e-mails later, the website has been greatly expanded and has become the book I wish I had had when I was much younger and first began seriously investigating topics on the borderlands of reason. In addition to The Skeptic's Dictionary, which now includes more than 500 entries, I have created the following related pages:
Skeptical Essays and Articles - links to essays and articles I've written and more;
Skeptimedia - a blog with commentary on media coverage of the paranormal, the supernatural, and the pseudoscientific. Skeptimedia replaces Mass Media Funk (a blog with news items and comments of interest to skeptics) and Mass Media Bunk (a blog with comments on articles in the news media that seem to pander to the public's love of the occult);
What's the Harm? - a blog based on news items demonstrating various harmful effects of ignorance and superstition;
Young Thinkers - a page with links to items aimed at science and critical thinking for young people;
Critical Thinking mini-lessons - just what it says;
Book Reviews - a page with detailed reviews of several excellent books and a couple of not-so-excellent books;
Internet Bunk - a page with reviews of false, misleading or deceptive information on the Internet regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events;
Suburban Myths - a page that lists common misconceptions that are uncritically passed on as established truths by "experts" and non-experts alike in textbooks and the mass media;
Too Good to Be True - a page with reviews of Internet business opportunities of a pseudoscientific nature;
- A Skeptic's Dictionary for Kids;
- and several other pages.
While I have no staff and am solely responsible for everything on my website and in my book, the website is a collaborative effort involving many generous people from around the world. I am especially grateful to the hundreds who have unknowingly assisted in this project by their words of encouragement.
* AmeriCares *